Category Archives: Writing for Purpose- John

Charlie Hebdo

On 7th January, french newspaper Charlie Hebdo was attacked by members of Al Qaeda in revenge for printing cartoons about the prophet Muhammad.

In an assault that shook the world, 11 employees of the paper were shot and killed, including editor in chief Stéphane Charbonnier who was on the terrorist group’s most wanted list.

The shooters, now known as brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi, fled the scene before being gunned down and killed two days later by police. Whilst leaving the newspaper’s office, they were heard shouting: “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad, we have killed Charlie Hebdo.”


The high profile attack has caused a debate as to whether the newspaper was right to publish cartoons which satirise Muslim leaders and religious figures.

Charlie Hebdo is well known in France as a satirical weekly newspaper, which features cartoons and reports mocking different cultural and religious groups. They are also known as non-conformist, printing views which some people may not agree with.

The paper is allowed to publish its own views because of the french practice of Laïcite. This means that anyone, from journalists to politicians, have the right to say whatever they want. For example Charlie Hebdo have the right to satirise religions. Laïcite is practiced in order to protect the right for freedom of speech.

This is not the first time the publication have had trouble from terrorists because of their use of freedom of speech. They have been fire bombed previously and had their website hacked by people that were not happy with what they were printing. In 2012 riot police had to also surround their offices in case of attacks.

So should the paper, and indeed others journalists be allowed to publish copy that may be seen as offensive to other religions?

Prime Minister David Cameron thinks they should. He agrees that newspapers should be able to publish whatever they want, and is, “simply part of living in a free country.”

Harriet Harman, shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, agrees with Cameron.

“The right of free speech is a basic human right for every individual and no democracy can function without freedom of the press.” she said after the shootings took place.


However, is has been shown that many people disagree. A study carried out by french newspaper Journal du Dimanche found that four out of ten french people think that they shouldn’t have published cartoons of Muhammad.

Sir John Sawers, previous head of the MI6 agrees with this view.

“If you show disrespect of other’s core values then you are going to provoke an angry response.” said John regarding the attack on the newspaper.

Although many are not using this as an excuse for what Al Qaeda did, the question is raised as to whether promoting free speech means that free actions are also justified. Human images of the prophet Muhammad have been long opposed by many Muslims for a number of years, and doing so is defying one of their religion’s key beliefs.


It would be easy to believe that this attack had suppressed free speech, but this is not the case. Four days after the shootings took place, over two million people gathered in Paris to show a display of national unity. The phrase je suis Charlie, meaning I am Charlie, is now known over the World as a sign of solidarity, to show terrorists that they have not succeeded.

The latest edition of Charlie Hebdo sold over seven million copies to different countries around the world, which included a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad on the front holding a sign with Je suis Charlie on. This shows that the newspaper has not suppressed free speech because of the shootings, instead defending it, and as new editor Gérard Biard said: “defending the freedom of religion.”

The cabinet and civil servants

The cabinet
The cabinet is the decision making body in the government. They deal with the big issues happening in the World and overall strategy.
They meet weekly, and is composed of the Prime Minister and 22 cabinet ministers. These are selected primarily from elected members of the House of Commons and chosen by the Prime Minister.
These ministers are heads of government departments, but others that attend include the Prime Minster, deputy Prime Minister, the Chancellor and Ministers of State.
There are over 100 members of the government that are not included in the cabinet, including the ministers and state and parliamentary under-secretaries of state.
One of the striking features of the current cabinet is the lack of diversity. They are all of around the same age, ethnicity and gender, with a few exceptions.
Civil service
The civil service in the UK includes corral government employees. It does not includes parliamentary employees or local government employees. They work for government departments which report to the ministers. You cannot speak to them directly as a journalist, you need to go through a press office or a politician.

Knowing this information about the government is very important as a journalist, as you need to know people’s roles in order to write an article relating to this area. It means that if you are asked to write a story regarding the cabinet you have enough knowledge to be able to write straight away, without having to research the whole subject. It also means that you do not write the wrong information because you already know the facts.

The NHS and the Emergency Services

Covering crime and the police service is said to be one of the most challenging, but most rewarding jobs in Journalism.

The Police Service:

Independent police authorities were first established in 1964. They were made up of both local councillors and independent, appointed members.

However, the government said that the police authorities were invisible, and needed replacing with elected commissioners and police and crime panels. So the Home Office decided to introduce this latest system, Police and Crime Commissioners.

These are directly- elected officers, with the job of securing efficient and effective policing of their area. They are not warranted police officers, but they do hold to account their chief constable. It could be argued though, that the public were not on board with this idea, as the first election of Police and Crime Commissioners was the lowest electorate in the history of England and Wales.

Police Rankings:

  • PSCOs (Police Community Support Officers)- these are uniformed civilian members, with no power of arrest, although they can carry out a citizens arrest. They work within neighbourhood policing teams, dealing with minor offences and anti-social behaviour. They also gather intelligence.
  • Specials- These are volunteers, and hold the same powers as normal constables. They help to provide additional police presence on the streets and work at events such as football matches.
  • Police Constables- These have full powers of arrest, and are seen as your normal police team.
  • Sergeants- Sergeants are senior to police constables but are junior to inspectors. They are directly concerned with day to day policing.
  • Inspectors- These are above sergeants, and directly concerned with day to day policing.

The Health Service:

In the 19th Century philanthropists and social reformers tried to provide free medical care for the poor. This is because before the NHS, people were required to pay for their health care.

It was decided, however, that the existing service was a mess, and needed to be sorted out. Aneurin Bevan decided that “the only thing to do was to create an entirely new hospital service, to take over the voluntary hospitals, and take over the local government hospitals and to organise them as a single hospital service.”

The NHS was then created in 1948. However, its future has been debated since the 1960s. Perhaps the most culturally significant shift in the NHS was in 1989, when the internal market was introduced. This was passed into law as the ‘NHS and community care act 1990’. This meant that the NHS became more localised.

The first of the NHS Trusts were introduced in 1991, and by 1995 all health care was provided by local NHS Trusts, for which GPs were given their own budget.

In 2000 the NHS plan was published, which gave patients more choice about when and how they receive treatment.


This gave a good background in to the history of both the police force and the NHS. This is great to know, as I now have some knowledge for future reference. It is important to know such information as it means you can reference it in articles, and it gives some perspective on how things were in the past, as I was not familiar with how these services ran previously.

It also gives information on police rankings, so now I would know who to contact if I needed specific information. It also gave information on where to find stories, such as voice banks and policing websites. This is great to know in case I am asked in the future for a story from the emergency services. Examples given in the powerpoint also gave me an insight in what to do if police try to exercise their powers in the wrong way, such as trying to stop me taking photographs in a public domain. This is useful, as I now know what I can and can’t do, and means that there isn’t a chance I could lose a story due to not knowing what the police are allowed to do.

Will local television be a success

Although six have already launched and 23 more are on the way, it is being questioned as to whether local television stations will be a success.

OFCOM, the communication regulator, have recently said that ‘the nature of the awarding licenses for a new type of service in a competitive media market means that it is very unlikely that all channels will succeed’.

This statement comes after the company that created Birmingham’s station collapsed before even launching, and London Live have already asked to cut content only four months after becoming live.

There are currently 6,400 hours being broadcast to an audience of around six million around Britain, but the recent statement from OFCOM has added to the doubt that many feel within the media industry, as to how many local stations will actually succeed.

£40 million of the BBC licensing fee has gone towards local stations, but with some already folding, it could be also questioned if spending this amount of money is a bad idea.

However, it has been argued that they could be a success, if launched in smaller areas. Cardiff’s local station has so far been a triumph. According to their station manager, this is because of a ‘smaller, more local approach’ to their company and the programmes they run.

Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 gives you the right to access recorded information held by public sector organisations. This includes from the government, schools, hospitals and the emergency services.

Anyone can request information, and is a great way to find out what goes on in the government.

Although some information isn’t available due to being too sensitive, they have to give you a reason for not giving you the information. Other reasons why they can refuse it include the amount that it would cost to gather the information, the request being too broad or industrial use.

Using the FOI Act is a great way to find stories, as it gives out information that might not be previously known. It can also be used to gather evidence for a story you are already researching.

The Official Secrets Act

The Official Secrets Act is ‘legislation that protects state secrets and official information, mainly related to national security’.

This protects the protection of official information that is mainly related to national security.

People working with this sort of information are often required to sign a statement agreeing to abide by the restrictions of the Official Secrets Act. However, this is not a contract but more of a law, it doesn’t matter if they don’t sign it they have to abide by it.

This act is designed to protect official information from disclosure, and was first enacted in 1889. It means that people who have signed the statement cannot disclose information relating to; security or intelligence, defence, international relations, information that would assist criminals.

Relating to journalism, the Official Secrets Act states that ‘Under the Official Secrets Act 1911, it is an offence to obtain, collect, receive or communicate any information that might be or is intended to be useful to any enemy’.

Although it is not often that journalists come across information that could be under the Official Secrets Act, it is necessary to be knowledgeable about it for future reference. Publishing any information could have serious consequences such as a prison sentence, so it helps to understand what sort of information would come under the act.

The electoral system

There are currently six types of elections. These are;

  • General elections
  • Elections to devoted parliaments and assemblies
  • Elections to European parliament
  • Local elections
  • Mayoral elections
  • Police Commissioner elections

The main method for elections is ‘first-past-the-post’. This means that whoever gets over half of the votes first wins.

The UK is split in to districts/ constituencies, and to get a seat they need to get the most votes from their district. The more seats a political party have, the more likely they are to get votes passed.

There are two houses of parliament, the House of Commons and House of Lords. The House of Lords are made up of a mixture of representatives, some chosen by the Queen and some who have inherited their seats. They scrutinise government policy and debate major issues. Their main purpose of to revise and amend government proposals for new laws.

The House of Commons are made up of 646 MPs, that represent the 646 areas of the UK. This is where the creation of laws happen.

Left wing parties generally;

  • Support social equality
  • Are anti-war, pro- choice and pro-gay marriage
  • Believe in the strict separation of church and state
  • Are pro-environmentalism
  • Are for high taxes and a bigger government
  • Are for a ‘nanny government’

Right wing parties generally;

  • Are pro-military and pro-life
  • For a greater role for religion in public life
  • Are anti-gay marriage
  • For lower taxes and smaller government
  • Oppose nanny government

This has really helped me to understand how the electoral system works. Although I have heard about it previously on the news and in newspapers, it has never really been explained in a way in which I understand.

I think that the way that the current voting system works is suitable, however it does mean that it could be unfair. This is because the seats won do not always reflect how many people have voted for the party. That is why some people want to change the voting system to ‘proportional representation’. This would ensure that the number of seats won by a party is proportionate to the number of votes received.

However, this could make it difficult to decide who take the seats, as usually the person that wins in their district take a seat in parliament.

Planning and Licensing


When someone submits a planning application, the application is advertised. This is so people in the area can have their say. The council then meets up and discusses the positives and negatives that come with the proposed development. The local councillors then decide whether it should be approved or denied.

If a planning application is denied, the developers can appeal the case. The councillors make their decision based on different planning policies. The council also enforce regulations and conditions if the application is approved.

This can be a great source for stories, due to the opposition the application can face.


Licensing is deciding whether or not places should get a license to sell alcohol. Much the same as with planning applications, the councillors debate the positives and negatives, and then decide whether or not to give a license. Again, the applicants can appeal this decision if it is refused.

The main way to report these meetings are to read the agenda, which is given out to those that attend, and to research the applications. Also, ringing up people that are involved is a good way to find out more information not mentioned in the meetings. If attending meetings, you should always understand what has been said before leaving, otherwise you will not fully understand what you are writing. Attending meetings is also a great way to get peoples reactions.

Although a great way to find stories, I think it would be difficult to understand what is being said during the meeting unless you have researched beforehand and have had previous experience of this sort of meeting. During our lecture we had a go at summarising a planning application agenda, which I found extremely difficult. However, if you gain the proper information, it could be a great local story, as people are always affected.

Twitter reporting

Twitter is now one of the main tools for court reporting. The Stephen Lawrence case confirmed this, that live social media reporting was at the heart of the job.

Although prosecutors were trying to ban the use of twitter during the court case, the judge accepted that it wasn’t being used for comment, but for a means to report.

However, is it very easy to get wrong. Before tweeting you need to make sure that all of the facts are correct, and that you are not violating any court orders, such as mentioning a person’s name who is involved.

I agree that twitter is now one of the main ways to report, especially because of the amount of people a tweet can reach. It is also a great way to find stories.

Council reporting

There are three main different types of council, county, district and parish/ town councils. The county council run services across the country, for example education, transport and social care. District and borough councils run a smaller area, such as a city, whilst parish and town councils run things on a local level. This includes issues like planning applications.

Hull City Council- the main council in my local area, run several different areas. These include:

  • Housing- approving tenants
  • Bins- emptying bins, sorting out waste
  • Lighting- running street lights
  • Roads and pavements- maintaining roads, repairing pot holes
  • Parks- upkeep and maintenance of parks
  • Social care- youth work, fostering and caring for the old
  • Education- running the local schools

The council is made up of both council officers and employees. The decision makers for each council are locally elected, each spending around four years in office. The councillors are accountable to residents, and are funded by a mixture of grants, council tax, and section 106 planning. Section 106 planning is when a company give a sum of money to the council to overcome intense property development.

The main way to report on councils is to attend council meetings. You can also research FOI requests that have been made in the area, and looking into campaigns and complaints.

I found this lesson interesting as I had no previous knowledge about the council. I didn’t know how many services the council run, and now understand what councillors do. I think looking into FOI requests is a great way to find stories, as it can cover a broad range of subjects. Also, I think attending council meetings would be a good idea, as you can find out the most up to date information all in one place.