Tagged: BBC

National ATOS Protest 19-2-14: Interview with Tom Smith, the man who made it happen.

Tom Smith and Joe Salmon outside the Leeds Assessment Centre as part of the at the National ATOS Protest

Tom Smith (left) and Joe Salmon (right) outside the Leeds Assessment Centre as part of the National ATOS Protest

7:40am, outside Leeds Medical Assessment Centre. Transcript:

TS: I decided just before Christmas that I wanted to set up a demonstration against ATOS in Leeds so I put the idea out there on Facebook. A colleague of mine, Paul Kelly said, “Look, we’ve got something like 30,000 people saying they want to get involved, we should think about making it national”. So after some deliberation we decided to go for all 140 ATOS centres in the UK. Some of them won’t have anyone protesting there today, but ATOS have had to bring in lots of extra security to every single centre today – so it’s a hindrance to them – but my main reason is not to disrupt ATOS but to try and start a ripple effect in the public’s understanding of what is happening. After seeing Channel 4’s Dispatches programme ‘Britain On The Sick’, I said to my wife, “I’m going to do something about this. I don’t know what – but I’m going to do something”. So I started to investigate what was happening. As I dug deeper I was brought to tears by what I was finding out.

JC: What was your own experience of the ATOS process?

TS: I went through my ATOS process in January here at the Leeds Assessment Centre we’re stood outside now. I’m one of the lucky ones who didn’t lose their claim, but even so, I was called in to reception and spoken to by the receptionist like I was something you wouldn’t scrape off your shoe. So I thought, “Alright, here we go…”. I got called in to the assessment room, and it was a nurse who it turned out had only been in the country a month. I asked her in what way was she qualified to assess me – a person with complicated syndromes. Her response: “because I’ve done the ATOS training course” – the training course only lasts a couple of weeks. I have COPD, chronic nerve damage to the left leg, growths on my hips, a prolapsed spine, I have PTSD, and I have a personality disorder. How could a nurse make an assessment of me? As it turned out, she didn’t even ask me any questions. She wrote down what was on my prescription and said to go. It was the most humiliating experience I’ve ever had in my life. You’re absolutely terrified.

ATOS pay their staff £50 for every client they get through within the half hour. They get paid a further £50 if they manage to get that person off disability benefits. Now, if I told you I’d pay you extra money to do something, it’s fairly obvious what you’d do. And they’re only allowed to pass 12.3% of the people that they see. This is what the doctor who went to the training centre in the Channel 4 Dispatches programme was actually told. It beggars belief – at the end of the day these are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, uncles, aunties – and they’ve been demonised by this Tory government and by the Tory press so people have started to see them as not human and therefore they become desensitised. This country has always supported its weak and vulnerable. But then Iain Duncan Smith comes in and, basically, he is doing a cull. It’s estimated that by the next general election, 60,000 people will have died as a result of this policy – there are some very uncomfortable historical equivalents to that kind of thing happening. I don’t see how you can tell people who are dying from cancer that it is their own fault.

JC: What do you think about the post on the ATOS website about the protests today where they’re saying they’re just following the government’s orders ? – quote: “We have been conducting assessments for benefits for over 15 years based on the policies and processes set by successive governments.”

TS: I think if you read between the lines that they’re accepting the guilt for what they have done. They’ve said in that blog that the protesters should not focus on the staff, because the staff do not make the policy. It’s ATOS that makes the policy and it’s ATOS that’s at fault.

The tears would come flooding for anyone who listens to the stories. There was a guy in Leeds who was an activist on these issues. He hung himself at the end of last year. And then the case of the man in Bradford who was appealing against ATOS’s decision. He didn’t have any money for 10 months. The day he finally got his money the poor guy died in his flat in Bradford. He had no heating. He hadn’t eaten properly for months. He was literally skin and bone – like someone from Belsen. How we, the general public, can sit back and let this happen I really don’t know.

At the end of the day, yes, I’ve sparked this demo and planted the seed, but 4,500 people are involved with just the setting up. It’s come from the ground up.

If anyone ever tells you that one person can’t make a change then have a look at this demo. I was the one person who planted that little seed, and the response has been overwhelming. It humbles you. Within about 3 hours of putting the idea online I had about 4,000 emails asking how can I get involved.

Yesterday, me and Joe Salmon were doing an interview for Radio Aire. About 20 minutes after, our phones were ringing and ringing with BBC Radio up and down the country wanting to cover the protests. I stood there and looked at Joe and burst into tears. I thought, what have we done?! They reckon on expecting 60 here today in Leeds, but I reckon they’re in for a shock – there’s going to be a hell of a lot more. You’ve got individuals who’ve said they’re coming, then the NUS, Unite the Union, Unison, NHS groups, Labour and Green party councillors too. In London we’ve got people like Hilary Benn, Dennis Skinner and John McDonald because today is Prime Minister’s Questions. My local MP, Phil Davies, who was very critical of the disabled a few weeks ago saying we’re all scroungers and should get up and work – he has emailed me to say he now supports the campaign.

The government have lost touch with reality – they don’t know what’s going on. Anyone who’s got a family member or a friend affected by this policy will have seen how the policy is taking away people’s dignity. People are literally having to go and beg. I know a demonstrator down on the south coast having to get by on £7 a week. You can’t do that – it’s physically impossible. But Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP think that is a satisfactory income.

JC: What will solve this? Will it be the next general election now that Labour have come out strongly against the policy? Or might it change before then?

TS: Labour brought ATOS in in the first place, but not to do what the Tories have got them doing. ATOS, who are a French IT company, have lost the contract – that was announced yesterday. But another French IT company are coming in to take over the contract – it doesn’t make sense! As for the next election, I think Labour will get in. The Tories have pushed things so far that even the middle classes are starting to realise that things have gone too far. With any movement, you can have the students involved, the working class, but it’s only when the middle classes get involved that something will really happen. I would love to think that this demonstration is the thing that starts a ripple effect. There are people from all different walks of life getting involved in it – if they haven’t already been affected then they’re starting to realise, “it could be me next”. Pastor Martin Niemöller got it right when he said, “…Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they got rid of the sick, the so-called incurables, and I did not speak out because I was not sick. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

It’s atrocious that anyone should defend a French IT company – one who paid no tax on their £120 billion income last year – making these decisions on people’s lives. It should be people’s own GPs who know them and understand properly what they can and cannot do. It’s a sad state of affairs, but hopefully today will raise the awareness. People are going to stand up and say, “We’re not going to take this anymore – we’re not going to stand by while this is happening to the sick and vulnerable in my country”. The disability payments only equate to 1.8% of the total amount the government pays out on benefits. The amount of actual cheating to get benefits payments is like 0.02% of the total. It’s nothing compared to tax evasion, such as by ATOS. The 8% pay raise the MPs just gave themselves would pay for all Disability Living Allowance for 6 months.

We’re hoping to have BBC Look North, ITV, Sky, Russia Today and others covering the demonstrations today. It’s really interesting to think about why the BBC are covering this. They haven’t covered any demonstrations in the last couple of years. November the 5th – 4,000 people out – no coverage. Thousands out in Manchester for the NHS rallies – no coverage. But they want to get really involved in this. Why? There’s lots of interesting things going on. ATOS putting out their blog message – that’s not normal behaviour for a multi-million pound corporation. Police forces up and down the country are actually saying they support us – they are also seeing ATOS starting to take over parts of their operation so they see the dangers too.

Enough is enough – no more. We’re not going to sit back any longer.

The BBC’s defence of its Royal baby coverage

BBC news coverage of the Royal babyThank you for contacting BBC News.

We have received a wide range of feedback about our coverage of the royal baby story. Bearing in mind the pressure on resources, the response below strives to address the majority of concerns raised. We apologise in advance if not all of the specific points you have mentioned have been answered in the manner you prefer. Please be assured we have raised your concerns with the relevant editorial staff and have done our best to issue a substantive response. Continue reading

Making the news: The 10 factors that explain the state of the mainstream media.

The ingredients of news: 70% Wire copy, 54% Public Relation material, 12% journalismIn previous posts I’ve been looking at why the mainstream media in the UK routinely omit stories on certain subjects while so often failing to report accurately, in a balanced way, on the stories which do make it to the public. Nick Davies book, Flat Earth News, provides perhaps the final pieces in the jigsaw to explain why this is.

To the factors I’ve discussed in previous posts, Nick Davies’ book adds commercialisation and ignorance. A full list of the ten factors is presented below, but first a look at what Nick Davies says in Flat Earth News. Continue reading

Should we read the news?

Old-school journalist

Old-school journalist

In ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions’, Rolf Dobelli argues that we should not watch the news. I think there is truth in the points he makes about news (as in TV and newspaper news) being irrelevant, misleading and having little explanatory power. My last post about the BBC News at 10 looked at these limitations.

Dobelli also talks about passive news absorption as something that wastes people’s time and kills their creativity. And he cites studies showing how the brain of a news junkie undergoes structural change as a result of their addiction, leaving them unable to concentrate for longer periods. But there is a problem with cutting yourself off from the news… Continue reading

Pistorius, horsemeat and flaming balloons, but no women and children: BBC News at 10

BBC News at 10

This post discusses analysis of 10 hours of ‘BBC News at 10pm’ broadcast between 5th February and 4th March 2013. The BBC’s News at 10pm is the BBC’s flagship news programme with the highest viewing figures of a BBC news programme (4.9 million average per evening).

The purpose of the analysis was to find out whether the BBC, as a publicly funded body, provides a balanced news output or whether they follow the same patterns of churnalism and biased output that the corporately funded media do. I wanted to find out whether the BBC do “inform, educate and entertain” whilst also delivering on their objectives, which include ensuring that all audiences are well served. Continue reading

Just the good old boys?… BBC Trust Service Review of Children’s Television

CBeebies characters. It's just the BBC's good old boys. Doing no harm?

It’s just the BBC’s good old boys. Doing no harm?

The BBC Trust has launched a Service Review of BBC children’s services including CBBC and CBeebies. Users of these services are able to respond to a public consultation until 31st May 2013. Further details and the survey form can be found here. As the BBC are very resistant to taking on board views from the public or fielding questions except on their own terms this may be a good chance to influence the BBC via the BBC Trust.

My view is that CBeebies provides some very good content. But like the rest of the BBC’s output it relays a narrow perception of diversity that perpetuates certain aspects of our culture that I think we should be working to change. My response to the consultation includes the points below: Continue reading

The BBC: as transparent as a dirty pond

The BBC won't tell us what's in the pond so let's take a closer look at that shopping trolley.

The BBC won’t tell us what’s in the pond so let’s take a closer look at that shopping trolley.

I’ve made quite a few attempts recently to get information out of the BBC. It has generally been a frustrating experience, which it shouldn’t be when you consider that the BBC are publicly funded and are therefore subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and that one of the challenges set for them by the BBC Trust is to “set new standards of openness and transparency”. You might also think that after all the recent revelations of child abuse by BBC employees, not to mention deeply flawed journalist work on Newsnight, that they would be really keen to open their hearts and minds and answer questions from the public on any topic. But no. Continue reading