Friday 28 January 2011

Mail apologises for telling only half the story

This apology was published on the Mail website on 26 January:

Dr Narendra Sharma

In our article of 30 March 2009, Doctor 'abused abortion patients', we reported allegations of sexual assault by Dr Sharma during a criminal trial, but did not report on the outcome. Dr Sharma was found not guilty of all charges and the trial judge stated that he could 'leave the Court without a stain on [his] character'. We are happy to set the record straight and apologise to Dr Sharma for the distress and embarrassment caused.”

(Hat-tip to The Grim Reaper)

Thursday 27 January 2011

'Face the Facts' on media coverage of Muslims

Today's Face the Facts on BBC Radio 4 looked at Islamophobia and asked:

Are sections of the British press increasing tensions within communities by publishing negative stories about Muslims?

...why are newspapers publishing distorted, islamophobic stories that provoke far-right extremists? Should the Press Complaints Commission impose tougher sanctions? Or do editors need to take more responsibility for the consequences of what they print?

It is an excellent investigation by John Waite that debunks Winterval (with help from Kevin Arscott), the extractor fan and swimming pool stories, the Muslim plots (that weren't) against Coronation Street and the Pope, the smearing of Inayat Bunglawala and the tale of 'diktat' to change school lessons because of Ramadan.

It also includes an interview with the PCC's Stephen Abell.

But were any of the newspapers that pump out this rubbish willing to defend their 'stories'?

Neither the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Star or Sun wished to appear on the programme today, and the editor of the Express was simply 'too busy'.

What a surprise.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Another newspaper falls for spoof Twitter account

The Mail and the Express were both caught out last year, and now it's the Independent that has been forced to apologise for being fooled by a fake Twitter account:

In yesterday’s Independent, Ian Herbert attributed quotes to the ITV football analyst Andy Townsend which suggested that he had made sexist comments on Twitter as part of the Andy Gray/Richard Keys story.

Those quotes originated from a spoof Twitter account. We apologise for any embarrassment caused to Mr Townsend, who has no connection to the @AndyDTownsend account.

Has the Independent not learnt the lesson of 'Wanky Balls' yet?

Churnalism to sell an app

Last week, we had the annual trotting out of the 'Blue Monday' myth - supposedly the most depressing day of the year. It has rightly been dismissed as 'churnalism' and 'bullshit' by Ben Goldacre:

The "most depressing day of the year" began life as a "wacky academic" equation story. This is the kind of thing PR companies offer as "advertising equivalent exposure" for companies who want their brand in the papers.

The equation stunt was not the work of an academic, it was paid for by Sky Travel, and Blue Monday comes just after your first pay cheque arrives, the perfect time to book a holiday.

Well, according to several suspiciously similar stories in the papers today, then 10am on Tuesday is the most stressful time of the week. Here's the Mirror:

And the Mail:

And the Telegraph:

And the Express:

Every article contains the same 'facts' from what they all call 'research'. They all contain the same quotes from the same spokesman and much the same text in between. For example, here's the Mail:

The study of office workers aged between 18 and 45 quizzed respondents on their level of stress throughout the typical working week.

It found a quarter regularly feel stressed at work and for three quarters of workers they regularly come to the end of their tether by 11.16am each day.
But one in five find it gets too much before nine o'clock.

Four in ten blamed heavy workloads and a third said dealing with difficult clients or customers left them feeling frazzled.

Yet three in ten admitted it was their boss which caused them tension in the office and one in six blamed their colleagues for not listening to their cries for help.

And the Telegraph:

The study of office workers aged between 18 and 45 quizzed respondents on their level of stress throughout the typical working week.

It found a quarter regularly feel stressed at work and for three quarters of workers they regularly come to the end of their tether by 11.16am each day.
But one in five find it gets too much before nine o'clock.

Four in ten blamed heavy workloads and a third said dealing with difficult clients or customers left them feeling frazzled.

Yet three in ten admitted it was their boss which caused them tension in the office and one in six blamed their colleagues for not listening to their cries for help.

Yes, they are identical.

It is revealed, somewhat inevitably, that this 'research' is from a recruitment agency. They wouldn't have an interest in getting people thinking about their 'stressful' jobs, would they?

Yet it is only the Express, in its final sentence, that truly gives the game away:

[The agency] has just launched a smartphone app designed to take the stress out of finding a new job.

So a dubious bit of 'research' sent out to journalists in a press release in order to sell a smartphone app gets the classic 'churnalism' treatment.

Monday 24 January 2011

Melanie Phillips and the 'gay agenda'

Yesterday, an article on the Mail website claimed:

The article, by Kate Loveys, stuck closely to a story by Jasper Copping that was posted on the Telegraph website the day before.

The Mail's version was a classic example of the truth being revealed slowly but surely. It starts:

Young children are to be taught about homosexuality in their maths, geography, science and English lessons, it has emerged.

'Are to be'. So that's clear then, right? Well, the next sentence suggests maybe not:

As part of a Government-backed drive to ‘celebrate the gay community’, maths problems could be introduced that involve gay characters.

Ah, now it's 'could be'. Next:

In geography classes, students will be asked why homosexuals move from the countryside to cities – and words such as ‘outing’ and ‘pride’, will be used in language classes.

Back to 'will be'. So it's definite then, for kids aged four, as the headline suggests?

The lesson plans are designed to raise awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual issues and, in theory, could be used for children as young as four.

No. Only 'in theory'. It certainly seems unlikely children that young would be asked questions about the reasons people move to the city.

And then, three sentences later, the big revelation:

Although the lesson plans are not compulsory, they are backed by the Department for Education and will be available for schools to download from the Schools Out website.

And towards the end of the article:

A Department for Education spokesman added: ‘These are optional teaching materials.'

So from children 'will be taught' and 'are to be asked' to 'these are optional' and 'not compulsory'.

Today, in her Mail column, Melanie Phillips takes on the story but, unsurprisingly, those facts about 'not compulsory' and 'optional' have disappeared:

schoolchildren are to be bombarded with homosexual references in maths, geography and ­science lessons as part of a Government-backed drive to promote the gay agenda.

Phillips chooses not to mention that these lesson plans are optional at any point. It's just a bombardment that cannot be stopped. Why? Because:

Alas, this gay curriculum is no laughing matter. Absurd as it sounds, this is but the latest attempt to brainwash children with propaganda under the camouflage of education. It is an abuse of childhood.

And it’s all part of the ruthless campaign by the gay rights lobby to destroy the very ­concept of normal sexual behaviour.

It's hard to know where to start. Why is it Phillips, Littlejohn and their ilk believe educating children about LGBT issues - issues they may be trying to come to terms with personally - is 'brainwashing'? It is quite ludicrous, ill-informed rhetoric. And, as Jonathan at No Sleep Til Brooklands says:

How can you top the claim that mentioning gay people in passing in a textbook question equates to "an abuse of childhood"?

And then there's her view that homosexual sexual behaviour is not 'normal' about which little needs to be said.

She goes on:

As the old joke has it, what was once impermissible first becomes tolerated and then becomes mandatory.

So she not only redefines 'normal', 'bombarded' and 'abuse' but also 'joke'. But what is she on about? How does she think homosexuality is becoming 'mandatory'?

And then she laments the:

...values which were once the moral basis for British society are now deemed to be beyond the pale.

What was once an attempt to end unpleasant attitudes towards a small sexual minority has now become a kind of bigotry in reverse.

Expressing what used to be the moral norm of Western civilisation is now not just socially impermissible, but even turns upstanding people into lawbreakers.

Notice how she downplays homophobia. To her, homophobia isn't disgusting, or hatred or even bigotry. It's just 'unpleasant attitudes' held by 'upstanding people', although in her final sentence she finally admits gay people can be the 'victims of prejudice'.

She makes no mention of homophobic bullying, which may be tackled if children are educated about these issues. A 2007 Stonewall survey said:

Almost two thirds of homosexual pupils in Britain's schools have suffered homophobic bullying...Almost all of those had experienced verbal bullying but 41% had been physically attacked, while 17% said they had received death threats.

Does she not consider such bullying important?

She goes on to repeat yesterday's nonsensical Mail on Sunday splash which was deconstructed by Atomic Spin. And, of course, she refers to Peter and Hazelmary Bull - the B&B owners who were fined for denying a gay couple a double room. It's not that they had broken the law, Phillips says, but that they had:

fall[en] foul of the gay inquisition.

Moreover, she says:

It seems that just about everything in Britain is now run according to the gay agenda.

Has the 'gay agenda' (whatever that is) stopped her writing her column today? Or stopped it being printed in the daily newspaper with second-biggest circulation in Britain? No.

Seems that 'gay inquisition' isn't quite as powerful as she claims, let alone 'McCarthyite' as she so hyperbolically states. And yet:

the seemingly all-­powerful gay rights lobby carries all before it.

Sigh. To quote David Schneider:

Melanie Phillips' latest article. Blimey. Can we build a paywall round the Daily Mail website to keep the articles in?

(For more, try the Melanie Phillips' Quiz of the Day from The Media Blog, and see posts from Press Not Sorry and Forty Shades of Grey)

Sunday 23 January 2011

The Mail's subtle depiction of depression

On Friday, the PCC tweeted a link to an article on the Guardian website which reinforced the:

importance of responsible reporting of mental health issues.

Mary O'Hara wrote:

Ask people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness – especially a serious one like Schizophrenia – what they think about media coverage of the issue and certain words come up time and again. Words like: 'offensive', 'stigmatising', 'sensationalist', 'inaccurate' and 'distorted'...

The natural next question to ask is: why? Why is it that this overwhelming sense of negativity is what people are left with when they read newspapers or watch television programmes where mental illness is featured?


To find an eloquent summing up of why what is written and reported by the media matters we need look no further than the seminal book by Otto Wahl, "Media Madness."

In it Wahl writes: "Media depictions, in their persistent and pervasive inaccurate stereotypes perpetuate the negative attitudes of the public toward people who experience mental disorders and thus help to maintain the stigma, rejection and discrimination that has added to their burden.

"For people with mental illness the images of mental illness that the media currently present have very important, very personal, and very painful consequences."

Last year, Mail columnist Janet Street-Porter was rightly criticised for her article dismissing depression as just a 'trendy new illness'. Such was the backlash that several readers' letters were added to the online version to counter her views.

But it seems the Mail hasn't learnt its lesson and last week ran an article by Angela Patmore, which was little more than an extended plug for her book and which told people with depression that the solution was to 'just get a grip'. The Mail decided to present the article like this:

Will the PCC be reminding the Mail about the 'importance of responsible reporting of mental health issues'?

(Thanks to Angry Mob, who initially tweeted a photo of the above article, and to Kat Arney)


Philip Norman wrote a column in the Mail last week in which he lamented the use of anachronistic language in both The King's Speech and Downton Abbey (while also criticising Kill Bill for not being totally realistic). The headline for the article was:

What? Sooty was in the film that is one of the leading contenders for the Best Picture Oscar? Norman explains in his final remarks, just below a large picture of Sooty:

Oh, I forgot to mention The King’s Speech’s worst crime of all. One scene has Helena Bonham Carter’s bitchy Queen Elizabeth trying to strike up a rapport with Lionel Logue’s children by asking: ‘Do you like Sooty?’ the Thirties? Actually that most malevolent of glove puppets didn’t come along until 1948 with his hammer and ink squirt and magic words: ‘Izzy-wizzy, let’s get busy.’

Izzy-wizzy...once again a scriptwriter didn’t get busy enough.

'Worst crime'? Even if this was accurate, it would hardly be a 'worst crime'.

But sadly, for Norman and the Mail's fact-checkers, it doesn't appear to be accurate - several comments under the article claim she asked a child who wasn't one of Logue's children about sweeties. Not Sooty:

- The lovely Queen Mum said (quite in keeping with the times) "would you like a sweetie?" I'm a southern girl straight out of Dixie and even I understood what she meant.

- Get a life, as you're a pretty poor critic and a deaf one. Sweeties not Sooty!!!!

- Well when I saw the film I heard "Do you like SWEETIES" not "Do you like Sooty"! One of us heard it wrong, Mr Norman.

- Philip Norman, you're an idiot. She doesn't say "do you like Sooty?", she says "do you want a sweetie?".

- Gasp! Another shock expose from the Daily Mail - "Film is work of fiction!" Whatever next?

- Did you actually watch the kings speech? Queen Elizabeth was hardly bitchy. And she was asking the boy, who was one of Logue's patients, not his son, whether he liked SWEETIES.


- Sweeties, Mr Norman; not Sooty.... when writing an article about innacuracy, surely facts should be triple-checked?

- How is this journalism?

(hat-tip to David Cronan)

Update on Daily Mail plagiarism

The Cutline has revealed a few more details about the claim that the Daily Mail plagiarised an article from the New York Times last week.

Joe Pompeo reports:

By Friday morning Eastern time, the Daily Mail had removed the byline of reporter Liz Thomas from the piece, which itself had been edited and cut down significantly from its original form sans the lifted Times text.

But Thomas told The Cutline via email: "This has nothing to do with me. I did not write the piece at all. I am away on holiday."

So what happened here?

"I can tell you that an inquiry is underway to discover how this happened and [we will] deal with the matter appropriately," said Charles Garside, assistant editor at the Daily Mail, who noted that the following erratum was being appended to the piece: "An earlier version of this article was mistakenly attributed to the writer Liz Thomas. We also regret that a revised version of the article also failed to attribute the source to the New York Times."

(Many thanks to Minority Thought for the tip)

Thursday 20 January 2011

Mail accused of plagiarism (again)

'Somebody call the Plagiarism Police on the Daily Mail!' says Jim Romenesko of Poynter, pointing out the 'many' similarities between a Mail article and an earlier story in the New York Times.

Here's one passage, outlined by Romenesko, from the NYT:

Many of these devices transmit a signal, and all of them emit electromagnetic waves, which, in theory, could interfere with the plane’s electronics. At the same time, older planes might not have the best shielding against the latest generation of devices, some engineers said.

And here's how it appeared, under Liz Thomas' byline, in the Mail:

Most personal devices transmit a signal and all of them emit electromagnetic waves which, in theory, could interfere with the plane’s electronics. At the same time, older planes might not have the best protection against the latest generation of devices.

There's more. NYT:

Safety experts suspect that electronic interference has played a role in some accidents, though that is difficult to prove. One crash in which cellphone interference with airplane navigation was cited as a possible factor involved a charter in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2003. Eight people died when the plane flew into the ground short of the runway.

The pilot had called home, and the call remained connected for the last three minutes of the flight. In the final report, the New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission stated, “The pilot’s own cellphone might have caused erroneous indications” on a navigational aid.


Safety experts suspect that electronic interference has played a role in some accidents, although it is difficult to prove.

One crash in which mobile phone interference with a plane's navigation was cited as a possible factor involved a 2003 flight in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Eight people died when the plane flew into the ground short of the runway.

The pilot had phoned home, and the call remained connected for the last three minutes of the flight.

In the final report, the New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission stated, 'The pilot’s own cellphone might have caused erroneous indications' on a navigational aid.


Since 2000, there have been at least 10 voluntary reports filed by pilots in the United States with the Aviation Safety Reporting System, administered by NASA. In 2007, one pilot recounted an instance when the navigational equipment on his Boeing 737 had failed after takeoff. A flight attendant told a passenger to turn off a hand-held GPS device and the problem on the flight deck went away.


Since 2000, there have been at least 10 voluntary reports filed by pilots in the U.S. with the Aviation Safety Reporting System, administered by NASA.

In 2007, one pilot recounted an instance when the navigational equipment on his Boeing 737 had failed after takeoff.

A flight attendant told a passenger to turn off a hand-held GPS device and the problem on the flight deck went away.


At American Airlines, people dialed cellphones from out-of-service planes parked at various airports. “They found no interaction with the aircraft instruments on any aircraft type,” said Tim Smith, a spokesman for American.

As a result, the airline like most others, decided to permit the use of phones at the gate before departure and after landing.


At American Airlines, people dialed cellphones from out-of-service planes parked at various airports.

'They found no interaction with the aircraft instruments on any aircraft type,' said Tim Smith, a spokesman for American Airlines.

As a result the airline, like most others, decided to allow permit the use of phones at the gate before departure and after landing.

The use of 'dialed' and 'cellphones' in the latter section certainly imply a strong American influence.

And it's not as if this is the first time that questions have been raised about the Mail's 'coincidental overlaps' with other material.

(Hat-tip to Kevin Marsh)

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Star and Express continue running 'ads' for 'The Vanessa Show'...

Another day, another article in the Richard Desmond-owned Daily Star about The Vanessa Show, broadcast on the Richard Desmond-owned Channel Five.

This one explains how a discussion about DIY 'turned the air blue':

The saucy pair [Vanessa and her guest] forgot the cameras were there and started littering their chat with X-rated innuendo.

They giggled like schoolgirls as they cracked naughty jokes about “screwing”, “hammering things in”, and “inserting drills in and out”.

Had such, ahem, 'X-rated innuendo' been on the BBC, the tone of the Star's article might have been very different. Peter Dyke's 'story' makes clear that this 'incident' took place during the filming of the episode that is being broadcast today. So it's yet another advert being passed off as news, with claims about X-rated chat and giving the 'censors' a 'headache' a desperate attempt to drum up interest in the show. And, conveniently, mention what time the show is broadcast.

A shorter article about the guest on Monday's show was published yesterday.

And as Anton Vowl noted in his post about writers at the Star and Express being forced to write this stuff, the Sunday Express' TV editor David Stephenson also did his bit. Under the headline 'Fantastic Vanessa Feltz is a must see' he said:

New to the market last week comes The Vanessa Show (Five, Monday-Friday), the most promising new show in daytime television. Vanessa Feltz is the busiest presenter around with a brace of radio shows on the BBC, a newspaper column for the Daily Express and now a daytime chat/magazine show.

Billed as the “Queen of Morning TV”, there’s little doubt that Vanessa has ample energy and brims with confidence on the sofa. Her break from television has given her a new chutzpah.

However, the best feature of her presentation style is that she doesn’t fall into the common trap of worshipping celebrities like modern-day saints (Lorraine being by far the worst offender, followed by This Morning).

First up on the sofa was former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt from Sky’s Got To Dance. Vanessa confronted the singer/dancer-turned-reality judge with this friendly gambit: “I would quite like to hate you!” What?

The presenter went on to explain how Kimberly, with her model looks, must make women insanely jealous to the point of “hate”.

The show also features Vanessa’s fiancé Ben, who chimes in at various points, and a life coach who, most surprisingly, speaks a lot of sense if you believe in that sort of stuff. At least his first “patient” in Reading appeared to have discovered how to use a webcam.

So, all in all, and in the words of Len Goodman, “Good job!”

Probably the same words that Richard Desmond uttered when he read that 'review'.

Then, last Friday, the Star was at it again, this time re-telling an entirely uninteresting story told by one of the guests on the show. It appears this is going to become a staple of the Star and Express for some time to come:

Vanessa Feltz’s new TV show has caused a sexy stir and seen ratings soar in its first week. Saucy Danielle Lineker even left the telly host, 48, lost for words by confessing husband Gary had caught her in a compromising position with another fella. The model spilled the beans on yesterday’s The Vanessa Show on Channel 5.

The 'compromising position' wasn't really any such thing. And just in case there was any doubt this was simply an advert for Channel 5, the article ends:

The babe is just one of the guests who have spiced up Vanessa’s new show – on at 11am, Monday to Friday every week – and fans can expect more revelations next week. Guests include Liz McClarnon, 29, on Monday, Hayley Tamaddon, 33, on Tuesday and Myleene Klass, 32, on Wednesday.

But is the Star correct to say ratings have 'soared'? You would probably assume that's not the case given they feel the need to keep running these 'adverts' for the programme. If anyone has the viewing figures, please do post them in the comments below.

Monday 17 January 2011

Recommended reading on Liz Jones and Jo Yeates

From Jonathan at No Sleep 'Til Brooklands:

Of all the the journalists in Britain you would want to write about the Joanna Yeates murder, Liz Jones is probably nestling somewhere near the bottom of the list. You might think, after all, that Jones' penchant for consumerist superficiality and ill-directed moaning doesn't quite carry the gravitas required to really deal with such a case of genuine human tragedy and emotion. Well, you'd be right.

Jones' crass, can't-quite-believe-it's-for-real article, from yesterday's Mail on Sunday, includes such vacuous 'insights' as:

It's Friday night and I’m in the Ram bar on Park Street in Bristol.

This is where Joanna Yeates spent her last evening...

The bar is OK but ordinary. The wine list, chalked on a board, says ‘Lauren Perrier’.

I wish she had spent what were probably her last hours on earth somewhere lovelier.


I find Tesco, and go in. I almost buy that upmarket pizza; the choice tells me Jo wanted a lovely life, something above the ordinary.

She goes on to cover antique street lights and trying to pay the Clifton Suspension Bridge toll with a designer button, which doesn't work. Could anyone, anyone, link that non-event with Yeates' murder? Jones can:

Isn’t it interesting that you can snatch a young woman’s life away from her in the most violent, painful, frightening way possible, take away her future children, her future Christmases, take away everything she loves, and yet there are elaborate systems in place to ensure you do not cross a bridge for only 30 pence?

Jonathan notes: No, that isn't interesting. It's irrelevant, facile and absurd. Bridge tolls are no more relevant to this murder than the tooth fairy is. There is no sad irony, no lingering meaning to be found here...[it's] possibly the weirdest paragraph I have ever read in a national newspaper column.

Other bloggers commenting on Jones' piece include Anton Vowl and Shouting At Cows.

Saturday 15 January 2011

Reporting on Europe

Minority Thought has written an important post showing how frequently newspapers make mistakes when writing about the European Court of Human Rights. Repeatedly, decisions from the ECHR are referred to as emanating from the EU, despite the two being separate bodies.

As the European Commission's Representative in the UK told editors last year:

Newsdesks and subeditors are asked to note that decisions of the European Court of Human Rights should not be referred to as EU decisions, and the judgements should not be attributed to “EU judges”, or any similar language. The European Court of Human Rights is part of the Council of Europe, a completely separate organisation to the European Union. The UK is a founding member of the Council of Europe, which was created in 1949 by the Treaty of London.

Meanwhile, last Saturday, the Express published its 24-page pull-out 'Get Britain Out of the EU' which 'explained':

why we must rescue our country from EU dictators.

Yes, 'dictators'.

It began with a statement from Express editor Peter Hill. Unsurprisingly, it didn't take him long (his second paragraph) to mention Hitler:

the traditional rights and freedoms of the peoples of Europe have been systematically swept away with a ruthless efficiency that would have been the envy of Napoleon and Hitler.

Hill said the Express 'speaks out' for the 'people of Britain' - a claim as laughable as its one about it being the 'World's Greatest Newspaper'. The Express declare over 150,000 people have signed their 'Get Us Out of the EU coupon'. Since their daily circulation was 623,689 in December 2010 (down 16,001 from November) that's not even a quarter of their own readership.

The pull-out ended with a 'Cross with Europe: Eurosceptics' Crossword'. Yes, really (click to enlarge):

Friday 14 January 2011

Daily Star 'news'

A fascinating piece of information from the Daily Star, which was the third highest story in their news section yesterday: model goes to same gym as Peter Andre, has never met him.

File this one alongside other Star gems such as 'model not going to be on Come Dine With Me' and 'model not going to be a WAG'.

Thursday 13 January 2011

PCC drops outstanding complaints against Express, Star

Two days ago it was announced that all publications owned by Northern and Shell (N&S) would no longer be under the jurisdiction of the Press Complaints Commission.

However, one reader of this blog has been told by the PCC that they are also dismissing all unresolved complaints - lodged prior to the announcement - against the Daily Express and Daily Star.

He complained to the PCC on 9 December about one article in the Express and one in the Star. On 16 December he was told:

Your complaint will now be passed to the Commission with a view to it making a ruling under the Code. We would hope to be in touch with you with a decision within the next thirty five working days.

After hearing the news of a couple of days ago, he asked the PCC what was going to happen with his complaints. Here's their response:

Thank you for your email yesterday in regard to your complaint against the Daily Star and Daily Express.

The PCC formally considers complaints about the vast majority of UK newspapers and magazines, provided that they subscribe to our funding body, the Press Standards Board of Finance (PressBof).

Owing to a funding dispute between Northern & Shell – the publishers of the newspapers – and PressBof, Northern & Shell do not currently subscribe to the system of self-regulation independently overseen by the PCC. As you correctly noted in your email, the Daily Star and Daily Express do not therefore fall under the Commission’s jurisdiction. I understand that you submitted your complaint prior to the withdrawal of the publishers’ subscription and the office informed you that the Commission would make a ruling on the complaint.

Unfortunately, the Commission did not reach a decision in regard to your complaint before Northern & Shell withdrew its subscription to PressBof and, now that the newspapers do not fall under the Commission’s jurisdiction, it is unable to do so. I understand that this must be frustrating for you, and I apologise that the Commission did not reach a decision while the newspapers still fell under its jurisdiction.

In the circumstances, you may wish to complain directly to the publications. If you wish to do so, their contact details are as follows:

Daily Express
The Northern & Shell Building, 10 Lower Thames Street, London EC3R 6EN
Switchboard Tel: 020 8612 7000 / News Desk Tel: 020 7098 2982
Editor: Peter Hill

Daily Star
The Northern & Shell Building, 10 Lower Thames Street, London EC3R 6EN
Switchboard Tel: 0208 612 7000 / News Desk: 0208 612 7373
Editor: Dawn Neesom

You may also wish to consult a solicitor on the matter. If you would like the PCC to forward your complaint directly to the publication, please let us know.

I am sorry that we are unable to assist you further. Do contact us if you have any queries.

Mail apologises to woman over death of her husband

An apology to Lily Safra from the Mail, which was published online two days ago:

Further to an article about the murder of Edmond Safra, we wish to make it clear there was no intention to suggest that Mr Safra's widow Lily was involved in his death. We accept that there is no basis for such a suggestion and apologise for any distress caused.

A Mail article from last year headlined 'So who DID murder Gilded Lily Safra's billionaire husband?' has vanished from their website.

UPDATE - As Minority Thought points out in the comments, the Press Gazette reported last week that Safra has launched legal action against the Mail:

In legal papers filed with the High Court by her London lawyers Mishcon de Reya, Safra says the story claimed there were reasonable grounds to suspect she was involved in the murder of her late husband, banker Edmond Safra.

Safra is seeking aggravated damages from Associated Newspapers claiming the article included two misleading headlines, with a photograph designed to put her at the very centre of allegations over the “unsolved” murder of her husband.

She is also seeking an injunction banning repetition of the allegations at the heart of her legal claim.

Safra argues the paper knew the story was false and that it was strikingly similar to a Mail on Sunday story for which she received an apology.

In addition, she says, the Daily Mail treated her complaint about the article contemptuously, failed to publish an apology or remove its online version of the story.

Libel and Express Newspapers

Roy Greenslade posted this on his blog earlier today - he's compiled a list of libel cases (resulting in pay-outs) involving the Daily/Sunday Express and Daily Star/Daily Star Sunday since March 2008. It's a long list:

March 2008: £550,000 to the McCanns for "utterly false and defamatory" stories published in all four EN titles about the disappearance of their daughter, Madeleine.

April 2008: substantial undisclosed damages plus costs to Italian footballer Marco Materazzi after the Star falsely alleged he had used racist abuse to provoke an attack by France's Zinedine Zidane.

June 2008: substantial undisclosed damages to Ozzy Osbourne for false allegations by the Star about his behaviour at an awards ceremony.

July 2008: £200,000 to Robert Murat for false allegations about him by all EN titles during the hunt for Madeleine. (Three other newspaper groups also paid £200,000 apiece).

July 2008: substantial undisclosed damages plus costs to footballer Andy Cole because the Star falsely accused him of beating his wife.

October 2008: £375,000 to the so-called "tapas seven", friends of the McCanns, for false allegations about them after the disappearance of Madeleine.

December 2008: £45,000 plus costs to Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Great Britain for false claims in the Express linking him to death threats against Prince Harry.

December 2008: damages to Matt Lucas and David Walliams for an article in the Daily Star Sunday that claimed their TV series had offended gay groups in the US. In fact, the named groups did not even exist.

January 2009: substantial undisclosed damages to teenager Kelly Marshall because the Star falsely claimed she had called a murderer a hero.

February 2009: substantial undisclosed damages to Pentagon Capital Management for false allegations in the Sunday Express about the fund manager's bosses.

June 2009: substantial undisclosed damages plus costs to footballer Michael Owen for claims in the Express that he was unwanted and about to retire.

June 2009: substantial undisclosed damages plus costs to David Beckham over false claims in the Star that he chatted up a topless model.

July 2009: £20,000 plus costs to Kate Beckinsale for false claims in the Express that she had been passed over for a movie role.

October 2009: undisclosed damages to Sheryl Gascoigne for a "sensational and highly offensive" story claiming her financial demands had caused her former husband, Paul, to relapse into alcoholism.

December 2009: substantial damages plus costs to Earl Spencer and his daughter for false allegations in the Sunday Express that they had acted improperly over his divorce from his second wife, Caroline.

January 2010: substantial damages and costs to Peaches Geldof for a Star story that falsely implied she was a prostitute.

April 2010: substantial damages to four trustees of a UK charity, Ummah Welfare Trust, after the Express falsely claimed it had links to al-Qaeda.

May 2010: substantial damages and costs to comedian Matt Lucas for a string of "grossly intrusive articles" in the Star following the death of his former partner.

July 2010: damages and costs to Susan Boyle for a Star story wrongly alleging she had to be sedated on a flight to Tokyo.

July 2010: £60,000 to the trustees of a charity, Interpal, for an Express story falsely claiming it supported Hamas.

July 2010: undisclosed damages to actor Mohammed George for an untrue Daily Star Sunday story accusing him of being drunk and threatening BBC staff.

October 2010: undisclosed damages to Rockstar Games for an "entirely false" Star story about the company having invented a video game based on the exploits of the gunman Raoul Moat.

November 2010: undisclosed damages and costs to former MP Stephen Hesford for a false Express report that he had sexually harassed an employee.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

Richard Desmond and the PCC

Imagine this, if you can: you pick up a copy of the Daily Star and see a front page story that you don't think is accurate. You think 'I should make a complain about this'. Who do you turn to?

Well, as of today, not the newspaper regulator, the Press Complaints Commission.

They (and the Press Standards Board of Finance) have decided that the Star, the Daily Express, their Scottish and Sunday editions and a host of barrel-scraping celebrity magazines - in other words, every magazine and 'newspaper' published by Richard Desmond's Northern and Shell (N&S) - are now outside of their jurisdiction.

The PCC is funded through PressBoF, which collects a voluntary 'registration fee' from publishers who want to be part of the self-regulatory system. PressBoF explains:

PressBoF's move follows a decision by the publisher - the second occasion on which this has happened since 2008 - that it no longer wishes to pay the voluntary industry levy to support the work of the PCC. Every effort was made by the PressBoF Board to reverse that decision before Northern & Shell's membership of the system lapsed on 31st December 2010.

This decision means that the Northern & Shell titles will now automatically cease to be covered by the work of the PCC, which will as a result of the publisher's decision no longer deal with complaints from members of the public about them, or of the Editors' Code Committee.

Well, that'll teach Northern & Shell, won't it?

So if someone does want to complain about one of the N&S titles, but doesn't want to take legal action, what can they do? According to the PCC:

The Commission will continue to assist individuals to frame their complaints about published articles and will direct individuals to the relevant departments of the titles within the Northern & Shell group.

But we don't know, at this stage, how N&S will handle such complaints - or if they handle them at all.

As Roy Greenslade says:

If Desmond's editors choose to ignore complaints altogether, nothing can be done for the complainant.

Assuming they will accept complaints, we don't know what rules N&S are now playing by (not that the Star or Express seemed to much care about those rules anyway). Will they still (claim to) adhere to the Editor's Code of Practice? Will they produce their own in-house Code? Will they tell their readers how their complaints system will work?

So far, N&S have declined to comment about these developments. We don't even know for sure why they've decided to opt-out.

In December, the Independent on Sunday's 'Feral Beast' claimed:

Richard Desmond has finally had enough of the frequency with which the paper is referred to the PCC.

Roy Greenslade added:

I understand that the Northern & Shell letter offered no explanation for the decision to stop funding Pressbof, merely stating that it no longer suited Desmond's business needs.

Whether this means that his opposition is due to the number of complaints to the PCC about his papers' ethical lapses or whether it is simply about money is unclear.

[UPDATE: The PCC, in responding to the Media Standards Trust, have said: 'all we have been informed is that the decision was taken for monetary reasons.']

Of course, it is easy to argue that this makes very little difference as the PCC has never had much success in holding these papers to account anyway. After the regulator actually upheld a complaint against the Daily Star over a completely misleading front page story, the paper continued to publish the same awful, untrue rubbish they did before. Now they've decided to opt-out of the system altogether.

As Martin Belam said:

Self-regulation becomes self-selecting regulation

Clearly, Desmond and N&S do not take the PCC very seriously. But what now? Greenslade quotes two MPs:

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Commons culture, media and sport select committee, said: "I regard the exclusion as a very serious development. The committee is on record as saying that if self-regulation is to have any credibility it must encompass all the major publishers. This now creates doubt about its efficacy."

He noted that Desmond's exclusion does "carry some consequences" (as outlined above). Another committee member, Paul Farrelly, agreed. He thought Express Newspapers might find judges in libel and privacy cases more hostile towards papers that are not regulated by the PCC.

However, he also said that the exclusion illustrated that publishers lacked effective sanctions against one of their number willing to thumb their nose at self-regulation, adding that it further exposed the PCC as being "ineffective and toothless."

Will Gore, the PCC's Public Affairs Director, who told Jamie Thunder last year:

'Ultimately if major newspapers say “There’s no point in this system anymore, we’re not going to bother with it” eventually it will start to fall apart and in that scenario there will have to be something else.'

So will the PCC 'fall apart'? Somehow, it seems unlikely. It will probably carry on as usual, reassuring everyone who listens that the system still 'works' when it clearly doesn't. Indeed, their website claims:

Self regulation works because the newspaper and magazine publishing industry is committed to it.

And what happens to Desmond? Well, it appears there's nothing to stop his papers carrying on as usual - filled with all the lies, hatred and dreadful 'journalism' that have filled their pages since he bought them. Will it get worse now the PCC fig-leaf has gone? Can it possibly get worse?

As Roy Greenslade says:

He is a rogue owner running rogue newspapers.

Express and Star plug new Channel 5 show

Yesterday, Minority Thought noted another example of one of Richard Desmond's newspapers publishing 'news stories' about programmes on Channel 5, which Desmond also owns.

The Express reported that a high street store had agreed to sponsor a soap opera on the channel, and had placed the story far more prominently on its website than was merited.

And both the Express and Star have made sure that none of their readers could possibly miss that Vanessa Feltz has a new show on Channel 5, which started yesterday.

It was one of the Express' TV picks of the day:

Hosting this bright new daily magazine show, Daily Express columnist Vanessa Feltz promises to draw on all her life experience.

She’ll be joined each morning by a prominent guest to talk through the topics of the day, while her partner Ben Ofoedu will be on hand as the programme’s roving showbiz reporter.

And, according to today's Star:

Vanessa Feltz’s new Channel 5 show has already proved a triumph – for her fiancé.

Within minutes of coming off air yesterday, co-host and musician Ben Ofoedu, 38, got a call from Warner Music wanting to sign him up.

The Phats and Small star, who has been engaged to Vanessa, 48, for four years, said: “What a fantastic day!”


The Express carries two half-page ads for Channel 5 today. One, on page 33, is devoted to Feltz's new show. The second, on page 41, reveals 'today's top 5' and gives the programme another plug.

So what did Express TV critic Matt Baylis think of the show? To no-one's surprise, he liked it:

A lesson in presenting was provided by the queen of morning television, Vanessa Feltz, who’s back like a breath of fresh air and a most welcome addition to the daytime schedules she is.

From the second the opening credits faded in the first edition of The Vanessa Show (Channel 5) she showed why she’s been so missed from our TV screens.

Seeing Daily Express columnist Vanessa in action it’s easy to forget she’s in a television studio and not just chatting away in your front room. It’s a precious gift for any presenter to possess.

The first of her daily weekday guests got things off to a bright and breezy start, as it was former Pussycat Doll Kimberly Wyatt, who revealed she’s such a supple dancer she can stick her toe in her ear!

Vanessa was joined on the new show by her co-host and fiancé Ben Ofoedu, the chemistry between the pair evident for all to see. He hosted another fun item called Reasons To Be Cheerful. Vanessa’s TV appearance is certainly cause for cheer in a gloomy January.

And Tuesday also happens to be the day Feltz has her weekly column in the Express. No prizes for guessing one of the topics she mentions today:

Did you catch The Vanessa Show on Channel 5 at 11am? It's a frothy confection of celebrities, gossip and fun every weekday morning...

Etc, etc.

Apology from The People

On Sunday, The People published the following apology to Denise Welch and Tim Healy:

On 8 August 2010 we published an article about a charity event held in aid of the Children's Heart Unit at the Freeman Hospital. We said that Denise Welch gave an interview to us about personal issues concerning her marriage to Tim Healy.

We accept that she did not say those things to us and we apologise to both of them for what was published.

(via Press Gazette)

Friday 7 January 2011

The Star's latest source for a front page exclusive: a psychic

As the tabloid media continues its frenzy over the murder of Jo Yeates, today's Daily Star claimed an 'exclusive':

So who is this person who 'knows' who did it? What is the 'new evidence' they have provided? Jerry Lawton, responsible for the infamous 'GTA: Rothbury' article, explains:

A psychic has told police she sketched Jo Yeates’s killers only days before the murder.

Carol Everett says she saw the pair in a premonition she had about the landscape architect’s death.

The psychic investigator insists she “saw” Jo being attacked by two of a group of five men after she rejected their offer of a lift.

She said she did not realise the significance of her vision until Jo’s body was found three weeks later.

Carol, who claims her drawings have helped police in 20 previous cases, came forward after officers arrested Jo’s landlord Chris Jefferies, because she was certain detectives had got the wrong man.

The psychic – who handed police drawings of Soham double child killer Ian Huntley before his 2002 arrest, and claims she drew Washington sniper John Allen Muhammed – said she sketched Jo’s killing on December 7, 10 days before she vanished. “I just knew there was going to be something with this drawing,’’ she said. “I had a feeling about it.

The psychic goes on to give the height, age and race of the two men she thinks are guilty, which is quite irresponsible. As Jonathan, at No Sleep Til Brooklands says:

ultimately this kind of unfounded speculation from a single source who has no knowledge of the case can't be helpful, particularly when she's allowed to toss out potentially serious misinformation like this

Jonathan also looks at her 'contribution' to the Soham case:

She claimed to have drawn Huntley and Maxine Carr before they were arrested, a claim which seems impressive at first but falls apart when you scroll down to the untouched image, which has 'Carr' with beyond-shoulder-length hair, and an utterly generic white male drawing which claims Huntley has blue eyes (he doesn't)...and isn't even sure whether the thing on his head is hair or a scarf.

Jamie Thunder, who has also blogged about today's Star, calls it a 'disgrace':

I can’t imagine how this must make Joanna Yeates’ family feel. To have a national newspaper exploiting her death by printing pathetic, desperate, unfounded claims from a publicity-seeking fraud (or ‘psychic’) under a headline promising some sort of hope.

The Daily Star. Because sometimes losing your daughter just doesn’t hurt enough.

(Further posts about today's dreadful coverage - including the Sun's offer of a reward and Mail linking the murder to Facebook - from Roy Greenslade, Anorak and Angry Mob)

Tuesday 4 January 2011

Mail on Sunday gets it wrong on US broadcast of 'Downton Abbey'

A couple of days ago, the spirit of Richard Littlejohn's 'Chad Hanging' seemed to influence this Mail on Sunday article by Chris Hastings:

Hastings claimed that when ITV series Downton Abbey is screened in America next week it is 'feared':

...viewers will be left baffled...the beautifully nuanced portrait of pre-First World War upper-class life could prove just a little too complex for the trans­atlantic the land of the notoriously short attention span.

As a result, Downton, which ran for eight hours on ITV, has been slashed to six for the States.

So the running time has been 'slashed' by two hours? Yet later in the article, Hastings says that Rebecca Eaton, an executive producer for the PBS network (which is broadcasting the series):

insisted that any changes were minor and did not affect the quality of the programme.

A 'minor' change of cutting two hours? That doesn't sound right. And it isn't.

According to Jace Lacob, the TV Columnist of the Daily Beast, who was interviewed (and ignored) by Hastings:

To put it bluntly: it's simply not true.

While I would be incensed about the article to begin with--given that Hastings took up my time on vacation, interrupted me incessantly while I was answering his questions, refused to listen to me, clearly had an agenda of his own, and then had the temerity to quote my review without proper attribution--I'm most angry about the fact that I actually did the math for Hastings during the interview, demonstrating in no uncertain terms that there weren't two hours missing from the US broadcast of the series.

The only thing missing here are, in fact, the commercials themselves...

Let's take a closer look. PBS is airing Downton Abbey as four 90-minute episodes, bringing it to a run-time of roughly 6 hours. Removing the ad breaks, ITV's run of Downton Abbey ran for--wait for it--roughly six hours. (Two episodes ran as 60 minute installments, while five ran for 45 minutes excluding the commercials)...

The numbers that Hastings was using to make his case about widespread cuts failed to take into account the commercials, which don't air on PBS, even though he himself admits this in his piece.

Although there will be some minor edits (some to accommodate the change in the number of episodes), the missing two hours are, essentially, the ad breaks. It's not about the 'intricate plot' being removed to stop viewers being 'baffled'.

Also in the article, Hastings sneers:

PBS also believes its audiences will need an American to outline the key themes of the show. So before the first episode, actress Laura Linney will explain the inheritance principle.

In fact, Downton Abbey is being broadcast in PBS' Masterpiece strand which has been hosted by Amercians and Brits for forty years. Linney happens to present Masterpiece Classic, which is showing Downton. Lacob points out:

First, Masterpiece's hosts typically do explore the historical and social contexts for the series...Nothing new there as Linney is performing the same role that all of Masterpiece's hosts ably step into before each episode of a program.

Second, Linney might be American but her fellow hosts--among them, past and present, David Tennant, Alan Cumming, Matthew Goode, etc.--are not. So I'm not sure what to make of the "Americans need Americans to explain things to them" comment, which just comes across as ill-informed and mean-spirited.

Lacob also describes Hastings' article as 'messy' and 'wrong-headed' and said later it would be the 'last time I talk to a tab'. Given he told the truth about the running time and Hastings decided - for whatever reason - to ignore it, who can blame him?

(Hat-tip to Peter Bulkeley)

Monday 3 January 2011

Recommended reading on Chris Jefferies

There have been two very good blogposts about the media's coverage of Chris Jefferies, who was arrested and then released on bail during the investigation into the murder of Joanna Yeates.

See Anton Vowl's 'Chris Jefferies and trial by media' and Minority Thought's 'A loss of faith in the morality of the British press'.

Anton writes:

Now is a time full of speculation and implication, of innuendo and finger-pointing; you might hope that the established media could demonstrate more restraint and subtlety than the blogosphere, proving their journalistic credentials and why they should be trusted news sources, but what we are left with from many sources is a trail of smearing and sneering.

Minority Thought adds:

The presumption of innocence is a vital part of the British justice system and is something that certain newspapers claim to hold dear, and rightly so. Yet almost all of them, from the Daily Mail and The Sun to the Daily Mirror and the Telegraph, have treated him as if he were guilty.

Saturday 1 January 2011

Sun admits Al-Qaeda didn't threaten Coronation Street

The Sun has acknowledged that its front page splash of 9 December about an 'Al-Qaeda threat' to Coronation Street was rubbish:

Further to our article about increased security at Coronation Street's studios for their live 50th anniversary episode (December 9), we would like to make clear that while cast and crew were subject to full body searches, there was no specific threat from Al-Qaeda as we reported. We apologise for the misunderstanding and are happy to set the record straight.

Their admission that the story was nonsense is hardly a surprise - the story never rang true and was swiftly denied by Greater Manchester Police.

The PCC, when tweeting about the clarification, pointed out the apology was on 'page 2 and online'. Yet the original was rather more prominent than that:

The first clause of the Code of Practice points out that errors must be corrected with 'due prominence'. Yet the Code Committee Secretary, Ian Beales, said at the start of December that it was a 'myth' to say corrections are buried.

But is it really good enough for a front page splash to be 'clarified' by a couple of sentences on page two?

(The Sun's original article has won 5CC's Tabloid Bullshit of the Month Award for December 2010)