Saturday 30 January 2010

Plagiarism at the Daily Mail

Following on from yesterday's post, it now appears there are even more difficulties for the Mail and its Editor-in-Chief Paul Dacre.

An article by Robert J. Elisberg at The Huffington Post appears to show a journalist at the Daily Mail indulging in blatant plagiarism.

The story is about a cameo appearance by Dick Van Dyke in a LA theatre production of Mary Poppins.

The problem is Mail hack Chris Johnson's article is suspiciously similar to an LA Times one by Karen Wada, which appeared several hours earlier.

Indeed, as Elisberg points out, Johnson ends his piece with a lengthy direct quote from the LA Times. He just forgets to mention that the seven or so paragraphs before it are also lifted straight from there.

Here's the evidence, as set out by Elisberg. Wada:

Instead he reprised his other (and less well known) screen role - Mr. Dawes Sr., the crotchety bank president and boss of Poppins' boss, Mr. Banks.


Instead the American actor, 84, took on the role of the lesser known character he also played in the 1964 movie - that of crotchety bank president Mr Dawes.

Hmm. There's more. Wada:

Van Dyke had to cajole Walt Disney into giving him the part because Disney thought Van Dyke - then in his 30s - was too young to be the ancient moneyman. The actor reportedly won him over by acing a screen test, agreeing to portray Dawes for free and making a donation to the California Institute of the Arts, which Disney co-founded.


Van Dyke had to persuade Walt Disney into giving him the part in the movie because bosses thought he was too young to play the ancient financier. At the time he was only in his thirties.

But the actor reportedly won them over by acting a screen test, agreeing to portray Dawes for free and making a donation to the California Institute of the Arts, which Disney co-founded.

As Elisberg says:

In the plagiarism biz, this is not good at all. A direct steal. (The funniest thing, though, is that the British Johnson apparently didn't know what "acing" a test was and "fixed" it, seemingly thinking it was a typo for "acting").

It's almost as if Johnson isn't that clever...

Wada again:

Van Dyke had a much easier time getting the chance to play the tottering, doddering banker at the Ahmanson.

And Johnson:

Van Dyke slipped into the role much easier as she [sic] played the tottering banker at the Ahmanson.

Oh dear. And it's not over yet. Wada:

After seeing the Disney-Cameron Mackintosh production of 'Poppins' when it opened here in November, he volunteered to join the cast for a cameo. Dawes - a character not included in the stage musical - was written into a pivotal scene in which Banks finds out whether he's going to lose his job.


After seeing the Disney-Cameron Mackintosh production of Poppins after it opened there in November, he volunteered to join the cast for a cameo.

The character of Mr Dawes was not included in the stage musical - but was written into a scene so Dick Van Dyke could reprise his role.

It is in a scene where Mr Banks, Mary Poppins's boss, finds out whether he is going to lose his job.

Elisberg sums it up nicely:

Almost word-for-word. Much of it exactly word-for-word. I know Mary Poppins sang, 'Every task you undertake becomes a piece of cake' - but this is carrying it beyond extremes.

Dacre has wrongly claimed that the Mail doesn't do 'churnalism' but this copy-and-paste job goes beyond that.

Dacre, of course, is Chair of the Code of Practice Committee which makes the rules to which journalists are meant to adhere. He already edits the most complained about newspaper in Britain and now one of his minions has been caught plagiarising.

When will the Code Committee realise he is not fit to Chair it?

(Many thanks to reader Tom Baggs for the tip)

Friday 29 January 2010

More problems for the Mail newspapers

Last July, the Mail on Sunday issued an apology to Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Inayat Bunglawala, four months after an article that:

alleged that there were strong grounds to suspect him of unlawfully stabbing a man at his home in December 2008, and that he was an extremist who supported Abu Qatada and al Qaida.

It was another mark against the PCC that it took the paper four months to apologise for such serious, and seriously inaccurate, allegations.

And, today, the paper has agreed to pay substantial libel damages to Bunglawala for the error with the High Court hearing that the:

newspaper now accepted that the allegations were false.

Two points. One is that it this another case where a paper has made a serious mistake and the victim has decided to take legal action - once again calling into question the ability of the PCC to deal with such incidents.

Second, it's the Mail newspapers again. How can Editor-in-Chief Paul Dacre continue to be Chair of the Editor's Code of Practice Committee when the Mail newspapers are such serial offenders?

In other news, no fewer than two 'corporate governance watchdogs' have criticised the Daily Mail and General Trust:

over bonuses, Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre's pay deal and its shareholder structure.

The Guardian reported:

The shareholder consultants Pirc and Manifest have both flagged up what they regard as a number of problems with the company's annual report ahead of its annual general meeting on 10 February.

And, specifically on Dacre:

The shareholder consultancy [Pirc] also said Dacre's two-year rolling contract was contrary to best practice.

Sarah Wilson, the chief executive of Manifest, contrasted Dacre's £1.13m salary with the Daily Mail's anger about 'fat cat' pay.

'I suppose it demonstrates a proper separation between editorial and proprietors, but I think in the current environment, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones,' she said.

Dacre being employed as an Editor at all would seem contrary to best practice, but DMGT were having none of it:

'Mr Dacre is clearly an exceptional individual in his field.'

'Exceptional'? Only in the way he manages to keep his job - and receive £1.6m a year for it - despite running the most complained about newspaper in Britain.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Report says media is a motivating factor in anti-Muslim hate crime

A report published today by Dr Jonathan Githens-Mazer and Dr Robert Lambert MBE, from the European Muslim Research Centre at the University of Exeter, looks at anti-Muslim hate crime and Islamophobia in London. It is, they say, the first report in a ten-year project to look at these issues in cities across Europe.

Lambert, incidentally:

headed Scotland Yard's Muslim contact unit, which helped improve relations between the police and Britain's Islamic communities. The unit won praise from even long-standing critics of the police, and Lambert was awarded an MBE.

So he's well-qualified to write about such issues.

Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: a London Case Study reveals:

how perpetrators of hate-crimes against Muslims are invariably motivated by a negative view of Muslims acquired from mainstream or extremist nationalist media reports or commentaries.

So not something that is going to widely covered by the tabloids then?


In this report we introduce empirical evidence that demonstrates tangible links between Islamophobia or anti-Muslim bigotry in both

(i) mainstream political and media discourse and
(ii) extremist nationalist discourse and anti-Muslim hate crimes.

That is to say the report provides prima facie and empirical evidence to demonstrate that assailants of Muslims are invariably motivated by a negative view of Muslims they have acquired from either mainstream or extremist nationalist reports or commentaries in the media.

And then, in a section entitled 'Motivation of anti-Muslim hate crimes':

Islamophobic, negative and unwarranted portrayals of Muslim London as 'Londonistan' and Muslim Londoners as terrorists, terrorist sympathisers and subversives in sections of the media appear to provide the motivation for a significant number of anti-Muslim hate crimes.

Although she is not the only one to use the term, Londonistan is the name of a book by Mail columnist Melanie Phillips. A book that appears on the BNP's recommended reading list. Other than that, the report does not name particular writers or newspapers or articles, which seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to provide some academic analysis on some of the worst excesses of the right-wing press.

It is not just the media to blame, or who are the focus of the report, with recommendations for the police and for policy makers too:

Anti-Muslim hate crimes have not been afforded the same priority attention government and police have invested in racist hate crimes.

But the recommendations for the media are worth highlighting:

  • Sections of media unwittingly provide Islamophobic motivation for anti-Muslim hate crimes.
  • Media should embrace and promote victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the same way as victims of other hate crimes.

The use of 'unwittingly' seems a bit generous given some of the anti-Muslim filth the tabloids publish which are designed to do nothing but increase hostility towards Muslims. Front pages such as this and this do not appear by accident.

On the second point yes, of course, the media should report all hate crimes equally. As indeed it should report all people convicted on terror offences equally. But that just doesn't happen. And that doesn't seem at all likely to change.

Why not?

Well, at time of writing, this report has been available for many hours. And, apart from the Guardian, none of press appears to have written one word about it.

Wednesday 27 January 2010

How to recycle reality TV show lies, with the Daily Star

With crushing predictability, the Daily Star has run Celebrity Big Brother stories on the front page day after day after sodding day.

Last Wednesday, the front page story was trying to claim that Vinnie Jones was using tactics to stay immune from nomination for eviction. Unlike every other contestant on Big Brother, of course. And by calling him a 'bully', it would suggest his attempts to win aren't working that well.

So it's not exactly a fix.

But then, nor was it when the programme was being fixed for Alex Reid to win a week before.

And if the Star claiming a reality show is fixed sounds familiar, that's because they do it every time one is on. Such as with I'm A Celebrity, which was 'fixed' for Jordan to win, eventhough she, err, didn't.

Or when The X Factor was being 'fixed' for Jedward to win, eventhough they, err, didn't either.

On Thursday 22 January, the front page was about a punch-up between two of the Big Brother contestants. While Vinnie Jones and Sisqo had been mouthing off to each other, they hadn't actually had a punch-up.

But that shouldn't be a surprise, because neither had Alex Reid and Peter Andre when the Star claimed they had, in a pre-series front page on 22 December.

On Friday, one of the first people to be evicted was worrying about 'stolen sex pics'.

Well, possibly. Everything, as always with the Star, came from anonymous sources so chances are it wasn't true.

This is, of course, totally different to the story the Star ran during I'm A Celebrity about Jordan fearing Alex Reid would ruin her career with sex pics. Not sure how someone who spends half her time in public naked gets ruined by that, but it was another anonymous source so it probably wasn't true either. And no such pics have yet come to light.

And it's certainly nothing like the 'Myleene Klass sex pics' story they ran when she was on I'm a Celebrity several years ago.

On Monday, the Star seemed to give up. It put all its favourite front page headline words into a hat and pulled them out at random. The result?

Jordan's BB sex plot 'fix'. What?

Yes, it's another 'fix'. But what is the 'plot' this time? Well, the Star's two journalists (yes, two of them) claimed she wanted partner Alex Reid out of the house so she could shower him with attention. And have sex. So she was asking friends to vote him out. It's neither a fix nor a sex plot and so not really accurate. Even the quote they use from Jordan's Facebook says: 'Sooo missing him, 8 more sleeps'. But if she had wanted him out on Wednesday, as the Star claimed, that would be two more sleeps. Not eight.

But the Star likes a made-up sex plot. Indeed, Katia was involved in one earlier in the series. As was Danielle Bux in the 2009 series of Hell's Kitchen, Sophie Reade in last year's Big Brother, Charley Uchea in the 2007 Big Brother and Nicola McLean in the 2008 I'm A Celebrity.

Today, the headline was Jordan fury at Alex and Nic naked B Bro romp.

And by 'naked' they mean 'Nic' was wearing clothes. And by 'romp' they mean she was covering Alex in spray tan.

Unsurprisingly, that naked romp headline has appeared before too. During the 2008 I'm A Celebrity some of the contestants were accused of having a 'naked jungle romp' which actually amounted to them having a shower.

It's not just that the Star makes up reality TV stories, using sex to make the programmes seem far more interesting to their one-track-mind readers than they actually are. But they then repeat them over and over whenever a new reality show starts. The same bullshit stories, the same misleading headlines, the same lies attributed by anonymous sources.

Mail invites you to look up a woman's skirt

Mail hack James Tapper must be so proud. He has spent some time looking up Venus Williams' skirt and then produced an article inviting readers to do the same.

And his less-than-dazzling prose is accompanied by several photos of Williams which have been specially chosen so you can do just that.

MailOnline Editor Martin Clarke said last year:

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

Well, the Williams story is filed in the News section:

So it rather depends on what you call 'news'. Clarke's definition seems to be stretching it.

But it's not just the lack of news value, it's that the Mail sees value in running an article which is all about looking up a woman's skirt.

Express breaks the rules again

The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled against the Daily Express for the sixth time in five months.

The Richard Desmond/Peter Hill rag breached the rules, again, with this front page on 24 October 2009:

The problem? The 'free fireworks' were not 'for every reader' as the offer didn't apply in Northern Ireland.

Moreover, the tiny text written vertically down the right-hand side of the box said:

When you spend £15 at participating Sainsbury's stores

But only on page 31 did it make clear the £15 had to spent on fireworks.

In both instances, the ASA ruled the front page of the Express was misleading. Now there's a surprise.

The ruling?

The ad must not appear again in its current form.

Brilliant. As a one-off offer from four months ago, it wasn't going to appear again anyway.

So it seems the ASA is about as firm and relevant as the PCC when it comes to upholding complaints.

Another unreliable 'PC gone mad' story

It was the lead story on the Mail website this morning:

It was on the front page of the Express:

And it also made the Star and Telegraph, although all four stories are suspiciously similar, with the same quotes in much the same order.

And as the first screenshot shows, the Mail story was gaining (unmoderated) comments by the hundred, almost all of them proclaiming it's 'political correctness gone mad'.

But is it?

Nicole Mamo, the Director of Devonwood Recruitment (which, conveniently, happens to get several mentions throughout all the articles...) tried to post a job ad for a cleaner. The last line read:

Must be reliable and hard-working.

Mamo claims when she phoned the JobCentre to check the advert was being displayed she was told it wouldn't be, because:

they could have cases against them for discriminating against unreliable people.

It doesn't sound very likely. But that's never stopped a 'PC gone mad' story before.

This one comes with an inevitable quote from the strange Campaign Against Political Correctness who say the whole situation is:

'absolutely ridiculous'.

Indeed. The Equality and Human Rights Commission, usually the baddies in stories such as this, say:

'This is in no way in breach of any discrimination law. Mrs Mamo should consider very unreliable any advice that she may have received implying that this aspect of her advert was discriminatory.'

Hmm. Now maybe 'Carol' does actually exist and maybe she did actually say this nonsense about not being able to use 'reliable'. But, if it's true, it's one person making a silly mistake. Hardly a 'diktat' as the Mail calls it.

And hardly something that seems worth the effort of contacting the press about. Unless, of course, you were running a recruitment company and wanted to get some free publicity.

Surely that couldn't be it?

Well, as usual, you need to scroll right to the end of the story to find the view from the other side. And what does the spokesperson from the Department of Work and Pensions say?

'We cannot comment about the phone call. I can confirm that we took the advert from the employer and put it onto our website. Every advert goes onto our website and onto the job points.

'Reliability is important to employers, as it is for Jobcentre Plus - and we welcome ads seeking reliable applicants.'


So when the Telegraph and Express says the ad was 'banned', that's 'banned' in the sense that it was posted everywhere it was meant to appear.

And when the Star says the Job Centre refused to display the ad, what they meant was, they displayed the ad on the internet and on the JobPoints.

In the end - the Equality people say there's no problem with using 'reliable', the DWP says there is no problem with using 'reliable' and this advert was posted where it was supposed to be posted.

So what's the story here?

(Chris Spann's take on the Mail article is available here)

Monday 25 January 2010


Friday 22 January 2010

Express' mixed messages on Vitamin D

It's been a while since the Express led with a miracle cure front page that doesn't quite live up to its promise.

And this one is a classic of the genre - it's a miracle cure headline with some health scares in the actual story.

The 'cancer' in question is bowel cancer. Only two weeks ago the Express was saying an apple a day would cut the risk.

In November broccoli was a 'superfood' that may 'prevent' the disease.

And in August, it was a daily aspirin that would 'slash the risk by a third'. Although a couple of weeks later, that same daily aspirin appeared less beneficial.

But in September, the Express was reporting that Vitamin D could be good to fight bowel cancer. Now, a few months later, much the same story, just on the front page this time.

The article begins:

Vitamin D can slash the risk of getting bowel cancer by 40 per cent, according to the latest research.

And then, one paragraph later, just before you rush out to buy vitamin pills:

Scientists last night warned against rushing out to buy vitamin pills, however, because it is not clear whether large doses are safe.

Ah. OK, well if it's the 'sunshine vitamin' we can avoid pills and just go out in the sun to get some Vitamin D, right?

Around 90 per cent of our vitamin D comes from exposure to sunlight. Although too much sun can trigger skin cancer...

Oh. Are there any other ways?

Vitamin D supplements in the form of fish oil tablets may also help...


...although experts warn that no more than 25 micrograms a day should come from this source because higher levels are believed to damage bones and kidneys.


A story on the same trials from the Press Association is far more revealing. Dr Panagiota Mitrou, science programme manager for the World Cancer Research Fund, said there was now evidence that low levels of Vitamin D do seem to increase the risk of bowel cancer. But:

'The next step is to carry out new clinical trials to try to confirm whether vitamin D supplementation can reduce the risk of bowel cancer and whether there are any harmful effects of higher levels of vitamin D.

'But we need to emphasise that, for the moment, the findings need to be treated with caution and they are certainly not enough evidence to suggest that we should be taking supplements to increase levels of vitamin D.'

And his recommendation?

'The best advice for reducing risk of bowel cancer remains to stop smoking, maintain a healthy weight, be regularly physically active, to eat more fibre and less red and processed meats and to cut down on alcohol.'

That seems like good advice for anyone who wants a healthy life.

Some not-so-good advice? Taking health tips from the Express.

Littlejohn forced to write clarification because he hadn't done his research (cont.)

In Tuesday's Littlejohn column, his third missive in five days, he was doing two of his favourite things: attacking the police and writing without doing his research.

And he's been found out. Again.

Here's what he said:

Take the incoming Chief Constable of South Wales, Peter Vaughan, who told the Police Review: 'There are additional pressures now that I am a chief constable. I used to be able to walk around my local supermarket, but now someone else will do my shopping, for security reasons.'

The level of pomposity and lack of self-awareness is astonishing. I doubt anyone in South Wales could even pick him out of a line-up. Personal shoppers are something you associate with spoilt ladies who lunch.

For years, we were subjected to the bizarre ramblings of the Mad Mullah of the Traffic Taliban in North Wales, who seemed to think he was some kind of superstar.

Now along comes Peter Vaughan, a man who is so full of his own importance that he is afraid to walk round Tesco without a bodyguard.

It never really sounded as if this would be the whole (or indeed, any of the) story. One of the comments that the moderators let through suggested as much:

And so, inevitably, enjoyably, in Friday's column, Littlejohn backtracks:

In my last column I lampooned the new Chief Constable of South Wales, Peter Vaughan, for saying that he could no longer go shopping for 'security reasons'.

This widely-reported remark was taken from an interview he gave to Police Review.

The magazine initially said it stood by its story, but has now put out a statement in which Mr Vaughan denies ever saying it.

If I have unfairly maligned him, then I'm happy to put the record straight.

He ends with a pisspoor joke that's not worth repeating (and it's questionable that calling someone 'pompous' and 'full of his own importance' really counts as lampooning).

But look at what's he's done. He certainly hasn't apologised. He says 'if' he has spread lies about Vaughan he is happy to put the record straight, despite it being perfectly clear he has. 'If' doesn't come into it. It's a classic newspaper non-apology.

Yet there's one thing Littlejohn makes absolutely clear. It wasn't his fault. He's not to blame for vacuously repeating something he read elsewhere.

Of course, he could have contacted Vaughan and asked him if it was true, but that would have meant doing a bit of research and we know Littlejohn doesn't do that if he can help it. And besides, the cost of phoning Wales from Florida is probably quite high.

But he didn't even have to do that. Because Vaughan issued a letter that was published on the South Wales Police website on 15 January - three days before Littlejohn's column appeared.

Vaughan made his position very clear:

“I am writing in relation to a story that has appeared in many of today’s national newspapers, seemingly suggesting that I have “security concerns” about venturing into supermarkets!

“This wholly inaccurate “story” originates from a telephone interview I gave on my first day in office on January 4th this year to the Police Review magazine.


At no point during the interview did I mention that I would have to stop using a supermarket for “security reasons”. What I did say is that I occasionally like to visit the Tesco store opposite police HQ to get a break from work and that this may prove a little more difficult because people like to talk to me and what would have been a quick visit may take longer.

“I have requested that the Editor of the Police Review magazine publishes a fulsome correction and apology with immediate effect and I will be contacting other media outlets in due course.

“Meanwhile, I wish to draw to your personal attention to the reality behind the spurious nonsense you may have been greeted by in today’s mainstream media outlets.”

Littlejohn wasn't the only one to cover the story. The Times, Express and the Telegraph did too, which is probably where he stole it from.

But at least they all ran it before Vaughan's denial. Not three days after.

If Littlejohn had bothered to do even the slightest bit of fact-checking, he wouldn't have written such rubbish in the first place, and wouldn't have needed to be forced to issue the clarification.

Is it really too much to ask from the Mail's 'star columnist'?

Thursday 21 January 2010

Mail's obsession with Sachsgate continues

When Jonathan Ross announced he was leaving the BBC, the Daily Mail was ecstatic. The Mail on Sunday had blown the so-called Sachsgate phone calls out of all proportion and its sister paper was happy to follow suit.

Ross made his statement on 7 January. The story was, to all intents and purposes, over. But, several days later, the Mail on Sunday needed to stick the boot in again. So it came up with this gem:

Miles Goslett's story begins:

BBC boss Mark Thompson wanted to axe Jonathan Ross immediately after the notorious ‘Sachsgate’ affair, it was claimed last night.

So the headline isn't quite right - the story says it was just Thompson, not the entire BBC, that wanted Ross sacked.

And in any case, the whole thing is based on a 'claim' from a conveniently anonymous 'BBC source'.

So what does the article actually say? Someone may have wanted to do something fifteen months ago which they didn't do then and haven't done since.


A few days later, the Mail tried to invent yet another BBC scandal, and went so far as to call it a 'new Sachsgate':

They even had three journalists bylined on this. It must have been something big. The story begins:

The BBC was last night facing a fresh obscene phone scandal after a Radio 1 listener was subjected to a death threat.

The female listener, Chloe Moody, 22, texted the station to say she did not like a song by urban music act N-Dubz, who were guests on the Chris Moyles Show.

It tries to avoid revealing who made the call in order to implicate the BBC. And it wasn't a (no doubt) highly-paid BBC presenter but someone by the name of Dappy.


Dappy, from N-Dubz. After Moody had sent her text criticising his band, Dappy:

retaliated by copying her number and ringing her back, before leaving an abusive voicemail containing several swear words.

So he's a nasty piece of work. But how is this the 'new Sachsgate'? A member of a band leaves offensive messages on someone's answerphone. He's not, and never has been, a BBC employee.

The Mail tried its very best to cause a stir - they made sure they mentioned Moyles' £650,000 salary and some of the jokes he has told that the paper had previously found offensive.

And yet inevitably, given what actually happened, this 'new Sachsgate' fell flat on its face. Indeed, the original article is no longer even available on the Mail website. Once they found out Dappy had been an anti-bullying campaigner for Ed Balls, they put that story on the same page and pretended the original never happened.

But the URL gives their game away. And the new article contains no mention of 'Sachsgate' anywhere.

It's almost as if the paper is now admitting the original article and headline were trumped up to try and cause a 'BBC scandal' that wasn't really a scandal at all.

Mail exposes publicity-seeking Z-listers by, err, giving them publicity

From the Mail website today:

Marcus Barnes' article begins:

They've not long left the Big Brother house, but already they're falling over themselves to grab the limelight in typical z-list fashion.

Good job the Mail can see right through these Z-listers and their attention seeking antics. Probably best to ignore them then?

Rather than, say, writing over 500 words about what they're up to and publishing five pictures of them doing it.

Express loses even more readers

The latest newspaper circulation figures provide further grim reading for Peter Hill, Editor of the self-proclaimed 'World's Greatest Newspaper'.

The Daily Express recorded a 6.94% year-on-year - and 1.09% month-on-month - circulation fall.

It now shifts 677,750 copies per day, a decline of 7,445 from November to December.

More significantly, Express Editor Peter Hill has overseen a massive fall in circulation of 173,449 copies per day since he's been in charge.

Express owner Richard Desmond bought the paper when sales were at 985,253, so he's been responsible for shedding 307,503 readers.


Myleene, Twitter, racists and terrorists: a round-up of links

Last week, Terrance Gavan - bomb-maker, gun-collector, immigrant-hater, BNP-member - was jailed for eleven years for 'collecting information useful for terrorism and possessing explosives and firearms'.

Both Anton and Uponnothing have done excellent jobs in examing the media coverage of his sentencing.

Anton looks at the difference in the coverage of Muslim terrorists and those from the far-right, whereas Uponnothing shows how uninterested the Mail seems to be when terrorists are white. They even put a non-story about a Muslim getting married higher up their homepage than the Gavan coverage.

Gavan didn't make the front page of any of the national newspapers. Would a Muslim convicted of hoarding 54 explosive devices and 12 firearms been similarly ignored?

Another post by Uponnothing that is well worth reading is about the comments left on the Mail article about the thug who poured bleach over a woman in a cinema after she had asked him to be quiet.

When the mugshot of 16-year-old Jordan Horsley was released, the fact that his skin wasn't white brought out the unrepentant racists:

All these comments had been moderated in advance - and thus deemed suitable by people at the Mail - and remain up ten days on, with even higher green arrow scores.

On a lighter note, last week's very suspicious story about Myleene Klass being warned by police for wielding a knife at intruders looked increasingly dubious. Marina Hyde in the Guardian had - unlike just about every other journalist who wrote about it, including ones at the Guardian and Observer - 'bothered to establish the chain of events' and discovered:

the initial call to police was not placed by Myleene but by a man believed to be her agent or publicist, to whom she was naturally on the phone at the time.


As for the story's appearance in the Sun the very next day, Hertfordshire police state: "We believe the media found out about the incident following a phone call from Ms Klass's publicist to Emma Cox from the Sun."

And, not in the least bit suspiciously:

despite having given copious quotes and assistance on the story all week, both publicist and agent declined to discuss this yesterday.

Hyde then reveals that Klass seems to have a bit of form in, shall we say, exaggerating...

Elsewhere, the Sunday Express had two (alleged) journalists write up a feeble BBC-bashing story. The article by David Jarvis and David Stephenson was so poor and so inaccurate that it was deleted from the Express website before end of play Monday.

They tried to prove that BBC employees were wasting their time, and your money, by being on Twitter. Yes, bashing the BBC and new-fangled-technology in one.

The problem was they are inept and their research was even worse. They didn't understand how Twitter works and misunderstood the difference between 'followers' and 'following'. They claimed, for example, Victoria Derbyshire had two followers when she actually has over 3,600.

It was unbelievably pathetic. More so, because it appears Stephenson, the paper's TV critic, is actually on Twitter.

Full story at No Rock and Roll Fun.

And finally, hat-tip to badjournalism, Paul E Smith and Bitter Wallet for this tastefully placed advert in the Metro.

Wednesday 20 January 2010

Why Paul Dacre should not be Chair of the Editor's Code Committee

On page 366 of Flat Earth News, Nick Davies reveals some telling stats about complaints against the Daily Mail. He says of the Mail that:

...more than any other newspaper in Britain, it deals with falsehood and distortion.

There is a glimpse of this in our review of the records of the Press Complaints Commission. In among the thousands of cases which had fallen by the way, we drew up a league table of complaints which had succeeded, either because the PCC had eventually adjudicated against a newspaper, or because the paper had agreed some kind of resolution to satisfy the complainant.

This showed that, over that time, only four papers had suffered more than fifty successful complaints - The Times, the Mirror, the Sun and, comfortably ahead with 153 successful complaints about its reporting, the Daily Mail.

The average number of successful complaints for the rest of Fleet Street was forty-three for each paper.

On that basis, over the ten-year period, the Daily Mail has been provoking justifiable complaint about unethical behaviour at just over three times the rate of the other national titles.

And it's still going on.

I have done a small scale survey going back from today (Report No. 80) to October 2008 (Report No. 78). For this period, the PCC website gives details of 546 complaints that are listed as 'resolved' (this does not included those that went to adjudication).

Of these, 253 were about various regional and local papers.

The rest (293) were aimed at the nationals, and here's how many resolved complaints are listed for each newspaper:

  • Mail (including online) - 66
  • Sun - 49
  • Telegraph - 25
  • Mail on Sunday - 19
  • News of the World - 18
  • Express - 17
  • Daily Star - 13
  • Guardian - 13
  • Times - 13
  • Mirror - 10
  • People - 8
  • Sunday Express - 6
  • Sunday Telegraph - 6
  • Independent - 6
  • Metro - 6
  • Sunday Times - 5
  • Sunday Mirror - 5
  • Observer - 4
  • Daily Star Sunday - 1

So the Mail accounted for 23% of all resolved complaints against national newspapers in that time (The Sun, in second, had 17%). Add the Mail on Sunday's 19 complaints and the Mail titles made up 29%.

It is notable that in this period the Mail on Sunday received more complaints than all but three daily papers, despite coming out only once, rather than six times, per week.

Why does this matter?

Because Paul Dacre is the Editor of the Mail and, as Editor-in-Chief of Associated Newspapers, he also oversees the Mail on Sunday.

And because the same Paul Dacre is the Chair of the Editor's Code Committee, which devises the Code of Practice which the PCC polices.

And not only is he in charge of the daily and Sunday titles which appear to elicit the most 'genuine' complaints (genuine in the eyes of the PCC, that is), but he was also ultimately responsible for the most complained about single British newspaper article of all time when 23,000 people contacted the PCC over Jan Moir's insidious views on Stephen Gately.

Before becoming Chair of the Code Committee he sat on the PCC itself, a role he had from 1999 until 2008.

How can the PCC possibly think that the Editor of the paper that - by a considerable margin - is subject to the most complaints is suitable material to judge the standards of the press?

How can the Code Committee believe he is the right person to lead it as it seeks to 'write, review and revise' the very Code he seems unable to abide by?

In his head-in-the-sand introduction to the Editor's Codebook, Dacre rants about judges, Select Committees holding 'ceaseless inquiries', 'axe-grinding politicians' and others who might be trying to hold the media to account. He has no truck with that sort of behaviour.

He says in order to hold them off:

we must ensure that our own defences are sound, that the press’s house is in order.

Indeed. Which means a stronger, more effective PCC, a far more appropriate Chair to oversee the Code of Practice, and an Editor of the newspaper which receives so many complaints about its reporting to go back to the day job he is paid an obscene £1.6m a year to do and get his own house in order.

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Reforming the PCC

In December 2009, the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, which oversees the Code of Practice policed (ahem) by the Press Complaints Commission, announced its annual review of the Code.

So this blogger joined with several others (Kevin Arscott, Adam Bienkov, Dave Cross, Sunny Hundal, Tim Ireland, Jack of Kent, Justin McKeating, Mark Pack, septicisle, Sim-O, Jamie Sport, Clive Summerfield, Unity_ and Anton Vowl) in drawing up five suggestions to try to make the PCC work a bit better.

These are by no means all that is needed to resolve the many, many problems with the PCC, but the regulator has been notoriously slow to undertake any much-needed reform. Look, for example, at the minor tinkering that resulted from last year's review. So these are just a start (that may be achievable).

Each of us have our own individual ideas for improving the self-regulatory system. A more transparent PCC, less in thrall to the newspapers and with fewer Editors in key positions. A PCC that favours the complainant rather than the newspaper and actually enforces the Code rather than appearing to find every excuse under the sun to avoid upholding complaints. More flexibility over third-party complaints. A pro-active PCC to ensure that when a story is withdrawn, articles based on or very similar too that story in other newspapers are removed without the need for a new complaint. The possibility of fines for the most serious breaches of the Code, as Ofcom can penalise broadcasters. And so on...

But the changes we are collectively asking for are more limited and - by any reasonable measure - not very contentious:

  • Like-for-like placement of retractions, corrections and apologies in print and online (as standard).
  • Original or redirected URLs for retractions, corrections & apologies online (as standard).
  • The current Code contains no reference to headlines, and this loophole should be closed immediately.
  • Sources to be credited unless they do not wish to be credited or require anonymity/protection.
  • A longer and more interactive consultation period for open discussion of more fundamental issues.

If the Star writes a front page headline falsely implying Peaches Geldof is a prostitute, why should they be allowed (by the PCC) to hide a tiny apology on page 2? The Express newspapers wrote their apologies to the McCanns on the front page. Unfortunately, that seems to have been a one-off.

Likewise, online. It is almost impossible to find apologies unless you search for them specifically. They should be trailed on the website homepage and corrections should appear at the same URL as the withdrawn story.

You would think those are the minimum newspapers would do when they have made serious errors. But the newspapers want to get away with as much as they can and know the PCC will let them.

More detail on each of our suggestions is available on the petition we have set up to collect support for out initiative. If you wish to support us, please sign our petition.

Tim Ireland at Bloggerheads has created an excellent video listing our suggestions. Enjoy A Letter to the PCC: Space Invaders Edition.

Meanwhile, if you have other ideas for reforming the Code, please do let the Editor's Code Committee know by 31 January 2010. You can contact the Secretary contact him at Ian Beales, Code Committee Secretary, PO Box 235, Stonehouse, Glos GL10 3UF or by email on

Apologies round up

A few weeks ago, The Sun ran a letter from Stephen Nutt, son of Professor David Nutt, after the newspaper had run a pathetic smear story on him simply because of who is dad is.

Although brokered by the Press Complaints Commission, the letter meant that the Sun didn't have to apologise or retract anything. Moreover, they didn't publish Nutt's letter on their website because they never put any letters on their website, despite the fact the original article had appeared online.

The Mail, who pilfered the Sun's article in order to try and smear Prof. Nutt on its own website, has got off even more lightly:

The complaint was resolved when the newspaper removed the article from its website, and made clear it had no intention of republishing the text or the pictures.

In other words, it can pretend as if nothing has happened.

The Sunday Times, by contrast, has been forced to publish a PCC ruling, after the regulator upheld a complaint against it. Printed on page eight of last Sunday's edition, it revealed the disgraceful behaviour of one of its freelance journalists in contacting the sister of recently deceased student:

Shortly after the article was published, the mother complained to the PCC that the piece was inaccurate and insensitive. While this complaint was ongoing, another reporter from the newspaper contacted the complainant's daughter via Facebook and, despite the fact that the daughter made clear that the family did not wish to speak, asked for information about the PCC complaint (including sending her a copy of the article so that the family could highlight what was wrong with it). This upset the complainant's daughter.

The newspaper apologised for this second approach to the family, and explained that the reporter was a freelance and unaware of the PCC complaint. It accepted, however, that the reporter should not have continued to question the complainant's daughter once she had mentioned the complaint. The paper also offered to send a private letter of apology to the family.

The PCC upheld the complaint.

And rightly so.

The mother had also complained about the accuracy of the article, although this was rejected by the PCC. She said that the article was:

salacious and insensitive, and that it had taken information from her son's outdated MySpace page which had been created as a spoof some years previously. She was concerned about the use of web material where the information was irrelevant and ‘cobbled together as a joke'. The resulting inaccurate impression was that her son was a deeply troubled boy under insurmountable pressure.

The newspaper's reply was to say that as the MySpace page was in the public domain it was fair game, no matter when it was written or why:

The MySpace information existed in the public domain, regardless of whether it was contemporaneous, and it was not clear when it was uploaded as it had appeared on undated pages. It was willing to remove these references from the online article as a gesture of goodwill.

The PCC decided this wasn't enough to rule against the paper on accuracy, but wrote a letter to the Sunday Times instead:

The Commission could understand why the complainant felt aggrieved that this type of detail was used so liberally in an article that reported such a recent tragic event. In the circumstances, the Commission asked its Chairman to write to the newspaper, to emphasise its concerns.

Well, that'll teach 'em.

One final point about the original article deserves mention. It carried the headline 'Harry Potter' student found hanged in his Oxford room. This heavily implied that the student in question had starred in one of the Potter films. In fact, he had once sold a first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to pay for his studies. As Stephen Brook wrote in the Guardian:

quite what the news value was in that I cannot see.

The problem with misleading headlines needs to be tackled by the PCC. Although not as serious an error as, say, the Peaches Geldof one, it emphasizes the need for the Editor's Code of Practice to contain a mention of headlines somewhere. Currently, it doesn't.

Thursday 14 January 2010

The Mail just doesn't care about Haiti

Today, the Daily Mail was the only national newspaper not to have a mention of the Haiti earthquake on its front page. It chose to plug its Poirot DVD giveaway instead:

It's an astonishing editorial decision to relegate the biggest news story of the year so far to the inside. How did Editor Paul Dacre and his henchmen come to that conclusion, when even the Daily Star thought it important enough to put on the front page?

So where, exactly, did the Mail place its coverage in the print edition?

Flicking through, there are stories about:

  • Conservative Party plans on alcohol and teachers' pay.
  • Swine flu.
  • Nick Clegg, faith schools and homosexuality.
  • The BBC and U2.
  • A 106-year-old woman 'forced to leave the home she loved'.
  • Gary McKinnon.
  • Britain being out of recession (buried on page 6).
  • Madeleine McCann.
  • The Chilcot Inquiry.
  • Weather warnings.
  • Lawyers trying to gag an MP.

And there are also articles about:

  • A policeman who is 5ft tall.
  • How women's handbags are 57% lighter than two years ago.
  • Dannii Minogue being pregnant.
  • A review of the Legally Blonde stage show.

And it is only after all that, on pages 12 and 13, that the Mail finds room for the Haiti earthquake.

Even then, page 12 is half taken up with a Tesco advert for Bold washing powder. 'Lighten the load' it says, next to pictures of a child with bandages around its head and a dazed woman crawling over rubble.

Page 13 contains the longest article of the spread - and that is a short history of Haiti titled 'Rape, murder and voodoo on the island of the damned' which hardly mentions the quake among all the stereotypes.

Meanwhile, the main article is 25 unrevealing sentences long.

So why is the Mail so uninterested?

The headline on their website earlier today gives some indication (as spotted and snapped by Megan Lucas):

Ah. So there it is. The Mail only regards this as a 'top story' when they think some 'Brits' may have died. The deaths of thousands of Haitians and the wrecking of their country is not important enough on its own, apparently.

Certainly not as important as a free Poirot DVD.

Even when they do turn their attention to Haiti, it ends up like this:

Still, with the story leading the Mail's website - in one form or another - for most of the day, surely it would make Friday's front page?

Nope. Still no room for Haiti. What Beyonce did two weeks ago, another Poirot DVD and - believe it or not - a bird feeding kit are considered far more worthy.

Refugee Council research - ignored and misrepresented

The Refugee Council has published a new report on asylum seekers, written by Dr Heaven Crawley at Swansea University.

The report, 'Chance or Choice: Understanding why asylum seekers come to the UK’, concludes:

  • Over two thirds did not choose to come to the UK.
  • Most only discovered they were going to the UK after leaving their country of origin.
  • The primary objective for all those interviewed was reaching a place of safety.
  • Around three quarters had no knowledge of welfare benefits and support before coming to the UK – most had no expectation they would be given financial support.
  • 90% were working in their country of origin and very few were aware they would not be allowed to work when they arrived in the UK.

Those findings directly challenge several anti-immigrant tabloid myths so it's not surprising that neither the Mail or Sun are covering the report at all.

Surprisingly, the Express website not only has an article on the findings, but it's a sympathetic one too:

It would be shocking if that headline were to appear in the print edition tomorrow because that's not the Richard Desmond line on immigration at all.

As is clear from the Daily Star:

The use of 'illegal immigrants' in the headline to a story about asylum seekers is a direct flouting of the PCC guidance on Refugees and Asylum Seekers which states:

The Commission is concerned that editors should ensure that their journalists covering these issues are mindful of the problems that can occur and take care to avoid misleading or distorted terminology.

But to what does that headline refer? They put the word 'useless' in quote marks, yet this word does not appear to be used in the report, the summary or the press release. Or, indeed, in their own story.

The actual word that is used about the asylum laws is 'barbaric'. But the Star isn't likely to lead with that, is it?

The one slight downside to the report is the small sample. The findings are based on interviews with 43 refugees and asylum seekers. Nonetheless, that is still actual first-hand evidence. It's not like someone just plucking numbers out the air.

Mail apology round-up

Last week, the Daily Mail was running a poll on its website which asked:

Anton posted on the issue at Enemies of Reason (from where the above screenshot is taken).

Today, Anton reveals a letter of apology sent by the Mail's Assistant Editor Charles Garside to all those who complained. He blames a 'junior member of staff' (yes, that old chestnut) for the 'clumsy' question.

But at least that apology didn't cost the Mail anything. Unlike the one they made today to Sir Michael Parkinson:

An article of 30 May 2009 reported claims that Sir Michael had threatened to sue a relative over suggestions that the former chat show host had been insensitive to his uncle and had lied about his father in his autobiography.

We accept that Sir Michael had not lied about his family or been insensitive. We apologise for any distress caused and have agreed to pay him damages and costs.

Another famous person takes their complaint against the media to their lawyers. Could it be that they don't think the PCC is much good?

Mail doesn't put Haiti on front page, plugs free DVD instead

The horrendous events in Haiti dominate Thursday's newspaper front pages, with shocking images appearing alongside words such as 'devastation' and 'hell'.

Although leading with the McCann case, the Express is, unsurprisingly, the most sensationalist. It reports a death toll of 500,000 as a definite:

That figure came from Haitian senator Youri Latortue, although he 'conceded no one really knows.'

No matter that no one really knows, the Express decides to run it - as fact - on its front page anyway. As does sister paper the Daily Star ('500,000 are killed'), who manage to find a little corner for Haiti alongside a tedious lead about Celebrity Big Brother and Jordan.

The Metro, meanwhile, settles for 'up to 500,000' which is quite a margin of error.

Other headlines are more circumspect, and rightly so in such an uncertain situation. The Guardian says there are 'fears' the death toll could rise above 100,000. The Independent and the Times simply state 'thousands'. The Telegraph says 'at least 100,000'; the FT that it 'could be well over 100,000'. Even The Sun plays safe with its '100,000 quake toll fear' headline.

Curiously, the Mirror thinks it is appropriate to drag the title of a Nicolas Cage film into its coverage:

But at least the biggest news story of the day is there on the front.

Because one national daily newspaper (and only one) thinks Haiti isn't worth mentioning on its front page. Apparently, the Daily Mail and its Editor Paul Dacre, regard their Femail magazine and their free Poirot DVD as more important: