Friday, 8 July 2011

My boycott of the News of the World

I have only ever boycotted three things, and the results scare the hell out of me.
Last week I was so incensed about the Milly Dowler hacks that I sent a tweet . "Hacking Milly Dowler's voicemail and deleting evidence, how low can you get. Boycott News of the World now"  Sent on 4th July.
For me personally that was difficult in that I had never bought the paper in my life, so how exactly could I boycott it? Never mind, after a suitable period of figuration (that word was put in by the predictive text on the iPad, but it seems to work so I'm leaving it), I sent out the tweet, a pretty rare thing from me. I doubt if the closure of the paper arises directly from my action, I actually doubt if anyone else actually saw the tweet, but given what happened after my other boycotts I am left wondering.
My first boycott was of South African products, starting after Sharpeville and continuing until Nelson Mandella asked me to stop. I was part of an audience of a thousand or two at the ICC in Birmingham where he spoke. It wasn't quite a one to one conversation, but I was there and he did ask. After the meeting I drove up to Tescos at Five Ways in Birmingham and bought a South African apple and ate it sitting in the car. I wept, quite overcome with the emotion of seeing and hearing Mandella and with ending what had probably been the first political act of my grown up life. I was almost fifteen when Sharpeville happened.
When I worked in general practice many years later in Balsall Heath, a very inner city part of Birmingham, I used to see every day a piece of graffiti painted on the railway bridge - "Thatcher out, Mandela out" it said. At the time both seemed impossible.
My second boycott was of Sainsburys, the supermarket. Roy Griffiths (no relation), was their chief exec at the time, and did a report on the NHS for Mrs Thatcher. I was so incensed with the superficial analysis and potentially damaging effects that I gave up shopping in Sainsburys. At the time they were the leading supermarket, but once my boycott began, Tesco steadily overtook them and eventually got way ahead. I finally stopped the boycott a few years ago when Sainsburys ran a campaign on healthy food. I was President of the Faculty of Public Health at the time and at the launch event for the campaign. I was able to speak to the chief exec of Sainsburys. I told him personally that I was impressed with what they were doing and was therefore officially ending my boycott, since then their results seem to have improved.
I am trained as an epidemiologist, so I know a bit about interpreting cause and effect. Three out of three isn't bad, but it's hardly enough for me to take the credit for these momentous changes, but just in case I plan to continue to be very careful about what I boycott in the future.

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