I am back in the UK once again having just returned from the USA. I love going to the States though. It's such a mad big place, full of everything put together in no particular order at all it seems. I always feel like I was born in the wrong country when I'm over there, like being English isn't my true identity. Those of you who have met me will know what I mean.
You know sometimes people tell me I am a good writer (apart from my spelling). Sometimes they go as far as to say that I should take up some form of journalism for a living (flattery will, of course, get you everywhere!). And sure, I'd love to write a regular column and get paid for it, I'd love to review films, Grand Prix races, or even a week in the world of the web. But really if I were to be honest I'd have to say that over the past few years, I have become very cynical of what I read in the press and on the web.
These days it seems to depend on what paper you read, or what TV channel you watch, as to what version of the news you'll get. It's probably always been this way, but I just seem to notice it more these days.
Take for example this whole Microsoft trial. I wanted to get some news on the trial so I trailed through the 60 channels of cable TV available to me in New England. CNN was running a story that seemed quite level-headed, a stark contrast to what MBC was spewing out. Their version of the same story was more like a Microsoft puff piece. Then I discovered that MBC is called MSNBC, the MSN bit standing for Microsoft Network!
However this weeks 'Meanwhile' is not about who owns different news stations, it's more about the new media trial, US Department of Justice vs. Microsoft.
With only the real hound dogs gnawing at the remains of Bill Clinton's presidency it seems that the press pack has found itself a new demon to destroy, one that is arguably even more powerful than the 'most powerful man in the world'.
Bill Gates' company, Microsoft, produces the operating system on an estimated 80% of the world's personal computers! Bill Gates' name is now as familiar to everyone as Bill Clinton's. Ironic to think that Bill Gates has probably affected the lives of more people on the planet than the President.
Perhaps this is why the US DOJ has taken such a strong stance against Microsoft. The DOJ has conjured up a caldron of nasty things to throw at Microsoft, and Microsoft have themselves replied with a list of people just dying to tell tails. The latest prize piece of evidence that Microsoft lawyers can be proud to have found was on a Netscape newsgroup about the company's own internet software. An email forwarded by Netscape Employee, Darin May, contained a scathing description of the Netscape browser.
"Faster than a dog with no legs. If the dog's up to its waist in treacle. And dead." The email also criticized the company as offering "vaporware announcements and outright lies" and promising an obsolete and bug-ridden software product. The note was originally been distributed on Netscape's informal "bad attitude" and "really bad attitude" forums, where workers have griped about everything from cafeteria food to product marketing.
This 'evidence' was presented to Netscape Chief Executive Officer James Barksdale in his cross-examination by Microsoft's legal team. The point they are trying to disprove is that Microsoft used its dominant position in the operating system market to push its web browser Internet Explorer.
The trial isn't going well for Bill's boys either. As well you might imagine, because let's be fair, if you were Bill Gates you would of course use your OS to push and promote your other products wouldn't you.
I'm not a fan of Microsoft as a company. I dislike its anti-competitive ways, I don't like the fact that other companies who want to produce software have to conform to standards set by a conglomerate that after all is only concerned with making itself bigger, more powerful, and more dominant.
Having said that though I have to say that I oppose this trend of releasing videotaped depositions to the world's media. These depositions are, or so I thought, supposed to be for the court's eyes only. Indeed the Microsoft trial had a mini-trial before this one to decide whether or not this one could be televised. The conclusion was that this was not in the interest of anyone involved and therefore the trial is closed to the media. Closed it seems apart from one massively important deposition!
Releasing the video of smirking Bill's deposition serves no purpose other than to hold Bill Gates up to be ridiculed in the world's press. Sure I'd be interested to see it, but like anyone, I can't make a fair opinion based on just one bit of evidence. The DOJ would, I'm sure, say that my opinion isn't important in the case, but as true as that is, if the world is allowed to see Bill Gates and Microsoft being portrayed as deceptive and even evil, then this has a very bad effect on the whole public image of Microsoft.
I know that some people out there will be stunned that I support Microsoft's standpoint that this video should not be released. But I am not supporting Microsoft, more the whole issue of justice being allowed to take its course without the clowns of the media circus trying to get in there and have their say.
For the end-users like you and me, the outcome of this trial will probably have little effect on the way we work. Even if Microsoft loses, it will still be one of the most powerful companies on the face of the planet, and with that fact, this would surely be little more than a setback.
Perhaps the news was always colored with opinion and bias, and perhaps we've all just navigated that. Maybe I never paid much attention to the news in the past and so I'm only noticing this slanted reporting now. But my fear is that as more and more of us take to the web, and videos like the one of smirking Bill Gates can be beamed around the world, facts will give way to opinion, and news will be less about informing and more about entertaining.