Crossing Timmy Mallett

Jungle warning - the 'I'm a celebrity get me out of here' participant shouldn't be crossed if my exp

It's often said that we journalists are a despicable breed. After all we murdered poor Diana. We lie at the drop of a hat and we'd sell our grandmothers to the highest bidder.

Of course it occurs to no-one that you don't go into this racket if money floats your boat. No. It's a better story if the public think we hacks are all sweaty, greedy and evil.

And it's true I've not always behaved ethically.

For example, when I was at the BBC I disgracefully tried to balance coverage of the illegal and immoral Iraq war by interviewing people who were opposed to it. I suppose that makes me a communist.

I only hope that's offset by the obsequious treatment Lexus David Cameron gets from political editor Nick Robinson.

The other occasion I erred I'm afraid I trod all over Timmy Mallett's moral compass.

A highpoint in the loveable entertainer's career was his afternoon show at BBC Three Counties Radio where he was lucky enough to be produced by my wife.

On one occasion we went out for a drink in Luton after they'd come off air and he told a very moderately amusing anecdote about fellow children's presenter Michaela Strachan. His very good friend.

It was about Strachan's reaction to a staged kidnap attempt while she was doing a hostile environment training course ahead of filming in some remote troublespot.

Apparently she screamed or fainted or got the giggles. Can't remember which.

Mysteriously this tale appeared in a Daily Telegraph diary column quoting what the Mallett had said.

And my god the wrath. No sooner had I got home that evening than the phone started ringing.

"Timmy's very angry," came a voice down the line when I answered. "Timmy's very angry."

"Oh really Timmy? Why's that," I replied, weakly leaning against the wall.

"Guess what happened to me today," went on the pint-sized funster. "I went to see my parents - my old pensioner parents - and they showed me a copy of the Daily Telegraph. What the hell's wrong with you, selling a story you'd heard sitting in a pub...

"That's a disgusting profession you're joining. Really despicable. Now I'm going to have to ring up my friend Michaela and apologise. Timmy's very, very angry."

And I have to say I did feel a bit bad about upsetting him. I'm not sure the diary story did Strachan any harm - actually it gave them both some of the publicity they so clearly crave.

But I do worry that I provided a bit of the oxygen that kept his national profile high enough to see him pop up in the outback on this year's 'I'm a celebrity'.

The gnomic pot of insufferable jollity is once again on network TV and for that I apologise to you all.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.