Monday, 2 November 2009


I remember waking up one morning last week to the radio, as you do, and finding it rather strange to hear that an expert would claim ecstasy and LSD are less harmful than tobacco or alcohol. I thought common sense would say otherwise. But I never imagined the furore that has come out of the episode, which has seen the chairman and two members of the government’s drug advisory body leave over the last few days. More could follow shortly.

The question now is whether this is another issue of freedom of speech - following the recent mass hysteria around the Trafigura super-injunction - or if Professor David Nutt should have known better than to say such a thing. Home secretary Alan Johnston has clearly stated why Professor Nutt had to go - “not for his views” but “because he cannot be both a government adviser and a campaigner against government policy”. This is an interesting concept. Should the government hire somebody to advise but then fire them when they question their policy?

Let’s look at Sir Alan Sugar. If he was to state that the government should think again on some of their employment and training policies, I doubt he would suddenly be kicked out as their business adviser. It’s important that people with opinions are allowed space to give those opinions, as freedom of speech is a staple part of our society. If the government don’t like those opinions, then they should sit down with advisers to find out more about why they think such things. The answer is most certainly not just to get rid of them, even if they do disagree with government policy.

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I love radio. I wake up and work to Classic FM, I listen to BBC 1Xtra, BBC Radio One and Kiss 100 when I’m out and about, I tune into BBC Radio Five Live or BBC Essex for football commentary and I download a variety of podcasts from BBC Radio Four. Radio is such a fantastic addition to daily life as it’s entertaining and it's the only media where you can do something else whilst consuming it. Newspapers, magazines, television and websites require your time but radio doesn’t.

I’m a big champion of DAB Digital Radio, and have watched its development (or lack of) with great interest over the last few years. I own a personal and portable DAB radio - which cost around £150 combined around 3/4 years ago - and they were superb investments. It means I can listen to London stations in Sheffield, access extra BBC content not available on analogue and get fantastic music quality down my eardrums. I rarely look at the scrolling text function, but have occasionally used it for song titles. But, similar to when you go back to analogue TV after trying Sky HD, there is a huge difference in output.

The concern now is that although millions of people are still tuning into radio, last week’s Rajar figures suggest only 21 per cent of us use digital - less than a third of the 66 per cent who listen to AM or FM. I still think the major problem with DAB is that it is not yet widespread in cars - a location where much radio listening takes place. Additionally, the signal is pretty poor in some areas - for example, I never use my DAB radio on the train because the signal is always going in and out, and it’s not worth the hassle. So that’s two things for Ofcom to address - getting it into cars and increasing coverage. Oh, and while you’re at it, why can I only get two bars of mobile phone signal in my room in Sheffield but perfect DAB? I suppose both would just be greedy.

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When is a chant not allowed in a football ground? Alex Ferguson is appealing to Manchester United fans in an open letter for them to stop singing “sit down you p*****phile” to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. A few weeks ago we had the latter say Birmingham City fans who chanted “There’s only one Martin Taylor” (in reference to the defender who broke the leg and ankle of Arsenal’s Eduardo) were “stupid”. So where do you draw the line? I go to many football matches every season - it’ll be 20 already for 2009/2010 after Sheffield United v Newcastle United this evening - and often get involved in chants against the opposition or their fans.

I think it’s part and parcel of the game that you’re going to get some friendly abuse between fans. It's in the nature of football, from my experience. Whether it’s fans waving £20 notes at Southend, singing “you’re not famous anymore” to Newcastle or “where’s your Beattie gone?” to Sheffield United - you’ve got expect a bit of banter. But calling someone a “p*****phile” without any evidence or laughing about a player whose ankle fell out of their leg a year ago isn’t so funny. I’ve been in crowds before where I haven’t joined in with one of two chants as they’ve been a bit near the mark. But the majority of it is all right. I just hope that Manchester United can set down a precedent here that the majority of chanting is OK - but a small percentage is most certainly not.

P.S. By the way, Sheffield United v Newcastle United tonight will be the first time I’ve ever see two of the teams I support playing each other. However, I will be in the away end as I’m a bigger fan of the Magpies!