Tuesday 31 August 2010

PCC refuses to take on Sun over use of 'bender'

On 27 July, The Sun ran the headline 'Bender it like Beckham' over an article about Louie Spence attending a party thrown by the Beckhams.

The paper has also called Spence, among many other things, 'master mincer', 'camper than Christmas', 'fruity' and 'Louise' because it feels the need to highlight his homosexuality every time it writes about him, apparently.

But as No Rock and Roll Fun said at the time:

You can't throw a word like "bender" into a headline about a gay man. Not in a newspaper that still pretends it has any sort of standards. Homophobic name-calling isn't the same as a witty headline.

Two people complained to the Press Complaints Commission about the Sun's headline and one of them, James, has sent all his correspondence with the PCC to this blog.

James complained under Clause 12 of the Editor's Code of Practice which says:

The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

He argued that calling a gay man 'bender' was clearly pejorative.

The PCC's Administrator, Simon Yip, responded with a standard reply regarding so-called third party complaints:

I should emphasise that the PCC will normally only consider complaints from people who are directly affected by the matters about which they are concerned. Indeed, only in exceptional circumstances will the Commission consider a complaint from someone not directly involved. For the PCC to take this matter forward, we would generally require a complaint from Louie Spence or his representative.

In this instance, an initial examination of your case suggests that you are a third party to the complaint. However, if you believe our normal rules should be waived to allow us to take your case further (or if you do not consider yourself to be a third party in this matter) we would be grateful to hear from you in the next ten days.

James replied, pointing out that the use of the word 'bender' in this context affects many more people than just Spence:

I hope the PCC would see this language is not acceptable, see that there is a wider point of principle about the use of such terms and therefore take forward this complaint.

Yip replied:

We will now ask the Commission whether it wishes to waive its third party rules and take your complaint forward. If this is the case we will ask the editor to deal with your complaint.

After several weeks of silence, James asked the PCC what was happening. The reply he received from Complaints Officer Elizabeth Cobbe was unsurprising:

The Commission has now considered your complaint about an article in The Sun and decided that it was not possible, in the circumstances, to examine your complaint further under the Code of Practice.

As we pointed out to you in our earlier correspondence, the Commission usually deals only with complaints from those directly involved. On this occasion, it did not consider that it could waive its rules and investigate your third party complaint further. Its decision on this matter is attached.

Here's the PCC's decision in full:

The complainants expressed concern that the article was in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice as they considered that the headline “Bender it like Beckham” was offensive and homophobic.

Under the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination), newspapers must avoid making a prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s sexual orientation. While the Commission acknowledged that both complainants considered the article to be offensive on a personal level, it made clear that it generally only considers complaints from those directly affected by the matter about which they complained.

In this instance, it noted that the term “bender” had been used by the newspaper in direct reference to a particular individual, Louie Spence. The Commission considered that it would require the involvement of a party directly affected by the matter – be it Louie Spence or a person acting formally on his behalf – in order to establish that he considered the article to be discriminatory.

As the Commission had not received such a complaint, it was unable to comment on the matter further.

Is Louie Spence really the only person who is affected by the Sun referring to gay men as 'benders' and the only person who can say whether that term is discriminatory?

After all, a 2007 Stonewall report on homophobic bullying concluded:

Homophobic bullying is almost endemic in Britain's schools. Almost two thirds (65 per cent) of young lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying. Seventy five per cent of young gay people attending faith schools have experienced homophobic bullying...

Ninety seven per cent of pupils hear other insulting homophobic remarks, such as “poof”, “dyke”, “rug-muncher”, “queer” and “bender”. Over seven in ten gay pupils hear those phrases used often or frequently.

James did not think the Sun's use of the word could go unchallenged. And he feels the PCC have now helped legitimise this insult by not tackling the Sun over its use.

He told the PCC:

If the PCC can't hold the newspapers to account for publishing such derogatory terms and disgraceful name-calling as 'bender', I'm not sure who can. I think it is very regrettable that the PCC has felt unable to take a stand against this behaviour.

A couple of weeks ago, the Sun was subject to a complaint over its use of 'schizo'. The PCC accepted a pledge from the paper that it would use its 'best endeavours' not to repeat the word. Yet in that case, the PCC did accept a third-party complaint.

James wrote to the PCC:

It appears from the wording of this resolved complaint that the 'first party' in that case did not complain, only third parties did, and yet the Commission still went ahead to seek assurances from the Sun that it would not use the pejorative word 'schizo' again.

Could you explain why that case was different to this one?

Cobbe replied:

In the instance of Rethink, Shift and others v The Sun, the Commission has previously issued particular guidance regarding terminology when discussing mental health issues, with specific reference to the use of the term “schizo”. This can be found here.

When dealing with complaints regarding the description of mentally ill patients, it can often be difficult to obtain their permission. The Commission is, therefore, prepared to relax its third party rules in such instances. However, there does not appear to be a reason why Mr Spence would be unable to complain on his own behalf.

Given the earlier guidance note on reporting mental health it seems odd the PCC did not, therefore, come down harder on the Sun rather than just accept its 'best endeavours' over 'schizo'. It is this type of inconsistency which does the PCC few favours.

At the very least the PCC should have tried to extract a 'best endeavours' pledge from the Sun over the use of 'bender'.

The PCC should have set aside their third-party rule for this case, as they will in other cases, when it suits them.

If this was a complaint on some matter of accuracy, then it is not unreasonable to prioritise a first-party complaint.

But the complaint made by James was essentially asking the PCC to say whether, as a point of principle, it considered 'bender' pejorative and discriminatory.

The PCC decided it didn't want to answer.

Hopefully Clare Balding's first party complaint about the Sunday Times' use of 'dyke' will fare better...

Sorry we said you were a fraudster

An apology from the Mail on Sunday:

Mr Alan Scott

On December 27, 2009, we reported that a Mr Alan Scott, an electrical engineer from North Shields and former chief executive of a company called Alternative Diesel Investments, had admitted charges of fraud at Ipswich Crown Court.

We have been asked to point out that this person's correct full name is Robert Allan Scott, from Newmarket, Suffolk, and is entirely different and unrelated to Alan Scott, managing director of the Sunderland-based Renewable Fuels and Plastics Ltd.

We apologise for any difficulties this may have caused for Mr Alan Scott and his company.

Monday 30 August 2010


The latest migration figures have, predictably, led to a flurry of newspaper articles, not all of them entirely accurate.

Exclarotive looks at a misleading Mail headline while Five Chinese Crackers looks at the article that followed. He has also written two posts looking into claims about England's population density and an earlier piece in the Mail linking immigration to crime.

The discovery of the body of spy Gareth Williams has led to a lot of guesswork from journalists. Minority Thought looks at some of the speculation from the Sun ('it was al-Qaeda') and the Mail, while Primly Stable 'learns' that Williams:

was stabbed, poisoned and strangled to death by a gay-slaying Al-Qaeda agent who was a colleague and a friend and police fear that secrets that were not stolen from his flat could be sold to Britain's enemies.

It's not surprising that Williams' uncle criticised the speculation:

"When you have these rumours in the papers, it is most distressing. It is heartbreaking that he has died so young and his family have enough on their plate without having to read these stories.

"Gareth's parents are not doing well at all. They are in a state of shock and struggling to come to terms with what has happened. They have seen what has been in the papers and they are very, very upset about these untruths."

Unfortunately, as with the Stephen Griffiths case in May, the media seems to relish spreading lurid gossip rather than sticking to the facts.

Indeed, Matt Lucas has launched a legal action against the Daily Mail for an intrusive and untrue article about the death of his former civil partner Kevin McGee:

Lucas contends that close relatives and friends quoted in the story did not make the statements attributed to them and that much of the information was false.

The story claimed Lucas was planning to have a big birthday party. According to the writ, Lucas had already told friends and family he would not celebrate his birthday this year and was out of the country at the time.

The writ said Lucas was particularly distressed by allegations that he blamed himself for McGee’s death and was hosting a party to “let go of the pain”. Both claims were untrue, it said.

Lucas, who instructed London law firm Schillings to act on his behalf, said Associated Newspapers, owner of the Mail, had refused to apologise or accept the story should not have been published.

Meanwhile, the Mirror, Mail and Express have been making exaggerated claims about grapefruit, as Minority Thought reports. The Express' headline stated 'Eat grapefruit to fight off diabetes' although Jo Willey's article later admitted:

to get the beneficial effect, someone would need to eat 400 grapefruits in one sitting.

Moreover, NHS Behind the Headlines pointed out that:

consuming too much grapefruit can interfere with people’s drug treatment and cause harmful effects.

While the Express loves miracle cure stories, the Mail website loves articles pointing out a famous person has lost/gained too much weight. The paper asks today 'Why ARE women so unhappy in their own skin?' (own?). Maybe some of their recent articles, as highlighted by Angry Mob, are to blame?

At Enemies of Reason, Anton has written three posts about mental health. While the Sun has tried to avoid 'bonkers' by using 'zany', 'weird' and 'wacky' instead, the Star has no such qualms about using the word, splashing it all over the front page.

Also from Anton, a post about a Sun front page story reporting a crocodile sighting in the English Channel. Having written two sensationalist articles about the 'killer croc' the Sun should have admitted that it was, in fact, a piece of wood. But it appears to have forgotten to set the record straight.

It's not the only bit of forgetfulness from a Murdoch-owned paper. George Eaton at New Statesman explains how The Times' readers might not have seen the criticisms of Sky from BBC Director-General Mark Thompson during his speech at the Edinburgh Festival because of the paper's selective, partial reporting.

Thursday 26 August 2010

You wouldn't be able to tell that Littlejohn is a highly-paid journalist

This blog has avoided detailed mention of Richard Littlejohn for a while, but his column on Tuesday was too bone-headed and obnoxious to ignore.

Here's one of his absolutely side-splitting attempts at humour:

Coalition is the new majority. In Australia, where neither of the two main parties won enough seats to form a government, the next Prime Minister is going to have to rely on the support on a handful of eccentrics from the Outback.

The future of Upside Down Land appears to depend on a swagman, Crocodile Dundee and Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.

Makes the Lib Dems seem almost sensible, doesn't it?

'Upside Down Land' and decades-old cultural references? Cutting edge satire, isn't it?

But his main focus was on a HM Revenue and Customs booklet called 'Taxes and Benefits: Information for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers'. It's not hard to work out why he'd be writing about this.

So which of his (alleged) journalistic skills did he use to find out about this publication? A Freedom of Information request? Hours of detailed research? Err, not quite:

My copy was forwarded by an Essex-based, Daily Mail-reading accountant, who was lost for words when he received it.


Littlejohn links the publication of this booklet to the case of Christine Timbrell, thus managing to crowbar in the obligatory use of 'yuman rights'.

He writes:

This was a landmark case, which could affect several hundred people every year and cost taxpayers millions of pounds. It has prompted the Government to overhaul the services it provides not just to transsexuals but also other sexual minorities.

Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, in conjunction with the Department of Work and Pensions, has published a glossy guide containing 'information for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers'.

In fact, that ruling and this booklet are not related. If he'd bothered to turn to the back page, he would see it says:

Issued by HM Revenue & Customs
June 2009

Ah. It's not the only time this week the Mail has been writing about year-old 'stories' as if they're new.

Somewhat bizarrely, he admits that such a publication might be necessary:

I can understand the Revenue might want to publish a pamphlet on the tax implications of civil partnerships. That is only right and proper.

It's a strange admission, given he's written over 800 words belittling the booklet, the organisations that produced it and everyone who might find the information useful.

Indeed, only one sentence later he asks:

...why go to all this trouble?...in what other ways do the tax affairs of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered differ from anyone else?

Because there are 'tax implications of civil partnerships', maybe?

If Littlejohn had bothered to actually read the six relevant pages of the book he'd been sent, he'd see information mainly for people in civil partnerships and same sex relationships about tax credits, capital gains tax, pensions, inheritance tax, National Insurance and income tax.

The booklet is doing exactly what Littlejohn thinks is 'right and proper'. So what's the problem?

Well, it's all diversity and political correctness gone mad, innit:

The job of HMRC is to collect taxes. Full stop. It doesn't exist to further the cause of social engineering and 'diversity'.

Actually, the job of HMRC isn't just to collect taxes.

But quite how telling people about inheritance tax thresholds amounts to 'social engineering' isn't clear. Presumably he doesn't think it's 'social engineering' when the same information is giving to people in heterosexual relationships.

Last week, there was an actual new news story about the treatment of minority groups by some staff at HMRC:

Seven Revenue and Customs staff have been sacked for deliberately under-paying benefits to ethnic minorities.

It follows an internal investigation into nine men based at the HM Revenue and Customs call centre in Belfast.

Two resigned after it began and seven were dismissed on Tuesday.

They are believed to have tampered with computer records to ensure ethnic minorities living across the UK did not receive the benefits they were entitled to. All have now been fully reimbursed.

He would have seen this story in the Mail, where 'ethnic minorities' became the rather more inflammatory 'non-nationals' (the Mail's article was churned from PA). But he wouldn't want to talk about that, would he?

He goes on:

Of course, all taxpayers should be treated courteously and efficiently, regardless of their race, gender, religion or sexual proclivity. But that's no excuse for this kind of expensive, time-wasting gesture politics...

So it's gone from 'right and proper' to 'expensive, time-wasting gesture politics' within a few paragraphs. And he's not done yet:

Try to imagine all the time and money wasted - not just in Whitehall but throughout local government, the police and the NHS - on this type of fatuous nonsense...

HMRC had no need to produce this glossy brochure simply to address the sensibilities of transssexuals.

As he well knows, this wasn't 'simply' produced for transsexuals, but by targeting them it makes easier for Littlejohn to rile up his readers.

But his reason for making that last statement was just so he could show what a 'wit' he is with this nasty little gibe:

HMRC had no need to produce this glossy brochure simply to address the sensibilities of transssexuals. All it had to do was ensure that all letters sent out by inspectors continue to be addressed: 'Dear Sir/Madam...'

And it's not just transsexuals he's desperately trying to belittle:

There is also a picture of someone who may or may not be a transsexual. Difficult to tell. Could be bisexual, I suppose. Who knows? It's just been revealed that the actress Vivien Leigh was bisexual, though you wouldn't have been able to tell just from looking at her.

It's also been claimed that Richard Littlejohn is a 'journalist', though you wouldn't be able to tell just from reading the drivel he writes.

You wouldn't know she was bisexual just from looking at her. What an enlightening remark that is.

When he wrote about Chris Huhne's affair with Carina Trimingham in June, he said:

I recognised her from the days we both used to work for Sky News.

Funny, I thought to myself, I always had her marked down as a lesbian....

If you asked a cartoonist to draw a comedy lesbian from central casting, Carina Trimingham is what you'd get - all spiky haircut and Doc Martens.

And he's got another group he wants to use his national newspaper column to pick on too:

Intersex? Nope. Me neither.

Littlejohn clearly thinks this is funny. As he did when he said much the same thing in 2009:

...intersexuals (whatever the hell they are)...

And in July 2010:

...intersexuals - whatever they are...

We know Littlejohn rarely does research, but it's extremely doubtful he doesn't know what an intersexual is.

But, as Angry Mob has written, it's his need to dehumanise people that makes it easier for him to insult them.

Deriding people who aren't like him is Littlejohn's default position. On Tuesday, it was the LGBT community that bore the brunt of his snide remarks, on the basis of a fourteen-month old leaflet he thought was 'right and proper'. Who will it be next time?

(Hat-tip to 5CC)

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Making a meal of a Cornish Pasty

It's surprising that this 'EU and their crazy regulations' story from the Telegraph didn't get picked up by other papers:

Martin Beckford's article says:

The European Commission is drawing up guidelines on the permitted ingredients of the traditional West Country lunch, so that it can be given the same protected status as other regional specialties such as Melton Mowbray pork pies.

Officials have decreed that only minced or diced beef, sliced potato, onion and swede are allowed to fill the pastry.

Baffling judgements and official decrees are the stuff of much EU reporting.

So what does the Cornish Pasty Association have to say about this EU meddling?

Following some press coverage over the past few days, the Cornish Pasty Association can confirm that the European Commission (EC) does not dictate ingredients or names of ingredients for products seeking EU protected status.

Products from the UK looking to get protected status prepare their applications stipulating the criteria, description and recipe of their food products. The EC will evaluate the applications once they are revised by Defra. The EC will provide the final approval on any particular product.

The Cornish Pasty Association has applied for Protected Geographical Indication to request that only Cornish pasties made in Cornwall and to the traditional recipe and manner are called Cornish pasties.

A joint letter to the Telegraph from the Cornish Pasty Association and the EU Representative in the UK says Beckford's article 'whilst amusing is inaccurate'.

Mail keeps PCC and ASA busy

The PCC has published details of another apology printed by the Daily Mail:

On March 28 an article headed ‘The £450m Rothschild heiress and the ex-crack addict scriptwriter...’ referred to Sacha Gervasi, the award-winning film director, screenwriter and producer.

In fact, Mr Gervasi was never addicted to crack cocaine and never had a £200-a-day drug habit.

He met Ms Jessica de Rothschild at a stage premiere and not through pitching a film idea to her production company.

Their families are not concerned about the relationship. We apologise for any embarrassment caused.

Looking through the list of recently resolved cases on the PCC website, it seems that once again the Mail, plus its Sunday and Scottish editions are still responsible for a vast number of complaints. Of the last 30 'resolved cases', 10 are complaints about a Mail title and five are about the Sun or News of the World.

No other publication has more than two.

Yet Paul Dacre, Editor-in-Chief at the Mail, is still Chair of the Editor's Code Committee, which oversees the Code of Practice.

And it's not just the PCC that has to deal with them. Today the Advertising Standards Agency ruled a Daily Mail promotion for £15 holidays breached clauses on 'substantiation' and 'truthfulness'. On three counts, they found the Mail had been 'misleading'.

Like the PCC, the ASA doesn't have any meaningful powers of punishment, so the Mail has been told not to run the advert again. But since the offer ends on 10 September, it was never likely to anyway.

That'll teach them.

Monday 23 August 2010

Mail caught out (again) copying year -old story from BBC

Yesterday afternoon, this article appeared on the Daily Mail website:

It was odd timing because this actually happened in May 2009. So why was the Mail running it now?

Martin Robbins explains:

On May 21st 2009, an article was posted on the BBC about an attack on the file-sharing site Youtube...

For some reason, this old article became one of the “Most Read” items on the BBC website [yesterday]...

Then, in a bizarre coincidence blatant piece of plagiarism, the Daily Mail ran the exact same story (mirror) from May 2009, lifting text and quotes straight from the BBC article.

He then shows how closely 'Daily Mail Reporter' copied-and-pasted the BBC article, making only the most basic attempts at changing a few words here and there.

Martin adds:

The Daily Mail waste no opportunity to take a dig at the BBC, and yet apparently they find their content good enough to repost at DailyMail.co.uk, even when it’s more than a year out of date (H/T to @jaffathecake)...

Almost inevitably, the Mail article now seems to have been taken down, with no question of acknowledging the ‘mistake’...

What I do find disgusting is that an organ that constantly harps on about the integrity of others – including notably the BBC – doesn’t have the honesty or decency to own up to the fact that this even happened. Instead, its editors prefer to rewrite history in the hope that noone will ever notice.

Moreover, it's not the first time the Mail has been caught out in this way. A BBC article from October 2008 about Welsh road signs suddenly appeared on the Mail website in March this year after making the BBC's 'Most read' list.

In July, Mail editor Paul Dacre said:

Britain's newspapers are infinitely better behaved than they were two decades ago. Yes, the industry can do more to improve standards. We will rise to our challenge.


(Hat-tips to Lindsay and Graeme for emailing about the Mail's YouTube article, and for the screenshot)

Saturday 21 August 2010

Finding a British angle

The Telegraph's Matthew Moore says:

Daily Mail takes its obsession with finding British angle to all foreign tragedies to a baffling extreme.


Thin stuff. And the article even says:

He appeared to be taking particular aim at the man in the England jersey.

But, despite the phrase 'like a red rag to a bull', the animals are actually colour blind. When a matador waves his red cape in the ring, it is the movement, not the colour, that attracts the creature.


The animal had already tried to jump into the stands twice.

'Is THIS the red rag that set the bull off'?


Thursday 19 August 2010

Five Star

The Daily Star is well known for writing sensationalist but untrue stories about celebs, computer games, films, immigration, Islam, reality TV, the McCanns, volcanic ash clouds and much more besides.

But it's not all made-up crap.

In the last month, the Star has become notable for one other type of story too - the puff piece for Channel Five:

Obviously this is absolutely unconnected to the fact that the Star's owner, Richard Desmond, recently bought Channel Five.

A year ago, Desmond lost (yes, lost) his libel case against Tom Bower. While giving evidence, he said, under oath, somewhat surprisingly, that:

'I give no orders on the editorial. The editor decides what goes in the papers.'

Presumably, the lack of Star articles about Channel Five's ratings, programmes and presenters before Desmond bought the channel is mere coincidence.

MediaMonkey noted on 27 July that the Star's TV critic Mike Ward seemed to have started noticing Channel Five programmes rather more:

...his "What's hot to watch today" column in today's paper features no fewer than four Five programmes out of a total of six recommended: Neighbours and three episodes from CSI and franchises, one of which is at least four years old.

And it wasn't just the Star:

Over at the Express, meanwhile, Ward's opposite number Matt Baylis reflects on last night's TV, penning a lengthy piece in praise of Neighbours, above a fact box detailing several things you might not have known about one of its former stars, Stefan Dennis.

And it wasn't just that day.

On 28 July, three of Ward's five recommendations were on Channel Five. On 30 July it was four out of six. On 6 August three of six. And on 12 August, Baylis was praising Neighbours again.

Of course, Desmond's lot aren't the only ones playing this game - the Sun praises Sky while Sky News tries to avoid debate about phone-hacking at the News of the World.

It is tiresome and obvious. But, sadly, it seems inevitable that such cross-media promotion follows cross-media ownership.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

A disgrace

The Express' front page for Thursday:

More on this once the story gets posted in the morning. But the use of the word 'rob' is clearly hugely problematic and exceptionally inflammatory.

For now, a reminder of what the PCC's guidance note on reporting on immigration says:

Similarly, the Commission – in previous adjudications under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code – has underlined the danger that inaccurate, misleading or distorted reporting may generate an atmosphere of fear and hostility that is not borne out by the facts.

UPDATE: Inevitably, the Express' article (and editorial) was based on (copied and pasted from) a Migrationwatch briefing paper. Sarah Mulley has explained 'Why Migrationwatch is wrong' in a blogpost for New Statesman.

Sunday Express blurs line between advertising and editorial

In August 2009, the Express was censured by the Advertising Standards Authority for passing off advertising as editorial.

And it was told off four times. In one week.

Yet Roy Greenslade thinks he's spotted the Sunday Express doing a similar thing:

The Sunday Express ran a two-page spread yesterday for HomeSun, the solar electricity company. It offered readers the chance to have a free solar system installed in their house. At the top of both pages, headlined "Solar so good... with HomeSun", there was a clear label very properly stating that it was an "advertising feature".

But readers who turned on a couple of pages would then have found a "news story", 'Give yourself a warm glow' that was a virtual re-run of the advertising content.
It was little more than a puff for the offer, with approving quotes from a HomeSun spokeswoman and the company's chief executive.

The ASA, like the PCC, don't have any particularly meaningful powers of punishment, however, which probably explains why it keeps happening.

Journalism Warning Labels

Tom Scott, whose website biography mentions he 'once got five gold runs on Blockbusters', has created some much needed 'Journalism Warning Labels' in order to make newspaper reading 'that much safer'.

They include:

  • This article is basically just a press release, copied and pasted;
  • Journalist hiding their own opinions by using phrases like 'some people claim';
  • This article contains unsourced, unverified information from Wikipedia; and
  • Includes content written by Richard Littlejohn.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Sorry we said that was you

The Daily Star have published an apology today for an article printed yesterday about British high jumper Stephanie Pywell. The Star claimed Pywell has been photographed (drunk, presumably) outside a London nightclub.

Just one problem: once again, the Star hadn't checked the accuracy of the story before publication.

Because the woman in the picture wasn't Ms Pywell:

Our article yesterday “The Olympic Boozathon” reported that high jumper Stephanie Pywell, correctly shown left, was pictured outside a London nightclub.

We are happy to make clear that the picture which was supplied to the Daily Star by an agency is not of Stephanie and apologise for any embarrassment we may have caused to her.

Saturday 14 August 2010

Littlejohn jokes about suicide

A few days ago, details emerged of a complaint against the Sun and its use of the word 'schizo'.

As if to prove shoddy journalism around mental health issues isn't confined to just one paper, here's Richard Littlejohn making jokes about suicide last Tuesday:

Fourteen workers at the Chinese factory that makes iPhones have committed suicide.

In Britain, elf ’n’ safety would have closed the plant for years while the windows were hermetically sealed; every employee would be given compulsory counselling and issued with hard-hats and hi-viz protective clothing. Blame Direct would be pumping out claims for com-pen-say-shun.

The Chinese have come up with a simpler solution, which keeps the production lines running. They have rigged up giant nets to stop workers jumping to their deaths.

Back of the net!

More on Tuesday's Littlejohn column from 5CC and Minority Thought.

The Sun barks up the wrong tree

Hat-tip to blogger Tim Fenton who spotted this apology on page two of Thursday's Sun:

We reported on Saturday that Wayne Rooney was spending £10,000 on under floor heating for luxury dog kennels at his Cheshire home.

In fact, there are no dog kennels at his home and thus no under floor heating has been installed. We apologise for the mistake.

Friday 13 August 2010

An Express clock-up

Today's Express front page leads on the launch of a new 'crusade'.

It is a campaign about one of the big issues of the day.

Well, not really - it's a crusade to stop the clocks being put back an hour this autumn:

Here's the start of Martyn Brown's article:

The Daily Express today launches a crusade to stop Britain being plunged into early evening darkness every autumn.

The Time for Change Crusade would give us an extra hour of daylight in the evening all year.

Prime Minister David Cameron said last night he would “look at” whether Britain should turn the clocks back each year.

The Daily Express is calling on the Government to move UK time forward by an hour permanently, bringing the country into line with much of the rest of Europe.

Our crusade has already won the backing of politicians and campaigners who say longer, brighter evenings would make roads safer.

He goes on to list a small number of people and organisations who back the plan.

But another paper had a slightly different take on the issue:

David Cameron sparked fury yesterday as he agreed to consider plans to move Britain’s clocks forward by an hour all-year round.

Ah, 'fury'. Where would the tabloids be without it?

The article continues:

English MPs want the Prime Minister to introduce British Summer Time throughout the year to give families one hour more of daylight in the evenings.

But most Scots are firmly opposed as they fear children would travel to school in darker mornings throughout much of the winter, risking more traffic accidents. Tourism chiefs south of the Border back the move to bring Britain into line with most of continental Europe, saying it would boost the leisure industry...

...the move remains strongly resisted in Scotland, where it would mean that in winter, the sun would not rise until almost 10am.

The journalist, Paul Gilbride, goes on to quote a number of people opposed to the plan, including the Scottish government.

And where does Gilbride's article appear?

Err, the front page of the Scottish Daily Express:

No wonder he blames 'English MPs' for wanting the change and forgets to mention the 'crusade' by a certain newspaper...

(Hat-tips to Adam Bell and Duncan Stott for the story, and Bryan McComb for the pic of the front page)

Thursday 12 August 2010

'Best endeavours'

The Sun, responsible for the infamous 'Bonkers Bruno' front page headline several years ago, has got in trouble again for its coverage of mental health issues.

From the PCC website:

Various individuals and organisations (including Rethink and Shift) complained that the newspaper had used the word 'Schizo' in reference to a patient suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. The complainants said this was a pejorative and discriminatory description of the patient's mental illness.

Surely a breach of Clause 12 of the Editor's Code of Conduct? It says:

12. Discrimination
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

But the PCC haven't ruled against the Sun. Oh no. Instead, they've got this less-than-cast-iron assurance:

The matter was resolved when the newspaper agreed that it would use its best endeavours not to use the term 'schizo' in the future.

No doubt the paper is terrified of what the PCC will do if they use the term again in the future.

Incidentally, searching the Sun's website for articles containing 'schizo' finds 14 results, dating back three years.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

'Our story was based on an item from another newspaper'

The Press Complaints Commission have only just published details of a clarification the Metro ran on 20 July.

It's not clear why there has been this delay, but ideally the PCC should be posting these notices online on the day the apology or clarification is published.

Here's the complaint:

Miss Adele Brand complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article had inaccurately stated that experts believed urban fox numbers to have quadrupled since 2007. She said that population trends are not a matter of opinion; rather, such information was scientific fact which could only be corroborated by appropriate survey techniques.

She added that the leading scientific experts on the matter at the University of Bristol had conducted research indicating that fox numbers have generally remained constant over the last decade.

And here's the Metro's clarification:

An online article of 11 June stated that experts have warned of a quadrupling of urban fox numbers since 2007.

Such a claim was not supported by the text.

We would make clear that our story was based on an item from another newspaper, which quoted the chairman of the National Pest Technicians Association reporting a rise in the number of calls regarding urban foxes.

We are not aware of the official statistics, but have been asked to point out that there is scientific data showing that fox numbers have remained constant.

In other words: 'we copied it from somewhere else and didn't bother to check it out before publication'.

'Wanky Balls'

Last Saturday's Independent included a report on the Big Chill festival which, it claimed with a straight face:

was founded in 1994 as the Wanky Balls festival in north London.

And where did the paper get that startling bit of knowledge from?

The Big Chill's page on Wikipedia. Oh dear.

As Kat Arney - who spotted the error - said in her blogpost yesterday:

Looks like someone’s been having a bit of childish fun editing the page – and also that someone at the Independent should check their facts a bit better.

Monday 9 August 2010

Immigration story slips into Express unchecked

On 4 August, the Express ran this box-ticking headline:

Immigration? Check. Illegal immigrants on the loose? Check. Open borders? Check. Police can't do their job because of political correctness? Check.

But that headline is misleading for two reasons.

Firstly, the report in question was not about 'illegal immigrants' slipping in 'unchecked' but about what happens in custody suites when the police arrest foreign nationals.

Secondly, racism is only mentioned once in the whole 33 page report.

What is immediately notable about Martyn Brown's article is that it doesn't include a single direct quote from the Home Office's Determining Identity and Nationality in Local Policing report and so nothing that backs up his opening assertion that:

Thousands of illegal immigrants are routinely freed instead of deported because police fear they will be branded racist if they question a suspect’s nationality.

It's also important to note that the report was based on evidence collected from 14 custody suites in 2006-7 and makes clear:

since then the police and the UK Border Agency have implemented a range of actions designed to improve the practices involved in checking the nationality and migrant status of arrestees.

The Express includes a quote to that effect as the last line of their article - online, it is separated from the rest of the story by a conveniently placed search bar - but the headline and opening paragraphs strongly suggest that this is the situation now.

The report also adds:

The introduction of enhanced checking processes led to a marked increase in both the level of checks undertaken in each pilot site, and in the number of IMs or SIMs identified.

The number of individuals who had their details checked by the UK Border Agency across the four pilot sites increased by over 400 per cent, from 129 checks in the three months prior to the pilots to 650 checks in total across the four sites during the pilots.

So does the 'racism' claim stand up? Well, it certainly is mentioned in the report as one of:

a number of circumstances that could result in officers failing to check an individual’s status effectively, either before or after arrest.

But the Express doesn't point out it is only one of seven reasons, and doesn't mention the other six. Here they are:

  • An arrestee being perceived as compliant or nonconfrontational.
  • An arrestee who was familiar to officers through repeated encounters over a period of years was (at times wrongly) assumed to have a legitimate immigration status.
  • An arrestee’s details had previously been taken and logged on the PNC. Generally, these details were accepted, unless there was substantive evidence to hand to cast doubt on the accuracy of the record.
  • Arrestees who looked like they belonged to a well established local ethnic minority or FN population could escape scrutiny.
  • In some sites there was a marked reluctance to challenge arrestees who claimed to be British, even though officers suspected that the claims might be false. This reluctance was commonly ascribed to the fear that any such challenge could result in an accusation of racism.
  • There was some confusion over which nations currently constituted the EEA or the EU. In the majority of sites, claims to EEA citizenship were not challenged.
  • Officers were often unable to form a sound judgement about the likely credibility of identity or travel documentation presented to them, and did not always initiate further checks when appropriate.

So there were many reasons why police checks on foreign nationals in custody were not always as comprehensive as they should have been.

But in some places, four years ago, some police were worried they might be accused of racism if they questioned an arrestee who claimed to be British.

Yet the Express turns that into 'Illegal immigrants slip in unchecked as police fear charges of racism' and 'politically correct regulations' (whatever they are) leading to 'thousands of illegal immigrants' strolling free.

Star publishes front page apology for front page story

On Saturday, the Daily Star ran this front page lead:

The article claimed:

Telly babe Christine Bleakley has set her heart on marrying football ace Frank Lampard on an Italian-style gondola in Las Vegas.

The lovestruck pair checked out marriage packages during a recent hush-hush trip to the gambling city before Frank returned to pre-season Premier League training with Chelsea.

Sources claimed the “head-over-heels” couple stayed at the huge Venetian hotel, which has more than 4,000 suites.

But it seems they didn't check the accuracy of this story before publication either because today, the paper ran this apology:

Frank Lampard and Christine Bleakley have no intention to get married at this time.

They did not travel to Las Vegas to make arrangements for a wedding as we reported on Saturday.

We apologise for any embarrassment this may have casued to Frank and Christine and their families.

So another of the Star's front page 'celebrity' stories based on anonymous sources turns out not to be true. Who'd have thought?

Yet not only have they corrected the story very swiftly, they've printed that apology on the front page:

No, it doesn't have the prominence of the original, but it's better than this feeble effort.

It's almost certain that the high profile of Lampard and Bleakley have played a big part in both the speed and position of this correction.

But it shows front page apologies can be (and indeed, should be) published for front page stories and the Star should be congratulated for that.

However, at time of writing, the original article is still on their website and the apology isn't.

Moreover, if the Star didn't write so much crap on the front of their paper in the first place, then such apologies wouldn't be necessary.

(Hat-tip to Conradder and Anton)

Sunday 8 August 2010

What will Star readers say?

On the day the Daily Star published its misleading story about halal meals for schoolchildren, they also ran this phone poll:

If anyone has the result of this poll, please do post it in the comments.

News that doesn't fit the agenda

Yesterday, the BBC reported:

A Muslim group has opened what it calls the UK's first summer camp against terrorism.

The three-day event in Coventry is expected to see more than 1,000 young Muslims at sessions teaching religious arguments to use against extremists.

The event has been organised by the Minhaj ul-Quran to promote a fatwa, or religious ruling, against terrorism by its leader Dr Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri.

Dr Qadri launched the fatwa in London in March.

Opening the summer camp, Dr Qadri told the audience - predominantly made up of British Muslims - to reject al-Qaeda and its "cancer" that was spreading through their faith.

He told them to embrace being British and do all that they could to build a safe and secure society by using sound theological arguments to confront any extremists that they meet.

The populist Pakistani cleric's 600-page theological study is billed by his followers as the most comprehensive and clear denunciation of the arguments deployed by jihadists to justify violence including suicide bombings and the targeting of civilians.

At time of writing, the Mail, Express, Sun and Star have failed to produce a single article about the event.

Saturday 7 August 2010


As it's silly season, the Sun has been running far too many stories about an abseiling donkey. The paper claimed to have saved the animal by buying it from its owner. But MediaGuardian reports that the owner says the Sun bought the wrong donkey.

Could it be a re-run of the Sun's ludicrous Newquay shark hoax from 2007?

Meanwhile, the influence of the tabloids has been shown by several instances where stories have been repeated by people in positions of power. So:

Following on from the Mail's misleading article about a path on Snowdon, Minority Thought looks at changes to some stepping stones in Derbyshire that the Mail calls an 'elf'n'safety step too far'.

Also from Minority Thought, posts about hymen repair operations and Richard Littlejohn complaining about swine flu scaremongering, conveniently forgetting the coverage in the paper he works for.

Exclarotive has looked at Littlejohn's claim about something being banned because of human rights - and finds there's no such ban.

And Jonathan looks at some of Littlejohn's word games, and also shows how the Mail changed a misleading, reader-baiting, headline about immigration, benefits and jobs.

Angry Mob shows that the Mail thinks that tombstoning is 'madness' and 'dangerous' unless the person doing it is a plucky 75-year-old ex-Army Major.

Blogger Fagburn wonders if pop singer Joe McElderry had come out in 'exclusive' interviews for the Sun and, er, Mirror because a kiss-and-tell story was about to out him anyway.

Finally, the News of the World have paid out damages to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie over claims they were divorcing.

Friday 6 August 2010

When 'forcing' means 'optional'

While today's Express front page leads on Romanian immigrants taking British jobs, Richard Desmond other paper concentrates on Islam:

The wording of the headline strongly suggests that, according to the Star, 'Brit kids' are not Muslims', and that Muslims aren't really British. The Star have often made this point about 'us and them', with 'them' being Muslims:

or immigrants:

Anyway, back to the - ahem - meat of today's story:

Brit kids forced to eat halal school dinners

Furious parents last night hit out at plans to serve halal-only school dinners.

Pupils will have no option but to eat meat slaughtered following Islamic teachings specifically for Muslims.

Use of words such as 'forced' and 'have no option' feed into the tabloid narrative about 'Britain' changing only because of them Muslims.

But the BBC version of the same story has a rather different take on how much this is going to be 'forced' on people:

A north London council is offering its primary schools the chance to serve only halal meat on its menus.

Nine Harrow secondary schools already provide pupils with meat prepared according to Islamic law in a scheme that has been running for two years.

Harrow Council said it had received "no complaints" about serving halal-only meat, with vegetarian and fish options.

Now 52 primary schools in the area will have the option of taking part in the same programme.

Harrow councillor Brian Gate said it would be the choice of individual schools as to whether or not they chose to use catering firm Harrison Catering Services, which serves halal-only meat.

"The decision about whether to use an individual provider is for schools to make, as the funding is delegated to them," Councillor Gate said.

So the schools can use a catering company that provides halal meat if they want or they can choose another firm altogether. (And presumably, kids still have the option of taking packed lunches.)

Yet the Star maintains:

all high schools in the London borough of Harrow have been told to provide only halal meat on menus.

Even the Mail, after covering all the usual 'fury' and 'outrage', admits:

The contract for providing meals to Harrow primaries is up for renewal and the council is planning to bring in Harrison's.

The council says primaries do not have to use its preferred caterer and governors are free to negotiate their own deals if they wish. Only two primaries have so far signed up.

And the local Harrow Observer, which originally broke the story, said:

Harrow Council has employed a catering company to only prepare Halal meat – to serve youngsters in Harrow.

Primary schools are free to opt in to the programme or look elsewhere for their meals

Star hack Gary Nicks fails to mention that it is optional anywhere in the article, thus leaving the completely false impression that it is being 'forced' on pupils.

It doesn't take much to work out why, especially coming so soon after false stories about 'Muslim-only toilets' and the swimming pool 'blacked out' for Muslims.

UPDATE: Harrow Council have issued a statement, in order to counter the false stories. They say:

It is simply not correct that Harrow Council is insisting that its schools serve only Halal meat.

The schools are in full control of decisions relating to school meals and are free to choose who provides this service.

Tuesday 3 August 2010

5CC reviews Littlejohn

Five Chinese Crackers is a brave soul - he's just read Richard Littlejohn's 'novel' To Hell in a Handcart.

But it was worth it as he's written an excellent deconstruction of the book, which comes in not one, not two, but three parts (plus an intro).