Monday, 31 October 2011

Five months on, Mail corrects front page splash

On Friday 27 May, the Daily Mail claimed the 'UK doles out more aid than any other country'. They were so sure of this 'fact' they put it on the front page:

At the time, Full Fact questioned the accuracy of this claim:

While the UK is the most generous G8 economy in international aid relative to GNI, it does not give the most aid of any country in the world, neither relative to GNI or in absolute terms.

And today, in a two-sentence correction at the bottom of page two, the Mail admits:

A front-page article on 27 May said that Britain spends more on aid as a percentage of national income than any other country in the world. In fact it spends more than any other G8 country as a percentage of GDP and is second in the world behind the US in cash terms.

Despite the Mail's headline and article being shown to be untrue by Full Fact on the day it was published, it has taken the paper five months to admit it got it wrong.

UPDATE: The Mail's correction was the result of a complaint from Full Fact. Their description of the process makes for very interesting reading, particularly the attempt by the Mail to unilaterally publish a correction two days before the PCC was to adjudicate. Despite the PCC saying the original article was 'sloppy' and contained a 'significant inaccuracy' they did not agree with Full Fact that a front page correction was necessary.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Mail apologises to Carole Caplin

On 18 September 2010, the Mail's front page looked like this:

'Will Carole Caplin lift the lid on Blairs' marriage?' it asked. The article ran on page 13, under the headline ‘Carole’s £1m question: Will she tell all about Blairs’ sex secrets?’

The article began:

She once turned down the offer of £1million for the story of her ten years as lifestyle guru to Tony and Cherie Blair.

But Carole Caplin might now be forced to think again following the failure of a gym she set up to offer massages and health consultations to the wealthy...

The Blairs have always been worried that the former exotic dancer might 'push the nuclear button' and write a book about her extraordinary association with them.

Caplin launched a libel action against the Daily Mail's publishers, Associated Newspapers in which she argued that the article could be read to mean:

there are strong grounds to suspect that the Claimant will now disclose their sex secrets for substantial financial reward

The Press Gazette reported:

According to the writ, no proper effort was made to put the claims to her before publication. It alleges that although the paper contacted her representative, there were no questions about financial difficulties, a book, the Blairs, or sex secrets, and the conversation was solely about her gym...

The writ says that the Daily Mail has refused to apologise or retract the claims, and that the website story remains online.

At a hearing in June, where Associated tried to have the case struck out, their lawyer accepted:

that some of the headlines and captions and the first third of the article in particular could foster a suspicion in isolation that the Claimant might be planning to disclose things about the Blairs that she knew from her friendship with them. But she submits the court should not adopt a "broad brush" approach or focus simply on the headlines. She accepted during the course of argument that none of the various rhetorical questions which are posed are ever answered in the negative, but says neither they nor the hypothetical scenarios which are addressed in the article are ever answered in a positive way either...

David Price QC, for Caplin, argued:

the article poses the same question in a variety of forms: "Will Carole Caplin lift the lid on Blairs' marriage?", "Carole's £1million question: Will she tell all about Blairs' sex secrets?", "Is Carole Caplin set to blow the lid on Tony and Cherie Blair's sex secrets?". The question he says is only worth asking if there are solid grounds to suspect that the Claimant will disclose the information. In the light of the presentation and content of the article (and putting it at its lowest) a jury could, without perversity, understand the article to suggest that there are strong grounds to suspect that she will do so.

The Hon. Mrs Justice Sharp ruled:

I have concluded that read as a whole, and applying the relevant principles to the issue as it arises now, the article is capable of conveying the suspicion that the Claimant will "lift the lid on the Blairs' marriage" and their "sex secrets" for substantial financial reward. 

Today, the Mail has published the following apology:

An article about Carole Caplin on 18 September 2010 ‘Carole’s £1m question: Will she tell all about Blairs’ sex secrets?’ suggested that Ms Caplin might reveal intimate details about Tony and Cherie Blair in a book for a substantial sum, which might lift the lid on their marriage and finish the Blairs. We accept that Ms Caplin would not disclose such matters and that there was nothing improper about massages she gave Mr Blair. We apologise to Ms Caplin.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

'Just put up with it'

The Mail's Steve Doughty - who repeated the 'BBC drops BC/AD' myth a week after it had been denied and debunked - has turned his attention to the issue of racism in football.

In the last week or so, two footballers - Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand - have claimed they were racially abused by opposition players. In both cases, the accused have denied the accusation.

Here's Doughty's advice:

Things may not be perfect but, at the end of the day, Gary, there are worse things to complain about.

So, Mr Evra and Mr Ferdinand, I know you feel insulted. But perhaps in this case you could just put up with it and get on with the game.

He adds:

Every club seems to be promoting a kick racism out of football campaign, beyond the point of boredom.

And that campaign has responded to Doughty:

Show Racism the Red Card is appalled by Steve Doughty’s article...

It is ludicrous
to suggest that players should simply “put up with” racist abuse.

Racism should never be tolerated – unless we want to return to the days where widespread racist abuse was a weekly feature of football, ‘putting up and shutting up’ is not an option. We cannot achieve equality by ignoring racism, equality is something that we must continually strive towards. This is something that football clubs clearly recognise through their ongoing support of anti-racism initiatives, such as the work of Show Racism the Red Card. The steps that have been taken to remove racism from the game are numerous and include: improved legislation, education, fans’ campaigns and bans for racist supporters; these combined actions have all had a positive impact on reducing levels of racism within stadia.

Doughty argues that football clubs are “promoting a kick racism out of football campaign, beyond the point of boredom.” It is revealing that Doughty sees anti-racism campaigns as tedious, as if he believes racism to be a thing of the past, a topic we no longer need to address.

(Hat-tip to Brett)

Mail 'sets the record straight' on another Littlejohn column

On 5 August, Richard Littlejohn wrote:

From time to time I may have written about both asylum seekers and wheelie bins. But never before in the same sentence. Until now.

Six illegal immigrants have been detained by a border patrol in Calais. The four men and two women, all from Vietnam, were discovered hiding in a consignment of wheelie bins bound for Britain. They were detected stowed away in the back of a Polish-registered lorry by a vigilant sniffer dog called Jake.

Asylum seekers hiding in wheelie bins in a Polish lorry. What a perfect metaphor for modern Britain.

On 16 August he returned to the same story:

Another snapshot of modern, multicultural Britain, coming hard on the heels of the story about those Vietnamese asylum seekers caught hiding in wheelie bins in a Polish lorry.

There was no evidence these six people were asylum seekers, having been caught in France before they reached the UK. The UKBA news report certainly never called them asylum seekers but 'would-be illegal immigrants'

But Littlejohn called them 'illegal immigrants' and 'asylum seekers' interchangeably. The PCC's guidance on refugees and asylum seekers states that journalists should be:

mindful of the problems that can occur and take care to avoid misleading or distorted terminology.

A complaint was made to the PCC asking that they look into Littlejohn's use of these terms. It was sent on the evening of 15 August, after Littlejohn's second article had been posted online.

By 19 September the complainant had received no reply from the PCC or the Mail. So he contacted the PCC again, asking what was happening.

On 23 September - nearly six weeks after the original complaint was made - the Mail finally responded with a letter from Managing Editor Alex Bannister.

The Mail had acted to correct the error, replacing 'asylum seekers' with 'illegal immigrants' in each article, and marking the archive with a note. Bannister said he had reminded 'Littlejohn and our other reporters' of the need to avoid such 'confusion'. He also apologised for the delay in replying, but gave no explanation for it.

The complainant said he would like some explanation for it and also asked for the Mail to admit in print it had corrected the articles.

Bannister's reply came through on 7 October. He said he had been away on annual leave and then had much to catch up on his return but admitted this was 'no excuse'. He also offered to print a clarification.

The complainant accepted the wording of the clarification that was offered and said he looked forward to seeing it in the Mail's new corrections column soon.

On 18 October, around 6pm, the Mail sent a revised wording to the PCC which was sent on to the complainant.

Before he could reply, he received another email at 7:46pm, in which the Mail explained it was hoping to run the clarification on Wednesday and they had changed the wording again.

Fifteen minutes later, another email from the Mail and yet another amendment to the wording.

The complainant agreed to this and so on Wednesday 19 October, the Mail published this:

Commentary articles on 5 and 16 August referred to six individuals apprehended in France who were attempting to enter Britain in wheelie bins on a lorry as asylum seekers when they should have been described as illegal immigrants.

We are happy to set the record straight.

By this time, the Daily Mail's 'Clarifications and corrections' column had been running for three days and this was the second clarification for something Richard Littlejohn had written.

It is also the second time this blog has covered a complaint about a Littlejohn column that has been met with a month-long silence from the Mail.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Oh deer

Daily Mail, Monday 17 October:

The tiny deer that causes 42,000 crashes every year

They are just two foot long and as cute as Bambi but soaring numbers of muntjac deer are causing at least 42,000 road accidents a year, a study has found.

Daily Mail, Tuesday 18 October:

The doe-eyed destroyer: They may look cute but these tiny deer last year caused 42,000 road accidents, destroyed countless gardens - and they're breeding faster than ever

Daily Mail, Thursday 20 October:

An article on Monday claimed that muntjac deer cause 42,000 road accidents a year. In fact, this is the number of accidents caused by all deer and not just the muntjac.

Express misleads on EU poll results

The front page of Saturday's Daily Express claims:

'75% say: 'Quit the EU now''. That's the way the Express has summarised a poll conducted by YouGov.

But the article by Alison Little makes clear this isn't what the poll really shows. Indeed, her first sentence says:

An overwhelming 75 per cent of Britons would vote in a referendum to quit the EU or renegotiate the terms.

The 'or renegotiate the terms' bit is important because, as the Express reveals five paragraphs from the end, if a referendum included three options about the UK's relationship with Europe:

15 per cent would vote for the status quo, 28 per cent would vote to leave the EU and 47 per cent would vote to renegotiate membership terms. 

So the '75%' saying 'quit now' actually includes 47% who don't actually want to quit if renegotiation is an option.  

The poll was conducted by YouGov for the campaign group Vote UK out of EU and their press release on these results makes clear that:

75% of those surveyed would vote to change the current relationship between the UK and the EU.

'Change the current relationship'. Not 'quit now'.

What if the referendum gave a more straightforward 'in or out' choice? The Express states:

Given a choice to stay in or get out – without the option to renegotiate – 52 per cent would quit, 31 per cent would stay in, while the rest are “don’t knows”.

According to this poll, if it's in or out, 52% say quit. If it's in, out or renegotiate, 28% say quit.

So why has the Express claimed '75% say quit now' in the headline?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Two 'substantial' payouts in two days for the Mail

On 19 September, the Daily Mail published the following apology to Osmond Kilkenny:

On March 27, 2010, in an article headlined ‘Family at war over Subo’s millions’, we reported concerns of Susan Boyle’s family about her then manager Mr Kilkenny. We did not intend to suggest that he was likely to manage Miss Boyle’s finances dishonestly and accept this is untrue. We apologise to Mr Kilkenny for this suggestion.

Today, the MediaGuardian reports that the Mail has now agreed to pay 'substantial' damages to Mr Kilkenny:

The article, which was later removed from the Daily Mail's website, was headlined "Family at war over SuBo's millions". It suggested that because of doubts over his trustworthiness Kilkenny was unsuitable or unfit to handle Boyle's affairs.

The Daily Mail has now accepted this was untrue and apologised to Kilkenny. Associated Newspapers has agreed to pay him substantial damages plus legal costs.

Nicholas Armstrong, of the solicitor's firm Charles Russell LLP, acting for Kilkenny, told the high court in London on Wednesday the allegations were "an unwarranted slur on his character and professional reputation".

This follows the news yesterday that the Mail was paying 'substantial' damages to Lady Kristina Moore

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Daily Mail to pay 'substantial' damages to Lady Kristina Moore

In March, the Press Gazette reported that Lady Kristina Moore, wife of Sir Roger Moore, was 'demanding damages' from the Daily Mail over a diary item by Ephraim Hardcastle on 8 October 2010:

"Playboy Taki Theodoracopulos, 74, says a great love of his life was Kiki, a gorgeous Swede with whom he lived at the Hotel du Cap in 1958. Their affair ended when he found she had been given 'a fortune in French francs' by a 'disgusting' 90-year-old Frenchman.

"His story [in The Spectator] is bound to send the famously-mobile eyebrows of The Saint and James Bond actor Sir Roger Moore into overdrive.

"A 'stunning' Swedish beauty called Kiki - 'even Gianni Agnelli gave her a whirl' - who went on to marry a rich man?

"Surely Taki isn't referring to Sir Roger's fourth wife, the former Kristina Tholstrup, pictured? Lady Moore, 71, is known as Kiki, did knock around the French Riviera in her youth and did end up 'very well off' (after marrying three rich men, including Sir Roger)."

And so:

Lady Kristina Moore, who is known as Kiki, claims the story suggested she had an affair with Taki Theodoracopulos in the 1950s then left him because a wealthy 90-year-old Frenchman offered a fortune to sleep with her.

According to a writ filed at the High Court, the story also claimed Lady Moore behaved in a “meretricious and promiscuous manner” by “knocking” around the French Riviera chasing wealthy men.

It continues:

She is seeking aggravated damages, citing the highly offensive and damaging nature of the allegations and stating that no effort was made to check the story with her first.

If the paper had checked with her, or with Theodoracopulos, it would have discovered the claims were completely untrue, the writ claims, as the woman referred to as Kiki in the story was someone completely different...

In addition, the writ says, the paper has published a statement from Theodoracopulos confirming the allegations were false and that he was referring to a different Kiki.

And according to the writ, the response of the Mail was:

the paper has refused to accept the story was defamatory of her, or to admit liability, let alone apologise for the distressed caused to her.

Today, the Daily Mail agreed to pay Lady Moore 'substantial' damages:

"The allegations published by the newspaper on 8 October 2010 are completely untrue and seriously defamatory of Lady Moore," Catherine Rhind, of Harbottle & Lewis, said in a statement in open court.

"The true position is that Lady Moore was 18 in 1958 and was living in Sweden with her mother and father and at that time had never visited France," Rhind added.

"She could not therefore have been the person to whom Taki was referring as has indeed since been confirmed by Taki who has acknowledged that he was in fact writing about somebody entirely different."

Rhind said that the Daily Mail had not checked the accuracy of the story with Moore before publication, "despite the serious nature of what was claimed". After Theodoracopulos made clear that he was not referring to Moore, the paper published another Ephraim Hardcastle diary item admitting it had been wrong to make the suggestion.

This admission came four days after the original was printed. They admitted they were wrong to make the suggestion, but apparently did not apologise for doing so.


Associated Newspapers had agreed to pay Moore an undisclosed substantial sum in damages plus costs, and also agreed not to repeat the allegations.

A lawyer acting for Associated Newspapers told the high court: "The defendant acknowledges that the allegations made against Lady Moore are untrue and is happy to give the undertakings referred to. As the claimant's solicitor has confirmed, the Daily Mail corrected the matter in the Ephraim Hardcastle column at the first available opportunity. The defendant apologises for the distress and embarrassment caused to both Lady Moore and Sir Roger Moore."

UPDATE: The Mail has apologised in Wednesday's 'Clarifications and corrections' column:

The Daily Mail apologised in court yesterday for wrongly identifying, in a one-paragraph item in the Ephraim Hardcastle column, Lady Moore, the wife of Sir Roger Moore, as the subject of a Spectator column by Taki about a Swedish beauty who had courted rich men on the French Riviera in the 1950s.

We accepted that Lady Moore was not the person to whom Taki was referring and have agreed to pay damages and costs.

Why the need to say it was only a 'one-paragraph item'?

After three months, Mail corrects '£32 loaf of bread' story

In today's 'Clarifications and corrections' column, the Mail finally admits that the claims it (and others) published in July about the NHS spending £32 per loaf of gluten-free bread were not true.

The Mail says:

An article on 19 July reported, in common with other newspapers, that the NHS paid £32.27 per loaf of gluten-free bread for patients with coeliac disease.

In fact, this was the price for an average prescription of several loaves; the price per loaf was around £2.82.

The original stories were shown to be rubbish within a day of publication. The Sun corrected it a month ago. So why has it taken the Mail three months (in total) to put it right? And after all that time, why haven't they apologised for getting it so badly wrong?

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Mail's first corrections column

The Daily Mail has followed in the footsteps of its Sunday sister paper and published its first 'Clarifications and corrections' column on page two of today's paper.

It begins:

The average issue of the Daily Mail contains around 80,000 words - the equivalent of a paperback book - most of which are written on the day under tremendous pressure of deadlines.

Huge efforts are made to ensure our journalism meets the highest possible standards of accuracy but it is inevitable that mistakes do occur.

This new column provides an opportunity to correct those errors quickly and prominently. 

The first clarification is aimed at Michael Levy:

On 26 September we reported that barrister Michael Levy had been arrested on suspicion of “carousel” fraud.  Whilst HM Revenue & Customs confirmed the information to us at the time, we now understand that Mr Levy was arrested on suspicion of irregularities in his personal tax position, which he denies.

This appears on the Mail's website. But the other three clarifications do not. The next is:

An article on 9 September reported a World Economic Forum survey which ranked UK schools 43rd in the world for maths. We are happy to clarify that the survey was based on the opinions of business leaders about teaching in their own countries.

There's no sign of this on the original article or anywhere else.


An article on 27 September, 'Tesco wins opening skirmish as price war catches out rivals', quoted the price of a Sainsbury's shopping basket at £26.26 against the Tesco equivalent of £19.04. While the Sainsbury's basket remained more expensive than the other supermarkets surveyed, the correct figure should have been £23.51.

There's no sign of this online either, but the original article has disappeared from the Mail's website.

Finally, and perhaps inevitably, they correct something Richard Littlejohn wrote:

A reference in Richard Littlejohn's column reported the allegation that Dacorum Borough Council in Hertfordshire had ignored six letters and as many phone calls from a resident requesting additional assistance in caring for her incapacitated mother before finally making a hone visit and refusing her request. In fact the complaint concerned Hertfordshire County Council. 

There's no sign of this online, but the original column as been corrected, although with no note admitting this.

So the Mail on Sunday's clarifications were all published on MailOnline, although the original articles were not corrected and didn't have the clarifications added. Today, the Mail has published only one of the four clarifications online.

Hopefully, in future, all clarifications will appear on the website and there will be some note on the original article (if it still exists) about those corrections.

(Hat-tip to The Grim Reaper blog)

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Churnalism to sell curry

According to reports in several papers, Rochelle Peachey has just been crowned 'Britain's curry queen' after eating curry 'for her last 29,565 meals'.

The Daily Star said:

Red-hot Rochelle Peachey has eaten curry for her last 29,565 meals.

The Mail said:

The mother of one, 49, from Gants Hill, Essex, has just been crowned the country's curry queen - after eating the spicy food for her last 29,565 meals.

It was National Curry Week last week and so some curry-related churnalism was to be expected. And here it was, produced by a well-known brand of curry sauce. Oh, and Peachey just happens to run a dating website which gets mentioned in most of the articles too.She's also written books about dating in which she appears to reveal that she eats a lot of seafood salad.

But 29,565 currys to the exclusion of everything else? Really?

Well, according to Peachey's comments in the Mail:

'I eat three curries a week and if I've got left overs I'll eat it for breakfast the next day.'

How can having it for 'her last 29,565 meals' equate to 'three a week'?

Indeed, if she was eating three curries a week, it would take 189 years to reach 29,565.

The Metro's version of the story claims instead that it is actually 29,565 'spicy meals' rather than just curry. But that wouldn't be so good for National Curry Week, would it?

When asked to confirm if she really had eaten that many currys, Peachey replied:


But she had been linking to the Mail and Star stories on Twitter. Asked then if anything in the story was accurate, or just a PR stunt, she replied:

It's not the most convincing response ever, is it?

And a comment on the Mail's article from a person named Rochelle states:

'Corrections must be given more prominence'

On 18 July 2011, Paul Dacre told a committee of MPs:

The PCC already has the right to place a correction or adjudication in a paper. Where it goes in the paper has to be agreed by the director of the Press Complaints Commission. It is one of the great myths of our time that newspapers somehow bury these things at the back of the book, as 80% of the corrections carried by newspapers are either on the same page as the original offending article or before that page.

Yet last week, when giving a speech at a public seminar organised by the Leveson Inquiry, Dacre said:

I believe corrections must be given more prominence. As from next week, the Daily Mail, the Mail on Sunday and Metro will introduce a "Corrections and Clarifications" column on page two of these papers.

If he now believes corrections 'must be given' more prominence, why did he claim only a few months ago it was 'one of the biggest myths of all time' that they are buried?

The decision to introduce these columns is to be welcomed although, as Steve Baxter pointed out, Dacre has been editor of the Daily Mail since 1992. Why has it taken so long?

But it's better late than never and it is quite a concession - especially given the start of Dacre's speech was given over the attacking the 'current furore over the press'. Yet this 'current furore' appears to have led Dacre to realise a corrections column would be a good idea.

So, today, the Mail on Sunday's first 'Corrections and clarifications' column was published. Here's the first item:

Last Sunday we said some 3,200 families of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder were believed to have been given cars under the Motability scheme. In fact that total is the combined figure for two categories of recipients of the Higher Mobility component of the Disability Living Allowance and includes other behavioural disorders. Recipients choose whether or not to spend their allowance on a Motability car; generally about 30 per cent do so. Also, we described the qualification for the Lower Mobility component, rather than the Higher Mobility component required to claim a car, for which individuals must be declared virtually unable to walk. 

This article was originally debunked by Full Fact but, as they point out, the original article remains on MailOnline with no correction. The claims were also repeated by Littlejohn in his column on Tuesday. Will the Mail be correcting that too?

The next correction says:

Bath licensee Ashley Van Dyck points out that he did not support police use of an airport-style scanner to check people on a night out for knives and drugs. Our article of September 25 repeated a quote to the BBC by Mr Van Dyck, chairman of Bath Pubwatch, saying only that he welcomed extra police officers being deployed to curb anti-social behaviour.

The original article, again, still remains live and uncorrected.


On September 18 we published a photograph of Dr Angela Kikugawa, an assistant director at the UK Border Agency, competing at the Civil Service Sports Council Games at Loughborough University. Dr Kikugawa has asked us to clarify that she attended the games at her own expense and did not take part in any of the partying and other activities later in the evening.

This is in response to an article headlined: 'Paid to party on your tax: How civil servants were given time off work for drunken sports day hours after voting for a mass strike'. Again, the correction has not been added to the original story.

And finally, there's this:

Last week we printed the Union Flag incorrectly in a tea towel promotion. The thick white lines of the St Andrew’s Cross should have been above the red St Patrick’s Cross on one side of the flag and below it on the other.

Not something you'd imagine the Mail on Sunday is particularly happy to have got wrong - especially when the Mail has criticised others for the same error before. 

So while the column is a welcome addition, and it's refreshing to see articles corrected within a few weeks, MailOnline should still update the original articles to include the clarification.

'The celebrity stuff drives the site'

As this blog has pointed out once or twice before, MailOnline publisher Martin Clarke told the Press Gazette in 2009:

News is far more important to us that showbiz. News is what drives our site.

But last week, Simon Heffer - editor of the RightMinds section of MailOnline - admitted what most of us knew already. He told the Guardian:

The celebrity stuff drives the site.

Just take a look at the MailOnline's most read articles in the last 30 days. At time of writing, these are stories about Jodie Marsh (x2), Zara Phillips, The X Factor (x2), Amanda Knox, Pippa Middleton, Cheryl Cole (x2) and Rihanna.

Friday, 14 October 2011

'A proper crack-down'

The main editorial comment in today's Daily Star takes a stand against obesity:


The smartest minds in Britain have spent months looking for a way to end the country’s obesity crisis.

And last night they revealed the incredible solution: eat less.

Well, you don’t have to be Einstein to work that out.

Next they’ll be telling us to drink less to avoid a hangover.

As taxpayers we are footing the massive NHS bill for treating people with obesity-related illnesses.

What we need is a proper crack-down on the problem, with more education on how to get healthier.

Suppliers of unhealthy food also need to take more responsibility.

Simply telling people to eat less is not enough.

And it makes a laughing stock of our Government to say it.

That's all on page 6.

But on the front page...

(Hat-tip to Mark)

Thursday, 13 October 2011

No EU 'ban' on blowing up balloons

On Sunday, MailOnline reported:

The story ran in Monday's papers under headlines such as 'Brussels bans toys' (Mail), 'Now Euro killjoys ban children's party toys' (Express) and 'Children to be banned from blowing up balloons, under EU safety rules' (Telegraph).

Have children been 'banned' from blowing up balloons by the EU, as all the papers claimed? No. The stories refer to the Toy Safety Directive and what the explanatory guidance to that actually says is:

For latex balloons there must be a warning that children under 8 years must be supervised and broken balloons should be discarded.

It's about an 'age suitable' warning on the packet. It's not about the EU 'banning' something.

How, exactly, do these papers think such a ban, if it did exist, would be enforced anyway?

In response, Antonia Mochan of the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom said:

The EU rules can regulate how things are put on the market, but not how they are used in the home. So they recommend supervision for use of balloons etc that children could choke on, but don’t ban children from using them.

The official statement from the Representation's office says:

Several newspapers have claimed that “Brussels” has imposed new rules on the UK banning children from blowing up balloons or using party whistles. This is wholly untrue.

EU legislation on toy safety aims to protect young children from death and injury and reflects expert medical advice – and simple common sense.

Balloons and other toys placed in the mouth can and do cause death and injury.

The EU rules referred to date from 1988. They state that ballons made of latex must carry a warning to parents that children under eight years should be supervised. Stronger plastic ballons do not need to carry this warning.

They also state that all toys aimed at children under three should be large enough to prevent them being swallowed.

Despite this, the claims were repeated by former Express editor Peter Hill:

There are certain types of public official in this country who make it their life's work to think of things to ban.

They are only happy when making other people's lives a little less free and a little less rich.

Now they've teamed up with others of their ilk in obscure offices of the EU, whose latest fatuous decision is to ban children from blowing up balloons and playing penny whistles.

Can anyone recall a case of a child being killed doing either? It's interfering for interfering's sake.

There's a certain type of journalist who make it their life's work to report on things being banned when they aren't really. Since there is no such 'ban' in this case, it's Hill who is being fatuous.

And he asks if anyone can recall a case of a child being killed blowing up a balloon. The parents of Clarice Harron can - their daughter choked to death while blowing up a balloon in 2009. And in 2008, the Mail reported that a 5-year-old had died after choking on a burst balloon.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):

Of all children's products, balloons are the leading cause of suffocation death, according to CPSC injury data. Since 1973, more than 110 children have died as a result of suffocation involving uninflated balloons or pieces of balloons. Most of the victims were under six years of age, but the CPSC does know of several older children who have suffocated on balloons. 

Indeed, the Child Safety Protection Act, effective in the US since 1 January 1995, states that balloons must carry the following warning:


CHOKING HAZARD - Children under 8 yrs. can choke or suffocate on uninflated or broken balloons. Adult supervision required.

Keep uninflated balloons from children. Discard broken balloons at once.

So the warning outlined by the EU's Toy Safety Directive is much the same as the one that has been used in the US for 16 years.

It wasn't just the facts about balloons that the papers got wrong. The Mail's article states, at the start:

Many traditional filler toys are being banned because they do not conform to tough regulations imposed by Brussels.

Party blowers...are among the favourites deemed too dangerous.

But towards the end, that changes to:

Party blowers...are categorised as unsafe for under-14s under rules governing toys that children put in their mouths. EU officials claim bits of blower could come off and cause choking. They can no longer be sold unless they pass strict new tests.

So not actually banned either, the article eventually admits. Just subject to safety tests - as all toys that kids put in their mouth are - and given an 'age suitable' warning.

Is trying to make toys as safe as reasonably possible really such a strange thing to want to do? It seems unlikely that the papers would be so misleading, or take the same snide tone, if this didn't involve the EU.

(More from Full Fact)

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

'Wonder diet'

On 23 June, the front page of the Express revealed the 'secret' to losing weight. It was: eat fruit and veg and cut down on crisps and sugar-sweetened drinks.

On 2 August it revealed the 'secret to a longer life' which was:

not smoking, regular exercise, not being overweight and eating a Mediterranean-style diet.

On 17 September, the front page explained the was a 'miracle diet' that could  'stop heart disease'. The 'miracle' was:

Taking more exercise, eating more fruit and vegetables, reducing alcohol intake and slashing the amount of saturated fat in our diet

On Wednesday, the front page says:

Yes, this latest health 'wonder' is that eating fruit and veg is good for you. Some 'wonder'. And while the research suggests fruit and veg can help reduce the risk of heart disease in people with 'specific genetic risk factors', that's not the same as a 'cure'.

But why would anyone have got the impression fruit and veg wasn't good for your health?

(Hat-tip to Nick Sutton for the 'dangers' front page)

(Post updated with NHS Behind the Headlines link)

Sunday, 9 October 2011

They eat horses, don't they?

On 27 September, The Sun reported:

The story was based on a Freedom of Information request from the paper and followed up by the Telegraph and the Mail.

The Sun's 'exclusive' by Tom Wells began:

Whitehall chiefs paid a PR firm £45,000 to teach gypsies about an EU rule asking people to promise not to EAT their horses. 

However, while the Sun and Mail articles are still live, the Telegraph's has been deleted. Why?

Well, it might have something to do with this statement put out by the 'Whitehall chiefs' at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs:

Myth bust: Marketing campaign on Horse Identification rules

The myth: The Sun and Daily Telegraph have suggested that Defra funded a marketing campaign to ask travellers not to eat their own horses.

The truth: It was nothing to do with eating horses. The campaign explained changes to EU rules which meant owners needed to have their foals and any previously unidentified horses micro-chipped when they applied for horse passports. This was to improve disease control and help prevent the export of contaminated meat. No part of the campaign involved asking the owners to promise not to eat horse meat.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Mail health story doesn't cut the mustard

An article on the bottom of page 3 of Friday's Mail carried the headline 'Mustard, a must for muscles'. Online, the headline was:

The article, which included pictures of Popeye, spinach and a well-known brand of mustard in the online version, began:

Fitness fanatics looking to build muscle should consider reaching for the mustard, a study has found.

It seemed pretty clear from the Mail's reporting that this study was saying good things about eating mustard.

However, the NHS Behind the Headlines assessment says:

The word ‘mustard’ actually appears nowhere within the research paper.

Oh. And, moreover:

Despite what the Daily Mail reports, this study has no current application to humans. Although this chemical may occur in mustard seeds and other plants, this research used the chemical in its concentrated form and mustard was not used in any part of this experiment. It is not known whether the same effects would be seen in humans and, if they were, how much food containing homobrassinolide we would need to eat to get similar cannot be assumed that eating mustard will have any effect on muscle growth...

Most importantly, the safety of humans eating high concentrations of plant-derived steroids is completely unknown.

MailOnline churns press release, uses CE

Yesterday, the Leveson Inquiry team held a public seminar on the 'competitive pressures on the press and the impact on journalism'.

At this event, Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright said:

"You can never start from the assumption that something is wrong...You never send a reporter out to go and prove something, you send them out to examine if something is true. You very often start with a gut feeling about a certain event about which you only have partial knowledge and the job of the reporter is to find out what really is going on."

This is the editor of the newspaper that, over the last two weeks, has repeatedly claimed that the BBC has 'dropped', 'jettisoned' and 'replaced' BC/AD with BCE/CE, despite the fact that isn't true and the BBC told his reporter it wasn't true.

It seems the job of his reporter was to go and find what was really going on, but then the paper decided to publish the assumption/gut feeling anyway.

And that myth still refuses to die. On 5 October, the Mail's Simon Caldwell reported on 'a front page editorial in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper':

"The BBC has limited itself to changing only the description, rather than the computation of time, but in doing so, it cannot be denied that it has made a hypocritical act of enormous foolishness."

So the Mail on Sunday writes a bogus attack on the BBC, and both it and the Mail keep the lie going by pretending it's true, and by reporting on the reaction of people who believe their stories.

Caldwell then writes:

The new guidance from the BBC asserts that the abbreviations for Before Christ and Anno Domini (the Year of the Lord) infringed its protocols on impartiality.

It instructs employees to instead replace them with the non-religious phrases BCE and BC – Before Common Era and Common Era.

This is clearly not true, given what the BBC has said about it being up to indivduals to choose - a statement relegated to the end of the article, after Caldwell repeats all the criticisms made by people who think the terms have indeed been 'dropped'.

But what's this?

Angry Mob points out that in an article published under the 'Daily Mail Reporter' byline last night, there's this sentence:

It had been up on MailOnline for hours, but the subs acted within 30 minutes of Kevin's post being published. And, not for the first time this week, they acted a little too fast:

In the rush to hide their hypocrisy, they mistakenly changed CE to BC. Seven minutes later, they changed it again:

So how did this happen? As Michael King pointed out, the article was a lazy cut-and-paste job from this press release from Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. They said:

A thousand years ago, a brilliant beacon of light blazed in the sky, shining brightly enough to be seen even in daytime for almost a month. Native American and Chinese observers recorded the eye-catching event. We now know that they witnessed an exploding star, which left behind a gaseous remnant known as the Crab Nebula.

The same object that dazzled skygazers in 1054 C.E. continues to dazzle astronomers today by pumping out radiation at higher energies than anyone expected.

And the original MailOnline article said:

A thousand years ago, a brilliant beacon of light blazed in the sky, shining brightly enough to be seen even in daytime for almost a month.

Native American and Chinese observers recorded the eye-catching event.

What they were witnessing was an exploding star, which left behind a gaseous remnant known as the Crab Nebula.

The same object that dazzled skygazers in 1054 C.E. continues to fascinate astronomers today by pumping out radiation at higher energies than anyone expected.

Unsurprisingly, analysis from shows that 96% of the MailOnline article is straight from the press release.

(Huge hat-tips to Kevin, Tim Miller and others)

Thursday, 6 October 2011

That darn cat!

After two years and one political spat, the claim that a cat saved a man from deportation refuses to go away.

It dates back to a Sunday Telegraph article from 17 October 2009 which had the headline 'Immigrant allowed to stay because of pet cat'. The following day, the Mail, Express, Sun and Star all ran the story, the Express going with the headline 'Got a cat? OK, you can stay'.

The story was then repeated by columnists including Richard Littlejohn, Amanda Platell, Sue Carroll and Eamonn Holmes, who stated:

If you are an illegal immigrant facing deportation from the UK then don't worry - just tell the authorities that you have a cat and they will let you stay.

Except, they won't, because - as Dominic Casciani makes clear - that isn't what happened. The Telegraph's Tom Chivers explains:

There never was someone who could not be deported because he had a pet cat. It goes back to a Bolivian student (not an illegal immigrant) who applied to stay in this country. In his application, he does indeed mention a pet cat. But he was granted leave to remain in Britain as "the unmarried partner of a person present and settled in the United Kingdom", not as the owner of a British cat. Under UK Border Agency rules (not the Human Rights Act), if a couple has lived together for two years in "a genuine and subsisting relationship akin to marriage", they have a right to stay, regardless of whether they're married.

Yet the cat has popped up occasionally since 2009. In March 2011, a text to the Daily Star made a 'joke' of it. It was mentioned again in the Star on 14 July, in the Mirror on 13 June and in a Daily Mail editorial on 20 June.

And on Tuesday, Home Secretary Theresa May said:

“We all know the stories about the Human Rights Act...The illegal immigrant who cannot be deported because – and I am not making this up – he had a pet cat.”

As Kevin Arscott noted, she was right to say she wasn't 'making this up' - instead, she was repeating something that wasn't correct that had appeared in several newspapers.

But it had been debunked. The lawyer in the case, Barry O'Leary, was quoted saying the cat was 'immaterial' - including on on Radio Five Live - but this was either ignored or overlooked.

As Adam Wagner of UK Human Rights Blog, writes:

Put it this way. If I had a client who was facing deportation and I wanted to show that the simple fact that he had a cat meant that he should stay, and I tried to use the Bolivian cat judgment as a precedent, I would be laughed out of court.

Following May's speech the Judicial Communications Office reissued their two-year old statement which pointed out:

"This was a case in which the Home Office conceded that they had mistakenly failed to apply their own policy - applying at that time to that appellant - for dealing with unmarried partners of people settled in the UK.

"That was the basis for the decision to uphold the original tribunal decision - the cat had nothing to do with the decision."

But that didn't stop today's Daily Mail claiming it had the 'truth':

A judge allowed an illegal immigrant to dodge deportation because he feared separating him from his cat risked ‘serious emotional consequences’, it emerged yesterday.

The human rights ruling, obtained by the Daily Mail, vindicates Home Secretary Theresa May over the ‘cat-gate’ row with Justice Secretary Ken Clarke at the Tory Conference.

She claimed that the cat, Maya, was a key reason behind the decision to let the man, a Bolivian national, stay in Britain

They were so sure of their version of events, they put it on the front page.

Yet on page 17, even their own columnist wasn't even convinced. Stephen Glover said May was:

partly misinformed as well as uninformed

Back to the front page article, however, and there was the inevitable clarification towards the end, in which the Mail admitted:

the Bolivian – whose name is blacked out in the court documents – won on different grounds at a later hearing which found the department had not followed its own rules.

Today, Barry O'Leary has issued a lengthy riposte to the Mail and others. He says:

The Judicial Office has already made a statement in this matter and I wish to give my support to that statement.

The case referred to was not decided on the basis of ownership of a cat. It was decided on the basis of a Home Office policy which the Home Office themselves had failed to apply. This was accepted by the Home Office before the Immigration Judge. The Home Office agreed the appeal should be allowed. The ownership of a cat was immaterial to the final decision made. Any press reports to the contrary are not based on fact.

The Mail claimed:

Yesterday it was revealed that the Bolivian not only argued that he would suffer from being separated from his cat, but also that his pet’s quality of life would be affected.

But O'Leary replies:

I stress that it was not argued at any point by this firm, nor by my client, that he would 'suffer from being separated from his cat' nor that 'the pet's quality of life would be affected.' Our arguments were based on the long-term committed nature of the couple's relationship. Their ownership of a cat was just one detail amongst many given to demonstrate the genuine nature of their relationship.

He continues:

It was, in fact, the official acting on behalf of the Home Secretary who, when writing the letter of refusal, stated that the cat could relocate to Bolivia and cope with the quality of life there. This statement was not in response to any argument put forward by this firm or my client (and was, frankly, rather mischievous on behalf of the official).

The appeal against the refusal was successful and, when giving judgment, because the reasons for refusal did refer to the cat the judge commented on the couple's cat. It was taken into account as part of the couple's life together. However, it was not the reason for allowing the appeal. The appeal was allowed because of the couple's relationship, and the judge also relied on the Home Office policy that had not been applied.  

There is one further problem with the Mail running this story today. When the paper mentioned the cat on 20 June, a complaint was made to the Press Complaints Commission. The complainant stated that as Mr O'Leary had already made clear the cat was 'immaterial', the article breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.

As the complainant was a third party, the PCC contacted Mr O'Leary who told them that his client did not want to make a complaint about the article. Without the participation of the subject of the story, the PCC did not feel able to adjudicate on the complaint.

But in its conclusion, it said:

The Commission fully acknowledged the concerns raised by the complainant in regard to the accuracy of the article...

While it emphasised that the complainant’s concerns were indeed legitimate, it did not consider, in the absence of the participation of the Bolivian man or his representative, that it was in a position to investigate the matter, not least because it would not be possible to release any information about the outcome of the investigation or resolve the matter without the input of the man.

That said, it recognised that the complainant had raised concerns which had a bearing on the accuracy of the claim made in the article and, as such, it trusted that the newspaper would take heed of the points raised in the complaint and bear them in mind for future coverage. 

Today's Daily Mail goes to prove how much the paper 'takes heed' of what the PCC says.

(More from Channel 4 Fact Check, Full Fact, David Allen Green, Alan Travis, Adam Wagner, Alex Massie, Ed West and Minority Thought)

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Express takes 'enormous leap of faith'

The headline on the front page of today's Express says: Daily pill to cure diabetes: New drug brings hope to millions:

The continuation on page nine carries the headline 'It works, without side effects'. But as usual with the 'miracle cure' stories that the Express splashes all over its front page with such tiresome regularity, the facts are rather less eye-catching.

As the first line of Jo Willey's story states:

A daily pill which could treat or even cure diabetes is a step closer after scientists discovered how to reverse the condition.

'Could treat or even cure'. What we have is some research that involved injecting mice with a naturally occurring chemical.

So contrary to what the front page claims, there's no 'new drug' and no 'pill'.

Towards the end of the article, there's a quote from Dr Iain Frame from Diabetes UK, who says:

"The research is at a very early stage and has shown some benefit in female mice with diabetes and less benefit in male mice. Whilst promising, it would take an enormous leap of faith to assume a new pill will soon be on the market."

But Diabetes UK have a slightly longer version of Frame's reaction. The sentence that's not included in the Express' article is rather important, in the context of their front page splash:

"The idea that Type 2 diabetes will be cured or prevented by taking a simple pill is not supported by this paper. The research is at a very early stage and has shown some benefit in female mice with diabetes and less benefit in male mice. Whilst promising, it would take an enormous leap of faith to assume a new pill will soon be on the market for people with, or at high risk of, Type 2 diabetes."

The NHS Behind the Headlines verdict is:

The news coverage by the Daily Express was quite sensationalist and may have overemphasised the significance of these findings for humans. For instance, the report says that “the groundbreaking finding effectively means that the obese and those at risk of getting type 2 diabetes could one day take a tablet to stop the condition developing”.

This and other statements may give the impression that a diabetes pill is just around the corner, which is not the case. This research was in mice and did not test the effect of a pill on humans. It merely represents the very first stage of a long process.

Sorry we said you begged for sex

The Sun, 16 August 2011:

Man U ace begged me for sex at 5am (even though he's dating Page 3 Emily)

Footie rising star Tom Cleverley begged a girl for sex after taking her to a B&B - despite dating a Page 3 beauty.

The Sun, 5 October 2011:

Tom Cleverley - apology

An article on 16 August reported that Manchester United footballer Tom Cleverley had begged a girl for sex after meeting her at a night club, even though he was dating a Page 3 model. In fact, entirely unknown to the girl it now transpires that the man involved, who looked like Tom Cleverley, was impersonating him. We apologise to Mr Cleverley for any embarrassment caused.

Along with the apology, the Sun has agreed to pay 'a substantial sum in damages'. The Guardian reports:

According to [a] by David Price QC, acting on behalf of Cleverley...the article alleged that Cleverley "had met a girl in a Blackpool nightclub and bombarded her with text messages offering her sex"...

"Most seriously, the article then alleged that he repeatedly badgered her for sex, despite her saying no"...

The lawyer added that Cleverley had never met the girl involved and on the night of the alleged incident he was at home with his girlfriend in Manchester...

It is understood that the Sun did not contact Cleverley before publishing the story.

This is the third time this year that a Sun 'story' about the late-night antics of a footballer has resulted in a clarification and apology.

(Hat-tip to Patrick Casey)

Monday, 3 October 2011

MailOnline makes up events, quotes from Perugia

As Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox were hearing that their appeal against their convictions for the murder of Meredith Kercher had been successful, this article by Nick Pisa appeared on MailOnline:

It is unsurprising, perhaps, that a media outlet would prepare two versions of a story where the result was expected but unknown. Unfortunately for the Mail's website, they posted the wrong one. A cock-up, then.

But half way through the article, there's this:

And later, this:

As the appeal was successful, it's clear none of this happened.

Putting up the wrong article is one thing. But filling it with completely invented reactions and descriptions of events that haven't happened is something else entirely. 

(Hat-tip to Chantelle Osili and all who highlighted this)


It appears there is still no end in sight to the myth that the BBC is to stop using BC/AD.

In yesterday's Mail on Sunday, there were two further articles repeating the claim. The headline on Chris Hastings' follow-up said: Government to save Year of our Lord from BBC's 'Common Era'.

'BBC's 'Common Era'' - as if it is something they have invented or they alone use.

There is also a comment piece from former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey. It begins:

Dionysius Exiguus would be dumbfounded at the attempts by the BBC to issue guidelines that amount to ditching the well-known terms in our calendar, BC and AD.

Remember the BBC stated last week:

The BBC has issued no editorial guidance on date systems.

Curiously, Carey then states:

I always try to be fair to those whose views challenge my own, so let us listen to what the guidelines say

Well, it's not being 'fair' if you say something is a guideline when it's not, and it's not being 'fair' if you pretend the BBC hasn't said something it has. If he had listened to what the BBC had said, he wouldn't need to make this assumption:

So why does the BBC wish to challenge and, we assume, discard this ancient usage?

The BBC stated very clearly that on this issue:

the decision rests with the individual editorial and production teams. 

Yet Carey says:

I would like to think that the BBC might rethink the guidelines it has sent out to its programme directors

It is also worth noting that the story has, once again, been denied - this time by the BBC's Head of Religion and Ethics, Aaqil Ahmed. On Friday, he wrote:

The story, suggesting we had dropped AD (Anno Domini) and BC (Before Christ), was quite simply wrong. We have issued no editorial guidelines or instructions to suggest that anyone in the BBC should change the terms they use. The BBC, like most people, use BC and AD as standard terminology.

But we recognise that it is possible to use different terminology, and that some people do: that is what is reflected on our Religion website. Even though we told the newspaper this, they ran the story anyway.

Just for the record, for our religion and ethics programming on BBC television and radio we generally use AD and BC. It is a shame that people seeking to make mischief should cast a shadow over the wonderful celebration of our Christian religious heritage that is Songs of Praise.

(Angry Mob has also written about Carey's article, while Five Chinese Crackers has awarded the Mail and Mail on Sunday his 'Tabloid Bullshit of the Month Award' for this story.)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The Mail on coffee

On 27 September, the Mail reported:


But it isn’t entirely beneficial – and you can have too much. 

Scientists have also shown that can raise the blood pressure and increase the heart rate. 

And pregnant women are advised to drink no more than two cups a day to reduce the likelihood of a miscarriage or their babies being underweight.


The front page headline on today's Daily Star says:

This might lead readers to think that the cover story is about The X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos speaking about her 'fight' with Cheryl Cole. But here's what she actually says in the article:

“I can 100% reassure fans that I will be sitting in that judge’s chair in the final. These stories? I know they are a load of rubbish. I know for a fact from the conversations I’ve had with Cheryl that it’s all a load of rubbish.”

She added: “Me and Cheryl?

“I hate it when people say ‘Oh my God we’re new best friends and that I’m morphing into her’.

“We do talk. It’s as simple as that. I haven’t spoken to her for a bit because she has been out in LA but we will meet up when she gets back.

“We are just cool. That’s the word for me and Cheryl.

“We sat down and had ‘the conversation’ at her birthday party.

“We said ‘It’s gonna go crazy’ and ‘People are going to make up rumour after rumour’.

“It has been intense. We don’t pay any attention.”

Not much of a 'fight', is it?