A company that carries out non-destructive testing has been fined for failings in the way it carried out gamma radiography work at its site in Holmewood, Chesterfield. Chesterfield Magistrates’ Court heard an employee of Applied Inspection Limited was carrying out gamma radiography work, during March and April 2014, when his passive personal radiation dosimeter (Thermo […]READ MORE
As any reporter knows, there are at least two sides to every story. Covering politics, war, or diplomacy can involve grappling with numerous viewpoints in an attempt to get a version of the truth for your audience. Where journalism crashes into propaganda the truth is often hard to find in the wreckage. Then, perception is everything – and interpretation usually depends on the onlooker’s viewpoint.
Reports in October that Nat West would be closing the UK bank accounts of RT – as the Kremlin-funded international TV channel launched as “Russia Today” now likes to be known – were later clarified, or denied. In this case, the truth was of secondary importance. The Russian authorities – in the shape of their London embassy – swiftly dismissed the incident as an “openly political decision”.
The response from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow was menacingly sarcastic: “I wish the BBC Russian service luck. They will need it now, because digging stuff up can be a diverting and unpredictable business,” warned a ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova.
Whatever those consequences might be, this looks at first glance like nothing more than the latest ill-tempered episode in relations between Russia and the West. This time the news media – in this case the BBC Russian Service – is being lined up as a future target (I should declare here that I edited its website for a year from 2004-5).
There is more to it than that. In fact, this episode represents a curious kind of victory for RT. Whatever the reason for, or the extent of, the restrictions which have been placed upon RT’s banking facilities, the network has been noticed. For the past decade and a half, Vladimir Putin has striven to restore to Russia some of the international standing it lost with the collapse of the USSR. Media coverage has been an integral part of that effort.
It has been a lengthy process. Russia Today was launched in December 2005. Having lived and worked in Russia for long periods in the 1990s, I returned there in April 2006 as a correspondent for the BBC. Russia Today was taking the first unsteady steps which are a frequent feature of media launches. But even then it was taken seriously in Russia – if not abroad. In informal meetings with Russian officials, they would ask what we, as Westerners, thought of it.
Those of us who lived in Russia, and worked in the media, took a professional interest – but Russia Today was not the subject of much curiosity in the wider world. I learnt from a visiting western TV executive, who had been to the channel, that one of Russia Today’s main – albeit modest – audiences then was to be found in Australia, after 11pm. The time slot suggested that people were watching it after coming home from a night out. RT now claims much greater, more engaged, audiences including 70m daily viewers globally and 36m weekly viewers in Europe alone.
When, as with Russia and the West, different nations’ populations have little knowledge of what makes each other tick, journalists become an important link in understanding. That in turn makes them pieces on the chessboard of international relations and confrontations.
While the technologies may be new, the idea is not. During World War I, British correspondents in the then capital city, Petrograd (now St Petersburg) signed up to work in “an official British propaganda office” as RH Bruce Lockhart recalled in his 1932 Memoirs of a British Agent. What was different in those days was that their efforts were not designed to undermine Russia but to strengthen the resolve of a troubled ally against the Kaiser.
Later, in the Communist era, the bulwarks of Soviet propaganda – among them TASS and Radio Moscow – spread the word of Marxism-Leninism both internally and externally. Inside the Soviet Union, populations starved of other sources of information inevitably had their views shaped by these tightly controlled state organs. But in the post-Soviet era Western-style media flowed over the ruins of the Iron Curtain along with much else.
In the 2000s, Russia even hired western PR agencies, but their best efforts could not stop the country’s image suffering when it was seen by many as the aggressor in the 2008 war with Georgia. Russia Today’s different message had little impact on what the world thought.
Mastering the spin
Military shortcomings from that conflict were addressed for future campaigns – and, meanwhile, Russia was also learning media lessons. Budgets for the Kremlin’s international news outlets subsequently rocketed, Russia Today became “RT” – its national affiliation no longer emphasised. “Question more”, the network’s motto, played to audiences wanting something different.
The channel, which had been conceived along exactly the same lines as BBC World News or CNN, now challenged those organisations’ version of events. Russia has also proved proficient at harnessing western social media platforms to challenge and confuse western narratives.
Is this a media conflict in the context of a “new Cold War”? Not really. In the Cold War, the USSR was selling a message of international socialism. Now Moscow is offering a mixture of Russian nationalism, and anti-Americanism. It may not be much in comparison, but – as the RT bank story shows – it has got them what they wanted. It has got them noticed.
James Rodgers does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
"GPs face axe for handing out too many pills," the Daily Mail reports. The headline is prompted by remarks made by Professor Mark Baker, clinical practice chief at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) which has published new guidelines on antibiotic prescribing.
The guidelines are an attempt to tackle the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
Increasingly widespread use of antibiotics is leading to the organisms causing these infections adapting and surviving. As this resistance develops, it can render treatments for infections less effective and eventually the infections may become untreatable.
What is antibiotic resistance and how does it develop?
Bacteria evolve in response to their environment. Over time, they can develop mechanisms to survive a course of antibiotic treatment.
This "resistance" to treatment starts as a random mutation in the bacteria’s genetic code, or the transfer of small pieces of DNA between bacteria. If the mutations are favourable to them, they are more likely to survive treatment, more likely to be able to replicate and therefore more likely pass on their resistant nature to future generations of bacteria.
When taken correctly, antibiotics will kill most non-resistant bacteria, so these resistant strains can become the dominant strain of a bacteria. This means when people become infected, existing treatments may be unable to stop the infections.
Widespread antibiotic resistance could have a far-reaching healthcare impact. For example, emerging antibiotic resistance increases the chance that surgical sites could be infected by bacteria resistant to antibiotics and cause infection in people who may already be vulnerable as a result of their underlying illness or from having surgery.
What recommendations do the guidelines make?
Individual health organisations should set up multidisciplinary antimicrobial stewardship teams – a group of health professionals, including a pharmacist and microbiologist, who review the use of antibiotics by that organisation. If patterns of antibiotic prescribing are unusually high, or there is evidence that antibiotics are not being used in line with current guidelines, they would be responsible for exploring why.
When prescribing antibiotics, prescribers should provide the shortest effective dose.
Prescribers should discuss alternative options to antibiotics with their patients, and if appropriate, explain why prescribing antibiotics may not be the best option.
Antibiotics should not be immediately prescribed to patients with a condition that is likely to get better by itself (self-limiting condition). Prescribers should consider whether a back-up prescription could be a more appropriate choice – this is where a patient could get access to antibiotics if their condition does not get better after a set number of days.
The use of repeat prescriptions for antibiotics should be avoided, unless there is a clear clinical need. Patients who do require repeat prescriptions should be carefully monitored and reviewed on a regular basis.
Are doctors really going to be 'struck off' for over-prescribing?
Many of the newspapers seized on remarks by Professor Baker, who is quoted as saying, "Most doctors prescribe sensibly and competently. For the relatively small number who are less-disciplined, first we need to identify them, and secondly there need to be processes to deal with them.
"Ultimately, if they fail to come into line there is always recourse to the professional regulator and there are a number of performance processes that the GMC [General Medical Council] can set to improve the clinical performance of practitioners."
It is likely that doctors would only be referred to the GMC in the most extreme cases.
The guidelines are designed to support and educate health professionals in the appropriate use of antibiotics. It is not a charter for sacking GPs.
How can you help?
Antibiotic resistance is not somebody else’s problem. It is everybody’s problem.
You can help by not requesting them for minor self-limiting conditions – especially coughs and colds, which are likely to be caused by a virus, meaning antibiotics would be of no benefit.
If your doctor does prescribe antibiotics for you, make sure that you’ve discussed and understood how to take them correctly, and that you take all the prescribed pills, regardless of whether you still have symptoms. If you do not take the full prescribed dose, chances are that some of the bacteria will not be killed, and these are more likely to be resistant strains.
The Marrakech Climate Conference in Morocco, which opened on November 7, marks a new beginning in the global battle against climate change. The 100 countries fully signed up to the Paris Agreement to tackle carbon emissions, which is newly in force, are committed to fighting climate change beyond anything we have seen to date.
The agreement is focused on keeping the rise in world temperatures to 2℃ and trying to limit it to 1.5℃. This is partly about taking the carbon out of energy production, which is well underway through the likes of wind and solar power. Last year, most new electricity generation under construction across the world was renewable for the first time, and it was the leading source of power in the EU.
Yet at the same time, almost nothing has been done about making heating renewable. This is a huge oversight: heating amounts to a third of carbon emissions worldwide. In the UK, for example, only 6% of heating is renewable, mostly thanks to burning wood in homes and industrial biomass boilers. Clearly we can’t decarbonise without addressing this problem. So what’s stopping us?
The political will has undoubtedly been lacking around the world as oil and gas have been cheaper for the last couple of years. But at the same time, heat is trickier to deal with than electricity. Heat is produced by millions of separate installations from different fuels and at different temperatures. The result is that heat metering is uncommon, which makes it harder to develop renewable heating policies or measure their effectiveness.
The UK’s experience
The UK has arguably been leading the way through a subsidy system known as the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). Launched in 2011 for businesses and then 2014 for homes, the system encourages participants to install things like solar water heaters, heat pumps, and wood-fuelled boilers. Rather than giving people or businesses a one-off grant, it works by paying them for the heat they produce.
For households and small businesses, this is similar to the feed-in tariffs system that has successfully encouraged UK homes to install solar panels and other renewable power sources. But while feed-in tariffs exist in over a hundred countries, including Australia and South Africa, the RHI remains the only one of its kind.
To date it has not been as successful. By March 2012, two years after feed-in tariffs launched in the UK, there were 314,843 installations of small renewable power, mostly of solar photovoltaic panels. By the end of March 2016, the equivalent month for the domestic RHI, the number of installations of household renewable boilers, heat pumps and solar hot water panels was only 47,743. (The most recent figures for the two schemes, from September, are 868,098 and 54,849 respectively.)
Businesses are a different comparison because the subsidy system for renewable electricity changes for larger quantities. Suffice to say they are not on target either: they comprise nearly 90% of all renewable heat installed to date, since the installations tend to be much bigger. But the latest UK government information makes clear that no one expects the 2020 target for 12% renewable heat to be met.
Whys and wherefores
When it comes to smaller installations, this is not a cost issue per se. The levels of investment required for renewable power and heat are similar, with solar panels and biomass boilers and heat pumps broadly costing in the £10,000 to £20,000 range and giving a circa 12% return on investment. Surveys meanwhile suggest that householders are primarily satisfied with the application process for the RHI, while the risk of cowboy installers has been reduced through a government certification scheme.
What is an issue is insulation. Buildings can only be eligible for the RHI if they meet a certain standard of energy performance by being properly insulated first. This is because the right insulation allows buildings to be heated by smaller-scale, lower-temperature heat installations of the kind that make renewables more viable.
The government has been preparing the ground with increasingly strict rules about insulation standards for new builds and by offering grants to other householders to improve their insulation. The UK is moving in the right direction, with roughly 173,000 homes improved since May 2015 and a target for one million within five years. While the country makes this shift to high-quality insulation, it makes sense that demand for renewable heat technologies is weaker.
For households at least, a second restricting factor is likely to be that making changes to heating is much more personal than putting panels on your roof. It affects the aesthetics and cosiness of your home, as well as sometimes involving changes to behaviour such as buying and storing bags of pellets to burn in the boiler. Partly for these reasons, people often invest in renewable heat at the same time as other home improvements – meaning it tends to be part of a bigger outlay.
In short, we shouldn’t be surprised that renewable heat subsidies haven’t been as quickly effective as those for renewable electricity. Both technologies are aiming for 750,000 installations by 2020. That looks a big stretch for the RHI, but this certainly doesn’t mean the system won’t work in time.
The UK’s installation figures are a reminder about the extra challenges around decarbonising heat. As the other countries that have committed to the Paris Agreement decide how best to reduce carbon emissions from heating, the UK’s experience can at least provide indications of what lies ahead. The past year has been a remarkable one for climate change legislation. The world’s leading nations now need to use the momentum to make renewable heat a reality.
Louise Reid receives funding from The Economic and Social Research Council, Grant number ES/K009516/1.
Katherine Ellsworth-Krebs does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
The claim “In many parts of our country it has become normal for young people to leave, though not out of choice. This might be to find work, but more and more, it is to find a home that they can afford.” Greg Clark, Communities Secretary, 2 July 2015 The background Are young people being forced to move away from where they grew up, thanks to lack of affordable housing? That was the claim from Greg Clark today, who told a Local Government Association conference that the “defining test” for current politicians was ending the housing crisis. He said: “For centuries, to be exiled – to be sent away – was considered to be an extreme penalty, reserved for the most serious of offences against the community. “If we want to maintain the chain of community – and a place for the next generation – then we must make sure we have the homes to welcome them to. The responsibility lies with us – national and local leaders alike.” Are young people really being increasingly “exiled” from where they grew up? The analysis We asked the Department for Communities and Local Government for evidence to back up this worrying claim, […]READ MORE
There are now just over 31 million people in work. 73.4% of people aged 16-64 are employed, the highest rate since records began. And 1.84 million people are unemployed, giving an unemployment rate of 5.6%. The lowest unemployment rate on record is 3.4%, which was reached during late 1973. This is not the same as […]
The Independent and the i lead with the claim that one million Britons will soon be using food banks. We hope to bring you more on this later today. We are also expecting a speech from Ed Miliband on immigration. The Express claims that Supreme Court judge Lord Neuberger has said veils should be allowed to […]
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“Labour’s plans for raise the National Minimum Wage closer to average earnings to £8 an hour by 2020 will actually deliver a real term cut. [sic]″—Liberal Democrats We normally use ‘real terms’ to talk about the amount of goods and services that you can afford to buy. This isn’t what the Liberal Democrats are doing...
News media have claimed that protests have nearly doubled in South Africa since 2010. But limitations in the way police record incidents such as protests mean their data cannot be used to substantiate the claim.
The Office for National Statistics is a vital source of nationally important information. Unfortunately a lot of it is difficult to find, awkward to use and, at times, hard to understand. But that could be about to change. This week the ONS has launched a new experimental prototype website and is open for feedback. We’ve already...