Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Non-story about local pool forces journalism black out

A classic 'look what those dastardly Muslims are up to now' front page from the Express today:


It's also one of those classic examples of churnalism. It's a story that starts life in the regional press and then gets picked up by the nationals because it covers one of their favourite issues - one they know will push the buttons of their readers.

On Saturday, the local Express and Star explained it had been contacted by a few users of Darlaston swimming pool in Walsall who were critical of a new film that had been placed on windows for privacy reasons.

That wouldn't be newsworthy, but for the fact that some - although, according to the Council, not all - of the requests for the change had come from the Muslim community.

And suddenly, the tabloids are full of headlines about Muslims 'forcing' their views on 'us'.

The churnalism was obvious - the same people, saying the same things, appeared in every article. Some of them were locals, but inevitably the TaxPayers' Alliance popped up as well.

Matthew Elliott, the TPA's chief executive went so far as to say:

It is bizarre to spoil a swimming pool like this just because of the demands of a very small group...it makes a big difference to the experience of using the pool.

An attempt to find out if Elliott had been to the pool to see if it was actually 'spoiled' and what the 'big difference' was went unanswered, unsurprisingly. But they got their name in the paper again so they're happy.

By yesterday, the BBC, Mail and Sun had run the story and today the Mirror, Star and the Express followed.

None of them had gone to the centre, or done any actual journalism (copying and pasting quotes and phoning the TPA is not journalism, although you wouldn't know it from many papers today).

Every headline suggested that this happened solely because of Muslims. The Star and Mirror didn't bother to include the quote which pointed out:

"We received a request from the Muslim Community to protect the modesty of swimmers. There were also requests made by some non-Muslim users as well."

Most of the others left this until the end of their article. It's not convenient to their narrative to reveal that non-Muslims would be involved, so they try their best to ignore it, hoping their readers do the same.

The Express' online article carried a headline which talked of 'appeasing Muslims' - a word that seems to have been deliberately chosen.

The Mail and Sun both hugely over-exaggerated the extent of the changes. Swimmers plunged into dark after council covers swimming pool windows 'to protect Muslim women's modesty' claimed the Mail. Pool blacked out for Muslim swim ranted the Sun.

'Blacked out'? Really?

The Sun said:

the local council has covered all 250 windows at the centre in Darlaston...the move has plunged the pool into permanent darkness

The Mail:

council staff have covered 250 windows with dark-tinted film

The Mirror agreed that:

All 250 windows at the pool have been covered

This claim about the gloominess was boosted by one of the (apparently) furious leisure centre users who claimed the pool looked no different now as it did to her when she had cataracts.

But it wasn't true. The Mail (and the print edition of the Express) included pictures which clearly showed it wasn't 'all' the windows that were now covered:


So, this afternoon, Walsall Council issued a statement, attacking the:

inaccurate and misleading media coverage of work carried out at Darlaston Leisure Centre.

Have all 250 windows been blacked out? Not quite:

The council has come under fire for applying a translucent film to 58 window panels

Ah. But that still means it's pitch black inside, no?

No:

Anyone who will now use the pool will see that it's not in darkness at all. It’s like cling film, which allows in natural light; so this suggestion that its windows are blacked out are misleading and inaccurate.

What about the Express' claim that the Muslims 'forced' this to happen?

The funding for this work comes from Area Based Grant from the Government. We asked local people how public services could be more responsive to the needs of different cultural groups...

Adjustments are made to facilities from time to time in response to suggestions from people in the community.


We agreed it was a good idea and all users will benefit from these improvements.

So the Council responds to suggestions from local people and this is a reason to splash it on the front page and pour scorn on it.

As Councillor Anthony Harris says:

"The same measures were taken at Bloxwich Leisure Centre around 10 years ago, in response to requests from the community there. It's a shame that such minor adjustments, aimed at encouraging more people to enjoy a healthy pastime, have provoked such a negative response."

In essence, a leisure centre has added a few privacy measures to a swimming pool after suggestions from Muslims and non-Muslims.

The tabloids turn this into: Muslims force Council to black out all windows in a swimming pool so they can swim while ruining it for everyone else.

The backlash against Muslims on the newspaper comment pages has been as vicious, intolerant and ignorant as you might expect.

36 comments:

  1. Like the last comment in the Walsall statement:
    "Not everyone is confident in their Speedos."

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  2. Fantastic work... Though in your summing up, 'Muslims and non-Muslims' may just as well be written as 'people'.

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  3. I never have and never will understand why our national newspapers feel the need to perpetuate negative stereotypes like this. What do they stand to gain from it?

    Do newspapers appeal to public opinion or cause/fuel it? The more I read things like this, the more I feel like Mail and Express readers are doomed to carry on down this spiral of ignorance. I thought we were becoming more tolerant as a society, but this makes me wonder!

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  4. More good work exposing this kind of bullshit. I am especially disappointed at the BBC's lack of journalistic standards. I've long thought of the Express, Sun and Mail as 'scum' for this kind of rabble-rousing but having the BBC jump on the bandwagon is extremely worrying. Do you have any contacts at the BBC who could explain their low standards in this instance?

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  5. I'm really upset that now I cannot perve over swimmers at Darlaston, damn Muslims forcing their perfectly reasonable ideas down our throats along with some of those sensible non-muslims!!!
    This is such a ridiculous story The National British Press makes me sick, it's worrying to think that we are completely reliant on them in one form or another to inform us on national and international events. Whilst those of sound mind can see through their lies and shoddy handywork, the average English citizen is unaware their mind is being poisoned by stories designed to insight hatred. That, or more likely, the press wants stories that sell, which means the average English citizen is a stupid ignorant cunt!

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  6. "make this council show there names and faces so they can be voted off at the next election before they waste more money
    graham6235"

    Yeah let's name and shame this secret so-called "council" now!

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  7. What I find particularly appalling about this - and other stories like it - is that there will be absolutely no repercussions whatever for the editors and journalists involved.

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  8. "Ah. But that still means it's pitch black inside, no?"

    Even if all the windows *were* 'blacked out', there'd presumably still be electric lights...

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  9. "make this council show there names and faces so they can be voted off at the next election before they waste more money
    graham6235"

    I love the idea that the ballot papers have pictures of the candidates' faces to make it easier for the imbeciles to cast their vote.

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  10. One of the most appalling things in this article for me is the term 'MUSLIMS', splashed on the front page of the Express. What the fuck? They would never put up CHRISTIANS in the same, all-ecompassing generalisation. The only other group I can imagine the papers demonising is GYPSIES, which comes up all too often as well. Even if it is an homogenous outcry, which I wonder if these things ever are, it's stereotyping and pathetic. Urgh. That has made me mad - I wonder how many respond to the council's explanation

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  11. To be fair, unless they've updated it since, the BBC's story is slightly more balanced. Although the halariously named Pauline Poole, complaining that her opinion is ignored for a small group of other people's opinion, is a short-sighted (yes, I went there) hypocrite

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  12. I'm soooo glad you covered this. I saw it today and creased in laughter. It's got everything an express story should have: PC gone stark-raving bonkers, "inappropriate use of taxpayers' money", a couple of favourite bogeymen - local councils and muslims - and a complete failure to check any facts or provide any balance whatsoever. Classic reading for the connoisseur of tabloid-land bullshit. Nice work :)

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  13. I'm soooo glad you covered this. I saw it today and practically creased with laughter. It's got everything an express story should have: PC gone stark-raving bonkers, "inappropriate use of taxpayers' money", a couple of favourite bogeymen - local councils and muslims - and a complete failure to check any facts or provide any balance whatsoever. Classic reading for the connoisseur of tabloid-land bullshit. Nice work :)

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  14. Aside from the Muslim angle I do wonder whether DM commentators leave their brains in a box before sitting at a keyboard...

    "And if the pool is now dark and gloomy, does that mean that lifeguards won't be able to see properly if someone is in trouble?"

    Maybe, just maybe, they switch the lights on...like they do when it gets dark outside in the evening.

    Oh, did people notice that the council -and Cllr Harris' -political allegiance (Tory) wasn't mentioned? If it had been Labour it would have been in the headline.

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  15. Someone missed a trick there, a local authority spokeman should have said it was a anti-peadophile measure and,hey presto, the whole thing would have been turned around...

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  16. You (and no one else) has actually done any journalism to refute (or support) the Muslim claim.

    One side alleges it's coming predominantly from Muslims, the rebuttal puts in a very very weak claims along the lines of "some people from other groups also" and "we polled...."

    None of this refutes the claim made that this was an initiative that came predominantly from the Muslim community.

    Everyone should do their homework. Including you. Pick up a phone and get some specifics.

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  17. I do not find the reported story at all credible.
    IMO this is just another variant on 'Muslims object to christmas decorations' fable
    How would these measures protect the modesty of swimmers from indoor spectators - or other pool users?
    How did the council know the religious convictions of complainants?
    Why did the alleged shy muslim pool users not wear'modest' muslim swimwear - as they happily do at my local pool.
    My local pool also had film applied to its lower windows years ago - to comply with new Euro spec for safety glass.
    Many public buildings have been forced to.
    My undersatanding is that Glass panes which are at a height low enough to be in danger of collision have to be of a certain thckness or else have film and/or warning stickers stuck on it.
    Absolutely shameful reporting by 'professionals'.

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  18. "You (and no one else) has actually done any journalism to refute (or support) the Muslim claim.

    One side alleges it's coming predominantly from Muslims, the rebuttal puts in a very very weak claims along the lines of "some people from other groups also" and "we polled...."

    None of this refutes the claim made that this was an initiative that came predominantly from the Muslim community.

    Everyone should do their homework. Including you. Pick up a phone and get some specifics."

    ---

    I'm not sure how it's even relevant whether they're muslim or not?

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  19. I noticed that when the Daily Mail lifted this story from another source no journalist was prepared to put their name to the article. So presumably when the story starts to unravel no one has to take any responsibility for it.

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  20. feklyr: "I never have and never will understand why our national newspapers feel the need to perpetuate negative stereotypes like this. What do they stand to gain from it?"

    I think really it serves their political interests - sometimes the personal political beliefs of the owner, but mostly the economic interests of the newspaper's parent corporation(s).

    - Reducing the support for left wing explanations of any problem their readers might face, by blaming shortages of anything (housing, benefits, jobs, healthcare) on the presence of Muslims and other immigrants.
    - Most recently, diversion of their readers' anger at the economic crisis from the corporate elite onto a powerless minority community.
    - Once demonised, a minority can then be used as a stick to beat any political figure/party they don't like for other reasons (by claiming to their readers that they are in cahoots with this dangerous anti-British minority).
    - Plus among some newspaper proprietors, shoring up local support for continued military action against Muslim countries.

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  21. @nim81 (and sorry, I can't figure out how replies work here.)

    you wrote:

    "I'm not sure how it's even relevant whether they're muslim or not?"

    And I don't either, because I live in the US.

    In the US, this could very easily be seen as a violation of our First Amendment, mandating separation of church and state, and that the government not work to establish any religion.

    So if the claim is true that this was primarily about a muslim desire with a few other people interested but in relatively few numbers, than yeah, it's very important.

    There is a difference between respecting a religion, and establishing a religion, and allocating funds or resources in a public taxpayer facility to establish religious norms could very easily cross that line.

    My guess is that tabloid watch is on target to say that the pool was not plunged into darkness.

    However, I don't think this quote:

    "We received a request from the Muslim Community to protect the modesty of swimmers. There were also requests made by some non-Muslim users as well"

    Proves what everyone here claims it to prove, namely that non Muslim influence was in any manner significant in size to the Muslim influence.

    That needs to be proven, which is what I was saying earlier.

    On a lesser note, I'd be annoyed as taxpayer and architect that a swim facility designed to have a beautiful view of the outside had had that view removed. I'd look for other ways apart from masking off the view to make the swim area more private IF that was actually required.

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  22. I'm a Muzzie, not a very religious one, but I do have an issue with clear windows in one of my local pools - for three reasons: (1) My spouse (RC Christian) is self-conscious about going to pools as some women tend to be; (2) People stare in at my son behaving oddly (because he has autism), and (3) who wants to swim inside a veritable fish bowl, with people strolling past gorping in? Did the journos think of any of these kind of things before scrambling to attract/create more Islamophobic readers? Of course not. Why? Coz 90% of Journos = vermin.

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  23. @Anonymous:
    "So if the claim is true that this was primarily about a muslim desire with a few other people interested but in relatively few numbers, than yeah, it's very important."

    ---

    Anonymous - first of all, we don't have the First Amendment - or anything similar, as far as I'm aware.

    The reference to "Muslim influence" is a bit over the top given what we're talking about here (a bit of frosting put over part of some swimming pool windows to protect peoples' modesty).

    I still don't see the issue. It seems that the town of Darlaston has "areas with a high Asian population" (source: http://www.urbed.coop/journal_docs/090807_DarlastonPublicConV2.pdf)

    If that's the case it would seem logical for the council to cater for their needs, after all use of taxpayers' money should go on facilities that can be made use of by as many of those taxpayers as possible. It's understandable - my local leisure centre has been threatened with closure due to the lack of punters making use of it, after all.

    I can't see how frosting part of the windows is harming anyone other than a few old blowhards looking for something to moan about (contrary to the laughable newspaper reports about "plunging the pool into darkness"), and if it allows more of the local population to use it for whatever reason then that can only be good - especially at a time when the government (the previous one at least) has been pushing for people to take up a more active lifestyle.

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  24. Hello. Great post, and great site in general - keep up the good work! Just to let you know: I've written a piece on this story for the Now Show on Radio 4, and since it was through you that I found the council statement, I gave this blog a namecheck. Hope that's ok with you! All the best, John.

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  25. Found this site after the mention on the Now Show. Good work!

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  26. They did a brilliant piss-take of these articles last night on the "Now Show" on Radio 4 - though I couldn't work out if I was laughing or crying... Thanks for putting all of this together. Shame on the editors who printed this story.

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  27. Thank you Now Show for the excellent sketch. Thank you, too, for pointing me to this excellent website.
    Thank you Tabloid Watch for being. At last a bright light to shine on the lies, distortions, predjuices, xenophobia, etc. of the tabloids.
    At last I feel I'm not alone when I feel anger at the storie the media serve up.
    Adrian

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  28. About the US First Amendment... not only does the UK have no written constitution and no barrier to the government being involved in religion, it has a state church - the Church of England, in England.

    It isn't the state church of the other parts of the UK, which have no state church, although their state head, the Queen, is also the head of the Church of England. She's not the head of the Church in Wales or the Church of Ireland, although they are part of the Anglican communion, while the Church of Scotland is Presbyterian and not.

    This is the culture that gave the world Monty Python, and it's best to keep this in mind when trying to understand religion in the UK.

    It's quite interesting that the UK, with its state established church, is vastly less religious than the US, which has explicit rules against that sort of thing.

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  29. 1. We still haven't seen pics of inside to see how dark (or not) it is (we'd need several - on dark and sunny days and from several angles)

    2. We still don't know how many Muslims and non-Muslims complained, but the Express did name several local people who didn't like the darkness - so it DOESN'T seem as if the story was just anti-Muslim rant

    3. £1400 is a lot of money. And I imagine that was just the dark film. It probably took several people a day to put it up = more money

    4. people saying "just turn on the lights" seem to forget
    a) that we are supposed to be saving energy (and money), not wasting it when natural light is possible, and
    b) that some people get migraine with flourescent lighting

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  30. @ anonymous

    And I don't either, because I live in the US.

    In the US, this could very easily be seen as a violation of our First Amendment, mandating separation of church and state, and that the government not work to establish any religion.

    So if the claim is true that this was primarily about a muslim desire with a few other people interested but in relatively few numbers, than yeah, it's very important.

    ...

    That's a silly interpretation of your constitution. Simply because the majority of the people who are in favour of something happen to come from one religious community does not make it unconstitutional. This is nothing to do with the establishment of religion and is really about a simple matter of modesty -they're not trying to turn the swimming pool into a mosque.
    Think about it - if what you said was true then you'd have to reject any proposals in your country that came predominantly from Christians.

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  31. "£1400 is a lot of money." Hardly a lot in local authority budgets.

    I'm astonished that there are swimming pools which enable the passing public to look at swimmers. In the old days, there were high walls around public outdoor pools and indoor pools were completely indoors with no windows. I would hesitate to use a pool which had large wide windows for all to see in. There are a few perves out there!

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  32. jungle: "I think really it serves (the national newspapers') political interests - sometimes the personal political beliefs of the owner, but mostly the economic interests of the newspaper's parent corporation(s)."

    I used to think this until I read Nick Davies's most excellent book, Flat Earth News. His theory, supported by convincing argument, is that the papers produce this awful crap because that is what their readers want. You could argue that it is a symbiotic relationship - the papers encourage this mindset in their readership. However, it is undeniably true that a significant part (I would argue the vast majority) of Daily Mail readers (for example) buy the rag because it echoes their own beliefs. It is the same reason that I buy the Guardian rather than the Telegraph, although both papers have similar merits and faults.

    So, yes, the anti-immigrant, anti-union, anti-political correctness stance does serve the economic interests of the tabloids' owners, but far more directly than you suggest. Of course, this doesn't mean that they don't also benefit in the way you suggest, but it is far less significant in determining editorial policy. The key question at all those editorial meetings is: "how will this play with the morons who read us?" And yes, Davies produces evidence that the tabloids really do have contempt for their readers.

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  33. Great post - I know I would be more likely to go swimming if my local pool had that same privacy tint ... I don't want to imagine the comments I'd get off the kids I work with if they saw me in a swimsuit!!!

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  34. why do the tabloids do this? greater sales. some people just love to be outraged, and this kind of headline will have little englanders indulging in a veritable orgy of righteous indignation. whats more they can share it with thier workmates/ people down the pub etc. have you ever tried to put an opposing reasonable view during one of these rants? try it - you'll be branded the modern equivalent of a n1ggerlover and be personna non grata until you can come up with something better!

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  35. You have to wonder how many EDL members would have been up in arms if these privacy measures had been announced to stop creeps perving on little kids in their swimming costumes.

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  36. great article keep up the great work

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