Sunday 31 October 2010

Royal Mail hasn't banned religion

Minority Thought has posted on the latest nonsense about Christmas and Christianity being under attack which has appeared in the Sunday Express:

The headline is, as Minority Thought points out, 'absurd' but it is just the latest example of the word 'ban' being thrown around completely incorrectly.

It doesn't take much to work out that Royal Mail has little power to actually 'ban religion'. The story doesn't actually say this, claiming instead that religious images have been 'banned' from this year's Christmas stamps:

Church leaders are furious with Royal Mail bosses who ditched Christian images on Christmas stamps in favour of children’s favourites Wallace and Gromit.

Last night, the Archbishop of Canterbury was being asked to take action, just two days before the stamps go on sale.

But as the very next paragraph of David Paul's article makes clear:

The plasticine stars of The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit will appear on seven different stamps but those wanting a religious theme have only one choice, the image of the Madonna and Child that has been on sale for the past three years.

Ah. So religious images haven't been 'banned' or 'ditched' from this year's stamps? No:

A Royal Mail spokeswoman said: “We have distributed tens of millions of the Madonna and Child stamps to go on sale alongside the Wallace and Gromit stamps.”

How the Express turns 'distributing tens of millions' of something into a 'ban' is something the PCC may want to look at.

Even the Daily Mail, which has been angry about secular Christmas stamps in the past, weren't complaining when they reported on the Wallace and Gromit stamps in September:

The animated inventor, whose gadgets never quite work according to plan, and his long-suffering dog, will be delivering their brand of humour from the envelopes of millions of Christmas cards...

But stamps featuring the Madonna and child are also on sale.

And what of the Express' claim that 'church leaders are furious'? Well, as usual, they use the word 'fury' when the shouldn't. And the article only quotes one person who isn't happy - a 'team rector' from a small village in Wiltshire (population: 1,213). So not leaders, plural.

The Express also claims:

Critics claim the switch to Wallace and a cynical bid by Royal Mail bosses to boost profits and ignores the true meaning of Christmas.

It doesn't say who these 'critics' are. But the Express knows - because this fuss about stamps seems to come up every year - that the Royal Mail have alternated between themes for several years:

Royal Mail’s policy for Christmas stamps is to alternate non-secular and secular themes. The 2009 stamps showed the nativity as depicted in stained glass windows from the Pre-Raphaelite era and in 2010 a secular theme is featured.

To provide choice for customers, the popular 1st and 2nd Class Madonna and Child stamps, first issued in 2007, will also be available.

Indeed, in 2008 the main stamps carried a pantomime theme but as the Royal Mail explained at the time:

Customers will be able to purchase stamps depicting two classic, iconic paintings - the Madonna of Humility by Lippo di Dalmasio and Madonna and Child by William Dyce. The Madonna of Humility features on the 1st Class stamp and Madonna and Child on the 2nd Class.

So the Express have produced a totally misleading headline and made claims about a 'ban' which is clearly shown to be false later in the article. They also over-state the amount, and the strength, of the criticism.

But one person leaving a comment on the Express website hasn't understood any of that:

Saturday 30 October 2010

Express clock-up (cont.)

Two-and-a-half months ago, the Express launched a 'crusade' to 'stop Britain being plunged into early evening darkness every autumn':

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.

Bring Britain into line with Europe? You don't hear that very often from the Express.

The campaign launched with a bit of a whimper when the most vocal media opposition came from the, err, Scottish Daily Express.

Well, tonight the clocks will be put back an hour. As the Express hasn't got its way, it's claiming the country is going to plunged into 'chaos':

Britons face a day of chaos tomorrow as the clocks turn back an hour, plunging the country into evening darkness.

A third of us will oversleep, 20 per cent will wake up to a cold house after forgetting to change the central heating timer and one in eight will arrive at work late over the coming days.

That's a few minor inconveniences for a minority of people. It's not 'chaos'.

But how come the Express hasn't go its way? After all, on Thursday they were claiming that '29 million people' supported their 'crusade':

As Atomic Spin observed:

Wait, 29 million? That sounds a bit much, surely? The turnout at the last general election was only 29.6 million – are you telling me as many people care about the Daily Express‘s “crusade” as care about national politics in general?

Well, no. Of course not. What the Express did was take a poll that found 58% of people supported their plan, worked out what 58% of the population (of England, it seems) is, and then claimed that many people therefore backed their cause.

The Express also claimed:

Concerns are also mounting about children walking home in the dark and the danger of personal injury, with one in four people saying they feel more at risk as evenings draw in.

In addition, some 36 per cent – 17.7 million people – believe there is an increased chance of road traffic accidents, and one in four also insist they feel more at risk from burglary.

Atomic Spin points out:

In other words, 3 in 4 do not feel more at risk, 64% of people did not say they believed there was an increased chance of road traffic accidents, and 3 in 4 do not feel at risk of burglary.

On Monday, the paper's editorial said:

Next week we’ll put back the clocks and plunge properly into winter.

It’s a gloomy prospect so no wonder support is growing for the Daily Express crusade to stop this wholly detrimental annual ritual.

Is support 'growing' for the Express' crusade? Well, the latest poll quoted by the paper shows support at 58%.

Alas, a poll conducted the day after the crusade was launched showed support at, err, 60%.

The 'downmarket' Mail

The Daily Star is at it again: putting headlines on its front page which aren't really truthful.

Today's is 'Rooney gets a good kicking - Holidaying player attacked'.

The clear implication is that Wayne Rooney has been physically 'attacked' while on holiday in Dubai.

When the story begins - under the Star's worthless 'exclusive' banner - it makes clear that isn't the case.

At all:

Crocked Wayne Rooney has had a good kicking from Sir Alex Ferguson as he angers fans by lording it in Dubai.

Fiery Fergie showed the star who is boss after his contract strop by putting his comeback on hold.

So it is, at best, a verbal kicking. But was it even that?

The article by Jerry Lawton - of 'Grand Theft Auto: Rothbury' fame - says:

Boss Sir Alex Ferguson, 68, yesterday revealed the star, currently living it up with wife Coleen in the world’s poshest hotel in Dubai, will not play for another month.

He said Rooney’s injured ankle had not improved because United’s medics had not been able to treat it while he has been soaking up the sunshine...

Club insiders believe fiery Fergie’s decision to put Roo’s comeback on ice is his way of showing the petulant star who is the real star at the club.

Ah, the anonymous 'insiders'. It must be true then.

Except, over in the Mail, there's a report on Ferguson's press conference yesterday that says:

...he is not therefore rushing Rooney back after another setback with his ankle in training. Ferguson told Rooney to take a family holiday...

The Guardian has more of this vicious 'kicking':

The initial diagnosis was that he would be out for three weeks, but the striker has been allowed to go on holiday with his wife, Coleen, to Dubai this week rather than having treatment.

"I think it will be a bit longer," Ferguson said. "He's away at the moment so there's no recovery. He's having a rest. He did his remedial work before he went. Thereafter rest is what he needs and we're quite happy with that."

The saga of a footballer going on holiday with his wife has taken up more column inches than you might have thought possible.

They've been on the front of the Star for four of the last five days. The Sun made them front page 'news' on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Express (twice) and the Mail (once) have also put them on the front page.

But today, the Mail have done their usual thing - pretending to be shocked at the Rooneys' behaviour, while at the same time dispatching a reporter to Dubai to report on their every move. David Jones' article - which appears on pages 14-15 of today's print edition - is a work of staggering inanity:

At 11am, almost to the minute, Coleen would arrive by the pool, take off one of several ­expensive beach blouses and lay face down on her sun-lounger - always the same one.

Quite what Wayne was doing for the next hour and a quarter or so, we cannot know. At 12.15pm, ­however, he would trudge down to join his wife, and there they would remain for the next five hours...

Gripping stuff, isn't it?

Having spent the week fending off obsequious butlers proffering every imaginable extravagance, however, it’s easy to imagine how ­soccer’s most stinking-rich couple might begin another day in paradise.

‘Morning Wayne,’ chirps Coleen, admiring her ample new curves in the gold-framed mirror above a bed whose mattress has been specially adjusted to a softness of their liking.

Ah yes, her 'ample new curves'. The headline claims she has a 'suspiciously enhanced cleavage'. At one point, Jones says Coleen:

must surely have had her own breasts enlarged judging by before-and-after ­photos published this week

But later he's not so sure:

perhaps even a boob job

With a remarkable lack of self-awareness, he sneers:

If we believe one downmarket tabloid, they have even decided to renew the marriage vows.

'One downmarket tabloid' - not like the Mail, which is obviously above all this drivel. The Mail's website has 'only' 11 articles in five days about two young people sunbathing for five hours a day.

And the Mail would never take anything from such a 'downmarket tabloid' would it? Obviously, there's no link between the Star's front page on Wednesday:

And this Mail website article:

Back to Jones' scintillating prose:

Last Wednesday, I ­happened (by genuine coincidence) to be directed to a sun-lounger near a rock-shaded corner of the pool where the Rooneys were taking a dip, and couldn’t help but notice their discord.

Coleen ordered a pint of draught beer and a vodka and lemonade for Wayne, and they chatted sporadically. Or rather, she did - wrinkling her nose at him to make her point, as is her habit.

He just grunted and wallowed around on a waterproof striped cushion. Not once did they kiss or hug, or even drape an arm around one another.

So he was 'coincidentally' directed to a sun-lounger near the Rooneys, but didn't bother moving. He just stayed there. Watching them talk. Making notes about the food and drinks they ordered. Staring as they sunbathed for five hours.

He must be so proud he doesn't work for one of those 'downmarket' papers.

(Hat-tips to @couragerequired and @RopesToInfinity)

Friday 29 October 2010

Shocking. Look!

The Mail website is trying to act shocked over a new perfume advert starring Christina Aguilera:

Over the top. Pushing the boundaries of deceny. Soft-porn style:

It's supposed to be an advertisement for her new fragrance Royal Desire.

But the commercial for Christina Aguilera's latest perfume looks more like a low budget soft-porn film as the newly-single pop star shows off her curvaceous figure.

Showcasing her ample cleavage in a very low cut dress and writhing in a chair in ecstasy as she sprays the perfume across her chest, the singer's ad may be a bit too risque for her younger fans.

But it's not too risque for her, ahem, older fans working at the Mail.

The accompanying article - little more than free publicity for the scent - contains no news content but does include six stills from the sixteen-second advert and, at the end, they even embed the not-at-all boundary-pushing video:

Mary in Belfast sums up the Mail's over-reaction perfectly:

(Hat-tip Press Not Sorry)

Thursday 28 October 2010

EU could make it up

The Telegraph has made new claims about what the EU is going to 'force' the UK to do in this article which appeared yesterday:

The word 'hijack' was actually used by a UKIP MEP although he doesn't actually say what the headline claims:

Paul Nuttall, a Ukip MEP, accused the EU of wanting to impose its view of history on war sites such as the Menin Gate, which marks the 55,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who died in the First World War fighting of the Ypres Salient but who have no known graves.

"As we come up to Remembrance Sunday it is outrageous to think that the EU might try and hijack the Menin Gate when in fact it commemorates the British and Commonwealth soldiers who died to protect our independence from Europe," he said.

But a letter from the European Commission Spokesperson for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth debunks the Telegraph's story:

You claim that the EU wants to ‘hijack’ Remembrance Sunday with a plan to put euro-branded commemorative plaques marking “European integration” on war cemeteries and memorials in the UK (27 October). This is nonsense and a serious distortion of the facts, which were explained in some detail to your correspondent.

The facts are that the UK government and other Member States asked the European Commission to come forward with an initiative for a ‘European Heritage Label’, which will mark sites which have an important place in European history and European integration.

Under our proposal, which was backed by the European Parliament this week, it will be up to national governments to nominate sites for the award, if they want to. The sites might include places of remembrance. An independent expert panel will assess the nominations it receives from national governments and decide which of them merits the heritage label.

If the panel receives no nominations from the UK, no sites in the UK would display the European Heritage Label.

The EU cannot unilaterally impose the heritage label on anyone.

We believe the scheme will raise international awareness of heritage sites all over Europe and that the cost of the initiative will be far outweighed by the economic benefits it will bring for the sites themselves, for job creation and for local businesses in terms of increased tourism.

To suggest that the EU wants to ‘hijack’ Remembrance Sunday is frankly outrageous. It dishonours the newspaper to write such rubbish and, more importantly, it dishonours those who sacrificed their lives for the freedom we take for granted today.

Dennis Abbott
Captain (Retd), Royal Signals
European Commission Spokesperson for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

This is the not the only time this week that newspaper stories about the EU have been challenged. Yesterday, Jonathan Scheele, Head of EU Representation in the UK, wrote to the News of the World explaining that one of their claims was very slightly out:

Your article “We scrimp and save …. Eurocrats splurge” published 24 October incorrectly states that the 2011 budget for the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop) is 158 million pounds. Cedefop’s draft budget for 2011 is in fact ten times lower, ie 15.48 million pounds.

That was noticed by Minority Thought, as was the response to the Sunday Express' silly 'EU is on another planet' headline (also looked at by Atomic Spin).

The paper claimed in one sub-head that £670million was to be wasted 'making explicit films'. Clearly Express owner Richard Desmond has a vested interest in other people getting involved in the explicit film business.

But the story admitted that these weren't really 'explicit films' at all but are actually 'art-house films', although the Express dismisses these as 'revelling in scenes of sex and violence'.

Once again, Dennis Abbott responded, leaving a lengthy comment on the Express' website:

Don't you mean the Express is on another planet?

Kirsty Buchanan, congratulations: you are hereby inducted into the Express 'Never Let the Facts Get in the Way of the Story' hall of journalistic fantasy.

You write that the EU is funnelling taxpayers' cash 'into subsidies for pro-European documentaries and art-house films revelling in senes of sex and violence'.

Here are the facts, for anyone who's interested. By the way, I explained them to Kirsty last Friday:

The EU's aid for the film industry prohibits support for explictly pornographic or racist films or films promoting violence.

Oh and we do not just support 'art-house' films. Recent beneficiaries of funding from the EU include the companies behind award-films like Slumdog Millionaire, The Wind that Shakes The Barley and The Pianist. You may be aware that these films also did quite well at the box office.

Without EU funding at the early stages, these films might never have got off the drawing board.

Thr UK is among the biggest net beneficiaries of EU funding through the MEDIA fund for cinema (ie the UK gets a lot more out of the fund than it puts in).

Why does the EU help to fund the film sector - especially small operators? Because we want to help to create and safeguard jobs in the industry, and to ensure diversity.

If any readers want to find out the facts about EU funding for cinema, click here:

If they want to know more about programmes revelling in sex, they're much better off checking out Television X or Red Hot TV ... and we know you [sic] runs them, don't we?

Best regards

Dennis Abbott
EC spokesperson for education and culture

It's interesting to note that in both responses by Abbott, he makes clear that the journalist who wrote the story was told the EU's side of the story in advance but, in both cases, they seem to have deliberately ignored it.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

What's in a name?

Just like last year, the Mail is once again foaming at the mouth about baby names. Here's the ten most popular boys' names in 2009, as listed by the Mail:

Naturally, the headline the Mail then sticks on the story is:

Despite 'Mohammed' actually appearing at number 16 on the list (the same position as last year), the Mail has added up 12 variations of the name in order to claim it's now the most popular and create a bit of anti-Muslim scaremongering.

It's much the same article as they produced last year, so the points made about it by this blog last year still stand.

It's hard to take this game seriously. There are clear cultural reasons why Mohammed is so popular among Muslim families, but it's a relatively small number overall.

The Mail says that when you add 12 other recognised variations of Mohammed together, the number of boys given that name in 2009 was 7,549 (out of 362,135 boys born).

Yet the ONS figures show that the number of boys given those same 12 names in 2008 was 7,673.

Overall, this accounted for 2.09% of all boys born in 2008, a very slightly higher number than the 2.08% in 2009.

(Jonathan at No Sleep 'Til Brooklands has more)

Tuesday 26 October 2010


The Mail's latest attack on the BBC is:

If BBC presenters were not wearing poppies, that would be wrong. Now they're being criticised for wearing them too early.

Primly Stable has already blogged on the Mail's article. She points out that their original headline was 'BBC presenters criticised by charities for wearing poppies too early' eventhough there are no 'charities' being critical, just a few individuals (including the usual BBC messageboard people).

Indeed, the Royal British Legion were quoted as saying:

'What we do say to people is that when you receive your poppies – organisations, retailers, whoever – we set guidelines and say the national launch will be from 28 October,' said a spokesman.

'But it's really down to the individual as to when they choose to wear their poppy. We would never say they're wearing their poppy too early.'

So no real problem then.

However, a second version of the article has severely reduced this quote.

The Telegraph, jumping on the BBC-slating bandwagon, have churned out their own version of the same story, but at least they point out that BBC presenters starting wearing poppies on 23 October this year - exactly the same date as they did last year. The Independent was also concerned, explaining in an editorial:

The wearing of poppies, like the preparations for Christmas, seems to start a few days earlier every year. The artificial red flower was already adorning many a BBC presenter's lapel on Saturday, more than three weeks before Remembrance Sunday on 14 November... By stretching out the time in which the poppy is worn, we devalue its significance.

And yet, this year, the Yeovil branch of the British Legion launched its poppy appeal on 23 October. Will these papers criticise them too?

Or will they criticise the Sun and Express for flaunting their poppies before the official appeal launch date on 28 October?

And what about the Daily Star? They were equally happy to report on the criticism of the BBC, but there was just something about their article which made it feel a little hypocritical:

Yes - their own banner poppy rather undercuts the message 'don't put on poppy too early'.

Thursday 21 October 2010

FC Barcelona complains about 'invented interviews'

A month ago, the PCC upheld a complaint against the Daily Star. Then the paper had to pay out substantial damages over another false story.

Now the Daily Star and its Sunday sister paper have been severely criticised by FC Barcelona for running what it says are 'invented interviews':

In recent weeks a number of invented interviews with the club’s players have appeared in the Daily Star and the Daily Star Sunday. FC Barcelona wish to make it known that none of these interviews are attributable to the players therein cited and also to explain to our supporters throughout the world that the information and declarations made in these articles are totally and absolutely false.

FC Barcelona has officially sent the media outlets concerned a formal complaint and warned them that it will not allow any further situations like this to be repeated. Should this happen, the club will not hesitate to act in defence of its own image and the honour of its players.

This club has worked closely with the media and will continue to do so, as we believe it to be a very important part of the spreading of information about sport and in particular about football.

The background to this statement seems to be the doubts raised about a series of 'interviews' with some of the leading footballers playing in Europe that have appeared in the Daily Star Sunday.

For example, in September, Guillem Balague reported:

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has strenuously denied making comments attributed to him in an interview in this Sunday's edition of The Daily Star. I have been in contact with Pique and he also assures me that he did not even give an interview to the journalist in question.

Barcelona striker David Villa also appears to have denied speaking to the paper.

Journalist James Goyder has been following the story.

(Hat-tip to UKAtheist)

From the Chile Tourist board...

Last Friday, the Daily Star's front page story claimed that the San Jose mine in Chile was 'to open as theme park'.

There was no evidence this was the case - even the quote the paper used about 'tourist potential' failed to mention a theme park - and the story seems to have originated on a spoof news website.

Here's what the Star said:

The Chilean Tourist Board now aims to turn the mine site into a money-spinning theme park. They are also set to offer adventure holidays including a trip underground on the rescue capsule that brought the 33 to safety.

But here's what the European Press Representative of the Chilean Tourist Board (Turismo Chile) has told this blog:

Well, I don't know where this newspaper got that information. I've never heard anything like that.

The Star has form on this. Recently they admitted they had 'made no attempt to check the accuracy of [a] story before publication.' Clearly they didn't contact Turismo Chile to check this story either.

Last month, the PCC actually upheld a complaint about one of the Star's front page stories where the Commission said it was:

...particularly concerned at the lack of care the newspaper had taken in its presentation of the story.

It seems an almost daily feature that the front page is misleading if not simply wrong.

When will we get a regulator that will do something about it other than express 'concern'?

Mail blames Muslims over planning dispute

The Mail's latest 'look what we have to do because of Muslims' tale is this:

The headline was changed while writing this post, to:

'Cafe owner ordered to remove extractor fan because neighbour claimed 'smell of frying bacon offends Muslims''.

But it's worth noting that the original headline, shown at the top of the browser window, was:

'Cafe owner ordered to remove extractor fan in case smell of frying bacon offends passing Muslims'.

Was that the real reason? The article begins:

A hard-working cafe owner has been ordered to tear down an extractor fan - because the smell of her frying bacon 'offends' Muslims.

Planning bosses acted against Beverley Akciecek, 49, after being told her next-door neighbour's Muslim friends had felt 'physically sick' due to the 'foul odour'.

Notice the use of emotive terms 'hard-working' and 'tear down'.

But then we learn that the cafe owner's husband (Cetin) is a 'Turkish Muslim'. Clearly, he hasn't complained or been offended. The owner says:

Cetin's friends actually visit the shop, they're regular visitors, they're Muslim people, they come in a couple of times a week. I have Muslim people come in for cheese toasties. Cetin cooks the food himself, he cooks the bacon.

No 'offence' there either then.

But then it becomes clear that the complaints about the smell coming from the cafe's extractor fan were not from random passing Muslims.

Indeed, the planning application details appear to show that there was just one official complaint - and that was from the person who lives next door to the cafe:

Mr [Graham] Webb-Lee said: 'The vent is 12 inches from my front door. Every morning the smell of bacon comes through and makes me physically sick.'

Notice he says the smell makes him 'physically sick', not his Muslim friends, as the Mail claimed in the second paragraph. And yes, he does mention his 'Muslim friends' couldn't 'stand the smell'. But using the term 'Muslim friends' strongly implies he's not actually Muslim himself - if he was, it's likely the Mail would have mentioned it somewhere.

According the cafe owner, Webb-Lee told a council meeting:

...he had a daughter with an eating disorder, the Muslim friends, and the bad smell all the time is making his clothes smell.

Add to that his comments that the smell makes him 'physically sick' and you wonder why the Mail has decided to only highlight one of these reasons...

After all, the Council ruled that the smell from the fan was unacceptable to everyone:

A spokesman for Stockport Council said: 'The retrospective application was rejected on the grounds of residential amenity, as the committee felt the odours given off from the vent were unacceptable for neighbouring residents.'

So the cafe owners are being forced to remove the extractor fan because they didn't get planning permission when they installed it and when the (almost certainly non-Muslim) neighbour complained about the smell, their subsequent planning application was refused because it was giving off unacceptable odours.

At time of writing, this was the second story on the Mail's homepage.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

'The health and safety aspect of the story is a media addition'

Here's what Richard Littlejohn said about health and safety on 21 September 2010:

For the past 15 years, this column has made a good living out of elf 'n' safety. Now, though, the Government is promising to put an end to the madness, scrapping the stupid rules and risk assessments, and derailing the spiv lawyers cashing in on the com-pen-say-shun culture.

No one has told Lancaster City Council, which has banned revellers from watching the city's annual fireworks display from Castle Hill, citing - you guessed - elf 'n' safety,

Even though it has taken place for the past 18 years without anyone getting hurt. Looks like there's still some mileage in it for me yet.

And here's what he says today:

Lord Young’s report on elf’n’safety stupidity was long overdue and his recommendations sensible — particularly over the spiv lawyers at Blame Direct and the hyper-cautious risk assessment industry.

But he’s got his work cut out. Over the weekend, the new, touchy-feely sunflower seeds exhibition at Tate Modern was closed down because of fears it could bring on asthma attacks...

Another report highlighted the loss of most of Britain’s historic cobbled streets, which are being dug up and buried under Tarmac by councils on the off-chance someone might slip over and sue for com-pen-say-shun.

This column has made a good living out of elf’n’safety over the years. If Lord Young succeeds, I’m out of a job.

Fortunately, given the stubborn endurance and bloody-mindedness of the British bureaucrat, I’m confident there’ll be some mileage in it for a few years yet.

It seems there is one type of recycling that Littlejohn thinks is acceptable...

But there's some interesting points made in the Young Report that Littlejohn has conveniently overlooked. Such as:

Britain’s ‘compensation culture’ is fuelled by media stories about individuals receiving large compensation payouts for personal injury claims and by constant adverts in the media offering people non-refundable inducements and the promise of a handsome settlement if they claim.


One of the great misconceptions, often perpetuated by the media, is that we can be liable for the consequences of any voluntary acts on our part. During winter 2009/10, advice was given on television and radio to householders not to clear the snow in front of their properties in case any passer by would fall and then sue.

This is another manifestation of the fear of litigation. In fact there is no liability in the normal way, and the Lord Chief Justice himself is reported as saying that he had never come across a case where someone was sued in these circumstances.


We have all read countless media stories blaming health and safety regulations for all manner of restrictions on our everyday life...

The Health and Safety Executive runs a successful ‘myth of the month’ page on its website; however, there is no end to the constant stream of misinformation in the media.

Again and again ‘health and safety’ is blamed for a variety of decisions, few of which actually have any basis in health and safety legislation at all.

Young looks at three health and safety stories that he says are myths. One is the case of the Dovedale stepping stones, which hit the headlines in August. 'Dovedale's iconic stepping stones paved over amid health and safety fears', screeched the Mail. 'Concrete slabs placed on historic stepping stones due to health and safety', huffed the Telegraph.

Young says:

Like so many health and safety stories in the media, the renovation of the Dovedale stepping stones has nothing at all to do with health and safety.

The stones date from the Victorian era but over time had weathered and sunk down into the river bed, thereby becoming uneven. Some had sunk to such a degree that the route became inaccessible for parts of the year. The only other route across the river is via a footbridge up a narrow scree slope, which is harder to access.

The stones are on National Trust land but as they form part of a public right of way Derbyshire County Council is responsible for maintaining them. Therefore the National Trust asked the council to look at the stones. This resulted in the stones being raised to their original height. Similar renovation methods have been used in the past.

The issue here was that a public right of way had become inaccessible. It seems that the health and safety aspect of the story is a media addition.

And, as this blog mentioned in a post about media articles about 'bans' that aren't really bans at all, Littlejohn and his ilk will continue to get their 'mileage' out of it if they keep exaggerating or inventing these 'health and safety' stories.

Monday 18 October 2010

The Mail and body image

In the Daily Mail today:

The article, by Dr Aric Sigman, says:

There has been an 80 per cent rise in young girls being hospitalised with ­anorexia in the past ten years. And body dissatisfaction is affecting younger and younger children.

In a recent study published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology, almost half of the three to six-year-old girls surveyed said they worried about being fat.

Yet any serious correlation between visual media and the rise of eating disorders has largely been dismissed. Until now, so-called ‘body politics’ has been a cultural and psychological debate, owned by feminists and eating-disorder therapists. They dismissed blaming the visual media as too simplistic.

However, new research shows there is a much stronger link between visual media and eating disorders. Repeated exposure to images of thin women alters brain function and increases our propensity to develop eating disorders.

He concludes:

Fortunately, more and more scientists and prominent medical bodies are beginning to view the media as playing a major role in eating disorders. The Royal College of Psychiatrists recently issued a statement saying the media propagates ‘unobtainable body ideals’ and that airbrushed images should carry a kite mark.

Whether you believe the argument or not, the fact is the Mail has been happy to publish an article that links media images and eating disorders.

Meanwhile the Mail website has run a 'story' today about 'super-slim' Whitney Port eating an apple (yes, really) in which Daily Mail Reporter writes:

But Whitney could certainly afford to pile up her plate somewhat as her black and grey halternecked bikini showed off her jutting hip bones, and pin-thin legs.

The Mail handily provide nine photos of Port in her bikini so their readers can judge her body for themselves.

Elsewhere, another woman in a bikini was under the Daily Mail Reporter's microscope, this one for being too fat:

Taryn Manning looked super-relaxed as she sunbathed in a metallic purple bikini in Hawaii.

So much so, that she seemed content to let it all hang out, as the Hawaii Five-0 actress's tiny two-piece left little to the imagination...

She sat poolside sipping on a very green cocktail, and was refreshingly un self-conscious despite the fact that her tummy rolls were on display for all to see.

This comes a couple of weeks after Daily Mail Reporter was ludicrously pointing out the 'girth' and 'protruding belly' of Katy Perry.

If the Mail is truly concerned the media's role in how women and girls view themselves and their body shapes, they should start by having a word with their tacky website.

Woman dyes hair

At one stage today, the Mail website homepage contained eleven 'stories' about The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. In total, they have published 13 articles about these two shows just today, some of which were spread over pages 10 and 11 of the newspaper.

(By contrast, the Mail has not produced one single article about the death of Jimmy Mubenga, despite their usual obsession with immigration issues.)

But in the 'pointless-stories-giving-free-publicity-to-TV-shows' stakes, Saturday's Sun will take some beating. They went with 'woman dyes hair, prepares for TV show':

Even Sky News presenter Matt Smith was unimpressed. He said, with a sigh:

Yes, that's really on the front of the Sun.

Friday 15 October 2010

From Spoof to Star

Today's Daily Star front page claims:

A theme park? Well, it's a Star 'exclusive' - that must be the only reason it's not being reported elsewhere.

A twelve paragraph story follows - most of which is about the rescue. Rather suspiciously, only two paragraphs mention the 'theme park':

The Chilean Tourist Board now aims to turn the mine site into a money-spinning theme park. They are also set to offer adventure holidays including a trip underground on the rescue capsule that brought the 33 to safety.

No decision has been made on when it could be opened but a spokesman for Turismo Chile said: “We think many people will be attracted. There is great tourist potential.”

Google finds no other website carrying that quote. It also finds that when you search for 'Chile mine theme park' the first result is the Star and the second is a website called The Spoof:

(image slightly edited to remove banner advert)

The Spoof says it is 'Always there with the funniest spoof headlines'. Apparently, one website's spoof headline is the Daily Star's front page 'news'.

The Independent's Guy Adams is in Chile and has been reporting on the rescue operation from the scene. Had he heard about these theme park plans?

(hat-tip to Gav Powell)

Thursday 14 October 2010

McKinstry and The Mentalist

Leo McKinstry's column in today's Express ran with the headline:

The intro to the article says:

Move over Morse. Columbo, hang up that raincoat. Shut it, Sherlock. There’s a new TV detective on the prowl. LEO McKINSTRY is bowled over by 'The Mentalist'...

The Mentalist? Really?

Yes, although the rest of that sentence might help explain why:

LEO McKINSTRY is bowled over by 'The Mentalist', which returns to Channel Five tomorrow.

Ah. It's a programme broadcast on Channel Five which is owned, like the Express, by Richard Desmond.

What a coincidence.

McKinstry is gushing in his praise throughout this shameless puff-piece:

But there has never been a maverick in the crime genre quite like Patrick Jane, the hero of the US TV series The Mentalist, which returns for its third season on Channel Five tomorrow.

That's just in case you didn't catch when the new series starts when it was mentioned three paragraphs before.

And it just goes on and on:

Until the arrival of The Mentalist I had always thought that Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes was in a league of his own as the ultimate TV crime-solver.


The Mentalist is completely different to anyone who has gone before.


So striking are Patrick’s powers of perception he could be taken for a mind-reader.


The Mentalist has a host of other qualities that enhance his appeal, such as his rich sense of humour, reflected in the wide smile. Again this contrasts with the innate grumpiness that seems to characterise so many detectives.


Another crucial ingredient that [write Bruno] Heller provides is a tremendous sense of narrative power.

And the final paragraph:

As series three starts there is a dark sense of foreboding, eerily similar to Sherlock Holmes’s fateful battle against Professor Moriarty, which ended with both of them plunging to their doom at Reichenbach Falls. Whatever the final outcome for the Mentalist it will make gripping television.

In all, the Express has devoted just under 1,200 words to plug a programme on Channel Five.

According to the Express website, McKinstry has written 84 articles for the paper this year, the overwhelming majority of which are about politics. This is the first one devoted to a single television programme.

Of course, it is entirely possible that McKinstry genuinely believes The Mentalist is this good.

But given he writes two columns a week for the Express, it seems odd that he doesn't appear to have mentioned it at any time during the previous two series.

The two series broadcast on Channel Five before Desmond owned it.

Wednesday 13 October 2010


The Daily Mail reports:

James Tozer's article begins:

Once they fought them on the beaches. Seventy years later it seems they are fighting them in the aisles.

But this time the enemy is the German-owned Aldi supermarket.

It has infuriated war veterans by refusing to let them sell remembrance poppies in one of its stores.

Except at the end of the very same story, Aldi say:

‘Requests to collect in-store or leave collection tins in-store are dealt with on a case-by-case basis, and due to Mr Myerscough’s age, we will gladly allow him to collect in store.

It appears that one store - in Manchester - had originally said that the Royal British Legion could do their collecting:

under the ‘protective overhead canopy’ outside the store.

Tozer claims this was:

little more than a declaration of war.

But Aldi have since changed their mind and allowed him into the store.

So the Mail knew their headline and the spin on their article about poppy selling being 'banned' (and by Germans!) wasn't true. Yet they went ahead with it anyway.

This is the latest in a very long line of media reports about something being 'banned' which hasn't quite turned out to be entirely accurate.

At the weekened, the Star and the Telegraph both reported that traffic wardens and parking staff from one council have been 'banned' from smiling.

In the Star, Emily Hall wrote:

Traffic wardens have been banned from smiling in case it makes cheesed-off drivers more irate.

The Telegraph said clearly:

Quite how a council polices a 'ban' on facial expressions isn't immediately clear. But that implies Hall and the Telegraph churnalist have actually thought about this story.

In fact, the local paper revealed that during training, staff were told that smiling might not be appropriate when dealing with irate members of the public as it could upset them further.

Once again, a example of people being given guidance becomes a story about a 'ban'.

On Sunday, the Express claimed:

Nanny state rules have banned scissors, plasters and creams in council first aid kits to stop accident victims suing over medical mishaps.

Really? 'State rules' have 'banned' these things? There isn't a council first aid kit anywhere in the country with plasters and scissors inside? On what bit of comprehensive research has the Express come to this conclusion?

One worker for one of England’s biggest county councils, who didn’t want to be named, said: "It is ridiculous. The kit supplied in our pool car doesn’t have scissors, plasters or antiseptic cream and when I asked why not I was told about the legal implications."

Ah. One anonymous person from one unnamed council giving an example about one first aid kit. Even if what that one person says is true, it's a big jump to go from that to a nationwide ban.

Moreover, the HSE, in guidance revised in October 2009, say that in low-hazard work environments a 'minimum stock of first-aid items' would include 20 plasters, eye pads, triangle bandages, safety pins, wound dressings and disposable gloves.

Yes, it also says:

It is recommended that you don’t keep tablets and medicines in the first-aid box.

But that seems more like common sense than some indecipherable nanny-state ruling.

Then there was the story about Barnet Council 'banning' mother-in-law jokes which appeared in the Mail, Star and Telegraph (and many other places).

Had they? No:

Barnet Council has denied censoring staff by putting a ban on mother-in-law jokes, after a handout used at a training session described them as “sexist” and disrespectful to elders.

Around 30 staff members attending the equality and diversity practise workshop were given the booklet cautioning them on their use of humour.

In the document, put together by a £550-a-day independent trainer it says: “Careful on Humour: Humour can be incredibly culture-specific, and is very open to misinterpretation or even offense [sic] by other cultures. And don’t forget: when you don’t know what people are laughing at, it is easy to imagine that they are laughing at you.

“Example: British mother-in-law jokes, as well as offensively sexist in their own right, can also be seen as offensive on the grounds that they disrespect elders or parents.”

However, a spokesman for Barnet Council said the document was not a policy document, but merely used as an example of how workers should be mindful of causing offence to people of other cultures.

They added: "Barnet council does not have a policy on mother-in-law jokes.
“The information was given in a handout to 30 staff who attended a one off training course by a third party trainer and is not a council document.

“Our advice to staff is that they should be polite and avoid giving offence to any member of the public.”

(More on that from Five Chinese Crackers)

One of the hacks who delights in this 'can you believe what they've banned now?' stuff is, of course, Richard Littlejohn. During the World Cup he claimed:

Just in time for the start of the World Cup in South Africa, a primary school in Essex has banned playground football. You guessed - elf 'n' safety.

Four days later, he had to publish an unqualified apology after the headteacher told him football had been suspended to punish bad behaviour.

But that didn't deter him. A few weeks ago, he wrote:

For the past 15 years, this column has made a good living out of elf 'n' safety.

How nice of him to admit that's he's been paid handsomely for flogging the same dead horse for a decade-and-a-half.

He continued:

Now, though, the Government is promising to put an end to the madness, scrapping the stupid rules and risk assessments, and derailing the spiv lawyers cashing in on the com-pen-say-shun culture.

No one has told Lancaster City Council, which has banned revellers from watching the city's annual fireworks display from Castle Hill, citing - you guessed - elf 'n' safety.

Even though it has taken place for the past 18 years without anyone getting hurt.
Looks like there's still some mileage in it for me yet.

Of course, one of the reasons he's been able to get so much 'mileage' out of it is because he wildly exaggerates what 'elf'n'safety' is actually responsible for.

In the case of the Lancaster fireworks, Primly Stable did more research than Littlejohn could manage. He found a report in the Lancaster Guardian that told a rather different story:

Lancaster City Council has decided not to allow people into the Castle and Priory area on November 6, citing negative feedback from visitors last year and potential safety issues.

Yes, safety was one issue (although it's not clear why ensuring people are safe should be considered a 'bad thing'). But what about the negative feedback?

Gill Hague, the council’s assistant head of community engagement, said that the area would be completely closed off to the public.

She added: “Visitors told us that the castle precinct was cramped and is not a particularly good area from which to view the fireworks due to its historic layout.

“Many people found that their view of the fireworks was blocked by spectators, buildings and trees. Last year we experimented with limiting numbers at the castle but we received similar comments.”

She added that people’s safety was one consideration.

So although safety was 'one consideration', the Council have actually 'cited' the fact that last year's spectators thought the area was cramped and didn't give a good view of the firework display.

That 'elf'n'safety' story appeared just a few days after the tabloids had given the Winterval myth yet another outing.

And on the 2 October the media was falling over itself to come up with examples of silly health and safety rules following a series of interviews by Lord Young - who has been asked by the Government to produce recommendations that will put an end to such 'madness'.

The Sun came up with several examples of health and safety gone mad. For example:

Residents in flats were barred from hanging washing on lines from their balconies by officials in Croydon, South London. They said the clothes may fall on passers-by beneath the flats and hurt them.

Except they didn't say that at all. Croydon Council weren't worried about a wet shirt falling on to passers-by, but entire rotary washing lines:

The use of rotary dryers attached to a balcony or a walkway...presents a health and safety risk to other residents if they fall. This could happen in high winds or when the dryer is overloaded with heavy and wet washing. They are also an eyesore and can cause damage to the council’s property. The council does not give permission to any resident to use a rotary dryer in this way.

Instead of fixing a rotary dryer to the building there are lots of other folding dryers available that are free-standing and can be taken indoors after use.

That might still strike the 'health and safety gone mad' brigade as needlessly officious, but at least they should be honest about what is actually being said.

Another example the Sun quoted was about a ban on toothpicks:

A restaurant in Cheshire banned toothpicks from being given to customers in case they hurt themselves and sued. The barmy call came after advice from a health and safety consultant without any qualifications.

In fact, one customer who wanted to pick his teeth in public (shudder) had been told he couldn't have one. The Mail blamed the 'Toothpick Taliban' and said:

it seems the toothpick has become the latest victim of the health and safety police.

But later in the article they acknowledged:

However, a Macdonald Hotels spokesman denied there was a toothpick ban, and suggested 'there were simply none available on the night'.

Indeed, the hotel's Regional General Manager explained:

- There is absolutely no directive from Head Office with regards toothpicks, and this was not noted to the guest by the senior manager on duty, as implied by the various articles

- There is no law against toothpicks, and this was certainly not reported to the guest concerned

- The hotel had genuinely run out of toothpicks, and we are at a complete loss as to why the waiter would have come up with the Health & Safety excuse, unfortunately being a casual staff member and University student, we haven't as yet seem him to ask

- The guest concerned had in fact ordered a bespoke meal for himself and his wife, and this was different to the rest of the visiting diners

- The guest was found a "toothpick" once the situation had been brought to the attention of the manager on duty that evening

So how has the Sun concluded a 'health and safety consultant without any qualifications' had 'banned' toothpicks?

One other example the Sun uses is about a pancake race:

People taking part in a Shrove Tuesday pancake race in St Albans, Herts, were told by a council official to walk rather than run - because recent rain made it dangerous.

Lord Young calls this 'the worst case I've come across.' Now this one is actually true. But was it a big deal? The St Albans Review reported:

Organisers and competitors alike have denied a national press report that yesterday's St Albans pancake race was ruined by excessive safety fears...

The Daily Mail reported that the event was booed, and some competitors complained the ban was pointless as the rain was very light.

But district councillor Melvyn Teare, the responsible cabinet member, said: "It was raining heavily so it was decided for safety reasons that people would have to walk rather than run...But despite the rain, it was a successful event and everybody seemed to enjoy themselves."

He was backed by competitor Louise Miller from a team representing the Grove House hospice, who said: "How sad that certain daily newspapers need to put a negative spin on such a fun, community event...It was raining, there was no booing - in fact as ever there was a great atmosphere and lots of laughter and cheering"...

Nicola O'Donnell, from the winning team Strutt and Parker, said: "We had a really good time. I thought it was a great event and we'll do it again next year. It was a shame it was raining, but the ban on running didn't affect us in any way."

The paper adds:

Just a stone's throw away in Rickmansworth, one pancake race competitor took a tumble on a slippery pavement, which perhaps could have been avoided if the same health and safety regulations had been applied.

Yes, the walking pancake race may have been over-cautious, but it didn't seem to have much effect on the event itself. So what's the problem?

There is a clear agenda behind these 'banned' stories - that people can't do what they want any more because of health and safety or political correctness or the EU or because it might offend some minority.

Certain newspapers treat every bit of guidance as a 'ban'. Safety concerns are seen as needless meddling. One-off incidents are considered to be part of nationwide diktats.

Very often the examples are exaggerated, if not completely wrong. For example, there have been other stories about bans on buying a dozen eggs, on England flags and football shirts and on milk jugs. None of them were true.

But newspapers know that readers (and, it seems, politicians) react to this stuff so, as Littlejohn warned, there's still plenty of mileage in it for them yet...