Wednesday 31 March 2010

Tuesday 30 March 2010

Muslim attitudes and attitudes towards Muslims

At the end of January, an academic research report from the European Muslim Research Centre at the University of Exeter said that media coverage of Muslims was a factor in Islamophobic attitudes and hate-crime.

Almost all the media ignored the report. Well, they would, wouldn't they?

One who did step in to fight her corner was Melanie Phillips. As the report had suggested the use of the term 'Londonistan' was unhelpful, and that is the title of Phillips' BNP-approved book, that was to be expected.

Two of her arguments deserve comment. One was this ridiculous straw man:

The attacks on British Jews, which mean that every single Jewish communal event has to be guarded and Jewish schools now shelter behind razor wire, are coming from both white racists and Muslims.

But there’s no mention of that in this study.

So Phillips was actually criticising a report entitled Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: a London Case Study for not covering attacks on Jews.

And then there's her view about whether the media influence anti-Muslim opinion:

This study claims effectively that such commentary incites violence against British Muslims. There is not one shred of evidence for this.

But she goes on to say:

Conversely, the authors make no acknowledgement of where 'truly' false and irresponsible reporting has indeed inflamed violence against a vulnerable British minority.

The way the British media reports the Middle East incites irrational hatred not just of Israel but also Jews in general.

She puts 'truly' in italics to make it clear that Muslims never suffer 'truly false' reporting (what about this or this?). But her argument is that while there is not a 'shred of evidence' that media coverage incites violence against Muslims, the British media is very responsible for inciting violence against Jews.

She says if Muslims are associated with terrorism that's because:

There is a significant terrorism problem among British Muslims.

But if people dislike Israel, it's nothing to do with the actions of the Israel and all because of false reporting.

If you believe the media has the power to incite hatred against one group, why can't it inform opinion and incite hatred against another? You can't really have it both ways.

(And as for the 'significant terrorism problem among British Muslims', it's worth remembering, as Seamus Milne reported in the Guardian, that Europol figures show 99% of the terrorist attacks in Europe over the past three years have been carried out by non-Muslims.)

Within two weeks of Phillips' piece, there was an attack on the Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Tennessee. Crusade-style crosses and the words 'Muslims go home' were scrawled on the building in red spray paint. And:

A profanity-laced hand written note was also left behind that disparaged the prophet Mohammed and even advocated the eradication of Muslims.

Yet a few days before the attack, the Channel 5 local television station ran a report entitled 'Inside Islamville: Is a Local Muslim Community Tied to TERRORISM?' Although Channel 5 admitted there was 'no evidence' of terrorist training activity, it ran the two-part report anyway.

It was, wrote Jeff Woods of the Nashville Scene:

a new low in broadcast journalism in this city...

We hope Channel 5 managed to goose its ratings a little bit with this garbage. Otherwise, Beres succeeded only in inflaming anti-Muslim sentiments.

The next day, Woods was writing about the attack on the Islamic Centre.

Now it may be that the two events are completely unconnected - clearly Phillips would say they are. But it's a big coincidence given the attack happened within days of the reports being aired and given the previously good relations in the community. A spokesman for the mosque said:

'It’s unexpected...The only thing I can think of is the sensationalized reporting [by Channel 5] over Sunday and Monday. That’s the only thing I can think of. Even after 9/11 we have never had any vandalism.'

Think Progress have an in-depth look at the incident and the Channel 5 report.

A few days after the Tennessee incident, Dr Chris Allen wrote the following in the Telegraph:

Islamophobia does not appear to be being taken seriously by the Government, the media or the general public and the situation is becoming increasingly dire - why this is remains unclear.

It could be because of a lack of understanding and recognition of the seriousness of Islamophobia; it could be because little ‘hard evidence’ exists; it could also be that anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic attitudes are becoming more socially acceptable.

Whatever the reason though, it is clear that neither Islamophobia – nor indeed anti-Semitism – are going to quickly or easily disappear.

He tied the Exeter report to a shocking report from the Community Security Trust (CST) which showed a disturbing rise in recorded anti-Semitic incidents in 2009 - up 69% on 2008.

Yet while the CST report was covered in, for example, the Mail and the Express, the Exeter report on Islamophobic hate crime wasn't. Why the difference?

The same fate befell the report Attitudes, values and perceptions - Muslims and the general population in 2007-08. It reported:

Muslims had very positive views about the level of cohesion in their local areas; the vast majority felt that people from different backgrounds got on well together in their local area and that their local area was a place where residents respected ethnic differences between people.

Muslims also expressed strong feelings of belonging, both to their neighbourhoods and to Britain as a whole, and more than nine in ten Muslims agreed that they personally felt a part of British society.

In 2007-08 Muslims also expressed high levels of trust in institutions. They were more likely than the general population to say that they trusted Parliament and their local council and, similarly to the general population, around eight in ten Muslims trusted the police.

All of which gives a very good impression of British Muslims and how they view British society and its institutions. No wonder it was ignored...

In terms of perceptions of religious prejudice, Muslims and the general population believed there was a lot or a fair amount, and that this was up from five years ago.

97% of Muslims and 90% of the general population said there was more prejudice against Muslims compared with five years ago.

Perhaps most telling of all was the responses to a question about 'personally feeling part of British society'. 93% of Muslims agreed and 93% of all people agreed - a noteworthy similarity.

When asked about the most important values for living in Britain, 61% of Muslims said 'respect for all faiths', whereas only 33% of the population as a whole said the same. As a minority faith, Muslims would be more likely to say that is important, but the difference between those figures seems stark.

And it's worth remembering the Gallup Coexist Poll from May 2009 which showed that when asked about whether Muslims were loyal to Britain, 82% of Muslims said yes and 6% no. When the general population was asked the same question about Muslims, 36% said yes and 49% said no.

Why does the general British population have such a negative view of Muslims? According to Melanie Phillips, the drip-drip of biased, exaggerated, unpleasant or untrue media stories about Muslims doesn't even begin to explain it. But given that many millions of people read or see this stuff every day, how can it not have an effect?

There's an agenda behind highlighting stories involving Muslims far more than with people from other religions. Why, for example, were terrorists Terrance Gavan, Neil Lewington and Ian Davison given far, far less coverage in the tabloid newspapers than the case of a Muslim woman who was cleared of 'failing to pass on information that would be useful in preventing an act of terrorism'?

According to two comprehensive surveys, British Muslims feel loyal to Britain, identify with Britain and feel like they belong. They believe people get on well and and there's strong community cohesion. They exhibit a high degree of trust in parliament and local councils (more than the British population as a whole) and in the police. They believe in respect for ethnic minorites and for people from all faiths to a greater degree than the population as a whole.

Yet how often do we see the tabloid newspapers reporting on any of that?

Cars that start and cats that come back from the dead...or not

A heart-warming story from the Mail about a 1920s Austin:

Alas, nine paragraphs into the story, this quote from the car's owner:

'And the engine turned over when we tried it with the starter handle, but I didn't try to start her up in case I did any damage but I'm sure it would go'.


Then last week, the Mail produced this tale of the unexpected:

He 'appears' to have come back from the dead? Really?

Well, no. The cat the family buried looked like Alfie, but wasn't actually their pet moggie at all.

As one of the comments says:

(Hat-tips to Jeff Pickthall and the Mailwatch Forum)

Monday 29 March 2010

Richard Desmond newspaper accuses other media outlets of producing 'filth'

Yesterday, the Sunday Express ran a front page headline Families hit by BBC 'filth'.

It wasn't, in fact, a plumbing problem at Broadcasting House, but a feeble attack on online catch-up services. Although the headline focussed on the BCC, ITV and Channel 4 were also mentioned. But, as ever, it's the BBC that was the main target.

David Stephenson's report, which seemed highly influenced by the prudes at Mediawatch, feigned outrage at the accessibility of sex and violence on BBC iPlayer and the like.

The idea that five-year-olds would be watching Wallander was rather unlikely. Nonetheless, the Express was adamant:

The result is that highly impressionable children are becoming hooked on TV programmes which have unsuitable images and dialogue, leading to long-term concerns for their mental health.

The same concerns, incidentally, that some people might have about 'highly impressionable adults' reading the Express.

It goes on:

The Sunday Express watched an episode of the adult crime drama Wallander on the BBC iPlayer by simply confirming, with one click, that we were over 16...

From the ITVplayer, the Sunday Express downloaded an episode of Secret Diary Of A Call Girl, featuring adult sexual content. Again it took one click.

Now, the Express newspapers are owned by Richard Desmond's Northern and Shell company. They also own several pornographic television channels. This includes Television X, whose website needs only two clicks before 'highly impressionable children' could be seeing hardcore porn.

Indeed, starting from Google, that was significantly easier than finding far, far, far less explicit stuff on iPlayer.

Desmond also owns the Daily Star, which shows a topless page 3 girl every day and carries a very large number of adverts for phone sex in every edition.

So is the Sunday Express really in a position to complain about 'filth' elsewhere?

And the nominees aren't...

Back in February, News of the World film critic Robbie Collin took six guesses about who might take over Film 2010 following the exit of Jonathan Ross.

Charlie Brooker swiftly denied he was 'in the running', which wasn't a great start.

And today, the new presenter has been announced.

So which of the six 'nominees' who were 'in line' for the job actually got it?

Err, none of them.

It went to Claudia Winkleman instead.

Oh, Richard...

The Daily Mail is currently serialising the new book by Richard Littlejohn.

This is odd. Littlejohn's columns are mainly reheated Mail stories with 'hilarious' catchphrases added, and his columns are then reheated into his books, so the Mail is actually re-publishing stuff it's already published twice before.

And how's this for a very resistable trail on the front of today's paper:

Many of Littlejohn's health and safety stories are made up, or at least wildly exaggerated or nothing to do with health and safety anyway.

The section of his book published today goes through dozens of 'examples'. He very often doesn't mention the place where these things are (supposed to be) happening, so it's hard to check the veracity. Indeed, a couple I have just tried to investigate via Google just brought me back to Littlejohn...

The headline of the extract today is:

I never imagined the town hall Nazis would go quite so mad

The intro says:

Here, he explains how the diversity Nazis have ruined our town halls ...

And in his actual text:

In Britain, the elf 'n' safety nazis are banning dancing because it's dangerous.

The Mail and Littlejohn like to pretend there's a new intolerance - on health and safety, the environment and diversity, among others - and yet dismiss these people as 'Nazis'. So where's the intolerance, really?

But back to the focus of his column and here's an example of Littlejohn absolutely, positively not making it up:

I thought ministers had repented when it was announced that councils were being encouraged to hire 'street football coordinators' but I was wrong.

Turns out the real purpose of these new jobsworths was not to encourage kids to play football, but to ban it.

The Communities Department sent out a 53-page memo, which included a warning that 'if not planned properly, football can be divisive and trigger conflict. Passions can get high and physical contact can easily lead to confrontations'.

'Street football coordinators' appears to be one 'street football coordinator' highlighted by the TaxPayers' Alliance in 2008 as an example of jobs of 'dubious value'.

Here's how the Mail reported it at the time:

An advert for a 'Street Football Coordinator' at Moray Council in Scotland calls for someone to 'assist in the planning, planning promotion and delivery of the street football project'.

So assisting in the planning and promotion of a street football project is actually, according to Littlejohn, banning it?

Here's how Moray Council themselves describe the project, which is still going:

Moray’s Street Football project has proved to be a tremendous success since its launch in September 2006. The project aims to provide young people with the opportunity to participate in sporting activities inside a portable pitch that is quick and easy to assemble.

Traditional coaching methods are removed to provide players freedom of expression, try new skills and ultimately become better players and people.

Street Sports is fast-paced, energetic and a lot of fun.

That doesn't sound like banning it either. Indeed, that sounds like a perfectly good project for young people.

The Street Football Coordinator job in Moray had a salary of under £20,000. Yes, it's public money, but it's still sickening to hear someone who reportedly earns over £700,000 a year complaining about it. Especially when 're-writing Daily Mail stories to add more inaccuracies and smugness' is as big a non-job as any.

And using this as an example of Labour waste seems a little odd since Moray Council has been run by an Independent/Conservative coalition since 2007.

And then there's the Communities Department's 53-page memo. His wording makes it sound as if the whole document is about the 'banning' of street football.

That's not true.

The document was called 'Guidance on meaningful interaction - How encouraging positive relationships between people can help build community cohesion' and was :

an attempt to set out what we know about meaningful interaction, based on research findings and the views of expert practitioners. It is aimed at local cohesion practitioners and policy planners and includes some good practice.

Hardly essential reading.

But there's no mention of 'Street Football Coordinators' or 'street football' in the whole document. Indeed, there's only five mentions of 'football' in total.

And the quote he uses was actually a comment from a youth worker involved in community cohesion projects about things that can go wrong:

'[Football can bring people together, but if not planned/organised properly can also be very divisive and trigger conflict; ie passions can get high during [the] game and physical contact/altercations during [the] game can easily lead to confrontations and fists [which] could increase the ‘them and us’ divide. Done properly, [this needs: an] assessment whether the two groups are ready to compete, ie no recent scores to settle; preparation work with both groups; [seeing] football [as] part of a wider intervention; staff/volunteers/spectators who support teams [and] encourage positive attitudes, not just about thrashing your opponent on the pitch.' (Youth Worker, written comment)

But Littejohn never makes this stuff up. Oh no:

Already some seaside councils have scrapped donkey rides on the grounds of animal cruelty and Punch and Judy because it glorifies domestic violence.

According to the Mail, People over 8st [were] banned from seaside donkey rides under animal cruelty rides - which is not the same as banning the rides altogether.

As for the Punch and Judy claim, well, that's also nonsense. A silly Lib Dem Councillor in Colchester tried to get a Punch and Judy performer to tone down the slapstick. When he included a likeness of her in his show, she went on a personal mission to try to ban Punch and Judy.

But when Colchester's:

Arts & Leisure Committee voted on the motion to put Mr. Punch on the banned list the Chair of the committee drew one supporting vote, the oppostion parties united to oppose it and - most tellingly - Councillor Jenny Stevens own political colleagues abstained leaving her embarrassingly exposed.

Nevertheless the myth that Mr. Punch had been 'banned' by the authorities for not being politically correct duly entered contemporary folklore.

Indeed, it has.

If there are any other examples of Littlejohn 'making it up' in today's article, please do leave details in the comments.

Saturday 27 March 2010

'It's absolutely true because I read it in the Daily Mail'

Thanks to Moomin who left a comment highlighting the brilliant Daily Mail Song by Dan and Dan (to annoy the Mail some more, follow them on Twitter). Enjoy.

Apparently, they're taking over our universities as well...

After the Mail tried to pretend primary schools were being over-crowded solely because of immigration, the Express has tried the same trick with universities:

Laura Holland's article begins:

British students are being squeezed out of places at university by Europeans, it emerged yesterday.

Hmm, are they really?

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that the number of students from the European Union increased by almost five per cent last year to 118,000...

Altogether, 588,689 people applied for undergraduate courses, but more than 100,000 failed to get in.

See what she did there? An increase of foreign students to over 100,000 and a similar number of failed applications and therefore one must be the result of the other.

Unfortunately, Holland's grasp of statistics is woeful, either through ignorance or through wilfully trying to create an immigration scare.

For a start, the number of failed applications must include foreign students but she doesn't seem to take account of that.

Then there's that 118,000 figure. The real figure is actually 117,660 but that is the total number of EU students (excluding UK and Ireland) in higher education in the UK in 2009.

But why is she comparing that with the number of new and/or failed applications? That's a meaningless and misleading comparison.

Out of a total student body of 2,396,050, that figure of 117,660 amounts to 4.9%. Add in the 251,310 students from the rest of the world and that means only 15.4% of uni students are not domiciled in the UK or Ireland.

Now let's take her figure of 588,689 applications. This is actually a 2008 figure so not only is she not comparing like with like, but she's not even using figures from the same year.

The 2009 figure for applications was 639,860.

The number of those that were accepted was 481,854.

And of those, 20,984 were from the EU and 32,984 from the rest of the world. That's only 11% of the total number of accepted applications - a smaller percentage than in the student body as a whole.

Moreover, the increase in the number of foreign students (EU and world) accepted in 2009 compared to 2008 is only 4,974.

To put that in context, the increase in the total number of rejected applications from 2008 to 2009 is 25,944.

Therefore, the increase of 2,230 EU students can't seriously be described as being responsible for 'squeezing out' British students.

Unless you work for the Express.

Richard and Judy and the tabloid innuendo club

In the Femail section of today's Mail website is this:

The 'jibes' appeared on Thursday 25 March when, under the headline 'Richard and Woozy', The Sun's Neil Syson decided to stick the boot in:

Former telly queen Judy Finnigan looks like she could do with a couple of hours rest on her old couch after a boozy lunch yesterday.

She was joined by hubby Richard and daughter Chloe for the meal at a cafe-bar in Hampstead, north London - washed down by a few glasses of wine.

Before most people had even seen it, Richard Madeley had tweeted:

'We're on it' suggested lawyers were involved, and the Sun's online article soon disappeared.

But not before the never-knowing-pleasant Georgina Littlejohn had managed to borrow (ahem) the pictures and ideas for the Mail website:

She wrote:

She has been subjected to allegations of alcoholism which she and husband Richard Madeley have always furiously denied.

But these pictures of a tipsy-looking Judy Finnigan are certainly not going to do her any favours or convince anyone that she's not partial to a drink or two.

This nasty little article suffered the same fate as the Sun one, disappearing from the website before the end of the day.

Today's Mail article is, presumably, a way of correcting the record without the Mail having to actually apologise. Indeed, they can pretend it was nothing to do with them:

But as she was photographed emerging, looking bleary-eyed and linking arms with her husband and daughter, everyone assumed the worse.

'Everyone'? Really? Or just some vile hacks with little journalistic talent looking to invent a story around a pap shot?

Until now, Judy's attitude, as it was with her depression, her miscarriage and her hysterectomy, has been to grin and get on with the job.

But this time it is different: the insinuation that she needed help walking because of an ongoing alcohol battle has been too much to bear.

Yes, how dare people 'insinuate' such a thing. The Mail must be appalled at such behaviour...

Richard, her loyal husband, is so furious about the false rumours that he decided to speak out to the Mail in a bid to show people just how wrong the stories are.

So when the Mail says it 'can reveal' the truth, and that Richard is speaking out 'to the Mail', they're covering the fact they are almost certainly doing this to avoid any further trouble over the original article.

Richard goes on to explain how they did go for lunch and yes, Judy had a glass-and-a-half of wine, but:

'Judy has ruptured the anterior cruciate ligaments in both her knees, and, like most people with this condition, appreciates an arm or rail going up or down steps or curbs.

'Crude comments were also written about her eyes. Again, for the record, Judy is recovering from not one, but two, operations in recent weeks on her right eye.

The Mail even include this break-out quote, just so no-one misses their furious back-tracking:

The original articles were full of spite and bile and completely bereft of anything resembling news. The Mail has given space to one of the people involved and pretended to be above it all, despite having gleefully poured fuel on the fire in the first place.

It now admits the original story was 'wrong' but appears to be getting away with actually apologising for it. No word from the Sun yet, but they look like getting away with it - deleting the story and acting like it never happened - too.

Friday 26 March 2010

More shameless lying from the Star

Even by the recent standards of lies on the Star's front page, today's may just top the lot:

This would would seem to suggest that Peter Andre and ex-wife Jordan had had a 'bust-up' in a 'nightclub', where one of them revealed their 'hidden feelings' in an 'astonishing rant'. The pictures have been deliberately selected to show the two looking angry and weary at night.

But the story by Gemma Wheatley isn't even close to that:

Bitter Peter Andre has been branded a spoilsport after refusing to let Jordan lookalikes into his show.

The star, 37, was forced to act after a radio station handed out free tickets to fans who were the spitting image of his ex-wife Kate Price, 31.

Ten big-busted beauties were handed £28 front row seats at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.

Bosses at the local Radio City station were eager to see the look on Peter’s face when the curtain went up.

But when Peter and his management found out about the stunt they vowed to turn away anyone who looked like Kate at the door.

So a radio station tried to get a bit of free publicity by pulling a stunt where they would get Jordan look-a-likes into a Andre gig and his management stopped it.

That's it.

Where is the 'astonishing rant'?

Where is the 'bust-up' between Andre and Jordan, when she actually hasn't said or done anything to do with this 'story'?

And since when is the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall called a 'nightclub'?

Given that all these stories are about a named person, the chances of any third-party complaint to the PCC getting anywhere are slim-to-none. Yet surely they have to stop a paper writing such obviously misleading headlines, designed to sell papers (it's working) through deliberate lying.

Don't they?

Thursday 25 March 2010

Littlejohn makes it up about swans

Richard Littlejohn is being his usual smug self in his column of Friday 26 March:

Oh, and in Peterborough, fishermen have produced evidence that Eastern European immigrants are catching swans and eating them - a story dismissed originally as an 'urban myth'.

You couldn't make it up.

Except, of course, he could. In fact, 'you couldn't make it up' seems to be the way he's ends a story where he has done just that.

What 'evidence' is he talking about?

Presumably he's referring to the story published in the Mail a few days ago, where some very general claims were made (mainly about fish) with absolutely no hard evidence produced to back them up. If it's as common a problem as the Mail makes out, you'd think there might be photographic proof at least.

Yet even the Mail seemed unsure about the swan claims:

The swans are allegedly captured with bread on barbed snares before they are hauled in from the River Nene in Peterborough, and clubbed to death.

Moreover, the RSPCA were forced into issuing a statement specifically rejecting the claims:

To date the RSPCA has not received sufficient evidence that any particular person or group of people is responsible for the death of swans in this area.

Our inspectors and animal welfare officers have investigated all allegations, but at this time there is nothing to suggest the deaths are connected or deliberate.

Perhaps Littlejohn would just like to clarify exactly what evidence he's talking about...just so people don't think he is, in fact, making it up after all.

Immigrants and benefits, aspirin and cancer

Yesterday's Daily Express:

Over the past week or so the Express has had front pages stories about foreigners taking your jobs (twice), your home and now, your money.

You'd almost think the Express has some kind of anti-immigrant agenda...

For this story, the Express is upset that the High Court Judgment has ruled a Portuguese man who came to the UK and worked for four years until being incapacitated following an accident in his work place is entitled to child benefit for his children in Portugal.

The Express considered this a 'scandal', a 'monstrous injustice' and an 'unacceptable burden'. The editorial ranted:

the message goes out to the indolent classes across the EU that Britain is the place to be.

A man works for four years before being seriously injured, and yet is dismissed as 'indolent'? Charming.

The paper's daily phone poll asked 'Should benefits to immigrants be stopped?' The result won't be a surprise.

But buried in the story is a quote from a lawyer involved in the case. Gareth Mitchell said:

The EU rules that Mr Ruas has relied on also benefit the 1.5 million UK workers who live outside the UK and elsewhere in the EU.

The EU rules say that where parents go abroad to work and children stay behind, it should be the country in which the parents are working that should pay child benefit.

Up to 1.5million Brits working in the EU may be benefiting from such reciprocal social security agreements as the man in this case?

That figure came from Angela Eagle, Minister of State for Pensions and Ageing Society, in a House of Commons debate in December 2009 (column 525).

She said:

However, we are bound by EU reciprocal laws on social security that enable the 1.5 million UK citizens who live and work in the European Union to benefit in turn from local arrangements in the countries in which they work.

And as the Department of Work and Pensions website makes clear:

If you are in another EEA country and you are employed or self-employed; and you are insured under that country's insurance scheme you can usually get the children's allowance paid by that country. You can get it even if your child stays, or your children stay, in the UK.

So does the Express think it's a 'scandal' and 'monstrous injustice' that British workers abroad may also receive child benefit from their host country for children living in the UK?

Alas, they don't say. Indeed, they don't seem very interested in that point at all. After all, it wouldn't fit with their view that it's only ever Britain that is paying out to immigrants.

The other main story on the Express' front page was 'Now aspirin may cut risk of breast cancer'.

This may seem surprising given that a year ago, the paper ran this front page:

So, the Express' advice on aspirin appears to be: take it and get brain bleeding or don't and get cancer.

Not to mention that in November the Express said aspirin 'can be bad for your health' but in December it could stop you going blind.


So does aspirin cut the risk of breast cancer, as also reported by the Sun?

Here's the verdict from the NHS Behind the Headlines team:

this study does not provide any evidence that aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs or paracetamol reduces the risk of hormone-related cancers such as breast or ovarian cancer.

This study did not examine cancer outcomes in these women.


And as for the presentation of the research:

Withstanding the headline, the Daily Express generally gave an accurate representation of this research by discussing how regular use of aspirin was associated with lower oestrogen levels, and this in turn may be related to risk of cancer.

It is not clear where The Sun's claim that aspirin can cut the risk of both breast and ovarian cancer by up to 10% originated.
The Sun also did not mention that regular aspirin use is associated with the risk of serious side effects such as internal bleeding.

Neither newspaper mentioned that this was a cross-sectional analysis, and so cannot prove that current painkiller-use is the cause of current hormone levels.

So the Express headline was exaggerated and then stuck on the front page, while the Sun seems to have exaggerated in other ways.

Either way: it's eye-catching but unsubstantiated reporting about cancer. As usual.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Sun, syphilis and social networking

The Sun's front page today contained what may well become a classic headline:

No, not the 'scanner', but the one at the side. Facebook 'spreads syphilis'.

Presumably that's on top of the cancer Facebook will give you if you believe the Mail.

The Sun said:

Cases of syphilis have increased four-fold in Britain's Facebook capital as users meet up for unprotected sex, it was revealed yesterday.

Figures released last month showed that people in Sunderland, Durham and Teesside were 25 per cent more likely to log on regularly.

And an NHS trust chief said Facebook and similar sites were to blame for a shocking rise in cases of potentially-lethal syphilis in the region.

Except, that's not quite true. The original statement from NHS Middlesborough doesn't mention Facebook at all. It does say:

Unprotected sex, especially with casual partners, is the biggest risk for syphilis. Social networking sites are making it easier for people to meet up for casual sex. It is important that people avoid high risk sexual behaviours and practise safe sex to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections.

Which sounds like unprotected sex is being blamed for the rise. Not Facebook.

Why have certain sections of the media become so obsessed with blaming the social networking site for everything going?

And more importantly, does the Sun think that stories about sexual health are unimportant unless they're linked to some topical, but totally irrelevant, hook?

The Sun's attack on Facebook is even more pathetic given that the agenda behind it is so obvious - rival social networking site Myspace is owned by Rupert Murdoch.

The Telegraph and Mail were quick to follow the Sun's lead and mindlessly repeated the story. But the reader comments were very critical of this nonsense.

Delightfully, however, the Mail moderators let through this comment which mentions this blog. And no, I didn't write it:

Thank you Scott - and all the green arrow clickers.

(More on the syphilis story from Dr Petra Boynton. And thanks to Jeff Pickthall for spotting the comment.)

Babies that don't exist, affairs that didn't happen, news that's six years old: welcome to the Daily Star

The Daily Star were up to their old tricks again yesterday with a totally misleading front page headline implying Cheryl Cole had had a miscarriage:

Anton covered the story in full, where there was no baby, let alone one that was 'lost'. Essentially, Cole had wanted to start a family, but having separated from her husband, now won't.

Amazing stuff.

Today, they're implying she's got a new boyfriend:

Jerry Lawton's article maintained the pretence for a while:

Smitten Cheryl Cole has poured out her heart about the new man in her life.

The Girls Aloud beauty stunned millions as she revealed her true feelings for hunky Black Eyed Peas rapper live on air.

But then:

She cooed about how the 34-year-old music producer was 'absolutely inspiring, fantastic, futuristic, creative'.

And she raved: 'I would work with Will for the rest of my life if I could. He is everything you would want from a producer, and also from a person. He’s a lovely person'.

So when the Star said 'new man' they actually meant someone Cole has known for over two years.

And when they said 'in her life' they meant he's worked on her album.

And when they said 'World Exclusive', they actually meant they've used what she said in an interview with Fearne Cotton on Radio 1 that was broadcast around 10 hours before they went to press.

They also claim has a crush on Cole, but that's not 'new' either, having been reported in the News of the World two weeks ago.

The Star was having a few problems understanding the word 'new' on Monday too:

And what was this 'new text sex shock' involving David Beckham?

David Beckham’s sex texts to Rebecca Loos were as X-rated as the ones Tiger Woods sent his porn star mistress, it was claimed last night.

Claimed, incidentally, by Piers Morgan, so it's obviously true and nothing to do with the slimy ex-editor not liking the footballer.

But 'new'? The alleged Beckham-Loos affair happened in 2004.

A couple of days before that, another shock, this one involving (surprise) Jordan:

See the headline template? '[Celeb] in new [eye-catching scandal] shock'.

The implication of this one is that newly-married Jordan has had an affair with her ex, Peter Andre. 'New affair shock'. The picture of them together. It all paints a picture.

The actual story?

Katie Price suffered humiliation in the High Court yesterday as she admitted wrongly accusing her ex-manager of bedding Peter Andre.

The glamour girl was ordered to pay celeb agent Claire Powell an undisclosed sum in slander damages, believed to be well into six figures.

Oh. Nothing like what was implied then?

The Mail also covered news of the payout, saying rather coyly:

the BBC had 'quite sensibly' edited the slanderous claim from the show, but the story still ran in several newspapers.

Who could they mean?

Indeed, that article is still accessible, despite the claim being, in the Mail's own word, 'slanderous'.

Surely it should be removed and surely the PCC should be demanding every newspaper that made the claim apologise, without the need for Powell to complain?

But back to the Star, and to David Beckham for one last dreadful front page, implying Mrs Beckham is pregnant:

Another 'World Exclusive' as the Star reports on the Beckham's 'secret joy' over 'World Cup baby'.

Except, as if you needed telling, there is no baby, again:

David Beckham will battle back from his injury hell helped by the baby girl he has always craved.

Crocked football ace David Beckham, ruled out of thus summer’s World Cup with a snapped Achilles tendon, has set a different secret goal.

And the quotes that follow are from an anonymous source.

So the Star's 'World Exclusive' appears to be: married couple have sex.

These stories and these misleading front pages really are the most unbelievable junk.

But they will continue to happen while the Star's circulation inexplicably continues to rise.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Migrants, fish and swans (cont.)

Here we go again:

This is one of those stories that raises its ugly head rather regularly, and yet rarely seems to be based on verifiable facts.

But there's always an angry fisherman:

Andy Jackson, Secretary of Peterborough Angling Association, blamed immigrants who see taking fish from the river as their right.

He said: 'Many of the waters that we control are being systematically raped and pillaged by migrants'.

Systematically? By Migrants? Must be some cast-iron (ahem) evidence for that?

Well, not really. As always, there's a gap in the evidence:

Head bailiff at the Angling Association Jonathan Means said...'We have found nets and long lines set up but it is hard to find the culprits'.

Ah. 'Hard to find the culprits'? So no migrant, or anyone else, has actually been caught stealing carp or killing swans then?

The Mail does report that five Polish men had been caught fishing illegally in the area. The fishing season ends on 14 March; two were then caught fishing on the 16th, and three on the 17th.

That could be malicious, or it could be newcomers not knowing the rules.

But there seems little to link that and the 'rape and pillage' of the river, although by including it, the Mail clearly wants to make that link.

Moreover, it's particularly noticeable that the version of this story that appeared in the local paper, the Peterborough Today, made no mention of migrants anywhere.

And this really is an old favourite. Here's some other versions of the same urban myths:

And those are just some from the Mail.

There was also The Sun, who used put the headline 'Swan Bake' on its front page on 4 July 2003. It claimed asylum seekers were caught by police barbecuing swans, despite there being no evidence for it. Indeed, the police denied any such thing had taken place.

The Press Complaints Commission allowed the Sun to get away with a mealy-mouthed 'clarification' five months later. Which was on page 41 - a disgrace for a front page lead.

Back to the current version and according to this comment, left by a local journalist, the RSPCA have issued a statement denying parts of this story. I will update this post if and when I get a copy.

UPDATE: I have now seen the statement issued by the RSPCA, thanks to the RSPCA press office and the person who left this comment. Their press officer tells me:

In actuality, the Daily Mail never spoke to the RSPCA and instead lifted the copy from a regional paper (the Peterborough Evening Telegragh) - which in turn had misquoted the [RSPCA's] Animal Welfare Officer.

And from the RSPCA statement:

To date the RSPCA has not received sufficient evidence that any particular person or group of people is responsible for the death of swans in this area.

Our inspectors and animal welfare officers have investigated all allegations, but at this time there is nothing to suggest the deaths are connected or deliberate.

An overhead power cable, other preditors and abandoned litter can all, sadly, be lethal to swans and other wildlife.

But since when does the Mail let the evidence get in the way of demonising immigrants?

More recommended reading

An excellent post by Anton at Enemies of Reason about this disgraceful Express front page:

The story also appeared in the Mail.

As Anton says:

Let's not pretend, please, that the Express would have put this on its front page, had it not involved immigrants.

Moreover, since all burglary charges were dropped, it's not clear that they stole anything. Certainly not a house.

Anton again:

This week there'll be plenty of times when people who aren't immigrants will be up in the dock for criminal damage - and worse - but will they get reported on the front page of the Express? I really doubt it.

Over at Angry Mob, Uponnothing has looked at one of the Mail's latest attempts to attack the BBC for no reason at all. Apparently, BBC1 showed some sport on a Saturday. Shocking, eh?

Today, they're trying to claim there's a story in the fact some people on the BBC messageboards (a favourite source of Mail stories about viewer 'fury') were complaining about an expert on the Antiques Roadshow having less than spotless fingernails.

Essential stuff from the Mail.

Talking of essential, the Mail was publishing 18-month-old stories on its website yesterday, as highlighted by Will Sturgeon at the Media Blog. Remember the one about the Welsh road sign that had an out-of-office reply printed on it?

Apparently, no one at the Mail did, despite the fact they covered it at the time.

The story appeared on the 'most read' list of the BBC website over the weekend (yes, using the BBC site for a 'story', again) and without checking the date, the Mail mindlessly copied it.

Monday 22 March 2010

Mail does rubbish churnalism

The Mail is back to one of its favourite topics again - wheelie bins and fortnightly rubbish collections.

Why? Because they might expose 'families' to the plague. Sorry, in caps:

They did much the same story in May 2007, but this research is new.

So the Daily Mail Reporter dutifully goes through all the scary statistics and adds a quote from the microbiologist who did the research:

Dr Joseph Levin, microbiologist from the University of Tel Aviv, said: 'The levels of disease-causing bacteria found in the bins are at a level that I would consider to be dangerous, especially to those with a weakened immune system, such as the elderly or young babies'.

Put that quote into Google and up pops this:

The same research, with the same stats, and the same quote from Dr Levin, in the form of a press release. And Response Source say they make

life easier for journalists by quickly and efficiently putting you in touch with public relations (PR) people.

But the Mail's Editor Paul Dacre said the paper doesn't do churnalism.

Surely he wasn't (gasp) lying?

It gets worse.

At the end of the Mail article it says:

The study was carried out by University of Tel Aviv scientists using UK bin swabs on behalf of hygiene company Binifresh.

'Hygiene company Binifresh'? Oh yes:

Binifresh is the leader in automatic hygiene for wheelie bins. After 3 years of research and development Binifresh has released its first product, an automatic hygiene and odor control device that fits easily and securely to your wheelie bin, altogether creating a cleaner, healthier more comfortable environment for all.

So a company that sells a product (£14.98 plus £2.98 for refills) that claims to make bins cleaner and healthier produces research saying bins aren't clean and healthy.

Imagine that.

And the Mail, with their weird bin obsession, are only too happy to give them a free advert.

Recommended read - Charlie Brooker

Charlie Brooker has an excellent column in the Guardian today in which he calls newspapers 'the biggest threat to the nation's mental wellbeing':

In its purest form, a newspaper consists of a collection of facts which, in controlled circumstances, can actively improve knowledge.

Unfortunately, facts are expensive, so to save costs and drive up sales, unscrupulous dealers often "cut" the basic contents with cheaper material, such as wild opinion, bullshit, empty hysteria, reheated press releases, advertorial padding and photographs of Lady Gaga with her bum hanging out.

The hapless user has little or no concept of the toxicity of the end product: they digest the contents in good faith, only to pay the price later when they find themselves raging incoherently in pubs, or – increasingly – on internet messageboards.

Another apology over the 'gatecrashed' wake

Last week, this blog noted the apologies made to Nancy Jones by the Sun and the Evening Standard over claims she had 'gatecrashed' her father's wake.

But the Mail newspapers have also published an apology to Jones for the same false story:

An article on 7 October suggested that Nancy Jones, Keith Floyd's eldest daughter, had turned up unannounced at his wake and that there was reason to doubt her paternity. In fact, Ms Jones' existence was well known to Mr Floyd and the family and she was an invited guest. We apologise for any distress caused.

Only 'suggested'? Really?

The original headline 'Mourners at Keith Floyd's funeral stunned by his 'secret love child'' is a little more than a suggestion.

The Sun were, at least, upfront in admitting their original story had 'wrongly stated' the claims. Why did the Standard and Mail pretend they had only 'suggested' the lies?

Sunday 21 March 2010

Recommended reading

Two fine new posts over at The Sun - Tabloid Lies.

Firstly, 'The anti-Conservative bias of Basil Brush', a look at what the Sun called 'alarming smears against Tories by state-owned BBC' - a phrase that has nothing to do with:

a) The Sun's support for the Tories, or
b) The Sun's links with Sky.

The paper's cast-iron (ahem) evidence includes a blue rosette worn by a cheat in an episode of The Basil Brush Show that was first broadcast in 2004. Yes, really.

They also blame the BBC for some footage of David Cameron straightening his hair before going live on TV, but conveniently forget to say it was Sky wot filmed it.

The second post is about the Sun's campaign on new tabloid bĂȘte noire 'meow meow'. The Sun have claimed their coverage has caused the rules on what schools can do when confiscating the drug to be changed. Alas, it appears the guidance is the same as it's always been.

That's some 'victory'.

Friday 19 March 2010

Littlejohn isn't even trying

Today's Richard Littlejohn column isn't the slightest bit lazy or unimaginative.

Oh wait, it is.

A few days ago, the Advertising Standards Agency ruled that two Government adverts about climate change were in breach of their Code.

Littlejohn says:

The Government has been ordered to drop two adverts based on nursery rhymes which exaggerated the risks of so-called 'global warming'.

...the Advertising Standards Agency said they amounted to scaremongering and didn't reflect the growing scepticism over claims that the planet is heating up.

Of course, that's only half the story. The ASA investigated five ads and cleared three of them. Generally, it did not find the ads in breach on truthfulness, substantiation or environmental claims. The ASA also ruled the ads did not breach their clauses on 'distress' so they didn't actually say they 'amounted to scaremongering'.

Littlejohn then repeats all his usual points:

Despite the fact that the world has actually got cooler this century, mounting evidence that 'climate change' is a myth, and the revelation that alleged 'experts' in the field have been fiddling the figures to fit their theories, the hysteria goes on.

It's an interesting use of the word 'fact'.

Littlejohn doesn't seem to have read the ASA judgment. Because it says:

The ASA understood that, amongst the majority of scientists who worked in the field of climate research globally, there was a consensus that human activity was contributing to upward temperature trends globally and would continue to do so unless steps were taken by the worlds' governments to reduce GHG emissions, including CO2.

We concluded that, at the time the ads were published, there was not a significant division of informed scientific opinion on the issue amongst the world's climate scientists.

It may just be that Littlejohn is not considered in the 'informed scientific opinion' category.

So, it's not quite as clear cut as Littlejohn tries to imply, if you can imagine such a thing. He doesn't even mention the three adverts that were cleared.

But the adverts updated nursery rhymes to make their point. So Littlejohn says:

It also got me wondering what other nursery rhymes could be updated ...

The Daily Mash wondered the same thing two days ago...

His lack of imagination runs to the rhymes themselves. He criticises the climate change ones for not scanning and not being true.

And guess what? He then writes his own which don't scan and aren't true.

Also they're repetitive, and incredibly unfunny. Almost indescribably awful.

Not unlike that time he went through the TV listings to put Alan Yentob in every programme.

So we get this:

Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town, Upstairs and downstairs in his nightgown.

Trying escape the lynch mob who think he's a paedophile.

When they catch him they'll string him up, the dirty nonce.

And later this:

George Porgie, pudding and pie, Kissed the girls and made them cry,

Now he's on the sexual offenders' register.

And on health we get this:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

So they took him to an NHS hospital, where he caught MRSA and died.

And this:

Three blind mice, three blind mice, See how they run, see how they run.

This ward's been crawling with mice since the NHS contracted out the cleaning.

Could that last line sound any more like he just isn't trying at all?

Of course, 'the foreigners' cop it too:

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester,

But when he got there

He found they'd already given the job to a foreign GP who can't speak English.


As I was going to St Ives, I met a man with seven wives.

He said he'd come from Somalia,

And was now living on benefits in a £2.5 million townhouse in Kensington.

He runs through every one of his usual targets - Muslims, single mums, gay men, CSOs, equality, diversity - and fails to come up with a single new or interesting thing to say about any of them. He even references the foot-and-mouth outbreak which happened either three or nine years ago, depending on how generous you feel.

Oh, and because he says he never makes up health and safety stories, it's worth mentioning this one:

Old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard, To get her poor doggie a bone.

When she got there, it was groaning with oven chips, turkey twizzlers, bumper bags of crisps and lashings of fizzy drinks.

But there weren't any bones because elf 'n' safety had threatened to prosecute the butcher if he didn't stop selling them.

Presumably there is more to his column - these dreadful 'rhymes' are all that's online - but the Mail have spared us. Err, kept it for the people who buy the paper.

[Update: thanks to Uponnothing for the comment below. I apologise. I should know better by now. Apparently, those 'rhymes' are all Littlejohn has come up with today. No wonder he gets paid over £700,000 a year and was recently named the sixth best columnist in Britain...]

(Hat-tip to Red Arrow at Mailwatch Forum)