Thursday 30 September 2010

New contender for 'most pointless Mail website article'

Woman eats dessert (or 'desert', as Daily Mail Reporter says):

Previous pointlessness here.

(via @StopDailyMail)

Sorry we said that was you (cont.)

Another complaint about the Daily Mail:

Ms Anna Begum complained to the Press Complaints Commission through Edwards Duthie Solicitors of London that an article which referred to claims of sexual harassment at the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) was inaccurate, misleading and intrusive, particularly in regard to the use of her photograph without consent. In fact, the complainant had never worked at the ODA and was not the woman in question.

And here's what the paper published a few weeks ago:

This picture accompanying an article concerning the Olympics (November 7 2009) mistakenly showed the wrong woman. We are happy to clarify that the Anna Begum pictured had no connection with this story and we apologise to Ms Begum for the distress and embarrassment caused.

Oh dear.

Hopefully the ten-month gap between publication and apology was because Ms Begum had not seen the photo straight away, and was not more needless feet-dragging by the Mail when faced with a complaint.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

EU accused over changes to chocolate wrappers

Is it news when a few words are changed on the packaging of a chocolate bar?

Apparently so, because the BBC, Mail, Sun and others have all reported that Cadbury have removed the words 'glass and a half' from its Dairy Milk wrappers.

But, according to these reports, it's not just a decision Cadbury have taken - it has been 'forced' on them by (you guessed it) the EU. Here's the Mail's headline:

Yet an earlier Mail article, on the same subject but without the focus on the EU, had a rather different headline:

The articles all quote a Cadbury spokesman who says:

"Because EU regulations state that by 2010 all weights and measures on packs must be in metric, given our long run times we felt it was sensible to make that change."

But he also makes clear that the slogan has not been 'dropped' or 'axed' - it will still be used in advertising and the image of a 'glass and a half' of milk pouring into the Dairy Milk will still adorn the wrapper.

Moreover, the articles then quote Andy Foster from the Trading Standards Institute, who says the EU rules don't apply:

"The Cadbury slogan is well known by consumers and should not be confused or caught up with food labelling laws."

He said the slogan was not part of the ingredients list, and so was not affected by rules regarding food labelling.

"Therefore the Trading Standards Institute would have no objection to the continued use of the famous slogan unless it was considered misleading by consumers," he said.

So why are some of these journalists and headline writers trying to imply something different at the start of their articles, when that is contradicted later in the same article?

Perhaps a clue to why the words were actually removed from the back of the wrapper is in another thing the Cadbury spokesman says:

'It was a bit ridiculous to have it there, as we don’t sell half pound bars any more – they are 200 grams.'

The more cynical might remember that on Monday, the papers reported that Cadbury had ditched the idea of using cardboard containers for Roses and so the usual tins would remain.

Together, these two stories have given Cadbury a lot of free publicity, with lots of pics of their products in lots of newspapers.

How convenient.

(While writing the above, Minority Thought has published a post on the same subject)

UPDATE: The European Commission Representation in the UK have written the following letter to the Mail:

Your headline “EU forces Cadbury to axe its glass and a half slogan” is completely inaccurate. EU measurement regulations have in no way, shape or form forced Cadbury to drop its famous phrase. Indeed, it is clear from Mr Poulter’s article that Cadbury have made this decision of their own volition but perhaps on poor advice.

Under EU legislation, imperial measurements in the UK are protected and can continue to be displayed indefinitely alongside their metric equivalent. The great British pound, pint, mile etc is here to stay.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

'I began to see why so many people have given up on the PCC'

There is another highly recommended article on Martin Robbins' Lay Scientist blog today.

This one is written by Richard Wilson and it explains his seven-month battle to get the Daily Mail to correct an article - 'The Great Asbestos Hysteria' - by Christopher Booker.

The Mail eventually published this clarification but the wording suggests they substantially stand by the original piece.

But Wilson's reflections on the process of dealing with the PCC (and, indeed, the Mail) are worth noting:

The newspaper's claim that an HSE study had found the dangers of white asbestos cement to be "insignificant" was also easy to disprove: Booker had made the self-same claim in the Sunday Telegraph back in 2008, and been rebutted in detail by the HSE.

Neither was it hard to show that the Mail had got it wrong in claiming that "it is virtually impossible to extract even a single dangerous fibre" from white asbestos cement. An HSE lab report from 2007 notes that "the claim that respirable airborne chrysotile fibres are not able to be released from asbestos cement products was refuted by the individual airborne fibres sampled during the breaking of the test sample with a hammer".

In theory, this should have been the end of the matter. According to the PCC's code, "a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence". What happened instead, in my view, speaks volumes both about the character of the Daily Mail, and the credibility of the newspaper industry's self-regulatory body.

After a delay of several weeks, the PCC forwarded me a dismissive response from the Daily Mail's executive managing editor, Robin Esser. While acknowledging some minor errors, Esser insisted that the disputed HSE study did indeed back up Booker's views on asbestos. The fact that the HSE had put out a statement explicitly rebutting this merely proved that "those responsible for HSE press releases are similarly unable to grasp the significance of findings published by their own statisticians". For good measure, Esser accused me (falsely, just in case you're wondering) of being "allied to a well-organised and well-funded commercial lobby", who "stand to benefit financially" from the "anti-asbestos campaign".

Rather than take ownership of the process, assess the various bits of evidence and come to a judgement, the PCC instead asked me to go through this new set of claims and produce a further response. Here I began to see why so many people have given up on the PCC. If a newspaper digs in its heels and simply denies all the evidence that's been presented, there doesn't seem to be much that the PCC can do except bat the issue back to the complainant.

And having been through this process, what of the PCC's 'fast, free and fair' slogan?

More time-consuming exchanges followed, with long gaps in between, while we awaited a response from the Daily Mail. In the end we won, sort of. The newspaper agreed to make some amendments to the text of the article, publish a short correction, and write a private apology to Michael Lees over Booker's comments about his wife. But to get even this far has taken seven months, and a substantial time investment, while the Daily Mail seems to have been able to drag the process out with impunity. "Free", perhaps – but hardly "fast", or "fair".

When someone complained about Richard Littlejohn's claim that most robberies in the UK were committed by Eastern Europeans, the Mail took nearly six weeks to reply to the PCC. In total, it took the paper two months to correct a claim that was obviously false.

Here's what Mail Editor Paul Dacre said in July, when he argued that fines for serious breaches of the Editor's Code shouldn't be introduced:

It cannot be said too often that the imposition of sizable fines would result in complainants and particularly the press having to use lawyers to defend their interests - signalling the death of a FREE fast system of complaints adjudication.

If it is taking seven months to resolve a complaint, this system is neither fast nor alive and well.

Monday 27 September 2010

Recommended: How science is reported

Martin Robbins has written an excellent parody of the way scientific research is reported.

Anyone who has read one of the Express' front page 'miracle cure' stories will recognise it immediately:

In this paragraph I will state the main claim that the research makes, making appropriate use of "scare quotes" to ensure that it's clear that I have no opinion about this research whatsoever.

In this paragraph I will briefly (because no paragraph should be more than one line) state which existing scientific ideas this new research "challenges".

If the research is about a potential cure, or a solution to a problem, this paragraph will describe how it will raise hopes for a group of sufferers or victims.

This paragraph elaborates on the claim, adding weasel-words like "the scientists say" to shift responsibility for establishing the likely truth or accuracy of the research findings on to absolutely anybody else but me, the journalist.

The rest of his article is here.

Saturday 25 September 2010

'Lack of care'

On 15 July, the Star put this on its front page:

The story was about a plan for a few 'squat toilets' to be installed in a shopping centre in Rochdale.

There were several problems with the story - the most obvious being that two of the claims on the front page were clearly inaccurate: the toilets weren't 'Muslim-only', and they weren't to be paid for by the taxpayer.

Jamie at Exclarotive blogged about the story at the time, including how a Rochdale Councillor denied the 'inaccurate reports in some national newspapers'. The Star then claimed they had 'blocked' (see what they did there?) the 'Muslim-only loos' when an anonymous source said the plan was being reconsidered.

Now we learn that the PCC has upheld a complaint against the Star, which has published the adjudication on page 2 of today's paper (there appears to be no mention of it on the front page, where the original appeared):

The complainant - who did not represent Rochdale Council or the Rochdale Exchange Centre, neither of whom had complained to the Commission - said that it was inaccurate to say that the toilets were “Muslim-only”: the facilities, which were common to many countries, would be available to all.

In addition, the decision to pay for the ‘nile pans’ was taken by the shopping centre itself, rather than the local council. It did not therefore involve taxpayers’ money.

The newspaper said that - while non-Muslims could have used the loos - they were designed with Muslims in mind.

Nonetheless, it accepted that the headline was inaccurate in that non-Muslims would be free to use the toilets.

It also accepted that the loos were paid for by a private developer. It suggested the publication of the following correction on page 2, in addition to the removal of the article from its website:

"Our 15 July article said that squat style loos at Rochdale Exchange Centre were for Muslims only and were a waste of the council’s money. We are pleased to make clear that the loos may be used by non-Muslims and that they were paid for by the developer."

The complainant asked for the newspaper to publish an apology.

That first sentence is interesting because it seems that although the PCC regards this a third-party complaint, where there are two organisations that could be considered a 'first party', it has upheld it anyway.


Here's the PCC's adjudication:

In this prominent story, there were two clear errors of fact which, in the circumstances, would have misled readers in a significant manner: the toilets could not be described as “Muslim only”; and were not paid for by the local council.

While the newspaper had accepted that the article was wrong - and offered to correct the item - the Commission was particularly concerned at the lack of care the newspaper had taken in its presentation of the story.

This led to a breach of Clause 1 of the Code which makes clear that newspapers must “take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information”.

The complaint was upheld.

But the Star still doesn't seem to have actually apologised.

And for the PCC to be concerned about the 'lack of care' the Star takes over its front page headlines? That suggests this headline was, somehow, a mistake, rather than calculated to whip up resentment and hatred.

Surely they know - after the McCanns, Peaches Geldolf, the ash cloud, GTA: Rothbury, 'Lamps and Bleakley', Cheryl Cole, Big Brother and countless other examples - that the Star's presentation of stories show (what can generously be called) this 'lack of care' far too often?

(Hat tip to James)

Thursday 23 September 2010


The results of a new survey on public trust make grim reading for the newspapers, particularly the tabloids.

YouGov asked 1,854 adults 'how much do you trust the following to tell the truth?' with a number of different professions listed - politicians, doctors, journalists, police and others.

Compared to results from 2003, trust in the media has declined significantly across the board.

Here are the results:

BBC News journalists
Total trust: 60% (81% in 2003)
Total not much/no trust: 34%

ITV News journalists
Total trust: 49% (82% in 2003)
Total not much/no trust: 43%

Journalists on 'upmarket' newspapers
Total trust: 41% (65% in 2003)
Total not much/no trust: 51%

Journalists on 'mid-market' newspapers (Mail, Express)
Total trust: 21% (36% in 2003)
Total not much/no trust: 71%

Journalists on 'red-top tabloid' newspapers
Total trust: 10% (14% in 2003)
Total not much/no trust: 83%

Of the 25 professions listed, BBC came 6th, the mid-market newspapers 15th and the red-top tabloids 25th. Last. Behind estate agents and, amusingly, EU officials.

The results aren't a one-off. An Ofcom survey in May 2010 showed newspapers were the least trusted source for news. The Committee for Standards in Public Life's 2008 Report showed TV news journalists - trusted by 46% of people - far ahead of broadsheet (36%) and tabloid (10%) journalists.

It is hard not to conclude that the broadcast regulator Ofcom (with its power to fine for serious breaches of its Code) does a far better job of maintaining standards - and therefore trust - than the PCC (with its power to allow newspapers to bury two sentence 'clarifications').

As Minority Thought points out, it was only in July that Mail Editor Paul Dacre was happily telling us all that:

They [critics] will probably never concede the truth, which is that the PCC has over the years been a great success story. 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.

The public doesn't seem to be able to see them rising to the challenge and don't seem in awe of this great improvement in behaviour. That's why the number of people who trust tabloid journalists a 'great deal' is, err, 1%. That's why the number of people who have a 'great deal' of trust in journalists on the so-called 'mid-market' papers (like the one Dacre edits) is, err, 1%.

Anyone would think Dacre had some vested interest in plunging his head in the sand and pretending everything is fine.

It would, however, have been great to see Dacre's reaction to the fact that news journalists from the BBC, that organisation he seems to have such an irrational hatred of, are trusted far more - far, far more - than journalists on his paper.

(via Roy Greenslade and Minority Thought)

Monday 20 September 2010

Blink and you'll miss it

Remember the 'Muslim Plot to Kill Pope' front page of Saturday's Express?

Yesterday, it was announced that every one of the six men who had been arrested had been released without charge.

Did the Express put this news on the front page? Not quite. Here's page nine of today's paper:

Still can't see it? It's here:

So the Express falsely labels the six men 'Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic terrorists plotting to kill the Pope' on the front page on Saturday, but only mentions they have all been released without charge in one easy-to-miss sentence at the bottom of page nine on Monday.

The Express' owner (Richard Desmond) and editor (Peter Hill) should be ashamed.

(Huge thanks to Daniel Selwood for the pics)

Sunday 19 September 2010

PCC must act over Express' 'Muslim Plot to Kill Pope' front page

The Metropolitan Police have said:

Six men who were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on Friday, 17 September, were all released without charge late on Saturday night and early this morning.

Hearing the six men have been released without charge may come as something of a shock to readers of the Express who had been told on Saturday that the men were almost certainly guilty, having hatched a 'Muslim Plot to Kill Pope':

Every media outlet was reporting the arrests on Friday, but there was a very clear note of wariness in the coverage. The indication was that the police acted out of caution rather than any serious threat.

But the Express doesn't do subtlety - especially when there's a chance of accusing Muslims of something awful. Look at the first sentence:

Islamic terrorists disguised as street cleaners allegedly hatched an audacious plot to blow up the Pope.

As Sim-O points out, the Express is declaring these six men were definitely 'Islamic terrorists' but were only 'allegedly' plotting to kill the Pope.

But then the Express makes it sound as if there was definitely a plot as well:

The threatened attack was foiled at the 11th hour after police raided a cleaning depot in London as the suspects prepared to start their shift yesterday.

It was strange to see the Express' front page sub-head calling the men 'bogus street cleaners'. The paper was more convinced they were 'Islamic terrorists' than actual street cleaners.

Most of the rest of the quotes and information about the arrests that appears in the Express' article was repeated elsewhere. But one Express-only sentence stood out:

It is feared plotters with links to Al Qaeda planned “a double blow to the infidel” by assassinating the head of the Roman Catholic church and slaughtering hundreds of pilgrims and well-wishers.

As there was no plot, and no one else seemed to be reporting this claim, the suspicion is the Express used dramatic licence here. By putting 'double blow to the infidel' in quote marks, it makes it seem as if someone has actually said this. But they don't say who. Because no one did.

Sim-O points out another line that also only seemed to appear in the Express:

An investigation is also under way to determine if the foreign nationals had entered Britain legally and were entitled to work here.

The Express seems to be saying: even in the unlikely event they aren't found to be 'Islamic terrorists', there's sure to be something dodgy about their immigration status.

This was a quite disgraceful, scaremongering, hate-inciting front page from the Express. Will they give so much prominence to the fact they've all been released without charge? Of course not.

The question is what will the PCC do? As there are six men directly involved they will only consider a complaint from one of them. Although it would be understandable if they didn't want to remain in the public spotlight, let's hope they do complain.

But if they don't, the PCC should consider acting anyway.

The Express used its front page to smear six men as Islamic terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda. A front page correction, retraction and apology must follow.

Mail's small apology to Small World

The Mail has apologised for falsely accusing the board game Small World of being at the centre of a case of online game addiction and child neglect:

An article published on 13 September, 'Addicted to a fantasy world: Mother obsessed with computer game let her children live in squalor' reported court proceedings which referred to a game called Small World.

In fact, Small World was not the game in question.

We are happy to make this clear and apologise to the publishers of Small World for any contrary impression given.

The publishers of the game, Days of Wonder, had issued a strong statement in response to the original articles, pointing out the lazy 'Google Journalism' involved. They also threatened legal action, which may well explain why the Mail has apologised so swiftly.

But the wording of the apology is typically weak. The Mail published a lengthy article directly accusing Small World and included screenshots of the wrong game. 'Contrary impression' doesn't really cover it.

(Hat-tip to Picklechu)

Saturday 18 September 2010

Sorry we said you were dead

On 10 September, the Independent published this embarrassing apology:

In the graphic accompanying today's article, 'Police to reopen phone hacking investigation as more witnesses emerge' (9 September 2010), we wrongly stated that Les Hinton had died in 2009. We are aware that he is very much alive and is the CEO of Dow Jones Company Inc. We regret our error and apologise to him.

Let's hope no-one at the Daily Mail gloated too much about that because today, they've prematurely killed off the very-much-alive Tony Britton:

(Hat-tip Jeff Pickthall)

The Winterval stories begin...

The tabloids have, predictably, leapt on the Pope's remarks in Westminster Hall that:

‘There are those who argue that the public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged, in the questionable belief that it might somehow offend those of other religions or none.’

It is not, and never has been, clear who those 'those' actually are, or who the Pope is battling to save Christmas from.

But it's a line the Mail and its ilk have been spinning for years - and they're not likely to stop now the Pope has repeated it.

On the Sky News paper preview on Friday night, Mail columnist John McEntee used the old urban myth about 'Birmingham renaming Christmas 'Winterval'' as Exhibit A.

Over in today's Express, Gary Nicks begins his article with:

Pope Benedict XVI yesterday made an impassioned plea for Britain to return to its Christian values and condemned the “politically correct brigade” who dismiss Christmas.

See what he did there? Put 'politically correct brigade' in quote marks to make it appear that the Pope actually used those very words.

He didn't.

Nicks goes on:

In recent years there have been cases of schools cancelling Christmas Nativity plays for fear of offending non-Christians and ­replacing them with winterval festivals.

He doesn't provide any specific examples of 'schools' doing these things.

In the Star, Emily Hall writes:

Speaking to a packed Westminster Hall in London, he urged people to turn their backs on the use of words like “Winterval” to describe the festival of Jesus’s birth.

She writes this despite the fact the Pope didn't actually use the word 'Winterval' and didn't say anything about the 'use of words' to describe Christmas.

Meanwhile, the Sun's James Clench says the Pope:

let rip at the politically correct knuckleheads who deem [Christmas] offensive to other faiths...

He urged his VIP audience to use their "respective spheres of influence" to help turn back a tide that has seen Christmas renamed Winterval.

Quite how his audience can turn back a tide that doesn't exist is hard to say.

But how many more times are these lazy 'journalists' going to trot out this Winterval nonsense before they accept that it is 'bollocks'?

Perhaps the most notorious of the anti-Christmas rebrandings is Winterval, in Birmingham, and when you telephone the Birmingham city council press office to ask about it, you are met first of all with a silence that might seasonably be described as frosty.

"We get this every year," a press officer sighs, eventually. "It just depends how many rogue journalists you get in any given year. We tell them it's bollocks, but it doesn't seem to make much difference."

According to an official statement from the council, Winterval - which ran in 1997 and 1998, and never since - was a promotional campaign to drive business into Birmingham's newly regenerated town centre. It began in early November and finished in January.

During the part of that period traditionally celebrated as Christmas, "there was a banner saying Merry Christmas across the front of the council house, Christmas lights, Christmas trees in the main civil squares, regular carol-singing sessions by school choirs, and the Lord Mayor sent a Christmas card with a traditional Christmas scene wishing everyone a Merry Christmas".

How dare these 'politically correct knuckleheads' ban Christmas in such a way.

Friday 17 September 2010

PCC takes stand against pejorative language...sometimes

The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint from Clare Balding about an AA Gill column in the Sunday Times.

Gill had 'reviewed' Balding's TV programme Britain by Bike and referred to her as a 'dyke on a bike', said she looked 'like a big lesbian' and he also indulged in some crude innuendo. She complained to the paper but an obnoxious reply from Sunday Times editor John Witherow compounded the problem.

So Balding wrote to the PCC, arguing the comments breached 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.

The paper issued a feeble defence:

There was no reason why – in an age where homosexuality carried little social stigma – the reviewer could not discuss the sexuality of a TV presenter who had no problem with being openly gay.

Calling someone a 'dyke' and a 'big lesbian' is not 'discussing sexuality' but hurling crude insults. Can the Sunday Times really not see the difference?

Thankfully, the PCC has ruled in Balding's favour:

The right to legitimate freedom of expression is a key part of an open and democratic society and something which the Commission has sought to defend in the past. In this case, the columnist was clearly entitled to his opinion about both the programme and the complainant. As the paper had pointed out, the Commission has previously upheld his right to offer such opinions in his columns.

Of course, freedom of expression is – and should be – appropriately restricted by the Editors’ Code of Practice. Clause 12 of the Code is clear: newspapers must avoid prejudicial, pejorative or irrelevant reference to (amongst other things) an individual’s sexual orientation. The Commission itself has said that the use of pejorative synonyms for homosexual individuals would represent a certain breach of the Code.

In this case, the Commission considered that the use of the word “dyke” in the article – whether or not it was intended to be humorous – was a pejorative synonym relating to the complainant’s sexuality. The context was not that the reviewer was seeking positively to “reclaim” the term, but rather to use it to refer to the complainant’s sexuality in a demeaning and gratuitous way. This was an editorial lapse which represented a breach of the Code, and the newspaper should have apologised at the first possible opportunity.

If Clause 12 is to mean anything, the PCC has got this one right.

But there still seems to be a problem with the inconsistency of the PCC.

It has said that the use of 'dyke' in this article was pejorative, demeaning and gratuitous.

Yet only a few weeks ago, when two readers complained about the Sun's use of 'bender' to refer to a gay man, the PCC hid behind its 'third-party' rule to ignore the complaint. It didn't reject the complaint, it didn't even consider it.

But who could argue that 'bender' wasn't also
pejorative, demeaning and gratuitous?

Thursday 16 September 2010

The Mail and 'hate campaigns'

On the front of today's Daily Mail, Stephen Fry was singled out as leading an 'atheist hate campaign' against the Pope's visit to Britain.

They may well be holding a grudge over Fry's tweeting about the Jan Moir incident, maybe it's just the usual smears and misinformation from the paper.

Either way, the claim is totally bogus and an editorial which labels him and others 'self-satisfied' is beyond parody.

Fry has written an excellent, eloquent response in which he says:

It is the final proof, if proof were needed, that the Daily Mail is not just actually wicked (intentionally, knowingly lying) but actually now quite, quite mad.
He adds:

I can always be certain that I have done a good thing when out of all the descriptions they can choose, their leader writers select “quizmaster”. “What has this country come to,” they want to know, “when an egregious, self-satisfied quizmaster presumes to make moral pronouncements on a two thousand year old institution etc etc.”

As it happens I have spent many many more hours of my life as a writer and a journalist than as a “quizmaster”, yet, oddly enough, we don’t read the Mail coming up with: “What has this country come to when a journalist presumes to make moral pronouncements on a two thousand year old etc.?” Perhaps the Mail leader writer would be kind enough to explain to the world what qualifications are needed to allow one to express an opinion, or write a letter to a newspaper? What profession should one belong to and can we have a list of those which in fact disbar us from expressing one’s views?

As for his 'hate campaign':

I was one of 50 signatories to a letter that called into question the official state nature of the papal visit. I didn’t write the letter, but am proud to stand behind it and with my fellow signatories.

Otherwise my “hate campaign”, as they well know, begins with the words, “I’ve no objection to the Pope coming to visit Britain, he is welcome to do so…” it is, as I go on to say, none of my business. I go out of my way to make it clear that I fully respect the desire of the pious, the faithful and the devout to welcome their spiritual father, their supreme Pontiff.

So saying you have 'no objection to the Pope visiting' is what the Mail calls leading a hate campaign.

Frankly, when it comes to 'hate campaigns', that doesn't really qualify and it's certainly not in the Mail's league.

Take the Mail's ongoing attempts to bring down the BBC.

In amongst their coverage of the Pope's visit was a short article gleefully reporting comments from Mark Pritchard MP:

The Tory, who is vice chairman of the parliamentary group for the Holy See, said the BBC had displayed a form of 'blatant, anti-Christian bias'.

He said he was fed up with wall-to-wall reports of the how the church was supposedly in decline.

The BBC's main bulletins have also led with debates on the Vatican's response to child abuse and homosexuality.

The Tory MP for the Wrekin also questioned why there were no positive stories about the church. 'The Catholic Church is an imperfect institution but it is amazing the BBC has found nothing positive to say about a church whose key message is to love thy neighbour including feeding the poor and helping the homeless,' he said. '

The coverage of the church ahead of the Pope's visit so far shows yet more evidence of institutional Christianaphobia at the heart of the BBC.'

Quite where this 'institutional Christianaphobia' has been today as the BBC fills its News Channel with blanket coverage of the Pope's activities is hard to say.

There's also no evidence of the Mail questioning Pritchard about these views - why would it?

But could Pritchard point to the copious amounts of articles about the Catholic Church 'feeding the poor and helping the homeless' in, for example, the Mail? Or in any other national newspaper? Or on any other national broadcaster?

In this twelve sentence article, the BBC is mentioned seven times.

Compare that to another article in today's Mail, about newly-crowned Britain's Amateur Scientist of the Year, Ruth Brooks. The contest was a:

BBC search to find the country's best amateur scientist.

Yet while acknowledging the search was done for Radio 4's Material World (five sentences from the end of the story), the Mail doesn't mention the BBC once in the entire 500-word article. Indeed, it appears (from the URL) that a reference to the BBC in the headline has been removed.

Consider also the DVD giveaway that the Mail has been running all week. It has been trying to flog copies of the paper by tempting readers with episodes of Sir David Attenborough's series Life.

The Mail has called the series 'fantastic' and 'glorious'. Yet it has completely forgotten to mention it's a BBC programme.

The Mail certainly named the BBC in its front page on Tuesday, when it reported on possible strike action by employees at the Beeb.

It was a front page lead in stark contrast to its absolutely minimal coverage of the new claims in the News of the World phone-hacking case. Apparently, the Mail is less interested in the allegations of possible illegality among tabloid journalists.

But the BBC splash was typically overblown.

The front page sub-head said:

Strikers plan to black out Cameron's key conference speech.

The first paragraph of the article repeated this claim. Yet a few sentences later the paper admitted:

It is thought the corporation would still be able to put together coverage of the events.

Which is an interesting definition of 'black out'.

So, a final word about the Mail from Stephen Fry:

Because I have a theological turn of mind, the people I feel most sorry for, and always have, are those who work for the paper.

I have never met a Mail journalist whose first words weren’t an apology. “We’re not all Paul Dacre types…” they mournfully beg us to believe. Well, leave before it’s too late!

Just imagine that there really is a St Peter to greet you after death.
Suppose he asks what you did with your life, your mind, your heart, your whole being and your immortal soul and that you have to reply you that wrote for the Daily Mail.

(hat-tip to Andrew Smith)

Sun publishes - but buries - two clarifications

The Sun have published two tiny clarifications this week.

First, on Monday, this one about Lou Al-Chamaa which appeared on page 18:

We have been asked to make clear Lou Al-Chamaa, singer Leona Lewis's ex-boyfriend, did not demand a seven-figure payoff from the singer as we reported on July 9. We are happy to set the record straight.

Today, on page 22, Jessie Wallace:

Actress Jessie Wallace has asked us to point out that while she used a voice coach preparing to play Coronation Street star Pat Phoenix in a BBC film about the soap, she did not have a voice coach on set, filming was not stopped and producers never considered giving her fewer lines as we reported on July 22.

We apologise for any distress caused.

However, at time of writing, if you search the Sun's website for 'Lou Al-Chamaa' or 'Jessie Wallace', neither clarification appears in the results. It's almost as if they're trying to pretend they never happened...

Express is back on the aspirin

In April 2009, the Express reported this:

And today, it reports this:

It is the latest in a long line of at times contradictory stories from the Express and Mail which suggest aspirin will either cause or cure some terrible disease.

Like many of those earlier stories, the headline is misleading. Here's the start of Victoria Fletcher's article:

An aspirin a day can slash the risk of bowel cancer, it is revealed today.

'Can slash the risk' isn't the same as 'stops'.

It goes on:

The new research is further evidence of the health benefits of the wonder drug.

The same beneficial 'wonder drug' that the Express said causes brain bleeding?

The research found:

The results showed that taking 75mg of aspirin every day for between one and three years led to a 19 per cent reduction in risk.

For people taking the drug daily for three to five years, there was a 24 per cent reduced risk, rising to 31 per cent for those taking the drug for five to 10 years.

So taking a daily aspirin for up to ten years may cut the risk of getting bowel cancer by 31%. This is not quite 'a small dose stops bowel cancer' which the Express front page claims.

Fletcher admits that:

The risk of getting the disease increases for people who have a poor diet, drink too much alcohol, are obese and take no exercise.

Which sounds like better advice than rushing to take aspirin. Indeed, towards the end of the article:

Yinka Ebo, Cancer Research UK’s health information officer, said: "This doesn’t mean that we should all reach for the medicine cabinet just yet, because the risks may outweigh the benefits."


Mark Flannagan, chief executive of the charity Beating Bowel Cancer, said: “These findings are encouraging, particularly as, unlike previous studies, this shows that even the lowest daily dose can have an effect on risk-reduction after just one year.

“Anyone looking to lower their risk of developing bowel cancer should reduce their intake of red and processed meat, high-fat foods and alcohol, and increase their intake of fruit, vegetables and fibre, take regular moderate exercise and stop smoking.

“In the case of daily aspirin, we recommend that you consult your GP before undertaking any course of treatment.”

If there is a link between taking aspirin and reducing the risk of cancer that is worth reporting on in a measured, accurate manner. But headlines such as the one the Express serves up today are not helpful and risk giving people false hope.

Indeed, the research paper's abstract makes clear:

[Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs] use prior to [colorectal cancer] diagnosis does not influence survival from the disease.


Wednesday 15 September 2010

ASA upholds another complaint against the 'misleading' Mail

For the second time in three weeks, the Advertising Standards Authority has upheld a complaint against the Daily Mail.

A promotion offering £10 of shopping vouchers was, the ASA concluded, 'misleading':

The ASA noted that the seven vouchers supplied by AN were offered in denominations of £1 and £2 and were redeemable against specific ranges of items such as cereals, meat, health and beauty products and household goods. We considered that the image of two £5 vouchers in the ad implied that viewers would receive vouchers in that larger denomination, which was not the case.

Furthermore, we noted the ad featured a scenario of a family doing their weekly shop which we considered reinforced the implication in the ad that the vouchers could be redeemed against a consumers total shopping bill. We considered that the ad should have made clear that the vouchers, totalling £10 overall, were in fact for smaller discounts off items in specific departments. Because the ad implied consumers would receive two five pound vouchers to spend as they wished which was not the case, we concluded the ad was likely to mislead.

The ad breached CAP (Broadcast) Advertising Standards Code rules 5.1.1, 5.1.2 and 5.1.3 (Misleading advertising) and 5.2.2 (Implications)

Tuesday 14 September 2010

When a newspaper makes a mistake, it's a Small World

A few days ago, a story emerged of a mother who had been given a suspended jail sentence after she had seriously neglected her three children, and her dogs, because she had become obsessed with an online computer game called Small Worlds.

But picking up agency copy without checking the facts for themselves, the Mail and Sun have accused the wrong game of being involved in the case.

The Sun's (now-removed) article said:

A mum let her two dogs starve to death and neglected her three kids after becoming hooked on online game Small World.

The Mail's article by Jaya Narain, which is still online, claimed:

The 33-year-old woman played the Small World game almost non-stop on the internet for months while her children were reduced to eating cold baked beans straight from the tin with their fingers.

Both papers identify Small World, instead of Small Worlds. Small World is not an online game but a board game. It is available on the iPad but not in an online version. And it isn't on Facebook, as the Mail (inevitably) claim. The game's publisher, Days of Wonder, has responded:

In a classic case of “Google Journalism”, erroneous press reports from British newspapers, the Daily Mail and the Sun that implicate Days of Wonder’s Small World board game have spread like wildfire over the internet.

The stories mistakenly blame the Small World board game as the reason a British woman neglected her children and let the family dogs die because she was so addicted to online game play.

We can only assume that the so-called “journalists” mistook Small World, for a similarly named online virtual world.

While unable to spend a few minutes fact-checking to learn that their story could not be possibly true (Small World has no online play – the only digital version is the two player Small World for iPad); they were able to search our website to download graphics of the board game and further smear our name.

They continue:

Days of Wonder categorically states that the Small World board game is not in any way connected to this tragic story and we are asking the papers in question retract their stories.

And a statement from Days of Wonder CEO Eric Hautemont says:

"One wonders if reporters check their sources! The information published on the websites of the Daily Mail and the Sun has spread like wildfire on the Web. The copyrighted images attempting to incriminate our Small World game have circulated from England to Australia and no one bothered to check if this was indeed the right game in question."

He adds:

Days of Wonder is currently considering legal action regarding this misrepresentation of the Small World board game and hopes the newspapers responsible for these defamatory statements will give similar coverage to a retraction.

It seems the Sun have taken note and taken their article down. When will the Mail?

Moreover, this wasn't the only error in the Mail's article. Originally, they had included a screenshot from yet another game, Warhammer, which also wasn't involved in the case.

According the Willard Foxton, Warhammer's lawyers had the image removed from the article yesterday afternoon and received an apology.

When will Days of Wonder receive the same?

(Hat-tip to Dick Mandrake)

Monday 13 September 2010

Will the PCC act over Daily Star Sunday's 'needless abbreviation'?

Primly Stable has looked at a story in yesterday's Daily Star Sunday which carried the headline 'Behind bras: Tranny strip-search fury'.

As Primly Stable points out, there's no evidence produced that anyone is actually 'furious' and in any case these are draft proposals that have yet to be approved.

But what of the language used by the paper?

In January 2010, the PCC made what it called a 'landmark ruling on the use of terminology in this area' by saying:

Taking into account the full context of the piece, the Commission considered that the use of the word ‘tranny' - which was a needless abbreviation, held by many to be offensive - was pejorative. The complaint was upheld on this point.

So how have the Star felt able to run this headline in the print edition? The online headline is different but not much better: 'Prisons: Female guards may be forced to search male trannies'. And it's not the case that the word has been abbreviated to fit the headline space as Rick Lyons' article also refers to 'tranny prisoners'.

Trans Media Watch have a list of terms they consider derogatory and say the media should avoid. The list includes three terms the Star uses: 'tranny', 'sex-change' and 'any 'comedy' reference to genitalia'. Press For Change also say the terms are 'inappropriate'.

So if the PCC's ruling that 'tranny' is 'perjorative' and 'needless' is really a 'landmark' decision, they should have no problem holding the Daily Star Sunday to account for using it.

Mail on Sunday clarifies 'clash' claim

The Mail on Sunday has been brought to the attention of the PCC again - this time over a 'clash' between the current Speaker of the House of Commons and his predecessor, Michael Martin. Here's the clarification they published yesterday:

On July 4 we said Lord Martin of Springburn, the former Speaker of the House of Commons, had ‘clashed' with John Bercow, the present Speaker, over the dismissal of the Speaker's Secretary Angus Sinclair.

In fact Lord Martin has not written or spoken to the Speaker on this matter and we have been asked to make clear he has, at no time, clashed with Mr Speaker on this, or any other, issue.

Saturday 11 September 2010


A short item from Press Gazette's Grey Cardigan, spotted by Roy Greenslade:

The Daily Mail’s take on the Wayne Rooney affair:

'Miss Wood, 23, a university lecturer’s daughter, and Miss Thompson, 21, the privately-educated child of a wealthy oil company executive, have turned out to be flag-bearers for the celebrity-mad, lascivious culture that has consumed the nation.'

And at the bottom of the piece?

'Have you got a story on a celebrity? Call the Daily Mail showbusiness desk on 0207 938 6364 or 0207 938 6683.'


(Meanwhile, the Mail has only managed to squeeze a meagre 26 photos of Miss Thompson into this single article.)

Accuracy is best

The Press Complaints Commission has published details of the latest complaint involving the Daily Mail, who this time stand accused of editing a letter from a reader and publishing it under a headline that misrepresented her views:

Mrs Clare Byam-Cook, the author of "What to Expect When You're Breastfeeding - And What if You Can't", complained to the Press Complaints Commission through Lewis Silkin solicitors. She expressed concern that a letter she had submitted for publication had been edited and, most importantly, published under the misleading headline ‘When Bottle is Best'.

In fact, she said, her letter was intended to promote better support for women who wished to breastfeed - which in the complainant's view was preferable. The fact that readers might have interpreted it as an attempt to promote bottle-feeding was, said the complainant, likely to damage her reputation.

The resolution:

The matter was resolved when the PCC negotiated publication of a further letter from the complainant in the newspaper. The heading of the letter was ‘Breastfeeding babies' and the text is reproduced below:

My letter of 25 June was published under the misleading headline ''When Bottle is Best'. I would like to make clear that my letter was not in fact promoting bottle feeding for babies over breastfeeding. It was making the point that changing the 'Breast is Best' slogan - as recommended by Breastfeeding network Chairman Lesley Backhouse - is not the solution to improve breastfeeding rates. Most mothers want to breastfeed, they just need more practical help when they are finding it difficult.
Clare Byam-Cook

Thursday 9 September 2010

Northern & Shameless

Here's a short article from the Daily Star:


Hosptial bosses were last night slammed for supplying porn in fertility clinics.

Think tank said providing DVDs and magazines to help men produce sperm samples promoted “adultery of the mind”. Some health trusts spend £100 a year on the material.

Julia Manning, the report’s author, said: “Pornography deprives women of full human status and reduces them to sex objects.”

So how does the Star decide to illustrate a story about a report that criticises porn for its 'debasing treatment of women' and for 'reducing women to sex objects'?

Like this:

The bit that I've blacked out shows six women in various stages of undress in various poses.

The Star has taken the view that this story is the perfect time to advertise porn. And not just any porn but Television X - owned, like the Daily Star, by Richard Desmond.

(Other cross-promotion from the Star today: two mentions of Matthew Wright celebrating ten years at the Desmond-owned Channel Five)

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Men and women, by 'Mitchy'

The Sunday Mirror's front page story about Wayne Rooney's private life has set off the usual tawdry feeding frenzy.

For example, this Mail article - which is, incredibly, credited to four journalists - contains only 1095 words (mostly anonymous quotes) in between nineteen photos of one of the women involved.

The Sun were also relying on anonymous quotes, including one spotted by Anton where someone described as a 'pal' said of the same woman:

She's not a very nice person.

Some pal.

However, a now-removed comment left on the Sunday Mirror's website was even more eye-catching:

News from the regions

The Shropshire Star doesn't usually feature on this blog but this article, highlighted by Jim Hawkins and Adam Bell, deserves a mention.

In June, the paper reported on a protest about the transportation of a wind turbine through the town of Welshpool:

You might imagine that if the protestors had indeed 'lined the streets' they would have been able to take a photo showing more than, umm, eight people.

But Bell says the Shropshire Star may have been exaggerating 'slightly'. The photo only shows eight protestors because there were only eight protestors.

Can eight people 'line the streets'?

Monday 6 September 2010

Mail Online's pointless 'stories'

From Charlie Brooker's column in today's Guardian:

Several months ago, I read a small story about a female celebrity who'd been foolish enough to appear in public wearing the same dress two days in succession. This "style slip-up", the article stated, was "the ultimate celebrity faux pas". It described how a crowd of expectant fans was "taken aback" when the star "turned up in exactly the same dress again, accessorised with the same black skyscraper heels." The piece was illustrated with two photographs showing the celebrity sporting her incriminating outfit on two separate occasions, accompanied by the caption 'Looks Familiar'.

But interestingly, the clothes weren't the only familiar thing in the frame. If the dates were to be believed, the strands of hair from her fringe had fallen across her forehead in precisely the same way, two days running. I don't know much about haircuts, as anyone who's ever glanced at my head can tell you. But I know that looked suspicious.

Fortunately for all mankind, I knew someone who'd been present on both occasions. So I asked whether the same dress had been worn on both days. No, it hadn't. Both sets of pictures had been taken on day one.

Presumably what happened is this: rather than sending a reporter to attend the event itself, the paper had received a batch of photos from a picture agency and interpreted them back in the office. But tragedy struck when someone got the dates muddled up, and a "style slip-up" was subsequently believed to have occurred when it hadn't. Easy mistake to make. But hang on: what about that description of a crowd of "expectant fans" being "taken aback" by "the ultimate celebrity faux pas"? That was just a cute detail the reporter had invented. Some people they'd wished into existence.

No prizes for guessing the 'small story' in question is on the website of the Daily Mail.

Mail Online editor Martin Clarke has said:

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

No doubt that explains a made-up story about the wardrobe of someone on The X Factor. But what of the rest?

Blogger Atomic Spin has asked whether a MailOnline article about a woman dropping her phone while walking in London is the most pointless celebrity story ever published by the Mail.

Yes, the woman in question is Karen Gillan from Doctor Who, and the Mail have managed to find a snap taken at exactly the moment she bends over the pick it up. But still, this is the 'story':

Doctor Who star Karen Gillan nearly broke her mobile phone after getting over-excited during a shopping trip in London yesterday.

The Scottish actress, 22, was chatting on her mobile in busy Oxford Street when she spotted a friend across the road.

After dashing across the road to greet her pal, the redhead dropped her phone in the path of traffic in the excitement of it all.

The excitement, indeed.

But is it the most pointless story the Mail website has ever run? Well, there is so much competition it is hard to tell.

After all, they managed to write two articles within a couple of days about the number of toes on a woman with, err, ten toes.

And let's not forget essential stuff like woman goes out in low cut dress, woman does yoga and boy has same colour hair as his dad.

During the time period all this rubbish has been written, the Mail has managed only one article about the floods in Pakistan.

The good folk at the Mailwatch Forum have been keeping note of pointless Mail stories for quite a while. They have spotted such Pulitzer Prize-worthy gems as:

Almost all of these articles are essentially for the Heat crowd. The Mail has bought pics of some celebrity that they think will attract visitors to their website. There is no news value - usually the Daily Mail Reporter (or sometimes Georgina Littlejohn) will describe what the person is wearing, make some snide remark about whether they have got thinner or fatter or older, and the rest will be re-heated stuff from an earlier article.

And sometimes, as with Brooker's example and the one with the toes, the story isn't even true.

The Mail's website is the most visited UK newspaper website.

Saturday 4 September 2010

'Inconceivable no-one else knew'

The News of the World phone hacking saga rumbles on.

Yesterday, several more media outlets started to report on the story including the BBC and (shock!) Sky News. However, it wasn't until 10.30pm that the Mail wrote anything about it, prioritising instead such important news as Kim Kardashian going out wearing a dress.

Questions have been raised about whether anything new has emerged. The answer is yes.

Firstly, the New York Times revealed that this year a News of the World reporter was suspended having been suspected of phone-hacking, a fact confirmed by the paper and the PCC on Thursday:

The [NYT] reported that the News of the World was conducting a new phone-hacking investigation and had suspended a reporter, after a "television personality" had been alerted by her phone company to a "possible unauthorised attempt to access her voicemail" and the number was traced back to a journalist at the paper.

It's as if the paper's insistence that phone hacking was a one-off that never happened before or since seems somehow questionable...

The Guardian reported that the journalist in question has worked for the paper since 2005. Although News of the World managing editor Bill Akass said there is an internal investigation and the allegation is subject to litigation, it's not clear if the police are involved. If not, why not?

The PCC's Director Stephen Abell said:

that the PCC was prevented from launching its own investigation because the allegation was "the subject of legal action".

Which is fair enough - for now. But we should remember what PCC Chair Baroness Buscombe said back in May:

"If there was a whiff of any continuing activity in this regard, we would be on it like a ton of bricks. I can absolutely assure you of that."

It will be interesting to see what the PCC's 'ton of bricks' turns out to be...

Mark Lewis, a lawyer who has acted/is acting for some of the targets of the hacking is not expecting much:

“The Press Complaints Commission has been consistent. Throughout it has taken no action. Excuse after excuse is offered but they have shown their true colours. The only way to get redress is through the Court.”

And from today's Guardian editorial:

The NYT article – based on first-hand research – convincingly demonstrates that the September 2009 Press Complaints Commission report into phone hacking was both feeble and wrong. The PCC must find a way of clarifying and correcting the record if it is to command respect.

Other new information came yesterday from Sean Hoare, a former News of the World reporter. He was fired from the paper for personal reasons, so has been dismissed for having a grudge, but during a BBC interview he said he hacked phones while working at the paper and that then editor Coulson 'lied' by saying he knew nothing of the practice.

The News International line that Clive Goodman, the paper's Royal Correspondent who was jailed for his role in the phone hacking, was the only journalist involved has always seemed unlikely.

After all, James Murdoch sanctioned a payment of £700,000 to former Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor to settle a privacy claim. If Goodman was the only News of the World journalist involved, why would the Royal Correspondent be interested in the phone messages of someone in football?

Or in the messages of MPs Tessa Jowell and Simon Hughes or model Elle Macpherson?

And then there's the so-called 'For Neville' email. Here's how the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee saw it:

On 29 June 2005, five months later, a reporter at the News of the World, Ross Hindley, sent an email to Glenn Mulcaire which opened with the words: "This is the transcript for Neville."[374] There followed a transcription of 35 voicemail messages. In 13 cases the recipient of message was 'GT', Gordon Taylor, and in 17 cases the recipient was 'JA', Jo Armstrong. No witness has sought to deny that these messages had been intercepted by Glenn Mulcaire, or that they had been transcribed by Mr Hindley.

[In-house lawyer Tom] Crone...asked the News of the World's IT Department to find out who else had received the email and was told that 'there was no trace of it having gone anywhere else'.[377] He also questioned the reporter:

"He had very little recollection of it […]. He does not particularly remember this job in any detail; he does not remember who asked him to do it; and he does not remember any follow-up from it. He saw the email and he accepts that he sent the transcript where the email says he sent it."[378]

415. We were unable to question the reporter, however. Mr Crone told us that Mr Hindley was in Peru: "He is on a holiday. He is going around the world. He is 20 years old."[379] "[…] about this time he had only just become a reporter; prior to that actually I think he had been a messenger and he was being trained up as a reporter,"[380] he added. We return to the veracity of this below.

416. The message above the transcript said it was 'for Neville'. In June 2005, there was only one Neville on the staff:[381] Neville Thurlbeck, the chief reporter. Mr Crone told us he asked Mr Hindley whether he had given him the transcript. "He said, "I can't remember." He said, "Perhaps I gave it to Neville, but I can't remember."'[382] Mr Crone said he also asked Mr Thurlbeck if he remembered receiving the transcript: 'His position is that he has never seen that email, nor had any knowledge of it.'[383]

(One of the questions for the police is why they never interviewed Thurlbeck, or indeed Hindley - if the newspaper maintains Goodman was the only one involved, how come he was transcribing phone messages?)

And this is what the Committee concluded from all that:

...there is no doubt that there were a significant number of people whose voice messages were intercepted, most of whom would appear to have been of little interest to the Royal correspondent of the News of the World. This adds weight to suspicions that it was not just Clive Goodman who knew about these activities...

Evidence we have seen makes it inconceivable that no-one else at the News of the World, bar Clive Goodman, knew about the phone-hacking. It is unlikely, for instance, that Ross Hindley (later Hall) did not know the source of the material he was transcribing and was not acting on instruction from superiors. We cannot believe that the newspaper's newsroom was so out of control for this to be the case...

Despite this, there was no further investigation of who those "others" might be and we are concerned at the readiness of all of those involved: News International, the police and the PCC to leave Mr Goodman as the sole scapegoat without carrying out a full investigation at the time.

Currently, several Labour figures - Jowell, John Prescott, Chris Bryant, Alan Johnson and Tom Watson (who sits of the Select Committee) - have raised concerns about the extent of the hacking and the police investigation. As Andy Coulson is now David Cameron's Director of Communications, it has become a political issue.

But it is vitally important that this does not become the overriding issue. There are crucial questions here about the role and behaviour of journalists, and about the actions of the police. It is imperative that those questions do not get buried under the political tit-for-tat.