Fears for blue tang fish spike in the wake of Finding Dory

Blue tangfastic. ©2016 Disney Pixar

Cinema’s around the world are now showing Finding Dory, the long awaited sequel to Disney and Pixar’s 2003 Finding Nemo. The film takes up the story of Dory, a much loved character from the first film, who embarks on a quest to be reunited with her family. We follow the animated blue tang as she leaps and flip flops from one watery environment to the next, apparently happy to be transported in a beaker of drinking water, a mop bucket or through connecting pipes in a public aquarium.

Along the way, Dory – who suffers from short term memory loss – manages to regain some of the lost memories of her past life with assistance from Nemo, his father Marlin and an octopus named Hank.

In the run-up to the film’s opening in America, Finding Dory attracted media attention when questions were raised by conservationists, marine biologists and animal advocates about the potential for the film to trigger a craze for blue tang fish. The majority of marine aquarium species are still taken from the wild and, in the case of blue tang, the process of capture is harmful to both the fish and to coral reefs.

Finding Nemo led to a rapid growth in the trade of clownfish as pets which, in turn, contributed to the decline of wild populations. Reports suggested that the pet industry was expecting a similar growth in sales of blue tang and pet products following the release of Finding Dory.

Nemo making a reappearance. ©2016 Disney•Pixar

Green entertainment

One response to concerns about the impacts of wild capture has been to initiate research into captive breeding programmes. For example, until very recently it was not thought possible to breed blue tang in captivity. But in late July 2016, an announcement from Rising Tide Conservation and University of Florida revealed that for the first time, blue tang had been successfully reared in captivity for 52 days. The press release noted that the six-year project to find an alternative to taking fish from the wild had backing from the SeaWorld-Busch Gardens Conservation Fund.

Many will recall that SeaWorld’s profits and public image were irreparably damaged by the 2013 documentary film Blackfish; a story about an orca named Tilikum. SeaWorld’s investment in the Rising Tide initiative and involvement in the captive breeding of blue tang may be playing a role in the company’s efforts to rebrand itself as a conservation organisation rather than an entertainment corporation and theme park.

In this respect it is some years behind Disney, the company responsible for Finding Dory, under its subsidiary brand Pixar. Disney’s moves to reorient the brand’s green credentials involved the creation of DisneyNature in 2008, a semi-autonomous film unit dedicated to producing nature documentaries, which are usually slated for release on Earth Day, and a revised corporate sustainability strategy.

Disney’s efforts have been branded by some in the press as greenwashing. My own analysis of the release strategy of DisneyNature films is in accordance with this: the tensions between the company’s commitment to what it calls “environmentality”, its green rebranding and its drive for profits are untenable.

For example, under pressure to address concerns about the impact of Finding Dory on blue tang, Disney Pixar released a downloadable guide to pet fish ownership. The guide is, however, difficult to find and the message that blue tang are not suited to life as a pet is completely overshadowed by the Disney marketing for the film and associated merchandise.

‘Baby Dory’

Indeed, the messages reaching the public about blue tang are worrying. Media coverage of the breakthrough in raising this fish in captivity, even referring to them as “baby Dory”, celebrates the technological solution that will allow consumers to purchase a sustainable Dory. Consumer fears that they are contributing to destruction of blue tang populations and coral reef areas are appeased by the message that it’s business as usual in the pet trade when entertainment, science and commerce work together.

The fact that many blue tang had to die in the process of developing a captive bred fish, that blue tang are still unsuitable as pets, that once in captivity and even under good conditions their lifespans are shortened, and that far from being the cute memory-challenged character we see onscreen, blue tang have spines on their tails designed to inflict injuries on would-be attackers – all this is lost in the celebratory communication that sustainable Dorys are on their way.

While we have yet to see if Finding Dory will have an impact on the trade in blue tang, the question over what degree of responsibility media companies should take for their representations of animals and their involvement in the promotion of animals as entertainment and pets remains. It has been surprisingly easy for media companies to continue to hide behind a thin veneer of greenwashing.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What troubled US police forces can learn from the civil rights era

Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson, 1966. Yoichi Robert Okamoto/Wikimedia Commons
Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson, 1966. Yoichi Robert Okamoto/Wikimedia Commons

Effective law enforcement requires the support of the community. Such support will not be present when a substantial segment of the community feels threatened by the police and regards the police as an occupying force.

These words could be read as a comment on the recent shootings in Dallas, Texas. Or on the deaths of Alton Sterling, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in St Paul, Minnesota, who last week became the latest casualties on the tragically long and ever-growing list of African-Americans killed by white police officers.

But they actually come from the late 1960s, and specifically from the Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. The Kerner Commission, as it is better known, was set up by President Lyndon Johnson, who tasked it with identifying the causes of the race riots that took place across the US in the five “Long Hot Summers” of 1964-68.

The report found a history of poor police practices was a common factor in many riots. And five decades on, it seems not much has changed.

In 2015, the report of President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing made the same point: “Law enforcement cannot build community trust if it is seen as an occupying force coming in from outside to impose control on the community.”

Among other things, the task force looked to new technology to provide a solution for old problems. It recommended that police officers wear body cameras to help with training and improve public trust. They should also carry tasers as well as guns.

It sounds like common sense. If officers are filmed while they are on duty then they will think twice before stepping out of line; and using tasers to stop violent suspects will lead to fewer fatal shootings. But it’s not that simple.

Unintended consequences

Body cameras don’t come cheap. The Dallas Police Department has spent millions of dollars on new cameras, but so far has only been able to kit out about 400 of its 2,500 officers.

And that’s just the start. Scrutinising the thousands of hours of footage generated every week means that many officers spend most of their time at the desk rather than out on patrol.

Police officers in Dallas after the recent shootings. EPA/Erik S. Lesser

Cameras could also make things worse, not better. Some people stopped by the police will not like being filmed, making a difficult situation more tense. There is also a question of civil liberties. In August last year, the police union in New York sparked controversy by calling on officers to take photos of the 75,000 homeless people in the city to draw attention to “quality of life” offences.

Then there are tasers, which the 2015 task force report refers to as “Conductive Energy Devices” – a nice technical term that makes them sound harmless.

If only. A 2014 US Department of Justice report on the police department in Cleveland, Ohio described the use of tasers. The electric current “instantly overrides the central nervous system, paralyzing the muscles throughout the body, rendering the target limp and helpless” and inflicting “excruciating pain”.

And that’s just in healthy adults. For the very young, the elderly or infirm it could be even worse; anyone tasered falls straight to the ground, so there is a risk of serious injury or even death.

The Cleveland Report also found widespread evidence of police abuse in the use of tasers. This included tasering a “suicidal deaf man who committed no crime, posed minimal risk to officers and may not have understood officers’ commands”. Another suspect was tasered while strapped to a stretcher in the back of an ambulance.

Most police officers do not abuse the trust placed in them in this way. They risk their lives on a daily basis for the public good, as was shown all too clearly in Dallas. It is important that police officers are given the support they need to do their job. State-of-the-art resources are a part of that – but they’re not a quick fix for deep seated policing problems.

Long past time

Back in 1968, the Kerner Commission called for changes of a different kind. They included better training and clearer policy guidelines for police officers, simpler and more effective complaints procedures for ordinary citizens, and more community policing. The commission also highlighted the need to recruit more black police officers to work in African-American communities.

A lot has changed since the 1960s, but some things remain the same. Good policing is about people. Police officers working with the communities they serve to make a better and safer society for everyone.

Today, police forces across America still fail to recruit from minority groups. In too many towns and cities, police patrols are seen as nothing short of an occupying force.

In its day, the Kerner Commission’s recommendations were largely ignored. 50 years on, it’s high time they were finally put into practice.

The Conversation

Kevern Verney, Associate Dean (Research), Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Elon Musk says we’re probably living in a computer simulation – here’s the science

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In a recent interview at the Code Conference in California, technology entrepreneur Elon Musk suggested we are living inside a computer simulation. On first hearing, this claim seems far-fetched. But could there be some substance to Musk’s thinking?

As founder of a number of high-profile companies, such as Tesla and Space X, Musk’s business interests lie firmly in leading technologies.

Key to his claim is that computer games have evolved rapidly over the past 40 years to the point that, inside the next few years, they will be fully immersive, with a computer-generated and controlled world seamlessly merged with the physical world. In other words, we are on the verge of experiencing augmented reality (AR) combined with artificial intelligence. The end result is that what is real and what is simulated could become indistinguishable from one another. In his own words:

If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality, even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now. Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.

So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions.

The idea that humans live in a reality controlled by external bodies, whether computers or otherwise, has been around for a while. This has been a question explored by philosophers and even physicists over the centuries. The philosopher Nick Bostrom drew the same conclusion in 2003.

The similarities between the arguments put forward by Musk and Bostrom go further than proposing we are part of a larger computer simulation, though. Both consider the development of artificial intelligence (AI) to be a dangerous field of technology. According to Musk, the result of progress in AI research and development will be the end of civilisation. Bostrom takes a similar standpoint should appropriate risk assessment not be carried out on development projects.

Fact or fiction?

But is this just paranoia? The claims carry more than a passing resemblance to science fiction movies, such as The Matrix and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but are Musk and Bostrom voicing valid causes for concern?

The case that we are not living in a simulation is strongly supported by resource arguments. Consider the sheer computing power needed to run such a simulation. A simulation system would need to manage all the entities in the world and all their interactions. This would require a vast amount of processing. Further support can be found in arguments relating to quantum mechanics – to run a truly lifelike simulation of a city, with all its trillions of interactions, would require a city-sized computer. This makes the case for our existence in a simulation very unlikely.

Even if a machine existed that could simulate our existence then there would be a high probability that we would experience so-called “realism imperfections”. These bugs in the simulation would be seen or heard due to glitches in the model. For example, stars may or may not exist when viewed through telescopes of varying magnification. Such errors would be inevitable in a simulation of this scale, but they have never been observed by humans.

Machines that use self-learning, super intelligent software are still very distant from the current state of the art, and systems that do make use of AI operate in very tightly defined fields. Current systems learn to optimise their performance within specific domains of work – not to take over the world.

For example, neural networks, which are sometimes referred to as electronic models of the brain, are used to predict changes in stock markets. These systems can be trained using existing data from stock trading to learn and identify patterns in live data streams that may indicate that something will happen. The result of this is that traders can take action to mitigate any negative outcomes.

Equally, there are systems that are developed using AI techniques to alleviate workloads by applying programmed rules and facts. These are known as knowledge-based systems. While the human users of these systems may not realise that they are interacting with a machine – such as Jill the online tutor of AI, which answers questions and provides feedback to students on an AI course – they are also developed to work on or within well-defined problems or domains.

Virtual worlds – Shutterstock

Taking the restrictive fields in which AI-type systems are developed, the danger of civilisation coming to an end because of the creation of AI would seem to be very small. Indeed, AI is used largely to support human decision-making and action rather than to replace it.

Alternative Reality

There are elements of Musk’s thinking, however, that seem considerably more likely to happen in the near future.

One of these is the development of technology to aid human-machine interfaces. As everyday life becomes increasingly reliant on connected devices, the way in which we use them is constantly changing. Our desire to access data and communicate has driven the evolution of wearable technology.

Musk claims that we will become pets to AI should we not develop effective brain-computer interfaces. However, the father of wearable technology and AR, Steve Mann, promotes combining both technologies to benefit society. This carries more substance as much work in the area is focused on assistive medical systems. For example, one area of research looks at the creation of brain implants to harness electrical signals in the brain and stimulate movement in paralysed limbs.

Rest assured, however, that we are probably not living in a computer simulation and that the claims made by Musk are outlandish. There are, however, some elements of his thinking that do hint at technology developments in the future.

Future developments in AR and related technology will move us towards a world that is more connected. In these augmented realities we will have seamless access to data and digital representations projected into the physical world. AI techniques will help us understand the data; making decisions that are informed by computers. But while augmented, these realities will still be built on and in the real world.

The Conversation

Mark Robert Anderson, Professor in Computing and Information Systems, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tony Awards 2016: a brief history of the woman behind the biggest event in show business

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The cast of ‘Jersey Boys’ perform onstage at the 2015 Tony Awards. Theo Wargo/Getty Images

This Sunday, the Tony Awards will light up screens around the world, with Britain’s James Corden – going from strength-to-strength as the presenter of The Late Late Show – as host for the night. The combination of Corden’s popularity, and the genre breaking, grammy winning Hamilton – a musical about the life of American founding father Alexander Hamilton – which is nominated for a record breaking 16 Tony Awards, has firmly brought the Awards back into the mainstream.

The awards are a highlight in the theatrical calendar and the glitzy ceremony, studded with musical performances, is broadcast across the globe. A nomination can generate an increase in ticket sales for a show, and research has shown a win will – following an initial boost of 12% in profits – continue to reap financial rewards long after the Tony’s are over.

The build up to the awards this year has seen Corden getting more exposure than ever – particularly because of his latest Broadway Carpool video, which features Lin Manuel Miranda – who created and stars in Hamilton – and other Broadway luminaries.

In the video Miranda touches on the financial gains to be made by winning an award, comparing his experience of previous Tony awards with the unknown show “In The Heights” (Best Musical 2008) to his “Hamilton”, which is “selling fine”. A total understatement, the show is pretty much sold out until next year unless you want to pay a ticket tout a 1,000% markup.

As with all award ceremonies the Tony’s are not without criticism – detractors cite the focus on larger commercial producers and the power of the sponsors of touring productions. As well as the Tony’s inability to provide coverage for anything more challenging. Although it should be said that compared to other industry awards – such as this year’s Oscars – the 2016 Tony nominees are an incredibly diverse bunch, which led to the hashtag #TonysNotSoWhite.

And yet, the uninitiated might still be wondering who is Tony? And what does he have to do with Broadway theatre? In actual fact “Tony” was a woman, Antoinette Perry to be precise. When she died in 1946 the theatre community decided to establish an awards ceremony as a permanent memorial to her. And 70 years later medallions bearing her image are still handed out to recognise theatrical achievement.

Tony’s story

Mary Antoinette Perry (Tony for short) decided on a career as an actress from an early age, telling a reporter in 1935 that “when I was six, I didn’t say I’d become an actress. I felt I was one. No one could have convinced me I wasn’t”.

The woman behind the awards, Mary Antoinette Perry. Archive

Her ambitions met with some resistance from her father, who was an attorney. He felt that a career in music was more suited to a young lady of her class. However, Perry persevered, spending summers travelling across America with her actress aunt and uncle, and making her debut in her uncle’s touring company at 15.

Two years later in 1905 Perry came to New York and began pursuing roles on Broadway and beyond. She managed to sustain herself, achieving roles in The Music Master and A Grand Army Man before being swept off her feet by her former beau Frank Wheastcroft Frueauff. The pair were married in 1909 and Perry gave up acting to become a full-time wife and mother – a decision she never regretted.

Frueauff’s wealth allowed Perry to develop her altruism and support young actors and directors along the way. However, she never settled into life as a lady who lunched, declaring: “Should I go on playing bridge and dining, going in the same old monotonous circle? It’s easy that way, but it’s a sort of suicide, too”. So it was of no surprise that following Frueauff’s death in 1922 Perry returned to the stage.

No business like show business

Her friendship with theatrical producer Brock Pemberton lead to Perry taking the reigns as director, initially in collaboration with Pemberton. And in 1944, Perry directed Mary Coyle Chase’s comedy, Harvey, which went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

New York Stage Door Canteen gave servicemen nights of dancing, entertainment, food and non-alcoholic drinks. Archive/New York Stage Door Canteen

Despite her creative success on and off stage Perry was most warmly remembered for her work as an activist and organiser with the American Theatre Wing – the organisation that oversees the Tony awards – under the umbrella of which she established the New York Stage Door Canteen, where performers, including Al Jolson and Marlene Dietrich, would entertain soldiers free of charge during World war II.

So it is of little surprise that following her untimely death the theatre community wanted to honour her memory. Originally the awards were presented on Easter Sunday, as most Broadway shows would be having a break for the holidays. This meant that performers could attend the ceremony – which was also broadcast on local radio. Today, the awards are a global affair, with live streams across the world and a huge online social media presence that includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat.

As well as celebrating Hamilton’s huge success, the 2016 awards will honour Tony’s memory in a medley of glitz, glam and jazz hands as the theatrical movers and shakers crowd into the Beacon Theatre, New York, to showcase their achievements.

There will be singing, there will be dancing, there will be acting, there will be tears and laughter and a lot of performers determined to not (in the words of Hamilton), “throw away their shot”, and make the most of this global publicity machine.

The Conversation

Clare Chandler, Lecturer in Musical Theatre, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

35 years of Film: In and From Birmingham, Liverpool, and London

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A recent invitation to talk about 35 years of Film: In and From Birmingham, 1980 – 2015, gave me the opportunity to reflect publicly on the direction that my career in film had taken.

The talk was at MAC Cinema in Birmingham. I decided to talk not only about the number and variety of films that I have been associated with – as a developer of talent, as a producer and exec producer, and as a Film Fund Head – but also on the changing parameters of film policy at regional and national levels. There have been various mutations from Regional Arts Boards, to British Film Institutes to UK Film Councils to Regional Screen Agencies inter alia over the decades, as new, incoming government regimes have brought with them their own cultural vistas and sculpted immediate and at times ‘tribal’ changes.

MAC Cinema is the leading publicly funded art house and indie cinema in Birmingham and they came up with the 35 years in Film invitation, mindful also of an association of some longevity that I have had with the venue. I was a Board Member for 6 years of the parent organisation, Midlands Arts Centre – one of the best attended arts venues in the country, still going strong since its formation in 1962, and substantially developed under the aegis of Labour Arts Minister Jennie Lee MP – as well being the founding director of the Birmingham International Film/Television Festival which was incubated in MAC’s offices in the mid 1980’s, and operated successfully in the city until 2002. In fact, the Festival opened MAC’s new cinema in 1987 with a regional premiere of Business As Usual, starring Cathy Tyson and Glenda Jackson, in an early production by one of Edge Hill’s Honorary Doctorates, Colin McKeown.

The talk itself was by way of an in conversation with Sandra Hebron, who also has an Honorary Doctorate from Edge Hill, and who until a few years back was Artistic Director of the BFI London Film Festival, where she helped to foster a new generation of culturally engaged UK cinema. Sandra is now Head of Screen Arts at the National Film and Television School, and an international film festival consultant.

The clips that were screened (see full list below) charted the various phases in my film work, whilst also documenting how the regional and national policy landscape had altered; a sort of historical tour d’horizon.

From my work as Founder in 1980 of Birmingham Film/Video Worksop/BFVW, aspects of which are part of my research interests at Edge Hill, Mirror, Mirror and Giro: Is This The Modern World?, were screened – the first shot on 16mm film, the second on video. This selection represented two of the hallmarks of BFVW’s output – an engagement with stories from multi-cultural Birmingham by emerging film makers; and pioneering participatory work with young people adopting and applying an aesthetic of ‘disruptive television.’

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Butterfly Kiss, Under The Skin and Beautiful People are three films that characterise the influence that Liverpool’s Moving Image Development Agency/ MIDA had in the mid 1990’s. As MIDA’s Director I helped establish the first regional feature film fund in England, backed by Objective One, European Regional Development Funds…..as I used to sing, ‘Objective One for the Money, Two for the Show, Three to Get Ready, Now Go Make the Film….’

MIDA’s film fund worked with Liverpool writers, such as Frank Cottrell Boyce, Jimmy McGovern, and helped get their first feature film screenplays into production, (respectively, Butterfly Kiss; Heart) whilst also attracting to the city numerous films, dramas and television series. Such an approach meant working closely with the Liverpool Film Office, with whom we devised an approach that delivered the city both ‘in front of the camera’ – that is, locations sourced by the Film Office – and ‘behind the camera’ – that is, employment for crew, technicians, and creatives engineered by MIDA’s investment.

Beautiful People won an award at the Cannes Film Festival – Un Certain Regard award – and was rapturously greeted by the international film critics in attendance, especially the opening sequence when the black humour of the director, Jasmin Dizdar, is slyly pointed at Churchill’s detrimental role in the history of the Balkans. The film was funded by an array of national and regional public funds – BFI, MIDA, Lottery etc – almost all of which were embroidered together by the 1997 incoming Blair government to fashion the UK Film Council, which in the late 1990’s assumed strategic precedence over the BFI regarding film policy and funding in the UK.

I Could Read The Sky, Lawless Heart and My Brother Tom represent films from this period of the transition from one public film body – the BFI – to another, the UK Film Council, modelled on the French CNC. We were able to get the films produced before complete regime change took place and new vistas of editorial taste and choice, driven by harsher commercial criteria, hove into view at the UK Film Council. All three films have scintillating performances – novelist Dermot Healey as the ageing Irishman in ‘County Kilburn’; Bill Nighy falling for someone he shouldn’t in Lawless Heart; and Ben Whishaw in his debut film revealing what a formidable actor he was going to develop into.

The closing two films in the clips reel point to my time as Head of Production at Scottish Screen, and my returning time to Birmingham to be involved again in city based film matters. Festival, from the pen and direction of Annie Griffin, is a wonderfully observed black comedy about comedy, particularly of the Edinburgh Fringe and stand up genre. Wickedly acidic.

Made in Birmingham ; Reggae Punk Bhangra, as a Birmingham based film mirroring the opening clip from Mirror Mirror, returned me to the making of music docs and  borrowing  footage from my earlier production for Channel 4 in 1992 of the music heritage of Birmingham, Motor City Music Years.

Clips screened from the below films:

Mirror, Mirror, dir Yugesh Walia; Birmingham Film Workshop, 1980; selected for Edinburgh International Film Festival, 1980.

Giro: Is This The Modern World? dir Jonnie Turpie and DHSS; Birmingham Film/Video Workshop, 1985; broadcast by Channel 4;  Tv, Video, Documentary and Youth Festivals.

Butterfly Kiss, dir Michael Winterbottom, writer Frank Cottrell Boyce; with Amanda Plummer, Saskia Reeves, Ricky Tomlinson; MIDA with British Screen; 1995; Awards – nominated for Golden Bear, Berlin Film Festival; nominated for European Film Award.

 Under The Skin, dir Carine Adler; with Samantha Morton, Rita Tushingham; MIDA with BFI, Channel 4; 1996; Awards won at Sundance, Seattle, Toronto, Edinburgh Film Festivals in 1997/98; nominated for a BIFA.

 Beautiful People, dir Jasmin Dizdar; with Charlotte Coleman; MIDA with BFI, British Screen, National Lottery; 1999; Awards won at Cannes Film Festival, Karlovy Vary and St Petersburg; nominated for two BIFA’s.

I Could Read The Sky, dir Nicola Bruce; with Dermot Healey, Stephen Rea, Brendan Coyle; BFI with Irish Film Board, Channel 4; 2000; Awards, nominated for Tiger Award, Rotterdam.

 My Brother Tom, dir Dom Rotheroe; with Ben Wishaw, Jenna Harrison, Honeysuckle Weeks ; UK Film Council with National Lottery; 2001; Awards won at Verona, Sochi, Angers, St Petersburg Film Festivals; BIFA award winner.

 Festival, dir Annie Griffin; with Chris O’Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Stephen Mangan, Lucy Punch; Scottish Screen with Film 4; 2005; Awards won at Stockholm, Dinard Film Festivals; a BIFA, 2 Scottish BAFTA’s.

 Made in Birmingham: Reggae Punk Bhangra, dir Debbie Aston; with UB40, Steel Pulse, Au Pairs, Nightingales, Duran Duran, Dexy’s Midnight Runners etc; UK Film Council and Screen West Midlands; 2010; Awards – 3 nominations for Royal Television Awards.

 

Written by Professor Roger Shannon, Director of ICE, Edge Hill University’s Institute for Creative Enterprise.

Roger Shannon is a Professor of Film and Television who specialises in UK film policy and Independent Film. His published work in this area has been presented papers at internal, national and international conferences.

He has been associated with over 20 UK feature films including Festival, Butterfly Kiss and Under The Skin and has worked with ground breaking talents including Jimmy McGovern, Michael Winterbottom and Frank Cottrell Boyce. Roger’s productions have won awards at International Film Festivals such as Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, Edinburgh and Berlin.

Would Hillsborough research be supported today?

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Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) adds a note of caution following the outcome of the Hillsborough Inquiry:

It is absolutely understandable that people will be celebrating the hard work and commitment of the families who have suffered so much over such a long period of time. And to recognise too, that some public figures who now praise them have for many years continued to doubt their campaign and their account of what transpired and challenged their claims that the Police covered up what happened.

Learning lessons from this will not be straightforward. There are many lessons, but there is one which is common to campaigns of this type. It is about commitment and dedication of those most affected by what has happened. Their resolve is the most significant lesson which is so evident. It is what links other campaigns against injustice. Supportive journalists and dedicated academics play their part but they do not sustain campaigns. Those of us on the fringe can be supportive but our actions are tiny in comparison.

Why is this lesson important? The work of Professor Phil Scraton and his colleagues has been important there is no doubt about that. I am sure that he would not over state his part. And yes journalists and politicians have played their part too. Nevertheless, if we think that academics are essential in campaigns like Hillsborough, we should examine the current context.

One of the worrying aspects of the last 20 years in Higher Education has been the drift towards conformity. A recent report in the Times Higher described how in science research, there was some evidence that so called blue skies thinking proposals were being rejected because they challenged existing paradigms. To his credit Phil and his team consistently challenged a range of state actors from the police to the coroners court to the mass media.

In an age where we are becoming more risk averse would we support this work now? Would we fund such challenging academic research?

As the present government make it harder for charities to question government policy if they have received funding from the state, and the implication is that this might move across into HE, can we be sure that the next Phil Scraton would be supported in work which at the time did not just question a paradigm but the actions of a state agency (the Police) who were supported – especially in South Yorkshire- by the Thatcher Government. Protecting such intellectual freedom is precious for all of us. How secure is it?

Zootopia-inspired pet trade shows problem of portraying wild animals as cuddly companions

At home in the Sahara. Cat Downie / shutterstock

Films and TV shows keep depicting wild animals as fun and friendly characters, with human-like personalities. It’s better than representing them as evil monsters, of course, but sometimes films can have a bad influence on which animals become trendy to have as pets.

The most recent example concerns the Disney animation Zootropolis (also titled Zootopia or even Zoomania depending on where you live) and the fennec fox, a small, cat-sized fox with large ears that it uses to keep cool in its native Sahara.

In the film a fennec fox, named Finnick, appears in only a handful of scenes as a sidekick to one of the central characters, a red fox named Nick Wilde. Yet the character clearly made the most of his limited screen time. Following the movie’s release in China, there have been reports of huge demand for fennec foxes as pets despite their unsuitability for life as companion animals.

Though the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species currently lists the fennec fox as one of “least concern”, this could be a game-changer. The main threat to populations in North Africa is from trapping for sale to tourists and for exhibition purposes, and there is now speculation that the Chinese pet craze could have an impact on their numbers in the wild.

There is good reason for this assumption, as this isn’t the first time pet-keeping trends have been influenced by blockbuster films or popular TV shows that have featured anthropomorphised animals or exotic species.

Large, unusual or hard-to-keep dog breeds have been given an onscreen makeover in movies such as Beethoven (Saint Bernards), Turner and Hooch (Dogue de Bordeaux) or the Harry Potter franchise (Neapolitan Mastiff). 101 Dalmatians portrayed the breed as cute, fun-loving family dogs but experts point out that the breed is in fact strong-minded, requires high levels of exercise and can be destructive. In 1997, a year after the film was released, rescue organisations in the US reported that the number of Dalmatians surrendered to shelters had more than doubled.

It’s been a similar story recently for Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies and other wolf-like breeds after the inclusion of wolves and Northern Inuit Dogs in Game of Thrones and the Twilight movies. By 2014 the number of wolf-like dogs taken in by the UK Dogs Trust charity had tripled over four years. Owners found themselves unprepared for the realities of living with large, powerful breeds and their requirements for exercise, socialisation and mental stimulation.

It’s not just dogs: sales of turtles and tortoises increased rapidly following the various Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. The charity American Tortoise Rescue estimated that the majority were eventually killed, flushed down toilets, or dumped.

Pet shops were inundated with requests for clown-fish after the release of Finding Nemo in 2003, despite the specialist needs and costs associated with caring for tropical reef fish. Harry Potter’s pet Hedwig also led to a substantial increase in the number of pet owls given up to sanctuaries.

Chimpanzees have also suffered for decades due to their misrepresentation in popular media. The species is currently listed as endangered, and the illegal pet trade continues to be one of its major threats. The standard practice for acquiring chimpanzees from the wild is to kill the female chimp and take her baby.

Despite numerous film and television representations of chimps as cute, human-like clowns, they are wholly unsuitable as companion animals. Natural behaviour developed by around age five puts humans at risk of severe injury from aggression and biting. Many chimpanzees are given up to research laboratories; a lucky few find a place in specialist sanctuaries.

Ronald Reagan once played a psychology professor who tried to teach human morals to a chimp.

The consequences of trends driven by film and television for many animals are both sad and alarming. The industries should certainly take some level of responsibility for their representations of animals and some have already done this, providing information about the species featured as fictional characters onscreen.

However responsibility lies elsewhere too and there needs to be a wider conversation about the relationship humans have with animals in general. This discussion could begin with the acknowledgement that other animals are individual sentient beings with their own species-specific interests and needs. A radical change in human attitudes towards other species is long overdue.The Conversation

Claire Molloy, Professor of Film, Television and Digital Media, Edge Hill University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why I wish I’d listened more to mum

I miss her terribly; she told me that I would. I can’t say that she didn’t warn me. “Your mother should be number one. You’ll regret not taking me out more,” she used to say. Then the emotion and the tears would come. “I’m way down the list; I think that you care more about Louis than you do me.”

Louis was my boxer dog and the object of great envious resentment. “I cannot believe that you let that dog kiss you, you let it slobber all over you,” my mother would say, and I always thought that this complaint was occasioned more by jealousy than by concerns over personal hygiene. Sometimes I felt that Louis could also sense her resentment.
I would ring her every afternoon. I would be sitting in my bright, airy office in a university over in England, the laughter and the chatter of the students in the corridor outside filtering through, in this busy and self-important world. She would be sitting in front of the television in her front room in Belfast, in the middle of the day, retired from the mill now, alone.
She missed the work and the company; never wanting to retire in the first place. The laughter filtering into my office made it sound like I was at a party. “I’m not living anymore, I’m just surviving,” she would say. “I’m lonely all day; you’re having the time of your life.”
I would feel those sharp pangs of guilt that you can anticipate, but can’t avoid. They cannot be dulled even with full expectation.

I had my life, my family, my children, my career and my busy schedule, but she never understood how universities worked, or how you build a career. “What time do you have to be in at? she would ask. “No time really, unless I’ve got lectures or tutorials, but I have to get stuff done. It’s extremely competitive.”

“So, you can go into work whenever you like, but you only come over here to see me once in a blue moon. I’d be ashamed of myself, if I was you.”

I tried to get back home as often as I could and she would visit at Christmas, Easter and the July fortnight, but it would never be enough.

When I did visit, I would often bring a computer with me and that would be the basis for the first argument, as I hoisted the bulking computer in through the front door.
“You’re here to see me, not work. Put that bloody thing away, or I’m not even going to go out with you.” She knew that I would try to mix visits home with work-related activities and occasionally it worked better.

I would take her with me. We went together to a literary awards evening sometime in the Nineties. One of my books had been shortlisted for a literary prize.
My mother had a few drinks at the posh reception and talked to Brian Keenan, who talked in a whisper after all those years locked in a Beirut cellar.
“Speak up, Brian,” she kept saying to him. “I can hardly hear you; speak up, Brian, for God’s sake.”
Brian kissed her when they announced his name for the prize for his book An Evil Cradling. “He deserved it,” she said to me, “for all those years sitting in the dark in that bloody cellar. He told me all about it. I told him that I knew what it was like. I said that I never get out, either.”

We saw Andrew Motion across the room. He later became the poet laureate. He had published my first non-academic book and I’d had a drink with him in some pub in London near his publishers. I told my mother that I knew him.

He nodded almost grudgingly as he passed. She noticed it, too, and then she glanced at me to see my reaction. “He’s not a very good friend of yours then, is he?” said my mother. “I notice that you haven’t got many good friends, not like when you were a wee boy and all your friends would hang about our hall laughing and joking.”

We walked across town afterwards to a piano bar and she told the man playing the piano that it was her birthday to get a free bottle of champagne, even though it was not strictly true (or even approximately true). He played Please Release Me for her as a special request. Some girls at the next table on a hen night were getting a little rowdy, one wanted to kiss me because she was getting married. “Leave him alone,” said my mother. “The young hussies these days have no shame.”

A few years later, we both went to another awards ceremony held in the City Hall. My novel The Corner Boys had been shortlisted for the same prize. I had been told that Chris Patten would be there to hand out the award and that Gerry Adams would be attending the function.
“I’ll have one or two things to say to old Gerry,” my mother had warned me, “after what he’s put us through. There’s no two ways about that. I’ll have a wee word in his ear all right.”
She was looking forward to the event, but I was worried about what she might say, all that day she had been getting excited talking about prize-givings of the past.

“When you and your brother were young,” she said, “you won all the prizes in St Mark’s from the JTC and the CLB. My neighbours used to tell me that it wasn’t worth going, because the Beattie boys won everything that was going.”
I had to get out of the house so I went shopping and then I realised that I was going to be late, so I rang her from town and told her to make her own way there. I would go straight from town.

I stood at the back door of the City Hall waiting for her and saw the Call-a-Cab car drive in past security.
The driver nodded at me, as if he recognised me, and got my mother’s wheelchair out of the boot. She was still chatting away to him.

“Do you remember playing ‘foot in the bucket’ when you were young?” she asked him after he had opened the door to let her out. “That’s the problem with young people nowadays; they don’t know how to keep themselves amused.”
I pushed her into the City Hall slowly and carefully. The other guests all stood around in the centre of the room, holding their wine glasses delicately. I noticed that the men all seemed to be wearing grey suits and all the women elegant black dresses with silver brooches.

Then there was me in my puffa jacket and my mother in her pink anorak, with Topshop bags from that day’s shopping, balancing on her wheelchair. She was wearing the wig that the dog liked to chase around the house.
“I’m starving,” she said, after we had pushed through the crowd. “I haven’t had any dinner. Go and get us some of them, whatever they are.”

I went in search of food and got my mother a large glass of white wine. “I’m thirsty,” she said. “I haven’t had a drink all day.” The speeches were starting, there were television cameras dotted around the room and every now and then, some small circular area would suddenly light up in intense, white light.

Chris Patten’s report on the future of the RUC was just about to be released and the cameras were there partly to capture a few comments from him. The other contestants and their coterie of friends stood in a group in the middle of the floor. The women in their expensive dresses adorned with silver bracelets in intricate Celtic patterns, looked appreciatively up at him, my mother was concentrating on the food in front of her.

The waitress with the nibbles had found us on our own, stranded from everybody else. “I’m starving,” said my mother to her, “these little things don’t fill you up.” “Here you are, love,” said the waitress, handing her a larger plate, as Patten started to speak. “This is my son,” said my mother. “He’s up for the prize tonight, you know, but he won’t win it. You have to be in the know to win prizes and he doesn’t know anybody.” “Yes, but it’s nice to be invited,’ said the woman with the nibbles. “Of course,” said my mother, “that’s what I tell him. You should be proud just to be invited to the City Hall.”

“Exactly,” said the waitress.

“Have you met Gerry Adams?” said my mother. “Oh yes,” said the waitress, “he’s a regular. Him and Martin, they’re never out of here, that is when they’re not up in Stormont running around as if they own the place.”
My mother was sitting in her wheelchair making blowing noises. “Who would have believed it?” she said. “They’re running the country and there’s no two ways about that. They got everything they wanted. The Protestants got nothing.”

I stood there against the wall. I noticed that there were black stains up the outside of the arms of my jacket. I spent some time just staring at them and trying to rub them off with spit. The waitress had gone to get her some more wine.
“You’re too backward,” my mother said to me. “Go and talk to those men over there. Tell them that you’re a professor.”

The waitress had returned with more wine and more food and overheard this.
“Is he a professor?” asked the waitress. “He is indeed. But you couldn’t tell to look at him,” said my mother. “Are those his bags?” said the waitress. “In the old days you wouldn’t have been allowed in here with bags like that.”
“Does Gerry ever try to bring big bags in with him?” asked my mother and they both started laughing. “Is Gerry not coming then?” asked my mother, who I think was disappointed in some strange way.

Chris Patten looked in our direction. It was probably the laughter that attracted his attention. He said something about my novel. I couldn’t hear what it was. “What’s in those mushroom pates?” asked my mother.
“Mushrooms,” I said.
“What else?” she asked, irritated. “Do you know, you can’t get a sensible answer out of you sometimes.”

The waitress went off to fetch some more drinks. We were still standing in the same spot. I made some pretence and then pushed my mother’s chair so that she was now facing the wall, with her back to Chris Patten.
“I can’t see,” she said. “There’s nothing to see,” I said. The waitress had returned. “Are you not watching what’s going on?” she asked. Chris Patten was just about to announce the winner. “And the winner is …” he said.

I didn’t hear the name, but I knew that it wasn’t mine. “Never mind,” said my mother. “Never mind,” said the waitress. “Have some more of these lovely mushroom pates.”
We could hear the chatter from across the room. “What time does the bar close?” asked my mother. “It’s open as long as you like,” said the waitress. “Within reason,” she added. “Let’s have a few more wee drinks then,” said my mother. “And for God’s sake, go and speak to some of those people. You’re never going to win a prize like that if you don’t speak to people,” she said. “That’s his problem, he never speaks, except to bloody women. But then he’s had a lot of practice at that.”

I wandered off to find a toilet and I tried smiling at one or two people, unsuccessfully. My mother had decided that it was time to go. “By the way, is there a wee phone around here for us to call Call-a-Cab when all this drink finishes?” she asked the waitress. “We don’t want to be stranded here all bloody night with nothing to eat.”
I went to ring Call-a-Cab, but they were engaged, so I just hung about by the public telephone at the back door and then I bumped into a female TV producer from Dublin, who just smiled at me and asked me if I had enjoyed the proceedings. It turned out that she was there to make some arts-based programme about the evening for RTE, but all the interviews she needed were now in the can. I blurted out that my book was on the shortlist. It was too late to be relevant to anything; it was a moment for chitchat, nothing more.
“Really?” she said, and I looked at her expression and I regretted saying it even more. “It’s a pity that we didn’t get to talk earlier. Oh, here’s my car, I’m just off.” I smiled at her and walked off before doubling back to ring Call-a-Cab once more. Luckily, I got through this time.

I pushed my mother out into the back courtyard of the City Hall to wait for the taxi. She smiled over at the security man and he smiled back at her. “I think that your man thinks that he’s scored,” she said. I wasn’t sure whether she was joking or not, so pretended I hadn’t heard.

We hung about outside in the cold, night air, a woman in a wheelchair and a man in a grubby coat. It was the professor and his proud mother going back home to the turn-of-the-road from the literary prize-giving, the professor who had departed his working-class roots, but not quite arrived anywhere else yet.
These are the moments I remember; I cling on to them because that is what there is. They are even sadder at this time of year with Mother’s Day tomorrow, which was always special.
Of course, I would send her flowers every Mother’s Day and ring her to make sure that they had arrived. “They are lovely,” she would say. “I’ve shown them to all my neighbours, they’re all very jealous.” And, at that moment, I would feel ecstatic.

Then she would add, “It would have been much nicer if you’d brought them in person.”
But it is that time of the year. I would love to pick up the phone and just order the flowers and then ring that old number of hers in Belfast just to hear her say … anything. She was right a lot of the time and, sometimes, I wished that I’d listened more in that busy, busy life of mine.

Geoffrey Beattie’s memoir, Protestant Boy, is published by Granta

This post was originally published by the Belfast Telegraph.

What now for the BBC?

© Copyright Christine Matthews and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

BBC senior managers probably hoped the Smith report (published Feb 25th) would lead to a day or two of heavy duty media work and then business as usual.

Like many of these key moments though, it’s impossible to draw a line. The ongoing story about Tony Blackburn is likely to run for a while. Campaigners claiming the report to be a whitewash are not likely to be silenced. And it’s hard to see how this won’t be taken up over and over again in Parliament. In the context of the forthcoming Charter renewal and the Secretary of State’s views on the BBC, this is a reputational problem that won’t be going away any day soon.

In one sense, there is little the Comms people at the BBC can do to stop, or deal with, much of this. It is probably wise to let some issues play themselves out.

But there are strategies the Corporation can adopt, and perhaps already is adopting, to navigate a way through the problems it faces.

When looking at the topic of reputational damage, you can’t do better than check with William Benoit’s Image Repair Theory.

Benoit has taken all the possible responses to reputation damage and put them into a handy classification list. These include denial – “its not true” shifting the blame “nothing to do with me guv” and mortification “yep I did it and I’m really sorry”. Now obviously the first two strategies here are not open to the BBC. But many of Benoit’s categories are.

The first real response by the BBC was Director General Tony Hall’s statement to the press conference immediately after publication of the Smith report. So what did he say and how did he say it?

The speech begins with a clear example of the mortification strategy. An apology and admission of responsibility. There was, of course, no other option here. But it’s instructive to see how long this passage is. A lot of crisis communications statements start this way with an admission but swiftly move on to next steps. Hall, in contrast, takes 29 lines or paragraphs. Look at some of the quotes.

“So today we say sorry. We let you down and we know it.”

“A serial rapist and a predatory sexual abuser both hid in plain sight at the BBC for decades…”

“The scale and nature of what they did was truly terrible.

The way Savile used his celebrity to promise access to excitement and fun, and then grotesquely exploited it. The oppressive power of his fame and his physical presence. The sense that no one would believe a complaint. Even in their own families, survivors felt alone. The idea that he was known as King Jimmy – there was no escape from him – and, I quote, “no one will believe you”.

Hall’s speech then makes use of what Benoit would refer to as Corrective Action. Depending on context this can range from replacing a broken product right through to a complete change in the organisation. Hall stresses what has already been done and what the BBC plans to do.

“But let me also be clear: since I became Director-General, we haven’t been standing still – we have made this a priority – and there is much we have done already:

“We now have a new child protection policy, shared across the industry, and a detailed procedure for complaints.

“We have child protection advisers, working together across the organisation.

“We have also put in place an improved whistle-blowing policy, supported by an independent investigations unit.

“And we’ve brought in a wide-ranging set of measures to encourage people to raise concerns about bullying and harassment – with a confidential hotline, independent experts assigned to cases and a service to allow mediation to take place wherever possible.”

A third Benoit category is that of Reducing Offensiveness. There are several variations , one being called Bolstering. Bolstering basically translates as “there are good things about me/about my actions too”. So if Bill Clinton were talking about Monica Lewinsky, he might admit the act but also talk about the great things he was doing as President. Or if a company had manufactured a faulty car, it might talk about the speed with which it organised a recall. In this case there are small elements of Bolstering in Hall’s speech. Given the context, this could never have been the major approach, but the stress on what the BBC has already done can be categorised this way as can this quote.

Referring to an external review he said: “They found that the BBC has strong child protection policies in place and that our whistle-blowing policy ranks well compared to other organisations. But they also made 53 recommendations for improvement. Of those, 51 are now complete, one is underway and in one case we have agreed to take forward what needs to be done in a different way.”

However, given the context, Hall was 100% correct to focus almost entirely on Mortification and Corrective Action as his strategies.

So, what now for BBC Communicators?

There is a danger in being too proactive in announcing every move towards change. While being open and transparent matters , it is important that the BBC does not come across as “bullish” about its reform actions. It would be better for future announcements to be seen in the context of wider developments. And of course Lord Hall has flagged up his plans to make announcements on structural change later this year.

The tone of questions at the press conference showed that there will be a hunt for senior heads. Some of the journalists pursued lines naming specific BBC executives. This means the BBC should expect the manhunt to continue for quite some time. It’s important for the Corporation not to get drawn into defending individuals (although simple statements of fact will be needed in some cases)

Relationships with survivors and those representing them will be key over the next months, or even years. Hall has already talked about working with at least one organisation, and of the BBC being in listening mode. But the Smith report has been described as a whitewash, and not just by campaigners but by some who have worked at or for the BBC.

The problem of course is that the BBC is not the report’s author. However, the Corporation is the only organisation that can deal with these accusations. Hall and his colleagues will need to find ways of showing that they are going beyond the report and beyond its recommendations . To be fair, this was the tone of his press conference. But this is very tricky as some survivors may feel justice is only served by particular individuals being named .

I used to think that the least desirable job in Public Relations was press officer for Network Rail. I suspect today many today would put Head of Comms for the BBC at the top of that list. It will be instructive to see how the Corporation manages its communications around this issue, and around its future, as we near Charter Renewal season.

Paula Keaveney’s blog was originally published in Influence, from the CIPR.

Photo:  © Copyright Christine Matthews and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Emy Onuora discusses Racism and Football with Peter Hooton

Emy-event-1024x576Professor John Diamond (Director of the University’s I4P) describes how powerful conversations can be for exploring serious social and political questions:

As part of the University’s Festival of Ideas Emy Onuora talked about his new book and explored the ideas in the book through a dialogue with Peter Hooton.

The Q and A facilitated by Peter was a really powerful experience, as Emy talked about his childhood experiences of going to matches in the 1960s, his love of the game and his wish to reclaim the lives of those black footballers who have been hidden from history, and the power of representing their stories to a different audience.

The power of the ‘conversation’ is that it has the potential to connect a number of themes and ideas, from politics to racism, to economics and to social change. At the same time because it is a particularly personal form of presenting ideas, it breaks down the invisible barrier between the speaker and the audience. It makes the person more real and powerful in a way.  And through the lens of the experiences of black British footballers, it is possible to see the ways in which British society has or has not changed.

By then connecting the story of football in the UK to another set of stories from the murder of Stephen Lawrence to the increase in attacks on asylum seekers and refugees it is evident how far we still have to go to.