Sunday 30 May 2010

Mail on Sunday gives away England flags, despite 'ban'

Given that the Mail keeps telling us that England flags are being banned, the Mail on Sunday has come up with a strange giveaway today:

Or is simply that this ban on England flags (and shirts) is as non-existent as the ban on talking about immigration?

Friday 28 May 2010

A tawdry frenzy

The arrest and charging of Stephen Griffiths led to a predictably hysterical outburst from the media. For example:

And it wasn't just the tabloids.

On both the BBC News Channel and Sky News this morning, we had at least 15 minutes of 'reporting' from outside a Bradford court, which involved their on-the-scene reporters saying nothing new over live pictures of the back of police van. When the van moved slightly, the camera crews ran to find a better position, before moving back to where they started when the van moved again.

And all this for a completely unrevealing two second (at most) glimpse of a person in a hoodie who could have been absolutely anyone.

It was dismal stuff - a prime example of what Charlie Brooker called 'boring live nothing'.

Once in court, Griffiths was asked to confirm his name:

Mr Griffiths told the court he was "the crossbow cannibal".

'Crossbow cannibal'? Now where have we heard that before?


The overwhelming feeling from all this coverage is almost that we don't need to have a trial. Some sections of the media have already decided Griffiths is guilty.

There seems to be no thought of Barry George, or Robert Murat, or laws on contempt.

Much of it is pure speculation. The articles are peppered with such tell-tale phrases as 'it is understood that...' and 'a source revealed that...' and 'it is not known if...'

We are told - apparently - how he once swallowed a live rat, his mum liked to dress provacatively, he sent 'heavy items' down the communal rubbish chute in the early hours, his family were 'odd', he was a 'weirdo'.

And what about that 'cannibal' claim? The Sun admit:

Police are probing the possibility the killer may have eaten some of her flesh.

But they are still trying to find corroborating evidence.

The Express goes further:

Allegations of cannibalism were last night refuted by senior investigators who said there was "absolutely no evidence" of such an act in any of the cases.

So why did the Sun splash 'cannibal' all over the front page? Do we really need sensationalism in such a story?

Every paper was trying to find their own angle. The Star's was particularly notable:

'I survived the Ripper'. The obvious impression the Star's front page was trying to give was that Griffiths is the 'Ripper', he's guilty and they have spoken to someone who had a narrow escape from him.

But as ever with Star headlines, the story says no such thing:

A former vice girl last night told how a weirdo “with demon eyes” tried to pick her up just days before her prostitute pal was brutally murdered.

Anna Kennedy said she was approached at a petrol station in Bradford’s red light district.

The man seemed fascinated by her conversation with the cashier about the disappearance of two hookers within the past year.

She told the Daily Star the man “made my hairs stand on end” – and was even more terrified when she heard this week about the murder of her hooker friend Suzanne Blamires.

In fact, the Star makes no attempt to claim the 'weirdo with demon eyes' was Griffiths. Or even someone you needed to 'run for your life' from:

“I didn’t like the look of him,” she said.

“There was something about his eyes, demon eyes. Something about him made the hairs stand up on the back of my arms.”

Anna, 36, said she used to see the man “nearly every day’’ for 10 years while she was walking the streets but never felt threatened by him.

Hmm. So man goes up to till in petrol station and woman thinks he's creepy for joining the cashier's conversation. Despite never thinking him creepy for ten years before that.

The tabloids wallow in this stuff and there will be plenty more frenzied coverage over the weekend. It's all rather tawdry, but it is no real surprise - after all, it happens all too regularly.

Thursday 27 May 2010

Failing to tell both sides of the story

The tabloid coverage of the 'ban' on England football shirts became even more ridiculous when the Mail published Driver orders toddler off bus for wearing 'offensive' England football shirt. It never even sounded likely.

It was a mainly a cut-and-paste job from this local newspaper article.

Based solely on the say-so of the mother, it was claimed the driver, who had a Polish or Eastern European or dodgy-foreign-sounding accent, was offended by the two-year-old wearing one of those 'banned' England football shirts. It's political correctness gone mad, etc.

The following day, the Star and the Mirror repeated this tale (along with countless other websites and forums), based solely on the word of the Mail.

But by then the local paper, The Sentinel had returned to the story. They reported that First Bus had received thirty complaints - mainly, it seems, from people who had read about the incident.

One witness who had claimed to have been there said it happened on Monday. But that was the day the Sentinel published the story. The mother said the incident occurred the previous Thursday...

Paul de Santis, from First, told the paper:

"As time has gone we have reached the conclusion that the incident did not happen.

"We have not been able to find any credible witnesses. And we have not been able to confirm the identity of the driver at the centre of the allegation.

"We belive it to be highly unlikely that it happened. If this is the case that is extremely concerning to us. It's not only damaged our reputation, but could have put our staff in danger through potential reprisals."

And First issued an offical statement:

We have carried out a full investigation and can't find any evidence to substantiate this claim. No driver fitting the description given was working on any routes in this area at that time. Our buses were busy around the time yet no one else has been in touch with us about this alleged incident.

We expect the highest level of professionalism from our drivers and such an act would not be tolerated. However, in this instance it now appears that no such incident took place.

Here's the thing: this statement has been in the public domain for two days.

And yet neither the Mail, Star or Mirror have deemed it necessary to inform their readers' about it.

So either they don't want to correct their earlier story, and look like they may have got something wrong, or they are happy to let the myth of banned England shirts rumble on because it suits their PC-gone-mad, Britain-under-attack-from-foreigners agenda.

Or more likely, both.

(More over at Enemies of Reason)

Predictable Peter

Angry Mob reports that Peter Hitchens recently boasted that he was able to see the future.

Yes, in 2007, he made a prediction about the make-up of the Government after the election and now claims he got it right.

He predicted:

  • A Labour Government, or
  • A Tory Government, or
  • A Lib-Lab pact, or
  • A Lib-Con pact

Brilliant! Next he'll be telling us that this year's Ashes will be won by England. Or Australia. Or it'll be a drawn series and England will keep the urn.

He added at the time that whoever was in power was going to be full of dodgy Lefties but, as Angry Mob points out:

Considering that Peter is about as far to the right as you can get, it also isn’t much of a bold prediction that whoever got into power would be – according to Peter - ‘in thrall to Left-wing ideas’...[he] considers pretty much everything apart from his own column to be evil left-wing drivel.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Star pays damages; Sun withdraws 'gender bender'

Another month, another payout by one of Richard Desmond's wretched 'newspapers'.

This time, it's the Daily Star that has had to cough up, for invading the privacy of Little Britain star Matt Lucas following the death of Kevin McGee.

MediaGuardian reports:

Lucas informed the media that he did not want to discuss the matter and asked for his privacy to be respected.

However, the Daily Star published a story alleging that Lucas had been put on suicide watch and that he had met a new boyfriend and chosen to move on.

"Such claims are wholly without foundation, and publishing these false claims at this time considerably aggravated the hurt and distress caused by the article," [Lucas' solicitor John] Kelly told the high court.

He added that the newspaper had also published an article speculating that the reason for the couple's divorce was McGee's use of cocaine.

The Express Newspapers:

offered its sincere apologies for invading his privacy and for the distress caused.

That sincerity would be more believable if they'd thought about that before rushing to print.

Meanwhile, the PCC has published details of a resolved complaint, where a woman complained about The Sun calling her a 'gender bender'.

Another sensitive bit of Sun reporting, resolved when:

the newspaper wrote to the complainant accepting her concern about the language used and removed the article from its website.

Alas, as the article was published in 2008, it took the Sun two years to understand the 'concern' about that term.

Monday 24 May 2010

'Cruel speculation'

'My daughter's no lesbian,' screamed a headline on page 47 of yesterday's Mail on Sunday.

It was accompanying an interview by Jo MacFarlane with Dorien Stewart-Cole, mother of Kimberley. MacFarlane talked of:

unfounded rumours


cruel speculation

that Kimberley was in a relationship with another woman. Calling this 'cruel' says much about the attitude to homosexuality at the Mail newspapers.

But what MacFarlane omitted was where this 'unfounded' and 'cruel' gossip came from.


Yes - the front page of the Daily Mail, a few days before.

Must have just slipped her mind.

It couldn't possibly be that the Mail papers were trying to pretend it was nothing to do with them...

(Background here and here)

(Thanks to Brian Cathcart)

Saturday 22 May 2010

About that ban on England shirts...

As anyone with a Facebook account already knows, a depressingly large number of people believe the 'PC brigade' is planning to ensure no one steps inside a pub while wearing an England shirt for the entire duration of the World Cup, if not for all time.

None of them seem to have been much thought as to whether this was either true, likely, or even possible.

It seems to have started in the Sun, with the headline: Bid to ban England tops in World Cup pubs.

Unfortunately, once you read the first line of that article, with the all important 'could be banned' by 'killjoy cops' you knew it wasn't actually happening.

The more you read, the more it unravelled:

The advice comes in a letter from the Metropolitan Police to pubs in Croydon, South London.

Among World Cup guidance, it suggests 'dress code restrictions - eg no football shirts'.

So it's 'advice', rather than some all-encompassing, this-must-be-obeyed diktat. A Met Police spokesman said (when it was issued several weeks ago):

“There’s no obligation to follow the advice. It’s a series of suggestions sent to pubs in Croydon.”

And it's a letter from one police force, to pubs in one part of the country (where there were riots when England lost to France in the Euro 2004 championship - the advice also included plastic containers and extra security on the door).

And the advice it asks landlords to consider is actually 'no football shirts', not 'no England shirts'.

But apart from all that...

Sunny Hundal and Anton at Enemies of Reason (here and here) have already posted on this story, and debunked it, but as if to make it absolutely clear, the Met Police finally denied the story yesterday:

A spokesman said: "This letter contains a series of suggestions to make pubs safer for everyone.

"However, licensees are not obliged to follow our advice and there is no policy to stop the wearing of England shirts."

And an Inspector from West Midlands Police also denied there was any ban on flags:

"It is nonsense. Police officers are football fans too and patriotism should be an important part of enjoying the tournament in a fun and friendly atmosphere as long as people are sensible."

What is frightening is not just that people still manage to get whipped up by believing an obviously bogus story in the Sun, but that it unleashes a streak of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim sentiment despite it being both untrue and nothing to do with either group.

Independent on Sunday pays libel damages for defamatory headline

The writer Zoe Margolis has won 'substantial' libel damages from the Independent on Sunday after they falsely called her a 'hooker' in a 7 March headline.

As if to add insult to injury, the headline accompanied an article written by Margolis in which she criticised 'stigma and stereotypes' and 'old-fashioned, sexist views on female sexuality'. Her spokesman explained her point was:

'that if you are a woman, writing about sex openly, it is very likely you will be labelled with negative terminology'.

The IoS changed the headline the day it appeared, but did not publish an apology until five days later:

We accept that Ms Margolis is not and never has been “a hooker” or otherwise involved in the sex industry.

The wording of the headline was a mistake and seriously defamatory of Ms Margolis.

A press release on Margolis' blog, posted on Thursday, said:

The resulting effect of this libel was immeasurable, and Ms. Margolis was forced to issue legal proceedings against Independent News & Media Ltd.

These proceedings have now come to a conclusion and substantial damages have been offered to Ms. Margolis for the distress and impact to her reputation, both personal and professional, that this libel caused.

In court, the Independent's lawyer said:

'We sincerely apologise for the distress and embarrassment this headline caused. It was untrue and should never have been published.'

Friday 21 May 2010

Your headline has not been recognised...please try again

A WHO report on the risk of brain tumours from mobile phones was reported on like this:

Guardian - Mobile phone study finds no solid link to brain tumours.
BBC - No proof of mobile cancer risk, major study concludes.
Independent - Mobile phones do not raise risk of brain tumours, say scientists.
Daily Mirror - 'No proof' of mobile phone cancer link.

And, like this:

Mail - Long conversations on mobile phones can increase risk of cancer, suggests 10-year study.
Telegraph - Half an hour of mobile use a day 'increases brain cancer risk'.

And yes, they're all about the same study.

So who is right? Well, would you believe a cancer scare story in the Mail?

From NHS Behind the Headlines:

Some newspapers have selectively quoted a few results in this research that suggest a significant link, but this is misleading in the context of the overall results. The researchers themselves explain these few anomalous results, and conclude that there are no conclusive signs of an increased risk of brain tumours.

Overall, this study does not provide evidence that mobile phones cause cancer, a finding echoed by the majority of studies on the matter, although sadly not by most newspapers.

And from the Director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which published the report:

'An increased risk of brain cancer is not established from the data from Interphone'.

Anton has more.

When not trying to frighten people about getting cancer from phones or from turning on lights at night, the papers love a good 'miracle cure' story.

Last week the Mail ran: 'Holy Grail' cancer vaccine that blasts tumours in weeks hailed as huge leap in fighting disease. The Express went with Cancer scientists hail ‘huge’ leap towards jab that targets tumours.

But these weren't quite right either. According to Cancer Research UK:

Not only are these headlines overhyped and misleading, but the stories themselves are slightly confusing, combining the launch of a clinical trial with newly published results from a completely different area of research...

While cancer vaccines and immunotherapy are very exciting areas of research that we’re actively involved in funding, this story itself does not represent a ‘huge leap’ forwards.

Using such language is at best misleading and at worst cruelly raises false hopes in cancer patients and their families.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

The spite - and lies - of the Daily Mail

It appears that my earlier blogpost misjudged and underestimated the Daily Mail.

I had rashly suggested that the Mail's dismal 'Girl who married Anne Diamond's husband leaves him...for a woman' was a very odd, and completely unimportant, 'story' for the front of the paper.

It didn't appear to deserve to be in a newspaper at all, let alone on the first and seventh pages.

But maybe there was, in fact, a reason for the Mail to give this 'story' - an invasion of the privacy of two far-from-public figures - such prominence.

What reason?

The man in question, Mike Hollingsworth, won £50,000 in libel damages from the Mail in May 2007 after it had printed claims that he had hit a former lover during a row.

So, far from being pointless, this appears to have been the Mail settling a score, splashing Hollingsworth's alleged marital problems on the front page as revenge for his audacity in challenging them for printing a lie four years ago.

It wasn't just a worthless piece of garbage, it was a worthless, vindictive piece of garbage.

The pettiness and spite of that - and of waiting so many years to do it - reveals much about the sheer bloody nastiness of Paul Dacre and the Daily Mail.

Still, whether newsworthy or not, at least if the Mail put it on the front of their paper, they were sure the story was absolutely correct.

Weren't they?


It was reported today that Kimberley Stewart-Mole is now in a lesbian relationship, having left her husband Mike Hollingsworth. We have been informed and accept Ms Stewart-Mole is not a lesbian or in a relationship with a woman and apologise for suggesting otherwise.

Truly, words fail.

(Hat-tip to this anonymous comment person and Kate Muggins) The above was edited slightly to add the apology which the Mail published as this post was being written.

Groundbreaking news from the Mail

Today's Mail has an absolutely fascinating news story on the right-hand side of its front page:

Girl who married Anne Diamond's husband leaves him...for a woman.

So a woman who is married to someone who used to be married to someone who used to be on telly starts a new relationship.

Astounding stuff, isn't it?

The rest of this tale of the utmost national importance is on page seven.

Just for comparison, remember the Mail's coverage of the Haiti earthquake? They never put it on the front page of the paper - which even the Daily Star managed to do - and the day after the disaster struck, the Mail's coverage was on pages 12 and 13.

But this drivel is on pages one and seven.

Mail Editor Paul Dacre gets paid well over £1m a year for making decisions like that.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Rome burns

Broadcast media regulator Ofcom has published a report on media literacy among adults in the UK.

It's 92 pages long but one part of the survey they conducted stands out: which news source do people trust the most?

Only 34% of people said they trusted what they see in newspapers, compared with 66% who trusted radio news and 54% TV news.

Moreover, that 34% was overshadowed by the 43% who disagreed that they could trust what they saw in newspapers. The percentages who said they didn't trust TV (24%) and radio (15%) news were significantly smaller:

The timing of this report is excellent because tomorrow sees the publication of the PCC's Annual Report. No doubt they will try and pretend that the PCC and the newspapers in this country are all wonderful - as they do every year.

For example, in 2008, the PCC had a record number of complaints - 4,698 - which was an increase of 8% on 2007.

Because so many newspapers write a lot of rubbish? Not a bit of it:

We are confident that it is not a sign of dramatically falling standards in the industry, but of increased awareness and accessibility of the PCC.

They may be 'confident' of that, but who else is?

Who really thinks an increase in complaints is a result of the PCC doing such a good job?

That's a quite bafflingly blinkered view of the current state of affairs.

When compared with TV and radio news, newspapers are - by a considerable amount - the least trusted. Sadly, the PCC's failure to act against the worst excesses of the press make this almost inevitable.

Monday 17 May 2010

Carole the Consistent

Carole 'liar' Malone is delighted by the new coalition government.

Watching it unfold on TV while in Spain, she was impressed, despite having voted Conservative:

I liked it. I liked the fact two smart, well-educated YOUNG guys were standing there talking about the 'new politics' and telling us the job of putting Britain back together was starting right there and then.

I liked their energy, their vibrancy, their determination...

if the result is change, if together Cameron and Clegg can modernise British politics, if the result of all this is that Britain becomes a better, more stable, more solvent place, then how that can be bad?

Don't you feel rejuvenated and refreshed by the winds of change that could well come back and blow our houses down, but which for now are blowing away the cobwebs and the detritus of 13 years of New Labour?...

We can keep banging on about self-interested, power-mad politicians or we can look at what's happening with optimistic eyes - and give it a chance.

Got that? Good, because that verdict might suprise anyone who read her recent columns.

For example, when she said:

those who voted tactically in order to get a hung parliament? Well, they got what they wished for and it's a big fat mess - the victims of which are already the British people.


Britain will be run by a government that makes decisions NOT because they're good for us but because they're the best compromise both parties could agree on.

But now, she 'loves' the idea of the 'new politics' a coalition government.

And who has been 'banging on about self-interested, power-mad politicians'?

Here's Carole, just last week:

the Lib Dem pipsqueaks who - whatever they claim their principles and policies to be - are actually just gagging for power.

So whichever 'bribes' suit them best, whoever promises them the most clout to help run this country - and YOUR lives - is who they'll cuddle up to.

Are you scared yet? You should be.

But if the Lib Dems DO go with the Tories what does it say about THEM and their high and mighty principles - not to mention Cleggy, who you can bet your sweet life will end up with a nice little cabinet job out of all this.


Two weeks before that, she targeted Nick Clegg more fully:

Clegg is already getting on my nerves.

Whinging about being smeared...Telling half truths about his crackpot policies, pretending his party is Holier than Thou...he's sure as hell not the man to get Britain out of the doo-doo.

But now he's a 'smart', 'well educated' and 'refreshing' 'YOUNG guy' who can make Britain 'better' and more 'stable'?

Oh and a few weeks ago, she added:

In this week's debate he was verging on the cocky...

He's a posh Del Boy selling himself and his party knowing full well that if he plays his cards right now he'll have massive personal power after the election when the Lib-Dems team up with Labour.

But now Clegg is 'energetic', 'vibrant' and 'determined'?

Also: 'when the Lib Dems team up with Labour'? Oops.

And it wasn't just Clegg she was unimpressed by last month. Reviewing David Cameron's performance in the first debate, she said he was:

the big shocker. It was like he'd had his personality surgically removed. He was passive, uninspired, almost weasly - like he had no guts or fight in him.

He certainly didn't look like a Prime Minister...[he] came across as a wimp with zero conviction.

Good job he's now just as 'energetic', 'vibrant' and 'determined' as Clegg, then.

Back in March, Malone was also attacking the leaders' wives:

Take the most recent obsession with party leaders' wives. It's bad enough Labour's spin doctors are desperately trying to canonise Sarah Brown. But now, with just weeks to go before the election, David Cameron has dreamily announced that wife Sam is his 'secret weapon.'

It's also no coincidence Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has now taken to dragging his very attractive wife Miriam around by the hand (her other hand shamelessly brandishing her 'eco' bag made from bottle tops) as if to say: 'If I can bag a stunner like this I'm more interesting than you all think.'

I'm sorry, Sarah, Sam, Miriam - all very nice women I'm sure - but frankly who gives a flying fig what they think about anything? We're not voting for THEM.

And just to make her position on the wives absolutely clear, she added:

I refuse to be patronised by spin doctors trying to con us into believing that if these men are married to great women there's obviously more to them - a softer, more loving, more caring side - than we're seeing on the political stage.

Alas, this week:

And talking of progress, doesn't it gladden your heart to see that that both Cameron and Clegg are married to bright, progressive career women - because it says much about what kind of men they are and how they think.

So two months ago, Malone hated politicians trying to con her into thinking the type of woman they are married to said something about them.

Now, she finds it heart-warming that David and Nick are married to women such as Samantha and Miriam because that says much about what kind of men they are.

Clearly, most people wouldn't go to Carole Malone's column for intellectual rigour, but is a bit of consistency too much to ask for?

Saturday 15 May 2010

'Shite like this'

When David Cameron appointed Baroness Warsi to the Cabinet - the first female Muslim to have that honour - the reaction of some people on the Sun's messageboards was loathsome:

'They should have nothing to do with running our country'. Having been born in Yorkshire, how is Britain not Warsi's country?

Newspaper website messageboards, like the interwebs in general, do attract extremist views - anyone who saw the gloating of some Mail readers over the death of an illegal immigrant would know that.

MySun also attracts such comments, but the moderators do little to remove them once the appear.

So we get this:

And this:

And this:

The last two comments were in reaction to the case of Bashir Aden, an asylum seeker from Somalia.

How has the immigration debate gone so awry that immigrants are referred to as 'shite' and 'excrement'?

The Sun's own house rules state:

Prohibited content includes, but is not limited to content that, in the opinion of Provider:

14.1 is offensive;

14.2 promotes racism, terrorism, hatred or physical harm of any kind against any group or individual or links to websites that promote the same;

How do comments such as these not fall foul of that?

Friday 14 May 2010

The Sun's sensitive coverage of Haiti

The huge earthquake that hit Haiti earlier in the year saw tens of thousands of people killed and injured, hundreds of thousands left homeless and several highly-populated areas were wrecked, including the capital city.

Good job the Sun is sensitive enough to reflect the magnitude of that without resorting to racist stereotypes.

Oh, wait:

In an article on February 3, we implied two thirds of Haitians drank goats' blood while practising voodoo. We are happy to make clear this is not the case.

This apology actually appeared on page 10 of the 16 April edition. Did they really need to wait two-and-a-half months to correct that?

Sorry we called you a stalker (cont.)

In December, Barry George won substantial libel damages from Rupert Murdoch's News Group Newspapers because the Sun and News of the World continued to imply he was a murderer and stalker even after he was cleared of killing Jill Dando.

Today, George won an apology and libel damages from the Mirror Group, after all three of its papers - the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and People - wrote, in 2008, that:

Mr George had threatened to pester and harass Ms [Cheryl] Cole and her colleagues so he could meet the Girls Aloud singer and X Factor judge.

It was also claimed Mr George had downloaded pictures of Sky presenter Ms Burley, and said that he loved her and she loved him.

And so:

MGN agreed to pay substantial damages and Mr George's costs, and Emily Barber, solicitor for the newspaper group, said that it apologised for any hurt and distress caused to him.

In the Mirror's own words:

In an article we published on our website in October 2008, we alleged that Barry George had been paying an excessive and worrying interest in the Sky TV presenter Kay Burley. We accept that those allegations were false. We take this opportunity to apologise to Mr George for any upset and hurt he felt.

What both these payouts show is that all these newspapers believed they knew better than the courts. Despite his acquittal, they were determind to smear George and continued to imply he was guilty after all.

Express' circulation falls again

The latest ABCs reveal another fall in the circulation of the (ahem) World's Greatest Newspaper.

The Express was shifting 665,731 copies per day in April, down 2,542 since March and an 8.26% fall year-on-year.

It's the biggest year-on-year decline of any of the national tabloids and represents a loss of 60,000 readers in one year.

It's not hard to see why.

Recommended reading

Septicisle has written an excellent post on his blog Obsolete about the media coverage of Noemie Lenoir's suicide attempt.

Several tabloids seemed to think the best way to cover this story was to put a picture of her wearing not much on the front of their paper and refer to her as the 'M&S babe'.

Anton has looked at the Mail's coverage of the same story, and found their unpleasant obsession with speculating as to why it happened.

Callous, tawdry, unfeeling and demeaning are just some of the words used to describe the media reaction.

The Editor's Code of Conduct clause on 'intrusion into grief or shock' includes:

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively.

But, as Anton points out, rather than giving us sensitivity:

It's a question of being as graphic as possible, as sleazy as possible, of digging up as much dirt as possible in as short a space of time as possible.

Thursday 13 May 2010


Hard as it is to believe, the Daily Star has actually had news about the election on its front page every day for the last week.

And no, it hasn't been 'Jordan votes for this' or 'Cheryl supports that'-type coverage:

Like most of the Star's reporting, it's probably written for three-year-olds, but hey, at least it's not Kerry Katona.

Today, the Star had David Cameron and Nick Clegg on the front (calling them Ant and Dec, the same comparison used by Jan Moir...), but it chose another story for its lead:

The headline doesn't make much sense, but then the article is rubbish anyway. As is the Star's 'Exclusive' tag, given that the story was in the Sun and on the Mail website the previous day.

Originally, the Mail gave their article this misleading headline:

Parents' outrage as children told 'dress as a Muslim for mosque trip - or you will be branded a truant'.

But this has now been changed - and softened - to Catholic school girl who refused headscarf for mosque trip labelled a truant.

Why? Because the school wasn't forcing anyone to 'dress as a Muslim'.

The story is this: Ellesmere Port Catholic High School has organised a trip to a local mosque for its Year 9 pupils. They were told, in a letter helpfully published by the Mail:

Pupils will be expected to wear full school uniform. As you can appreciate the Mosque has a strict dress code, all girls must have a skirt that is over the knee and must wear a headscarf (a simple scarf that covers the head will suffice).

Does a Catholic school's uniform, with a simple scarf over the head added, really sound like pupils were being forced to 'dress as a Muslim'?

Apparently it does to Nick Seaton from the rent-an-outrage-quote Campaign for Real Education:

'Everyone should respect the religion of others but to expect a pupil to dress up to this extent is extreme to say the least. It is ridiculous'.

'Dress up to this extent'? He doesn't seem to have a clue what he's talking about.

Anyway, when one mother - Michelle Davies - complained, she was told by the headteacher that this was a compulsory field trip and if her daughter did not go, it would be recorded as an unauthorised absence.

And because she didn't like that, it seems she went running to the papers to become a martyr to the cause.

Davies is quoted as saying:

'I wasn't having my daughter dressed in the Muslim way...

'I also fail to see how a three-hour trip to a mosque is of any educational value to a Catholic when she can learn about the Muslim faith in the classroom'.

And from the Star:

Another parent, Kirsty Ashworth, whose daughter Charlie Sheen was due to attend, said: 'I send my daughter to an English-speaking Catholic school, so I don’t see why she should be forced to dress as a Muslim.'

Which, of course, she wasn't. Frankly, both parents sound as if an educational trip such as this would do both of them some good. Who really sounds like the intolerant party here?

But the Star isn't content with its inflammatory and misleading story - its editorial goes much, much further:

The headmaster...tried to force Amy to wear a Muslim-style headscarf.

It's disgusting. Everyone involved should hang their head in shame.

Amy is a Catholic. Her beliefs should be respected.

Demanding she ditch her faith for Islam is the ultimate religious insult.

Errr, what? Where has the Star invented the line that she was being forced to 'ditch her faith'?

This was about schoolkids on a trip to a mosque covering their heads. How did it become 'demanding' someone convert to Islam?

That line really is an utter disgrace.

As several of the people leaving (surprisingly tolerant) comments on the Mail website point out, on their trips to synagogues, St Mark's Basilica in Venice and St Peter's in Rome and so on, coverings for shoulders, arms and/or heads were required attire for visitors. Most people remove hats without complaint when entering a Christian church. Yet there's no similar 'outrage' about that.

But because this involves Islam, there is.

The tabloids want to claim this is another example of political correctness gone mad, of Muslims dictating what the rest of 'us' can do, of Christians under attack.

What it's actually about is people being asked to show respect in a place of worship.

Why is that so problematic?

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Chris Moyles shouldn't make fat jokes - that's our job, says Mail

The Mail has Chris Moyles in its sights - again - as it weakly attempts to create a new BBC 'controversy'.

The headline is Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles faces backlash from listeners after making offensive 'fat' jokes about Beth Ditto.

It hardly seems news that Moyles - like Jonathan Ross - might make some near-the-knuckle jokes on his programme, but the Mail is only interested in leaping on something minor to try and turn it into some 'BBC outrage'.

But by saying 'faces backlash' they seem to admitting that there isn't an actual 'backlash' they can report on. Usually they pick up some comments from the BBC messageboards or some other forum but none are quoted.

Here's how their article begins:

Chris Moyles has caused controversy by mocking Beth Ditto for being overweight - despite weighing over 16 stone himself.

The Radio 1 DJ angered listeners with his comments about the Gossip singer as he handed over to Fearne Cotton on Wednesday morning.

The joke started when Moyles joked he would look like Ditto if he dressed up in women's clothes, but quickly descended into something altogether more offensive.

But do they really mean 'offensive'?

Because if the Mail's thinks it was all so 'offensive', why do they willingly repeat ten of the 'jokes' he came out with?

Moreover, when it comes to remarks about Ditto's weight, are the Mail really in a position to criticise others?

For example, in March 2009 they said Ditto had:

squeezed herself into the tight-fitting lycra frock, testing its limits almost to the point of destruction.

See? She's so fat she nearly destroys her clothes! Brilliant!

And a few months later, one of their headlines came with a health warning:

She's so fat she'll hurt your eyes! Hilarious!

So is the real reason that the Mail is upset with Moyles because he works for the BBC? Or is it because making petty remarks about Beth Ditto's weight is their job?

Monday 10 May 2010

Recommended reading - links

A few links to other blogs with some excellent posts:

Five Chinese Crackers: The onward march of racism in the Express - The racist rag's disgraceful front page headline 'Strangers in our own country' pretends our schools are being over-run by foreigners.

Angry Mob: Richard Littlejohn's 'permanent opposition' - Littlejohn claims he has 'no party political affiliations' yet comes out for the Conservatives (shock!) for the General Election.

Five Chinese Crackers - A look at the PCC's ruling against Rod Liddle. Unlike Liddle, 5CC produces the evidence.

Angry Mob: Really bad journalism - the tabloids claim a boy was left up a tree by a school because of health and safety, forcing the headteacher to put out two statements saying it's 'untrue'.

Jon Slattery: Labour MP tells constituent: 'Life can only get better - if you stop reading the Daily Mail'.

Angry Mob: A catalogue of lies - Round-up of four nonsense articles from the Mail, including three health and safety lies.

One, with the headline 'Environmentalist fined £4,000 after catching the wrong kind of crayfish' only revealed later in the article that he had in fact illegally caught 40 crayfish, and cooked some of them. If he'd been an immigrant, it's unlikely they would have been so sympathetic.

And in 'Council bans dogs from parks leaving owners wondering where to go 'walkies'', there was no blanket ban, as implied. Instead, the truth was that:

The vast majority of the orders ban dogs from fenced-off children's play areas - they do not ban dogs from the council's four Green Flag Award-winning parks which are popular with dog walkers, or from the vast majority of open space in the district.

The handful of village playing fields which are now subject to exclusion orders were included at the request of the various parish councils who felt such action was needed as dog fouling had become a serious problem in those localities.

Friday 7 May 2010

Round-up of apologies and retractions

The News of the World have paid out a five-figure sum in damages to Sheryl Gascoigne after running an article under the charming headline 'You lying bitch'.

Oh, the irony.

Press Gazette reports that the article from 18 October:

suggested she had lied by falsely claiming that her former husband had forced himself on her sexually and that she suffered repeated acts of violence at his hands...

The defendant, News Group Newspapers, 'now accepts that each of these allegations was completely untrue.'

Meanwhile, the PCC has only just announced a clarification published by the Mail on 15 April:

Mr Michael Fawcett complained to the Press Complaints Commission through Kingsley Napley solicitors of London that an article was inaccurate when it stated that he had 'resigned from royal service after it had emerged he had taken 20% of the proceeds of unwanted royal gifts'.

The Mail didn't apologise, but did print this clarification:

An article (14 November 2009) referred to Michael Fawcett, the former valet of the Prince of Wales, resigning after it emerged he had received 20 per cent of the proceeds of sales of royal gifts. In fact, a report in 2003 found no evidence that Mr Fawcett sold royal gifts without authorisation or took commission on sales. We are happy to make this clear.

Another complaint against the Mail comes from Sophie Dahl, whose solicitors have filed a High Court writ over an article by Liz Jones. Dahl joins the queue behind Cherie Blair, who started legal action against the Mail in March.

It is noticeable that both Dahl and Blair felt the paper did not respond to their complaints adequately. This is hardly surprising: when Littlejohn wrongly claimed Eastern Europeans committed most robberies in Britain, the Mail took six weeks to respond to a letter of complaint.

A quicker response was seen by the Ludlow Journal last week, which recalled all undelivered copies of the free newspaper after a picture caption went wrong:

a front-page picture story about a belltower captain called Tony Fuller who had organised a training event for young would-be bellringers.

Unfortunately the picture caption rendered the name 'Tony Fuller' as 'Tiny Fukker.'


Tuesday 4 May 2010

Polishing turds

Exciting news from Richard Desmond - he's just spent £100m on new presses for his awful rags.

Sorry, 'super new colour presses'.

Yes, apparently, the only problems with the Express and the Daily Star are that they aren't full colour. Who knew?

If Desmond had that much money to spare, why not spend it on journalists - something newspapers actually need?

The Express tells us that the new presses:

will be able to print millions of copies of our newspapers every night.

Given the Express' circulation is 668,273 per day, and falling, printing 'millions of copies' seems a tad optimistic.

PCC is great as it is, says PCC poll

Peter Preston recently reported on a new 'public attitudes' poll which was conducted about, and for, the Press Complaints Commission.

The findings conveniently favoured the PCC's view of itself:

81% of Britons know it exists; 58% think it would be improper for the PCC to just go wading into inquiries or judgments without being requested to do so. Twice as many want it to respond to complaints as think it should try to monitor everything; 51% reckon the present commission make-up of majority outsiders and senior journalists is right; 77% prefer a quick public apology to calling in the legal eagles for trials and fines.

Oh! and only 14% join the PCC's more vociferous critics in dubbing the commission's work 'ineffective'.

This led Preston to arrogantly declare:

Case closed – until someone opens it again.

Martin Moore from the Media Standards Trust did just that, with an excellent analysis of those headline figures.

One question stood out immediately: why had the PCC used Toluna - which is not a member of the British Polling Council - to conduct the research? Its previous public attitude polls (in 2006 and 2008) had been done by Ipsos Mori.

Today, the PCC have published the full results (pdf) and some of the questions are dreadful because they are so leading.

Take question seven, for example:

Fining newspapers or magazines when they break the rules of the Code is likely to involve a lengthy legal process, whereas an agreement to publish an apology can be arrived at very quickly. If a newspaper or magazine had broken the rules in an article mentioning you, which would be most important to you?

Unsurprisingly, having been led to the water, the respondents drank - 77% favoured the quick apology.

As Moore pointed out, the idea that the PCC does 'quick' apologies isn't really supported by the facts. For example, here's two recent apologies - this one took five months to appear, this one four-and-a-half months.

Compare that to the three-and-a-half-months from publication to libel damages in this case.

In terms of the survey, a question about fines could, and should, be simple. But because the PCC and the majority of newspaper editors are against fines, they ask questions that give them the answer they want to justify that position.

In the 2006 survey, the question and answers were similarly leading:

Fining newspapers or magazines when they breach the agreed Code of Practice is likely to involve a lengthy legal process significantly delaying the publication of an apology. If a newspaper or magazine had breached the Code of Practice in an article mentioning you, which would be most important to you?

The publication of an immediate apology without the imposition of a fine
Publication of an apology and the imposition of a fine after a lengthy legal process

When do members of the public ever get apologies at all, let alone 'immediate' ones?

Back to the new survey and the PCC claims it shows 'Only 14% of the population feel that the PCC is ineffective'.

Well, yes and no. 14% did say the PCC was ineffective or very ineffective, compared to 46% who said it was effective or very effective. But 41% said 'no opinion' which is a large amount of don't knows - too many, you would think - to draw too many conclusions.

Two other questions raise eyebrows too.

Number three asked:

Imagine you have been featured in a newspaper or magazine article. A regulatory body feels that references to you may be inappropriate and in breach of the Code it enforces. It decides to publicise its views on this without contacting you first for information or consent. How would you view this unrequested decision by the regulatory body?

Question eight asked:

Newspapers (both national and regional) and magazines publish thousands of articles every day on and offline. There is an argument that the PCC should seek to monitor all articles in all press both online and offline for compliance with its Code. Another alternative is for the PCC to handle complaints when people wish to raise concerns about something they have read. Which do you think is a better solution?

But these two questions suggest these two issues are black and white when they aren't.

According to the former, either the PCC receives a complaint or it issues a statement without speaking to the subject of the story. It's totally false to pretend that those are the only options.

Moreover, it's not clear who has made the argument that the PCC should monitor every article going.

But they could certainly be proactive in so-called 'third-party cases' when groups of, say, immigrants or Muslims are targeted. And this blog has suggested that given the blatant lies that the Star puts on its front page on an almost daily basis, the PCC could (and should) act without a complaint.

The recent Select Committee report criticised the PCC for being slow to act in the Madeline McCann and the Bridgend suicide cases. For example:

there was extensive and sustained media coverage of a number of suicides, self-evidently a cause for prompt action and close vigilance by the PCC, yet months were allowed to pass before Commission representatives visited the area.

Yet the PCC repeatedly claims its critics have always:

'underrated the level of proactive work already undertaken by the PCC'.

Why claim to be oh-so-proactive while at the same time trying to get survey results designed to say they shouldn't be?

As usual, this is another piece of PCC puff, another set of figures to wheel out when anyone dares to suggest the system doesn't work.

Yet the only people they seem to convince are themselves.

We should feel a little sad for Mail readers

Back on 8 April, the letters page of the Daily Mail included a debate about B&B owners and homosexual couples in the wake of comments by Chris Grayling.

Under the headline 'Was B&B ban on gays simply bigotry?' they published four letters, three of which supported a B&B-owning couple who refused to honour a booking by a gay couple.

'And I would say that's the majority feeling,' claimed John Garner from Cornwall.

But his intolerance was outdone by Yvonne Lacey from Rye in East Sussex, who wrote:

I have nothing at all against homosexuals: they are born gay and, if anything, we should feel a little sad for them.

Saturday 1 May 2010

Why do our young worship 'celebs'? asks pedlar of celeb crap

Why do our young worship 'celebs'? asks the Express on its front page today. That question comes just below a money-off offer for celeb magazine OK! and a picture of celeb Kerry Katona who hasn't actually been in the (serious) news recently. Or ever.

Why do our young worship 'celebs'?

The Express' proprietor is Richard Desmond, who also owns the Daily Star.

In the last week, the Daily Star's front pages lead stories have been about Kerry Katona, Jordan, Steven Gerrard and his wife, Jack Tweed, Kerry Katona, Jordan and (shock) Jordan.

Desmond also owns OK! Magazine, whose tagline is 'First for celebrity news'. You can get £1 off OK! with a voucher in today's Express. Northern and Shell, Desmond's company, says:

OK! now dominates the British celebrity market and is on its way to becoming first for celebrity news worldwide.

New! Magazine is also part of the Desmond stable and is also full of cheap celebrity gossip and is another waste of good trees. The current issue of New! has Katona, Jordan and Victoria Beckham on the front.

And then there's Star magazine, which is also owned by Desmond. Its website has the tagline 'The hottest celeb website!' (they like their exclamation marks, don't they?). The current issue has Jordan, Beckham and Cheryl Cole on the cover. Desmond's company website says:

Star readers look for exclusive, unposed pictures that show celebrities enjoying life to the full in their own environment... Star is building sales as young women desert more conventional women's magazines for a celebrity-based alternative.

Yes. Why do our young worship 'celebs'?