Thursday 29 April 2010

The great spoken issue

The Mail's reaction to 'Bigotgate' was this front page:

'The I-word'.

The article adds that immigration is the:

great unspoken issue of the election.

Their editorial calls it the:

taboo subject of immigration.

This is delusional. But it is an argument that right-wing journalists - who seem more obsessed with immigration than anyone - use repeatedly.

Back in February, for example, Melanie Phillips asked why a (non) story about immigration was being ignored by the newspapers, pretending there was a conspiracy of silence. She had 'missed' it splashed all over the front of the Telegraph, as well as being in the Mail, Express and Sun.

The problem with the immigration debate is not that it is always being silenced - that is patently not true.

The problem is that it is dominated by the right-wing anti-immigration press who spread lies and misinformation to suit their own agenda.

They believe illegal immigrants get free cars and a cat stops a man being deported and it's then accepted as true by their readers.

It was only a few years ago a MORI poll showed Mail and Express readers thought there were three times the number of immigrants in Britain than there actually were.

The Mail editorial says:

Thus has our liberal establishment - and the BBC are the worst offenders - shut down the debate on the most profound change in this country's make-up in its history.

Ah, the BBC would have to blamed somewhere, wouldn't they? And yet during this election, the BBC broadcast a Panorama programme about immigration called Is Britain Full? Made by John Ware, it was so in tune with Mail thinking, the paper gave him room to talk about the issues on 21 April - under the headline Crammed Britain.

Moreover, the two leaders' debates so far both had a question about immigration. Indeed, the first question of the first debate was about immigration. It will come up in the third debate tonight too, apparently.

And here's some of the newspaper front pages from the election campaign:

Aside from the volcanic ash and the rise of the Lib Dems, it's hard to remember another single subject that has had as many front pages over the last few weeks.

And here's some evidence of how 'taboo' the subject is from the Mail's own site. Search for 'immigration' and you get this many results:

Search the Mail website for 'immigration' since 6 April - the date the election was called - until today and you get this many results:

So 105 results in just over three weeks - that's nearly four articles every day mentioning 'immigration'.

How is that an 'unspoken issue'?

(For more on how no one is being allowed to talk about immigration any more, see Angry Mob)

Sunday Express knowingly lies about NICE

A few weeks after tackling the Daily Mail over a story about cancer drugs, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has asked for a correction from the Sunday Express.

In 'Scandal of life-saving drugs held up by poll', Lucy Johnston wrote:

Cancer patients are being denied life-saving treatment because drug watchdogs are banned from approving new medicines during the election campaign.

The edict from the Cabinet Office to The National Institute for Clinical Excellence has outraged specialists.

Not so replied NICE Chief Executive Sir Andrew Dillon. He said that only one drug appraisal - for treatment of Crohn's disease - had had its publication delayed by two weeks. And:

Our only other publications in April would have been draft guidance, which would not have had an impact on access, by patients, to treatments.

So Johnston and the Sunday Express got it wrong. Nothing new in that. But the most damning element of Dillon's letter is that Johnston knew it was wrong but went ahead with the story anyway:

We confirmed to Lucy, both verbally, and by email (attached) that no NICE guidance on cancer drugs was being delayed by the election...

Despite having received this written confirmation from us, Lucy wrote a highly misleading article, including quotes from several people who were clearly asked to react to information that was not true.

Furthermore, Lucy did not ask us anything about the drug Nexavar, which she used in the article as an example of a drug supposedly delayed. Had she bothered to ask us, we could have confirmed that final guidance on this drug had not been due to be published in April, and was therefore not being delayed by the election.

Dillon concludes:

In light of the fact that you have printed an incorrect and misleading article, I am asking that you print a correction on page four of next week’s paper.

I am also requesting that Lucy Johnston contacts the people quoted in her article to let them know that, in fact, no final NICE guidance on cancer drugs, which would have been published in April, has been delayed as a result of the election campaign.

Will the newspaper admit their error that easily? Given the original hasn't been removed, that seems unlikely...

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Sun pays out over false terror story

After apologising to Dr Mohammed Asha in early March, the Sun must now cough up 'substantial' libel damages because of its front page splash 'Terror case doc works in casualty'.

From MediaGuardian:

Leo Dawkins, the solicitor representing Dr Asha, told Mr Justice Eady in the high court in London today that the allegations were that 'there were very strong grounds to suspect that the claimant would be involved in the future in terrorist bomb plots and was, therefore, an ongoing threat to national security'.

He added: 'There is no truth in these allegations whatsoever. The article complained of was published to millions of people and has been devastating for the claimant, causing him immense damage both personally and professionally.'

News Group Newspapers, which publishes the Sun 'accepted that the allegations complained of were entirely false and without foundation' and:

Patrick Callaghan, solicitor for NGN, told the court: 'The defendant offers its sincerest apologies to Dr Asha for the damage it has caused and is pleased to set the record straight.'

Dr Asha added:

'The damage caused by The Sun has been incalculable, causing both myself and my family immense hurt and distress, not to mention worries over my own personal safety.

'I am glad this terrible ordeal is finally over and that The Sun has apologised and agreed to pay me compensation and my legal costs.'

(Image found at Sun Headlines)

Yet another apology over the 'gatecrashed' wake

It's taken an extra month, but the Express has finally followed in the footsteps of the Mail, Sun and Standard in publishing an apology to Nancy Jones:

Our articles of December 8, 2009, January 25 and February 9, 2010 suggested that Nancy Jones, daughter of Keith Floyd, had turned up unannounced at his wake and that she had not inherited anything from her father as there was reason to doubt her paternity.

In fact Ms Jones’s existence was well known to Mr Floyd and the family and she was an invited guest at his wake.

We apologise for any distress caused.

Mail cancer scare is 'fabrication' shock

Two weeks ago, the Daily Mail added a ludicrous new item to its list of things that give you cancer: turning a light on when you go to the toilet at night.

Yes, really:

This stupid, incorrect article began:

Simply turning on a light at night for a few seconds to go to the toilet can cause changes that might lead to cancer, scientists claim.

The University of Leicester, which was involved in the original reseach, dismissed the Mail's spin:

There is no connection between illuminated, nocturnal calls of nature and cancer, despite what certain newspapers are claiming...

Professor Kyriacou and Dr Ben-Shlomo suggest in their conclusion, that the chronic exposure of shift workers to extended light schedules during what should be their ‘night’, may also misregulate these cell cycle genes, and could conceivably contribute to the elevated levels of tumours seen in this population.

But nowhere in their paper, which is published in the journal Cancer Genetics and Cytogenetics, do they mention trips to the toilet or anything even vaguely similar.

In addition, Professor Kyriacou told AOL Health:

'The 'switching on of lights causes cancer when you go to the bathroom at night' is an eye-catching fabrication of the press.'

What a surprise. But you didn't really need to be a professor to think that might be the case.

Monday 26 April 2010

Slightly out of touch

After last week's second leaders' debate, five polling organisations brought out polls about who had 'won':

  • Angus Reid/PB: Clegg, 33, Cameron 32, Brown 23
  • ComRes/ITV News: Clegg 33, Brown 30, Cameron 30
  • ICM/Guardian: Clegg 33, Brown 29, Cameron 29
  • Populus/Times: Cameron 37, Clegg 36, Brown 27
  • YouGov/Sun: Cameron 36, Clegg 32, Brown 29

All fairly close, with most of the results in the 30s.

But the Daily Express didn't have any truck with those, so launched it's own poll asking 'Who won the second debate?'

The results, published in the paper today, were surprising:

  • Nick Clegg - 4%
  • Gordon Brown - 6%
  • David Cameron - 90%

The Express has been supporting the Conservatives very vociferously for many years - certainly longer than the Sun. Although it backed Labour in 2001, when Express owner Richard Desmond gave the party a £100,000 donation, it switched back to the Conservatives in 2004.

It obviously knows its (dwindling) readership.

Friday 23 April 2010

'Hysterical bawlings from the sidelines'

Much has already been written about yesterday's four-pronged attack on Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg by the four newspapers most supportive of the Conservative Party, so this post will be a brief overview of these front pages and the reaction to them.

As Kevin Marsh said:

You do not have to support the Liberal Democrats or Nick Clegg or be carried along on the current poll wave to wonder, as a journalist, what was going on Wednesday in the newsrooms and editorial offices of the Telegraph, Mail, Express and Sun.

Of course, it's not exactly shocking that party spin doctor's speak to political hacks - as the BBC's Nick Robinson and the Guardian reported had happened before these newspapers appeared. Nor is it news that the media outlets have agendas and political bias.

It's hard to know if this actually was a concerted effort, but it certainly looked like it was, with all the stories appearing on the day of the second leaders' debate. The fact that each paper was focusing on a different subject suggested everything was being thrown to see what might stick.

One that didn't stick was the Telegraph's half-hearted attempt to create a scandal:

If the Telegraph thought this was a big deal, they would have published it last year with all their other expenses coverage.

Given that all the payments were declared properly, it always looked thin and the way the story slipped down the Telegraph's website homepage during the day rather gave the game away. Despite a rule-breaking attempt by Sky's Adam Boulton to bring up the story during the second debate, an attempt that has prompted complaints to Ofcom, the story sank without trace.

Forced to defend the story on his blog, even the Telegraph's Deputy Editor didn't sound convinced:

So far [Clegg] has been unable to produce an adequate explanation for them, or the paperwork to back up his justification. The likelihood must be that it is evidence of disorganisation, nothing more, but don’t know that yet.

So why not wait until the evidence is produced before rushing to print? But the paperwork did turn up during the day and that was that - although the prominence the Telegraph gave to the 'evidence' was nothing like that of the original.

Meanwhile, the Express was complaining, of course, about immigration:

But there was a bit of a disconnect between the sub-head, which focused on jobs for asylum seekers, and the article, which didn't.

Alison Little wrote:

Controversial Lib Dem plans to allow illegal immigrants to stay and work in Britain were exposed as madness yesterday as unemployment hit a 16-year high.

Nick Clegg struggled to defend allowing asylum-seekers to join the workforce when he came under attack from a panel of first-time voters.

With official figures showing 2.5 million out of work, they warned it would be unfair to law-abiding residents.

'Exposed as madness'
is a complete exaggeration, and the use of 'crazy' on the front page is Express editorialising and nothing more.

But look how it goes from 'illegal immigrants' and then to 'asylum seekers' as if they are the same. This is emphasised by the 'law-abiding' comment in the next sentence, which implies that asylum seekers are not.

It's further evidence that for all they talk about these issues, there's little sense they really understand them.

The Sun was also on the attack, although their front page pun was very weak by their standards:

The Sun very publicly switched allegiance from Labour to the Conservatives last year when the Tories were substantially ahead in the polls. Following the surge in support for the Lib Dems after the first leaders' debate, there seemed to be some panic that the Sun - and the other right-wing papers - may not, after all, be backing the winner. And that's why the knives came out.

A curious incident from Wednesday illustrated not just this panic, but the contempt the Sun and its owner Rupert Murdoch has for the British public.

The Independent newspaper re-launched on Tuesday with the strapline:

Free from political ties, free from proprietorial influence.

It said:

You may not always agree with what we say, but it is spoken from the heart, and from a standpoint that's untainted by commercial or political imperatives.

In case the target wasn't obvious, a marketing campaign added:

Rupert Murdoch won't decide this election. You will.

The reaction? Former Sun editor Rebekah Brooks, now chief executive at News International, and obnoxious Rupert's obnoxious son James arrived unannounced at the Independent's office and demanded to know:

'What are you fucking playing at?'

The Guardian reports:

A bewildered [Independent Editor-in-Chief Simon] Kelner quickly ushered his visitors into his office, where they remained for what have been described as 'frank and full discussions' for another 20 minutes.

All were grim-faced as Murdoch, carrying a promotional copy of the Independent, accused the rival editor of breaking the unwritten code that proprietors do not attack each other and of besmirching his father's reputation. With his piece said and with the matter unresolved, the aggrieved media mogul left.

Bewildering is right. The arrogance of this is jaw-dropping. Murdoch and his son - like the other right-wing papers' editors and proprietors - do apparently believe they decide this election rather than over 40 million voters.

How dare they decide that the Sun's chosen candidate is not the one for them, according to latest polls. Indeed, when a poll by Sun pollster YouGov showed:

voters fear a Liberal Democrat government less than a Conservative or Labour one

the Sun decided to do the far-from-honourable thing: it refused to publish the results.

(Further insights into the Murdoch mindset come from biographer Michael Wolff and former Sun Editor David Yelland)

But perhaps the most notable of yesterday's front pages was the Mail:

So the Mail digs back through the archives and finds what it thinks, quite wrongly, is a 'Nazi slur'. Of all newspapers, you would think the Mail would be slow to accuse others of a 'Nazi slur'. In July 1934 it infamously carried the headline 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts' and then Mail owner Lord Rothermere - grandfather of the current owner - was effusive in his praise for Hitler.

And in 1933 the paper wrote:

The way stateless Jews from Germany are pouring in from every port of this country is becoming an outrage. The number of aliens entering the country through the back door is a problem to which the Daily Mail has repeatedly pointed.

Replace 'stateless Jews from Germany' with 'asylum seekers' or 'immigrants' and you could easily imagine that being said in Daily Mail now.

The 'Nazi slur' it attributed to Clegg was nothing like this. In fact, there was no 'Nazi slur' at all. The article, which was written eight years ago for the Guardian, related tales of how Germans are still subject to childish reminders about Hitler, and how many Brits still showed a:

misplaced sense of superiority, sustained by delusions of grandeur and a tenacious obsession with the last war.

There was little wrong with it, although you might think you are reading a different article to the one the Mail saw and so wilfully - and woefully - misinterpreted.

The Express, not wishing to let the story go, then put a version of the Mail's 'Nazi slur' claims on its website. The headline became even more grotesque, and even further from the truth:

The original never implied that Britain was 'more guilty than the Nazis', let alone that being a direct quote, which the quote marks suggest. It's dishonest and totally misleading.

But back to the Mail, where Editor Paul Dacre seems to have become somewhat obssessed with the Lib Dems. The election section of their website contained nine anti-Lib Dem articles on Wednesday - almost to the exclusion of anything else.

Then they ran a poll at the end of the second debate asking who had won. But with the results saying the victor was Nick Clegg, they decided to start another poll asking the same question - which Cameron was then leading.

The 'Nazi slur' headline received a lot of negative reaction - including from Mail hack Ann Leslie, who said she disapproved of it on the BBC's Question Time.

But this meant that a disgusting comment in the Mail's editorial was rather overlooked. Following on from their suggestion that there was nothing British about Nick Clegg, it said, under the headline 'Damning insight into the Liberal leader':

It's perhaps unfair to point out that Mr Clegg's father is half-Russian, his mother is Dutch, and he's married to a Spaniard.

Yes, the Mail is so reluctant to bring it up (for the third time in a week). 'Unfair' isn't the word. Pathetic, stupid, irrelevant and xenophobic would be much more appropriate.

The final word should go to Kevin Marsh, who sums all this up perfectly, although his conclusion is depressing:

Scrutiny? Is this scrutiny? Really? Perhaps we've become so de-sensitised to the awfulness of some parts of the British press that journalism like this passes as scrutiny.

We - mere readers, mere voters - are left with two unattractive possible conclusions.

Either the press really does think that these stories amount to genuine scrutiny of the men who want to run the country - that this is exactly what we need to help us choose our next government. Hysterical bawlings from the sidelines on dog-whistle issues like immigration and sleaze.

Or that parts of our press are proving once again that they are totally incapable of fulfilling their most basic function - supporting our self-government with reliable, honest news and information. And that they don't care since they place their commercial and ideological interest in a particular result above the democratic process they claim to support.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Lies and outrageous smears

In one of many recent Mail articles attacking the Liberal Democrats, Peter Oborne writes that the party is:

profoundly dishonest...prepared to lie, cheat and on occasion issue outrageous smears on its opponents

What better time, then, for the Mail to have to publish an apology to Reza Pankhurst for the profoundly dishonest article 'Revealed: Islamist preacher who lectures at top London university 'groomed suicide bomber'':

On 15 January a headline on our report said that Reza Pankhurst, a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir who teaches at the LSE, had groomed the suicide bomber Omar Sharif for an attack in Israel in 2003.

We accept that this allegation was untrue, should not have been made and we apologise to Mr Pankhurst, who had had no contact with Sharif since attending Kings’ College, London, some eight years before Sharif’s attempted suicide bombing.

The Evening Standard - which had its own version of the article under the headline 'LSE’s Islamist teacher 'groomed suicide bomber for Tel Aviv attack'' - hasn't apologised yet but, presumably, will.

Pankhurst said at the time he was seeking legal advice, so the Mail and the Standard may still have to go to court over their 'outrageous smears'.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

The desperate, dishonest Daily Star

The Daily Star - the fourth best-selling national daily 'newspaper' - appears to have boosted its sales through three tactics:

  1. Putting Jordan on the front page almost every day.
  2. Lying, especially with totally misleading front page headlines.
  3. Costing only 20p.

The front page on 15 April relied on all of the above.

Jordan holiday boobs horror, it screamed. 'Breast implants 'explode' on Red Sea scuba dive,' said the sub-head.

Have her implants really exploded during a scuba dive? No, of course not:

Jordan has been warned her giant boobs could blow up or drown her on her Egyptian diving holiday.

The glamour babe is desperate to take the plunge in the Red Sea with dive-mad husband Alex Reid.

But she has been told her 32DD treasure chest could drag her beneath the waves as her silicone implants are heavier than water.

So the front page 'exclusive' is actually: woman with fake boobs wants to scuba dive on holiday. It's not quite clear where the 'horror' is in that.

Two days later they claimed that Jordan was to replace Simon Cowell as a judge on Britain's Got Talent - despite having absolutely no evidence at all to suggest that is the case.

The day after, she was the focus of their 'volcanic ash cloud' coverage. The next day, there was more tedious speculation about her marriage.

On 20 April, they ran a front page headline Jordan baby's bruised face and body which was based on an article 'by' Peter Andre in New! magazine. At the end it said:

Read Pete’s full column in new! magazine, out now.

But it doesn't say that New! just happens to be owned by Daily Star owner Richard Desmond. Funny that.

So Jordan has been on the front page for five out of the last seven days. This daily diet of lies about a totally uninteresting celeb is obviously in the paper's interests as its circulation is increasing. And no doubt the publicity hungry subject isn't too bothered either.

But how can it continue to get away with it? Why does the PCC let them print such inaccuracies day in, day out?

The real concern is that when the Star tries to turn to a serious subject, it makes a complete mockery of that too.

So today's front page is:

Note the use of 'terror' - like the earlier use of 'horror' - to grab the attention, but as with the Express' obsesssion with 'chaos' and 'fury', it ends up reducing the impact and meaning of the word. If you call a slight concern about a fake tit 'horror', what do you call the genocide in Rwanda?

The start of Emma Wall's article continues the charade:

A stricken British Airways jumbo jet is engulfed by "flames" after flying into a deadly cloud of volcanic ash.

These dramatic pictures of a stricken passenger jet show the horrifying reason why flights were grounded for five days.

For anyone who has relatives flying back to the UK this could be frightening - assuming they take the Star seriously, which is a big assumption.

But then the Star reveals the truth:

The images are part of a gripping TV reconstruction tonight of a near disaster when BA flight 009 flew into volcanic dust in 1982.

So the story is: here's some pictures from a TV reconstruction about a thirty-year-old event.

To try and imply with their front page 'terror' headline that this actually happened, when people are flying for the first time in nearly a week is exploitative, dishonest and desperate.

So much like any other edition of the Daily Star, then.

UPDATE (1.30pm): The Guardian is reporting that today's Star has been removed from newsagent shelves at Gatwick and Manchester airports because of this 'plane terror' front page. Gatwick airport's director of communications, Andrew McCallum, said:

'We thought it was inappropriate at this point in time after six days of disruption and as people were anxious to get to their holiday destination or to return home to have these sort of computer-generated images on the front page.

'We had a discussion with other airports having seen the Daily Star's front page today and decided to remove it. It was in our view not appropriate.'

Monday 19 April 2010

The Mail's rules about who is 'British'

Sunder Katwala has written a couple of interesting posts over at Next Left about the Mail's attacks on Nick Clegg's background in the wake of the leader's television debate.

On 17 April the Mail ran this headline:

Clegg, the panto Yorkshireman: He plays the Northerner, but he's really from the Home Counties and is as posh as Dave

This seemed particularly hypocritical given the Mail's front page a week earlier:

James Chapman's article said:

Gordon Brown set the tone for a class war campaign yesterday by mentioning his 'ordinary middle-class background' while his Labour attack dogs launched spiteful attacks on David Cameron's privileged upbringing.

Whereas Stephen Robinson's article on Clegg said:

Clegg...admits his upbringing was 'affluent' - his father owns a 20-room chalet in the Alps and a chateau near Bordeaux.

Friends speak of the close and loving family that was young Clegg's world until he was sent away as a boarder at Westminster School, where fees are now close to £30,000 a year.


But those friends, who comprise smart European business and political people, British media folk and a smattering of theatrical types such as Sam Mendes - who directed him in a student production at Cambridge - must have choked on their ciabatta when Clegg reinvented himself as a Yorkshireman, speaking passionately about 'my city of Sheffield'.

How dare a politician be friends with 'smart' people who are European.

So do as we say, not as we do when it comes to spiteful attacks on people's upbringing, apparently.

But then the Mail gets really ugly:

Despite his Anglo-Saxon name, Nick Clegg is by blood the least British leader of a British political party, the son of a Dutch mother and a half-Russian merchant banker father.

Why does this matter? And what point are they really trying to make with that statement?

They upped the rhetoric in the Mail on Sunday the following day, with the headline:

His wife is Spanish, his mother Dutch, his father half-Russian and his spin doctor German. Is there ANYTHING British about LibDem leader?

Clegg was born, raised and educated in Britain - as the Mail on Sunday profile makes clear. So why are they asking if there is 'anything' British about him - and thereby implying there isn't?

As Sunder points out, this follows on from the Mail's claim that the British-born children and grandchildren of immigrants are not really British.

It's hard to work out exactly what these comments about Clegg are meant to achieve, other than to suggest he's not quite 'one of us' and therefore not to be trusted. But would they ever make this point about, for example, Prince Charles or Winston Churchill?

But it seems the Mail are setting their own arbitrary rules about what constitutes being British. They don't use the word 'indigenous' - as favoured by the BNP - but they don't seem too far away from that.

If the Mail wishes to attack Clegg and his party, it should do so on the basis of their beliefs, their policies, their ideas, their voting record.

But they should leave the snide remarks about race out of it.

Mail gets cross about flying the flag

A new poll on patriotism from This England magazine has been written up by the Mail under the headline:

In fact, the survey reveals only 6% of those questioned said they were 'scared' of flying the flag - rather less than the 10% who said they would 'happily' do it.

So why focus on the smaller group in the headline?

(Hat-tip Jim Hawkins)

'No end in sight'

The Express has used one of their favourite words - 'chaos' - around 14 times in the last few days to describe the effects of the ash-cloud from the Eyjafjalljokull volcano in Iceland.

They put the word on the front of today's paper, which put both their predictive and scaremongering skills to the test:

'No end in sight'.

Yet before the day was out, the Express' website was reporting:

'No end in sight'?

Saturday 17 April 2010

Another fall in sales for the 'World's Greatest Newspaper'

Following the substantial payout of libel damages on Thursday, there was further bad news for the 'World's Greatest Newspaper' on Friday when the latest ABCs showed another fall in circulation for Richard Desmond's useless rag.

The Express' circulation was 668,273 in March - 4,678 down on February. That represented a 7.93% drop on March 2009 - the biggest year-on-year fall of all the daily tabloids.

It also means circulation is now 182,926 lower than when Peter Hill took over as editor in December 2003 - that a loss of just over one-fifth of readers in six years. Tut tut.

Still, Desmond won't be too upset - the Star has had another baffling rise in sales. Staggering, given that all it peddles is made-up celebrity gossip.

The Daily Star is the fourth best-selling 'newspaper' in the country.

How depressing is that?

Thursday 15 April 2010

'World's Greatest Newspaper' pays more libel damages

The Express has apologised and paid 'substantial' libel damages to:

four trustees of a UK charity after falsely claiming it had links to an al-Qaida commander.

The trustees of the Bolton-based Amanat Charity Trust, more commonly known as the Ummah Welfare Trust, sued for libel over a story published on the website in December 2009 headlined "Jet bomb ordered by 9/11 spirtual leader".

Here's how the Express reported the court defeat:

We apologised in the High Court today to the four Trustees of the the Ummah Welfare Trust, - Idris Atcha, Mohammed Idris, Zaker Patel and Muhammad Ahmad Seedat, a charity providing relief to developing countries.

The Court was told that an article appeared on this website from 27 December 2009 until 19 January 2010. The article wrongly alleged a link between the charity and Anwar al Awlaki, the Al Qaeda commander who is said to have been the spiritual leader of the 9/11 attacks and behind the Detroit aeroplane plot last year. The article also wrongly alleged that the charity accepted donations in order to advance terrorism and had connections to organisations with links to Hamas.

The Court heard that neither the charity nor its trustees have any connections with Anwar al Awlaki and do not support or condone his extremist views. All donations received by the charity are applied by the trustees entirely to charitable relief work and the charity nor its trustees have never funded nor had any links with Hamas or any other terrorist organisation.

We accepted that the allegations were false and apologised to the trustees.

Surely the (ahem) 'World's Greatest Newspaper' shouldn't be paying out libel damages quite so frequently?

Wednesday 14 April 2010

How the anti-immigration agenda works

The Mail was running this story prominently on its website earlier today, the latest in a torrent of recent anti-immigration stories from the paper:

Although the Mail didn't name the girl, she was named in the Sun, Star and Express versions of the same story.

The Sun said:

A gang of immigrant yobs who molested a girl of 14 escaped prosecution - because it was 'not in the public interest'.

Ria George was 'mauled' by eight Slovakian gipsies aged between eight and 12.

The Star, under the headline 'Migrant gipsy boys mauled me but the courts did nothing' said:

A gang of gipsy boys who molested a 14-year-old girl have escaped prosecution because it is 'not in the public interest' to take them to court.

Ria George was walking to a pal’s house when she was set upon by eight Slovakians, aged between eight and 12, who 'mauled' her in the street.

The Express went with 'No justice for girl molested by migrants':

A schoolgirl who was molested by a gang of east European boys says she has been 'treated like a liar' by the justice system, which has refused to prosecute her attackers.

Ria George was walking to a friend’s house when she was set upon by eight Slovakian louts who groped, touched and humiliated her in the street.

Several things stand out.

One is the prominence of the (alleged) offenders' (alleged) migrant status and/or race.

The Mail says they are from 'Slovakian gipsy' and 'Romany migrant' families who 'settled in the city [Coventry] in the late 1990s', although it's not clear how the paper knows this.

After all, if that timeline is right and if some of the boys are eight, they were probably born in the UK and aren't migrants at all.

So are they definitely Gypsies? Over at Mailwatch, 5CC reports that:

a spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said that although it would be accurate to say the boys were Slovakian, “some reports have called the boys ‘gypsy migrants’ which would not be accurate language to use,” and not something the CPS would have said.

This is because the information the CPS has comes from the question on the police’s arrest form, which is self-reported by the suspect. It doesn’t include information like ‘gypsy’.

Secondly, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty seems to have gone out of the window. It would be surprising if this wasn't related to the boys (allegedly) being migrants/Gypsies.

Thirdly, having made clear their view that this attack was definitely committed by migrants/Gypsies, the papers heavily imply that it is because they are migrants/Gypsies that the CPS is not moving forward with the case.

The CPS are accused of 'refusing' to prosecute because it would not be in the 'public interest'. This allowed a flood of comments to appear on the Mail website to complain about 'one rule for 'them'' and other such unpleasant, but predictable, views.

But later in the day, a slightly different view emerged from the CPS, although it was ignored by the nationals. The Evening Telegraph in Peterborough reported:

A gang of boys arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting a teenage girl in Coventry did not face charges because of a lack of evidence, prosecutors said...

The Crown Prosecution Service refuted reports that it decided to drop the case because it was not deemed to be in the public interest. A spokesman said all decisions to press charges are based on two "tests" outlined in the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

He said: "The first is the evidential test where we have to be satisfied that there is enough admissible evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.

"If the evidence satisfies the first test, then we have to consider the second test - the public interest test. A prosecution will usually take place unless the public interest factors against prosecution clearly outweigh those in favour of prosecution.

"In this particular case, there was a lack of sufficient evidence to give rise to a realistic prospect of conviction before a criminal court and so the public interest test was not considered."

Why is it this version is only reported in the local media?

Indeed, in the Coventry Telegraph's report on the case, there is no mention of the boys' race at all. So why did that become the focus when the story hit the four right-wing national tabloids?

And did they report on the case because they were concerned that a gang of youngsters were not being prosecuted for an assault, or because they thought there was an anti-immigration angle?

Well, the CPS also announced today that they would not prosecute anyone in the case of James Parkes, the trainee PC who was left with a fractured skull after being subject to a homophobic attack.


Detectives arrested 15 youths during the inquiry but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has now decided there is insufficient evidence to charge them.

So two assaults and two cases where the CPS doesn't prosecute because of a lack of sufficient evidence.

But the one allegedly committed by migrants/Gypsies gets reported in four anti-immigrant national newspapers.

The one committed by people of unknown race, where the victim is a gay man, gets ignored by those same four national newspapers.

So, that question again: did they report on the first case because they were concerned that a gang of youngsters were not being prosecuted for an assault, or because they thought there was an anti-immigration angle?

(For another take on the story, please read 5CC's article over at Mailwatch)

Sun buries apology to Harry

On Monday, the Sun ran a front page story about Prince Harry spending £10,000 on champagne during a night out.

St James' Palace denied the story - 'The £10,000 figure is nonsense' - and as a result, no other major news outlet repeated the claims.

Then the Sun removed the story from its website.

Yesterday, the Sun wrote a pathetic follow-up which didn't explicitly deny the original - and buried it on page 19.

So today, under the headline 'Sorry Harry':

Prince Harry did not go on a bender and spend £10k on champagne at a nightclub as we suggested in Monday’s paper.

We are happy to clarify this and wish Harry the best of luck in his exams!

Note the weasly use of the word 'suggested'. Does that front page really look like they are only 'suggesting' it happened?

So they've admitted the mistake and said 'sorry'. All is well?

Not quite. The original story ran on pages one and five.

Today's apology is on page 10.

And, at time of writing, it's not on the Sun's website.

The PCC Code states:

A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence.

How can anyone possibly describe a very short note on page 10 as having 'due prominence' compared with a front page splash?

Tuesday 13 April 2010

The Sun deletes another story

Yesterday's 'Sun Daily Email' proudly boasted the subject line:

Prince Harry blows £10k on champers + Marlon King converts to Islam

The email led with those two stories:

Clicking on the Harry story today re-directs to the Sun's homepage - a sure sign a story has been removed. The reason? Because Harry didn't spend four hours in the club and didn't spend £10,000 on drinks.

Some 'exclusive'.

Clicking on the Marlon King picture also takes you to the Sun's homepage. That story has also vanished from their website.

Yet it took up most of page 9 in yesterday's paper:

Disgraced soccer star Marlon King has converted to Islam in jail – and named himself after hook-handed hate preacher Abu Hamza.

It was soon picked up by the Mail (and countless football websites and forums) which repeated all the Sun's quotes:

King, who was convicted of sexual assault and assault occasioning actual body harm when he punched a 20-year-old female university student and broke her nose in December 2008, has also demanded that other prisoners call him Abu Hamza Tariq...

An insider is quoted in The Sun as saying: 'Marlon's gone from bad boy convict to devout Muslim in next to no time. He is talking about Abu Hamza as a hero - even though he is hated by the public.'

It's not clear why the Sun removed the story. Is it all wrong, or only partly wrong? Certainly the Abu Hamza bit sounds highly unlikely.

Either way, and as with the Harry story, the Sun is simply shrugging its shoulders and pretending the article never existed.

Oddly, the Mail article remains online - including a mistake of calling the prison HMS (rather than HMP) Wayland.

But for the Sun, the stories that dominated pages 1, 5 and 9 of their paper yesterday have been withdrawn within a day.

That's some achievement.

The Sun's response to a front page lie

Here's The Sun's front page from yesterday:

The lead story said:

Generous Prince Harry treated complete strangers to £200 bottles of vintage champagne on a £10,000 booze bender.

The playboy prince splashed out the small fortune in the VIP section of his favourite Boujis nightspot.

Except, err, he didn't:

Claims by clubbers that Prince Harry spent £10,000 on vintage champagne during a night out partying in central London have been denied by St James' Palace.

The royal treated his friends and other partygoers to more than 45 bottles of bubbly last Friday at an exclusive club as he took a break from military helicopter training, according to the Sun newspaper.

A St James' Palace spokesman added:

'Prince Harry spent approximately an hour and-a-half at the nightclub, where he enjoyed a bottle of beer and a glass of champagne. Prince Harry did not buy anyone else any drinks.

'A friend of Prince Harry hosted the entire evening. It is not true to suggest that Prince Harry spent large sums of money at the club. The £10,000 figure is nonsense.'


So today, the paper published a very small, five-line follow-up, buried on page 19, under the headline 'Harry not so bubbly':

Focused Prince Harry last night laughed off claims of a nightclub champagne spree.

The Sun told yesterday how punters at Boujis in London said Harry, 25, spent £10,000 on bubbly.

Friends insisted he will save the partying for after he has passed his helicopter training.

One said, "Harry's the life of the party so it's easy for people to think he's getting the drinks."

A Royal aide added: "He's working incredibly hard so he is taking it easy on nights out."

It would be generous to call that a 'clarification', because it's an exceptionally feeble one - but one that probably means they won't have to issue a proper apology or more honest correction.

But are five half-hearted lines on page 19 really an acceptable way to retract a front page splash (with a whole page continuation on page five)?

Do they really think changing their description of Harry from a generous wealth-flaunting playboy to 'focused' is good enough?

Moreover, although they have removed the original, they don't appear to have published this 'clarification' on their website. That is not acceptable. They shouldn't be allowed to pretend their front page never happened.

This isn't a first for Prince Harry either.

A similar story appeared back in September 2008, when the Mirror claimed Harry had spent £5,000 during a drinking contest with 'US rocker Cisco Adler'. The Mirror's 3am Girls were adamant:

No amount of fatuous spin from Clarence House or Buckingham Palace will hide the fact that he's at heart a Playboy Prince who knows the price of a cocktail if not the value of civilised behaviour.

Alas, the next day:

The 23-year-old turned down the chance of a wild boozing match with hardcore rocker Cisco Adler at Boujis to get cosy with his stunning missus instead ... Looks like we caned it a little too hard ourselves.

(Thanks to dawnuptheroad, euonymblog, SoniaRothwell, DanielSelwood, PrimlyStable and 5cc.)

Monday 12 April 2010

Carole Malone isn't NICE either

Here's a typical example of how loudmouth columnists rely on other newspaper articles - rather than their own research - in churning out their rants and in doing so end up repeating mistakes from the originals.

The Mail's 'factually inaccurate' article of 8 April on cancer drugs was rebutted by the Chairman of the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) the following day.

Yet Carole Malone - the one who thinks illegal immigrants get free cars - repeated all the claims against NICE in her News of the World column which appeared two days after NICE's clarification.

She wrote:

Yes, that very nasty organisation called NICE - which in recent years has become judge, jury and state executioner - has refused via West Kent Primary Care Trust to pay the £100 a day for cancer dugs that would allow Nikki to see her baby sons grow up.

This is incorrect. NICE has never made any decision on the drugs in question for this type of cancer because they've never been asked to. Moreover, NICE were not pulling the strings about the decision of the PCT.

The Mail article even included the line:

A [NICE] spokesman said decisions on funding it were entirely up to PCTs.

But Malone conveniently ignored that bit.

She goes on:

This is the organisation whose decisions have hastened the deaths of 20,000 people, the same organisation which in the past 18 months has said NO to 15 cancer treatments (that's not 15 people - but 15 classes of cancer drugs) and they've done all this despite a government promise in 2008 that people WOULD get access to life extending drugs.

Accusing an organisation of 'hastening the deaths of 20,000 people' is rather strong. It's based on a Rare Cancers Forum report (mentioned in the Mail article, she didn't find it herself) that said 16,000 people suffer with forms of cancer that may have been treated by four drugs rejected by NICE.

But it's only may have helped - for Malone to turn that into her definite accusation is a bit of a leap.

Then she repeats the Mail's 'factually inaccurate' claims about the number of drugs that had been rejected. And she did this despite NICE correcting the record two days before.

Hopefully, NICE will complain to the PCC to get both the Mail and Malone to retract the lie.

Back in 2007, Malone appeared on GMTV to attack Heather Mills (video on Youtube, watch from 05:06). She says about Mills:

Never once has she gone to the Press Complaints Commission, not once has she complained about any of the stories, not once has she sued over the untrue...she has sued my paper about a mistake we made.

So not once had Mills sued a newspaper, says Malone. Except the time she sued Malone's newspaper (at the time she worked for the Sunday Mirror). Got that?

Malone also says about Mills, with no hint of irony:

Time and time again we have found out things she has said are patently not true.

Hmm. Pot and Kettle? Malone has said illegal immigrants get free cars, has made claims about Cherie Blair that resulted in the News of the World paying libel damages, reviewed a performance by Cheryl Cole that hadn't happened, and has made claims about cancer drugs which aren't correct.

Time and time again we have found out things she has said are patently not true.

Most bizarrely of all, Malone told GMTV:

She [Mills] says the tabloids make things up - that is not true.

There are very strict laws governing all newspapers.

When Fiona Phillips groaned 'Oh Carole' in response, Malone reiterated the point:

No but Fiona, there are.

There aren't strict laws governing newspapers. There is a decent Code of Conduct that isn't very well upheld - as the complaint against Malone's totally made-up 'free cars for illegal immigrants' claim proves.

But does Malone really think she can say - with a straight face - that tabloids 'don't make things up'?

It's laughable. But given her position as columnist on the best-selling Sunday newspaper and her regular pitiful appearances on daytime magazine shows, it's not very funny.

The Mail is not nice to NICE

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has publicly rebuked the Daily Mail for spreading information that is:

factually inaccurate.

In Victim of a broken promise: Mother, 37, forced to sell her home to buy cancer drugs Labour pledged to fund, Daniel Martin and Christian Gysin told the story of Nikki Phelps, whose local PCT wouldn't fund a drug, Sutent, to treat her 'rare glandular cancer'.

The Mail, which dismisses NICE as a:

rationing body

goes on to say:

West Kent primary care trust refused - because NICE has not specifically approved the drug for her type of cancer.

It adds:

Labour ministers promised more than a year ago to give sufferers of rare cancers easier access to life-extending drugs.

But the rationing body NICE has since refused to approve ten such drugs. Experts say the rulings cut short up to 20,000 lives.

They even produce a little table which shows 15 (rather than ten) cancer drugs that they claim NICE have 'refused to approve':

Not so, says NICE. Its Chairman, Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, responded by writing to Mail Editor Paul Dacre, and the health spokesmen of the three main political parties, stating:

I have no knowledge of Mrs Phelp’s circumstances but Sutent, for this indication, has never been referred to us for appraisal and has no Marketing Authorisation for this indication.

So when the Mail said NICE hadn't approved the drug for Mrs Phelps' type of cancer, it's because they hadn't been asked to - which the Mail admits towards the very end of the article.

Rawlins goes on:

The Daily Mail, in the same article, also states that that 'NICE has delivered 15 rejections of cancer treatments in the past 18 months' and provides a list. This list is factually inaccurate.

He goes on to show what NICE has actually said in each of the cases, concluding:

In summary, of the 15 products allegedly rejected by NICE:

* 10 were recommended
* 4 were rejected
* 1 no appraisal has been published.

And the last of those is currently under review.

Eventhough NICE's clarification has been public since 9 April, the Mail's article has not been removed or updated to reflect their denials about the 'refused' drugs.

So will the Mail admit the error and correct the record? Or will they continue to push 'factually inaccurate' information about cancer drugs?

(Hat-tip to mr_wonderful at the Mailwatch Forum)

Saturday 10 April 2010

Sun falls for April Fool, and other mistakes

April did not begin well for the Sun.

On 2 April, it ran an 'exclusive' story under the headline Cambridge to strip BNP boss of degree. It said:

BNP leader Nick Griffin is set to be stripped of his degree by Cambridge.

It would be the first time EVER an ex-student's qualification has been revoked.

Bigot Griffin, 51, graduated from the university's Downing College in 1980 with a 2:2 honours in law. But chiefs want to cut all ties with the extremist.

The BNP rushed out an angry press release blaming not Cambridge University but (surprise) them Muslims:

Bosses at Cambridge University are trying to take away the 2:2 honours degree in law gained there by the British National Party’s Chairman Nick Griffin because they believe it might be losing them fees from foreign Muslim students who could be put off coming to the university.

But, as Matthew Weaver revealed in the Guardian, the story was an April Fool put out by Cambridge student paper The Tab.

Both the Sun and the BNP removed the story from their websites once they realised it was a joke.

But it raises two points. Firstly, the lack of fact-checking from journalists who re-heat stories (which they label 'exclusive'...) without bothering to find out if it's true or not, and secondly, the ease with which the BNP will blame anything - even things that aren't happening - on Muslims.

Also on 2 April, the Press Complaints Commission upheld (in part) a complaint against the newspaper:

A married couple complained to the Press Complaints Commission through the charity Mermaids that two articles headlined "Boy, 12, turns into girl" and "Now boy, 9, is girl", published in The Sun on 18 September 2009 and 19 September 2009 respectively, contained inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and intruded into their daughter's private life in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld.

Separate complaints under Clauses 3 (Privacy), 4 (Harassment), 6 (Children) and 12 (Discrimination) were not upheld.

In explaining its decision, the PCC said:

The Commission agreed that the cumulative effect of the inaccuracies served to give a misleading impression of the girl's appearance and behaviour at the school. This was unacceptable and the newspaper should have taken greater care when publishing details of such a vulnerable child. This raised a breach of Clause 1 of the Code.

In addition, the newspaper had passed on the family's details to a third party - therefore identifying the child - at a time when it had been specifically informed that further contact from the media was unwelcome. Given that the newspaper had recognised the need to avoid naming the child publicly, the decision to identify her to a third party (who would not otherwise have known who she was) was clearly an error.

The paper had shown a failure to respect her private and family life in breach of Clause 3 of the Code.

The Sun has printed this part of the adjudication on its website but it hasn't had to apologise and, strangely, it hasn't removed the original article either, which also appears on Mail's website.

And although the original stories were published on the front page, the adjudication did not. So it buries that, doesn't apologise and doesn't remove the originals.

That's what an upheld complaint amounts to.

Two days later, the Sun was forced to print an article about Mohammed George's libel victory against the paper - which it had conveniently forgotten to mention. It blamed an:

unfortunate internal communications breakdown.

Yeh. Right.

Their lack of interest in correcting the record is reflected in their grudging language:

Former Eastenders star Mo George has been awarded £75,000 libel damages over a Sun article which a jury ruled wrongly branded him a woman beater.

The actor's lawyer, Ronald Thwaites, QC, told the High Court the article left Mr George depressed and unwilling to go out.

After the case, Mr George, 26, said: "I want to thank all my friends and family who have supported me through all of this."

Publishers News Group Newspapers had denied libel, claiming justification and maintained the article was true.

Thursday 8 April 2010

Scaremongering about immigrants and jobs

Only a couple of days into the General Election campaign and a sign of things to come from the Express and the Mail:

It was unsurprising to see this story appearing on the BNP website soon after, the only party likely to benefit from such misleading and inflammatory coverage.

There have been some excellent posts already about today's reporting - see Claude at Hagley Road to Ladywood, Five Chinese Crackers, Nicola Smith and Richard Exell from the TUC at Left Foot Forward, Anton at Enemies of Reason and Full Fact - so this will just pick up some of the most important points.

1. The Left Foot Forward article makes clear that the Spectator, who originally produced the figures:

- Conflates 'non-UK born' with 'nationality' – there are many (around 1,432,000) non-UK born British nationals, excluding them from the analysis is to exclude five per cent of the UK labour force.

- Excludes UK workers over state pension age – a method that excludes 1,419,000 workers. There is no good reason for omitting this group – they are included in ONS’s widely reported analysis of total employment levels in the UK and comprise around five per cent of the workforce.

- Excludes public sector jobs – meaning that around 20 per cent of the jobs (public sector jobs excluding those in financial corporations) in the entire UK economy are discounted.

The Mail and Express have ignored these caveats completely.

2. The Mail claimed 'foreigners' (a word it seems to use with such utter contempt) had taken 98.5% of these jobs. The Express said it was 92%. The Spectator said it was 99%. Previously, the Mail had said it was 70%, while the Express has said 85% and 'all' new jobs had gone to migrants and it wasn't accurate then either.

The post at Left Foot Forward shows the actual figure may be closer to 50%.

As one of the authors points out:

if you include employed men aged 65+ and employed women aged 60+ then the proportions fall to 72.4 per cent. If you include people who were not born here but who are UK citizens the percentage falls again.

In the latest of many updates, the Spectator's Fraser Nelson has agreed with the above analysis.

3. The Mail uses 'foreigners' on its front page instead of 'foreign-born'. So even if an immigrant has become a British citizen, they are still considered - by the Mail - a 'foreigner'. Indeed, even those born to British parents abroad would be classed as 'foreigners'.

From Full Fact:

The figures for 2009 show that while 3.7 million jobs were held by non-UK born workers, only 2.3 million jobs were held by non-British citizens.

From this we can deduce that almost 40 per cent of those listed as 'foreign born' in the Spectator tables and described by the Mail as 'immigrants' are in possession of a British passport.

4. In total, the figures show 'British-born' people had 23.96m of the total 27.49m jobs - which is 87%.

Since 1997, employment among UK-born and UK residents has risen. The employment rate for people born in the UK is the same as 1997, for UK citizens it has decreased by 0.1%. This is hardly a 'betrayal' of British workers, as the Mail's front page claims.

5. In attempting to back up his claims that '99%' of new jobs had been accounted for by immigration, Fraser Nelson points to a 2007 document from the Statistics Commission which he says is 'helpful'.

Indeed it is, because it says:

The actual proportion of the employment increase accounted for by foreigners/migrants ranges from just over 50% when looking at foreign nationals and the 16+ age group to just over 80% when looking at country of birth and excluding workers who are over state pension age.

So not 99%? Or 98.5%? Or 92%? Even allowing for the fact that that document is just over a year old, there's no way it's changed that much in that time.

That same document also points out the vast differences between 'foreign-born' and 'foreign nationals':

over one third of those born abroad and in UK employment in 2007 were UK nationals rather than foreign nationals.

The Mail has tried this before, when it refused to consider second or third generation immigrants - who were born in Britain and lived here their whole life - as British.

So when the Mail refers to 'foreign workers' and the Express to 'overseas workers', it's a deliberately misleading description.

Nelson says:

My point here is not that nasty immigrants have taken all our jobs.

Unfortunately, using his figures, that is exactly the point the Mail and Express have tried to make.

And there will no doubt be much more of that to come in the run up to polling day.