Tuesday 29 November 2011

The People apologises to Charlotte Church

Three weeks after the event but, coincidentally, one day before she appeared at the Leveson Inquiry, the People published an apology to Charlotte Church over the false claim that she had drunkenly proposed to her boyfriend:

On November 6, 2011, we said Charlotte Church had proposed marriage to Jonathan Powell at a boozy karaoke night at the Robin Hood pub in Cardiff. We were misinformed.

On the night in question Ms Church and Mr Powell were performing a gig at studios in Pentyrch, Cardiff and Ms Church did not propose that night or at all.

We are happy to set the record straight and we apologise for our mistake.

However, in her evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, Church and her lawyer made clear this wasn't necessarily the end of the story. Church said:

we didn't just want a normal run-of-the-mill apology because it's just not good enough

David Sherborne added:

What Ms Church was saying, though, was that with the apology -- and it was a unilateral one, and that's obviously a matter that's of wider interest to the Inquiry in terms of what the appropriate form of redress is -- the apology she was seeking in agreed terms was also the answers to a number of questions which are rather similar to those questions Ms Patry Hoskins had put about how it was this story was written and how there are quotes from Ms Church and her partner, given that this is all entirely fabricated.

Church also raised the issue of how her statement denying the story was treated by the media:

I gave a statement saying that it was a complete fabrication and that this was a case -- you know, this was an exact reason why this Leveson Inquiry is happening and how it's out of control and it simply shouldn't be allowed to happen, and part of my statement which was basically the denial was printed in a few publications. 

Most of -- most of the rest of it, the stronger parts of the statement, were just totally ignored and in one instance -- I think it might have been the Press Association who basically wrote back when we'd given the statement, saying, "We can't print this whole statement because our consumers don't like to hear anything negative about us or our conduct."

Desmond gets his figures wrong

As Richard Desmond unveiled his new printing plant in Luton yesterday, he was asked by the Press Gazette:

why he was making the investment at a time when print newspaper circulations in general are declining.

He replied:

“My newspapers haven’t declined over the last 11 years. The Daily Star was selling 400,000 when we bought it, it now sells around 800,000. Eleven years ago there wasn’t a Daily Star Sunday, it now sells more than 800,000 every Sunday. The Daily Express and Sunday Express are in line with the market.”

He is right that sales of the Star haven't declined overall. But only just - and his figures are completely wrong.

The Daily Star was actually selling 627,317 in November 2000, when he bought it.

Not 400,000.

Based on the October 2011 ABCs, it now sells 658,690 copies per day.

Not 800,000.

The Daily Star Sunday doesn't sell 800,000 every Sunday either.

The figure, from the October ABCs is 688,058. It has benefitted a lot from the closure of the News of the World as back in June it was selling only 305,978 copies every Sunday. 

And the Daily Express? When Desmond acquired it, it had a daily circulation of 985,523.

The October 2011 ABCs show a daily circulation of 614,534.

A decline of 370,989 copies per day.

So he wasn't correct to say there has been no decline over the last 11 years. But at least he didn't repeat the claim he made in June when he said sales of the Express had 'increased dramatically'.

Sunday 27 November 2011

Express: 'every criticism we levelled against the EU has been justified'

On Wednesday 23 November, Patrick O'Flynn of the Daily Express penned an article that ran under the optimistic headline 'A year in and our EU crusade is on course for victory'.

Flynn told his readers how wonderful the Express' campaign to withdraw from the EU has been so far and he said:

Over the course of the past year every criticism we levelled against the EU has been justified...

Every criticism justified.

Five days before, the Express front page carried the lead headline 'EU says water is not healthy'.

In fact, the ruling by the European Food Standards Agency was about water and dehydration and not about whether water is 'healthy' or not. Indeed, the word 'healthy' doesn't appear anywhere in the EFSA's 7-page ruling. But the Express knew that because at the end they included this:

EU spokesman David D’Arcy said last night: “Of course drinking water is essential for health and the commission is not stopping anyone from saying so."

(More on this story from Richard Laming, Martin Robbins and Tim Fenton)

Also at the end of Giles Sheldrick's article on water was this 'criticism':

The EU has a long history of passing bizarre regulations...last year attempts to regulate the use of root vegetables in Cornish pasties sparked chaos.

But this claim isn't 'justified' either. It was the Cornish Pasty Association that had applied for:

Protected Geographical Indication to request that only Cornish pasties made in Cornwall and to the traditional recipe and manner are called Cornish pasties.

As the Association pointed out in response to inaccurate media reports at the time:

the European Commission (EC) does not dictate ingredients or names of ingredients

It's also not clear what 'chaos' was sparked by this.

In October, the Express joined other newspapers in claiming 'Now Euro killjoys ban children's party toys' which forced the EC Representative in the UK to explain the story was 'nonsense':

"Brussels" has not banned balloons or any of the other things mentioned.

Was the Express 'justified' in claiming the University of Northampton had been fined £56,000 for not flying the EU flag?

No. The response from EC regional spokesman Tom van Lierop:

"you don't have to wave a big flag above a project: that's nonsense...We're not fining anyone...We don't want to be flying the EU flag above any kind of project...these stories are total lunacy."

This wasn't the only 'EU flag' story that the paper got wrong. In May the Express front page said 'Now we must fly EU flag on our public buildings'. The article added that there was:

a swingeing fine from Brussels threatened for those that disobey

Jonathan Scheele, Head of European Commission Representation in the UK and Michael Shackleton, Head of European Parliament Information Office in the UK wrote to the Express:

only 2 buildings in the UK are expected to fly the European flag for Europe Day and the Commission would not fine countries that did not do so...No other public building has to fly the flag on 9 May.

The Express' decided not to publish this letter but chose instead to publish three readers' letters that repeated the original claims, despite the paper being aware they were false.

But remember:

every criticism we levelled against the EU has been justified.

A few days before that one, another front page headline claimed: 'EU wants to merge UK with France'. The Arc Manche network was set up in 1995 for co-operation between southern British and northern French regions. But this is clearly not the same as 'merging the UK with France'. 'Absurd' and 'untrue' said the EC in the UK.

Also in May, an Express front page stated: 'Ban shopping bags says EU'. As with the healthy water headline, the Express used 'says' when they meant 'haven't said'.

The European Commission had launched a public consultation:

asking the public how best to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags

There was a question about whether a ban was needed, as there were questions about charging for bags and other possible options. The EU has not said 'ban plastic bags'.

Is the EU 'employing 33 people to help boost the EU’s profile in Fiji'? No. Although based in Fiji, the delegation:

covers the entire South Pacific region. It carries out countless development projects on behalf of the EU as well as foreign relations and political work.

Do 'Cars face ban from all cities' as part of 'another plan forced on us by crazy EU'? No:

the European Commission is not considering an EU level ban on cars in city centres by 2050. Cities are of course best placed to decide their own transport mix.

As O'Flynn specified 'the past year' it would, of course, be unfair to mention earlier stories such as 'EU says: hammer British drivers' (once again, they hadn't said this) or 'EU’s plan to liquify corpses and pour them down the drain' ("The EU has no competence in this matter and to suggest otherwise is wide of the mark").

It would be wrong to mention their July 2010 front page headline 'France votes to ban burkha' which came a month after their front page headline 'You can't ban burkha, says Eurocrats' (again, they hadn't said this).

It would not be 'justified' to mention the Sunday Express' claim that the EU was spending '£670million on making explicit films' was overblown. But it was, perhaps, understandable - after all, Richard 'pornographer' Desmond doesn't want too many rivals in the 'explicit film' business, does he?

And it would be best to forget the Express story 'Euro meddlers rule we can't have milk jugs'/'EU spouts off...about our milk jugs'. This took research from a Spanish university and claimed it was evidence that the EU wanted to ban 'our milk jugs'.

Similarly, in October 2011, the Express labelled 'scientists from the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM)' as 'Eurocrats'.

These are just some of the Express' anti-EU stories covered by this blog and others over the last couple of years and which have been inaccurate, misleading and wrong.

With the Express newspapers being outside any form of regulation, there is no way to challenge these stories. As shown on the flag issue, when the EU tries to deal with the paper, the Express ignores them and carries on repeating untruths.

Yet to O'Flynn, the paper's Chief Political Commentator:

every criticism we levelled against the EU has been justified...

Tuesday 22 November 2011

'There is absolutely nothing in our study to support these kinds of conclusions'

'Looking at Page 3 makes you brainy' claimed the Sun on Monday:

The article by Emily Fairbairn - which includes one picture and two videos - begins:

Admiring The Sun's Page 3 lovelies can speed up your mental reactions, scientists say.

So Page 3 can make you 'brainy' and 'speed up your mental reactions'? Well, they would say that, wouldn't they?

In fact, the scientists didn't look at Page 3 or whether looking at naked people made people brainier:

Recent event-related potential studies have shown that the occipitotemporal N170 component - best known for its sensitivity to faces - is also sensitive to perception of human bodies...

In two experiments, we measured N170 responses to nude bodies, bodies wearing swimsuits, clothed bodies, faces, and control stimuli (cars). We found that the N170 amplitude was larger to opposite and same-sex nude vs. clothed bodies...

We conclude that the early visual processing of human bodies is sensitive to the visibility of the sex-related features of human bodies and that the visual processing of other people's nude bodies is enhanced in the brain.

This blog emailed one of the researchers, Jari Hietanen from the University of Tampere, to ask for his response to the Sun's article (he said: "thanks for your e-mail. Nice to see that there are people who read what we really reported").

The paper wrote:

"And their results showed that it takes less than 0.2 seconds to process the image of a naked body — much less than when models are fully clothed or wearing swimsuits."

Jari says:

No, we didn't say this. All these stimulus categories produced a certain brain response roughly at the same latency...The important finding was that this brain response was larger for nude vs. swimsuit vs. clothed bodies.

So what about the Sun's claim that:

"The team's findings are good news for advertisers who use scantily-clad stunners to boost sales."

Jari replies:

I find it difficult to make this conclusion. If we had shown that nude bodies attract visual attention more efficiently than clothed bodies, then perhaps this sort of interpretation would have been justified. By the way, there are studies by other research groups which have shown this.

And how does Jari respond to the overall thrust of the Sun's piece - that his study suggests looking at Page 3 makes you 'brainy' and 'can speed up your mental reactions'?

This is the worst...There is absolutely nothing in our study to support these kinds of conclusions. We recorded brain responses (not mental reactions) which reflect how the visual system of the brain works.

These results showed that, at certain pretty early levels of processing (the visual processing is considered to form a "hierarchy" of different processing levels) nude bodies are processed more efficiently than clothed bodies. 

(Many thanks to Jari for his reply.)

Sunday 20 November 2011

'Dismissing on-pitch racism'

The back page of Thursday's Daily Mail ran the headline 'Blatter's blunder as Suarez charged' above a report about comments made by FIFA President Sepp Blatter on racism in football:

Asked directly by a CNN reporter if racism exists on the pitch, Blatter denied it and said such incidents should simply be settled by a handshake at the end of the match.

The Mail called this a 'blunder' and said Blatter was:

dismissing on-pitch racism with an astonishing response.

But the Mail seemed less concerned about 'dismissing on-pitch racism' last month, when Steve Doughty, the Mail's 'Social Affairs Correspondent', wrote:

Things may not be perfect but, at the end of the day, Gary, there are worse things to complain about.

So, Mr Evra and Mr Ferdinand, I know you feel insulted. But perhaps in this case you could just put up with it and get on with the game.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Sorry we said you had criminal record

Today's Daily Star published the following apology to Garry (brother of Cheryl) Tweedy:

In Court yesterday the Daily Star apologised to Garry Tweedy for an article published on 13 April in which we incorrectly reported that Mr Tweedy had admitted on his Facebook profile that he had been to prison a few times.

We accepted that Mr Tweedy did not post this comment nor has he ever been charged or convicted of a criminal offence nor been sent to prison. We apologised to Mr Tweedy for this error.

Not only has the Star apologised, but they have agreed to pay damages and legal costs to Mr Tweedy. It adds to a long line of recent libel payouts by Richard Desmond's Express Newspapers.

Heat magazine will also pay damages and apologise, after they first published the false claims. The Guardian explains:

Heat's front page article on 12 April, headlined "Cheryl's family from hell", featured a photograph of Tweedy with the caption "[Garry Tweedy] reveals prison past on Facebook".

An article inside that edition of the weekly was headed "US dream in peril thanks to Cheryl's family misfortunes" and made a number of false statements about Tweedy, his solicitor Steven Tregear said in a statement read out at the high court on Tuesday.

The Daily Star falsely claimed in an article published on 13 April, headlined "Cheryl in peril", that Tweedy had admitted on Facebook that he had been in prison a few times. "The Facebook profile [the Daily Star] relied upon was a fake," Tregear said. "[Tweedy] did not post the comment and he has never been charged or convicted of any criminal offence or sent to prison."

Tuesday 15 November 2011

The Express and the weather

Daily Express, 8 October 2011:

By Nathan Rao:

Britain is braced for an Arctic blast which will bring record low temperatures within weeks, forecasters said last night...

Britain is likely to be hit by temperatures as low as minus 20C – perhaps even lower – and widespread heavy snow as early as the start of next month.

Daily Express, 2 November 2011:

By Nathan Rao:

Britain faces a sudden shivering end to the exceptionally warm late autumn with temperatures plunging towards Siberian levels.

Winter weather will arrive with a vengeance with temperatures well below zero within the next fortnight.

Daily Express, 14 November 2011:

Monday 14 November 2011

'NOT Matt Willis from Busted'

Yesterday's Sunday Mirror reported that ex-Busted singer Matt Willis was suing 'trip-hop star' Tricky over unpaid management fees:

The Guardian and NME soon repeated the story but they have now deleted their articles. Why? Because the Matt Willis involved in the case is not the one who used to be in Busted.

Willis tweeted:

And this was posted on Tricky's Facebook Wall:

(Hat-tip to James McLaren)

UPDATE: James has now covered the story for BBC Wales Music.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Mail on Sunday clarifies 'green tax' claim

In the 'Clarifications and corrections' column in today's Mail on Sunday, the paper admits:

Last week we incorrectly referred to The Queen as the Duchess of Cambridge’s mother-in-law. Her Majesty is, of course, the Duchess’s grandmother-in-law.

Oops. They have also published this:

On September 18 and on October 29 we said the Government’s 'green stealth taxes’ are costing families an average of £200 a year – an increase of 15 – 20 per cent on typical domestic power bills. In fact Ofgem estimates that environmental costs account for 7 per cent, or £100, of the average domestic power bill.

The dates of the original articles is noteworthy because the Daily Mail had corrected the same figures - which it had repeated several times - on 7 September.

The Sun's 'exclusive' on a new Rooney baby

Following on from speculation about whether Princess Kate is pregnant or not, the Sun published this story on page three last Tuesday:

The 'exclusive' by Jen Blackburn stated:

Glowing Coleen Rooney has sparked rumours that she and hubby Wayne are expecting their second child.

The TV star and designer, 25, has stopped drinking alcohol and pals believe she will have a sister or brother for son Kai around May next year.

A source close to Coleen told The Sun: "Coleen has always wanted more children and she is absolutely glowing at the moment.

"No one has seen her touch a drop of booze for weeks and she is really looking after herself."

There doesn't appear to have been much effort to contact Coleen, who took to Twitter to say:

But what of the source - who the Sun described as 'close to Coleen' - and the claim she hasn't been seen drinking for weeks?

Friday 11 November 2011

Today's corrections

The Sun has published the following correction on page two of today's paper:

We reported on October 18 that 'more than 40 per cent' of all knife crime involves juveniles. In fact, this was an estimate by local police for the London borough of Enfield. The most recent Ministry of Justice figures show the proportion is just under 20 per cent in England and Wales.

This comes after Full Fact looked into the original article and complained to the PCC that the figures were inaccurate. They say:

The correction - within a month of the original article - is welcome, even if it does come after the claim was used by elected representatives when pressing particular policies from the Government.

It highlights how important it is for newspapers to take as much care as possible not to publish inaccurate figures, particularly on crucial matters of policy.

The Mirror has also published a correction today thanks to an investigation by Full Fact:

In our article “Cheating up 30% in 3yrs” we stated the figure for benefit fraud had reached £22billion a year. In fact this figure is an estimate for the total of all fraud and error, and includes mistakes made by the Government and claimants, and fraud which is unrelated to benefits.

Today's Mail corrections are:

Two commentary articles about psychic Sally Morgan in September stated that it is 'illegal in this country to claim to be a medium'. It has been pointed out to us that mediums are in fact legal in this country, although like other businesses they are subject to  consumer protection legislation.


In our coverage of Joe Frazier's death on Wednesday, we said that Muhammad Ali had had only one  comeback fight before facing Frazier in 1971. He had in fact fought twice before that bout, facing both Jerry Quarry, as we stated, and Oscar Bonavena.

Earlier this week, the the Mirror published this apology and correction:

On August 3 this year the Daily Mirror published an article regarding the death of Miss Catherine Zaks, aged 21, in Krakow, Poland.

The article contained claims that Miss Zaks, from Robertsbridge, East Sussex, abused drugs and had engaged in casual sex following the break-up of a long-term relationship.

Miss Zaks’ parents have pointed out that these claims are entirely false and that their daughter was much loved, and of good character.

We are happy to set the record straight and apologise for any distress caused.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Mail admits 'Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas'

On Monday 26 September, Melanie Phillips wrote a column in the Daily Mail that appeared under the headline 'Our language is being hijacked by the Left to muzzle rational debate'.

In it, she repeated false claims about the BBC's position on BC/AD. And she also said:

The pressure on Christians, however, is merely part of a far wider onslaught on Western culture through the hijacking or censorship of language.

Thus Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval'.

The Winterval myth has been repeated every year for over a decade as revealed in Kevin Arscott's excellent 2010 essay on the use and abuse of the term Winterval.

As Steve Baxter writes:

Winterval was the politically correct way of referring to Christmas; it was taking Christ out of Christmas; it was part of the PC killjoys' attempts to de-Christianise Britain and bring us all into an Iron Curtain world of secularist misery. The myth kept on coming back -- every year, at Christmas time, or before.

James, a regular reader of this blog, decided to contact the PCC about Phillips' claim. He had tried to make a complaint last year when the term appeared in the Express, but when Richard Desmond withdrew his newspapers from the PCC, they decided to drop the complaint.

Winterval had been used by couple of people in 2011 prior to Phillips, including fellow Mail writer Nigel Jones who said 'Christmas becomes Winterval'. But his column only appeared online. James wanted the Mail to admit in print that Winterval was not what the Mail and other papers had been claiming for years.

So he emailed the PCC on 25 September after Phillips' article was posted online. Once again the Mail took over a month to respond, but a letter signed by Executive Managing Editor Robin Esser finally arrived on 27 October. It began with an apology for the delayed reply and then said:

I am unsure what the complainant has to do with the piece about which he is complaining.

Does the PCC consider it is a matter of accuracy, as he does?

And that tone continued for much of the rest of the letter:

The nit-picking suggestion that the term "Christmas" refers only to Christmas Day cannot be supported by anyone with a modicum of common sense. And Phillips did not say the term was intended to replace Christmas Day. 

This is a bizarre statement, given that it is denying an accusation that wasn't made. It's true that Phillips never said the 'term was intended to replace Christmas Day' - but James never said she did.

Then, on the substance of the complaint, the Mail said:

there is plenty of evidence to show that the term "Winterval” has been bandied about as a replacement for Christmas, as Ms Phillips says, in various places...

There were complaints at the time from Christian leaders that this was a politically correct attempt to avoid talking about Christmas and thus to destroy the Christian association with the season.

Subsequently, lt became commonplace in the media to refer to the replacement of Christmas by 'Winterval'. 

The Mail was trying to argue that references to Winterval in the media backed up Phillips' claim that Christmas had been renamed in 'various places'. They enclosed a clippings file of such stories, none of which provided evidence for what Phillips had said.

The letter concluded:

I would urge the Commission to take a rational view of this complaint and reject it.

In response to a complaint pointing out Christmas has never been renamed Winterval, the Mail dismissed James' interest in the story, and strongly implied he was nit-picking, lacking in common sense and irrational. In his reply, he made very clear that he objected to the Mail's 'unhelpful' attitude. He also spent some time pointing out what Winterval was and how the myth had been debunked by people such as Mike Chubb, who actually coined the phrase.

The next reply from the Mail was markedly different. They repeated that when Phillips referred to 'various places' she wasn't talking about actual places, such as Birmingham, but 'various places' in the media. This seemed a stretch, especially in the context of her column, which was about the meaning of words. But even if you accept she did mean 'various places' in the media, that still isn't true. But this time Esser said:

we have no wish to fall out with the complainant and I would be sorry to see the temperature rising on this matter.

May I suggest the complainant  offers us a succinct letter setting out his view of “ Winterval” and, subject to the Editor accepting that, we will also attach it to the cuttings to warn about the future use of the term.

James said he hoped the Mail would mark the cuttings anyway, but declined to write a letter. He argued that it would carry no weight and that the Mail should admit its error in the new 'Clarifications and corrections' column. That is what it is there for, after all.

A few days later, the Mail offered to publish this:

We suggested in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham over the Christmas period in 1997 and 1998.

James argued it was a good start, but didn't go far enough. He wanted 'suggested' (the trick they always try in corrections) replaced with 'stated'. He wanted 'over the Christmas period' removed. And he wanted a clear statement from the Mail that would show they were admitting their mistake and, hopefully, ending the Winterval myth once and for all. So he asked for this to be added at the end:

We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

Somewhat surprisingly, especially given their original response, the Mail agreed to this wording and so, today, the Mail's 'Clarifications and corrections' column published this:

We stated in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

This is excellent news and long overdue. It means that any future repetition of the Winterval myth by the media can now be easily challenged. If the Mail - the Mail - admits Winterval wasn't about replacing or renaming Christmas, there's no good reason other media should claim otherwise.

Is this the beginning of the end of the Winterval myth?

(For more, see Winterval: the unpalatable making of a modern myth by Kevin Arscott)

Sun clarifies story on Elliot Morley

Two days ago, the Mail on Sunday published the following correction:

An article on August 7 said the former MP Elliot Morley, who was jailed for his role in the MPs expenses scandal, was said to have been roughed up by a fellow prisoner, frogmarched to his cell and forced to hand over a £3,000 Rolex watch. We quoted sources at Ford Prison. In fact, Mr Morley suffered only a minor theft when his room key and ID card were snatched from his lanyard. He has never owned a Rolex. There was no ‘lockdown’ of the jail.

Now the Sun has published an almost identical correction on page six of today's paper:

On August 9 we reported that former MP Elliot Morley, who was jailed in May, had been assaulted in Ford Prison, marched to his cell and forced to hand over a £3,000 Rolex watch.

In fact, Mr Morley has never owned a Rolex watch and suffered only a minor theft when his room key and ID card were snatched from his lanyard. He did not lose a watch or any other valuable. There was also no "lockdown" of the jail.

The Sun appears to have repeated the Mail on Sunday's article, without checking it, two days later. Now, it has repeated the correction two days later, too.

Monday 7 November 2011

'Claims were so quickly reported as fact'

One day in May, the Mail's website led with the story of Ian Faletto:
(image from Angry Mob)

The Mail wasn't the only media outlet to cover the story. In the Express, Richard and Judy said it was:

another health and safety loony tune

In the Telegraph, Jenny McCartney wrote:

A sad story from our railways: Ian Faletto, an award-winning stationmaster at Lymington Pier, Hampshire, saw a shopping trolley on the railway lines, which had the potential to cause an accident. He requested that the power be turned off, and then jumped on to the lines in protective shoes to remove the trolley.

A week later, a district manager saw the incident while reviewing CCTV footage, and found that the power had not, in fact, been turned off. Mr Faletto was subjected to a disciplinary hearing and given the sack...

Unless there is some other aspect to the case which South West Trains is not willing to reveal, it would seem that Mr Faletto's very enthusiasm has made the authorities uneasy. The rest of us, however, could do with many more public employees like Mr Faletto, who appear – within sensible limits – to be even more concerned about other people's safety than their own. 

But South West Train's side of the story was never fully revealed. As the BBC reported:

A South West Trains spokesperson said an employee had been dismissed for a “serious breach of safety” but refused to officially explain what this was.

“This action was taken following a full and thorough internal investigation and the decision was also upheld at an appeal hearing,” he said.

This didn't stop the Mail and others deciding South West Trains were definitely in the wrong. It was 'all down to elf 'n' safety' and an over-reaction from 'Elf 'n' safety tyrants'.

The latter was a headline on a comment piece by Richard Littlejohn, who said:

The sacking of Mr Faletto is beyond disgusting. Whoever runs South West Trains should be thoroughly ashamed.

He should be reinstated immediately with a grovelling apology.

And that was that. The media moved on.

A tribunal to consider Faletto's claim of unfair dismissal was to be heard on 1 November. The Mail, Telegraph, Express, Star and Sun haven't updated their readers on what happened. But the Guardian has:

A railway worker who claimed he was sacked for removing a shopping trolley from the track has withdrawn his claim of unfair dismissal.

Ian Faletto alleged he was sacked after 27 years of service by South West Trains for removing the trolley at Lymington railway station in Hampshire...

But after he was presented with new evidence, his counsel advised him to drop his claim, prompting a strongly-worded statement from SWT. It described the allegations by Faletto as "fictitious, Walter Mitty-style claims" and the company stressed he was not paid off.

The statement from SWT Director Jake Kelly is, indeed, strongly-worded:

''We are pleased that Mr Faletto has finally withdrawn his case, which proves definitively that there was never any substance to the claims he made.

''However, we remain angry at the way these fictitious Walter-Mitty-style claims were so quickly reported as fact. It is also doubly upsetting that many well-meaning people in community were so misled.

''This was a matter of principle and integrity and we were fully prepared to outline the truth to the employment tribunal.

''We are confident that they had heard all of the evidence, they would have found in our favour. For the avoidance of doubt, we have made no payment to settle this case and nor have we ever considered doing so.

''As we have maintained all along, this case involved a serious breach of safety. The fact is that there is no evidence to show that there was a trolley on the track, as Mr Faletto claimed, and the safety of our passengers was not compromised at any point.

''The only safety risk was caused by Mr Faletto's foolhardy actions in knowingly stepping down onto an area of live track for no justifiable reason.

''No 'trolley' incident was recorded in the station log or reported to management at the time - or even when Mr Faletto was first questioned by management.

''There was no evidence either of any call to a signalman or station.

''We are not interested in a box-ticking or jobsworth approach to these issues and the decision to dismiss Mr Faletto was not taken lightly.

''It is very sad that an individual who was recognised by the railway has acted in this way.'' 

Mr Faletto does, however, stand by his version of events.

The BBC, Guardian and Mirror all reported that Faletto withdrew his unfair dismissal claim and quoted Kelly's statement. Given that that happened several days ago, it looks unlikely the papers who did so much to champion Faletto six months ago are going to update their readers on the case.

(More from Zelo Street)

Charlotte Church calls 'marriage proposal' story a 'complete fabrication'

On Sunday, The People reported:

Charlotte Church has proposed to her boyfriend Jonathan Powell during a boozy pub karaoke night.

The star belted out The Ronettes’ Be My Baby then slumped in a chair next to her man and gave him a huge kiss. She told him: “That was for you because I want you to be my baby. Will you marry me?”

He replied: “Yes but I don’t want to be known as Mr Church.”

The pair, both 25, then ordered bottles of champagne “one each” and celebrated into the early hours of last Saturday morning at the pub, the Robin Hood in Cardiff.

A friend said: “Jonathan was thrilled and Charlotte was very happy. She was singing I’m Getting ­Married in the Morning as we helped her to the taxi afterwards.”

The story was quickly picked up by other media outlets. The Sun published it on page 11 of today's paper, under the headline 'Charlotte pops the question', adding another element to the story:

Charlotte Church FORGOT she had proposed to her boyfriend after drunkenly popping the question at a karaoke night. 

The singer and TV host told pals it wasn't until sobering up the next day that she remembered publicly asking Jonathan Powell to marry her.

The Mail's website churned out its own version, repeating the 'too drunk to remember' line:

But the Sun's online article has been replaced by a 404 Error and the Mail's story has vanished. Instead, the Mail is now reporting something else about Church - her denial of the story:

"This story is a complete fabrication. I have not proposed to my boyfriend, drunkenly or otherwise. It is embarrassing for me (and him) for our families and friends to read that I have.

I was not in the pub they mention on the night they allege this happened. I haven't been there for 5 months. At the time that I was apparently drunkenly proposing I was in fact performing in a completely different town with a large public audience.

There is literally not one shred of truth in this story, and it is still alarming to me that lies of this scale can be printed. This is not journalism. It's a perfect example of why this out of control tabloid industry needs regulation immediately."

The Mail's new article, however, fails to admit its role, referring instead to 'reports' and a 'story in the Sun'. It also fails to include Church's quotes about 'lies of this scale' and an 'out of control tabloid industry'.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Peanut paste and the 'royal baby'

On 27 April, the Daily Star proclaimed:

But when they said 'Royal baby on way' what they actually meant was 'Andrew Morton's got a book coming out and he thinks Kate might get pregnant within a year'.

Forward to July and the People asked:

The paper said:

The warning comes after reports that Kate, 29, is due to meet her gynaecologist Alan Farthing in the next few weeks to receive fertility advice.

But experts last night told The People that they would urge Kate to pile on the pounds to increase her chances.

On Friday, the Sun had the latest:

A pregnancy riddle, eh? And what's the Sun's evidence for this speculation:

The Duchess of Cambridge was at the centre of a pregnancy riddle last night after refusing to eat peanut paste during a royal engagement.

Kate, 29, turned down the protein snack as she and hubby William joined the Danish Crown Prince and his wife at a famine relief depot. For years government experts urged mums-to-be to avoid peanuts, fearing a link to allergies.

For years they did, but that advice was changed in 2009.

So, she didn't eat some peanut paste. Is that it? Well no, there's an anonymous 'onlooker' too:

One onlooker said: "The Duchess does not have a nut allergy, nor is it like her to appear rude. The only explanation is that she is pregnant and has been told — like many expectant mothers — to avoid nuts."

The 'only explanation'? Not according to the 'senior Palace source' quoted two sentences later:

"Pregnancy is not the only explanation. The Duchess is still new to appearing in front of the cameras at official events.

"It is perfectly plausible that she may not yet feel comfortable eating while the cameras are focused on her. This is not the first time she's turned down food while under the spotlight."

MailOnline repeated the Sun's story on Saturday, and then added an extra detail on Sunday:

The 29-year-old was seen patting or holding her stomach at least a dozen times during a two-hour visit to an aid centre in Copenhagen.

Despite all the cameras, the Mail has only published one photo of her doing this.  

Still, perhaps the Sunday papers could shed some light. The Daily Star Sunday said:

Despite the headline, the article stated:

Kate and Wills have chosen a posh palace as the dream home for their prospective baby...

The official announcement of their change of address adds to speculation Kate, 29, is pregnant – or will be soon.

But The People was adamant: Kate is not pregnant:

Prince William and wife Kate Middleton have ­decided against having their first child until after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, The People can ­reveal.

Speculation that Kate, 29, is pregnant after refusing to eat ­peanut butter ­during a royal ­engagement in Demark was firmly quashed yesterday.

And The People can confirm the couple have put off plans to have children until after June 2012 ­ because they do not want to overshadow the Jubilee celebrations.

So she might be pregnant. Or she might be not be. Once she is, it's likely we're going to find out officially. Do we really have to have endless speculation until that time?

Wine and breast cancer

Daily Express, 1 October 2011:

Daily Express, 2 November 2011:

(See also the Mail's versions of the same stories)

Star apologises to hair clinic

On Wednesday 2 November, the Daily Star published the following apology:

In yesterday’s Daily Star, we wrongly stated that Wayne Rooney’s hair transplant was carried out at a clinic run by Dr Bessam Farjo and that Dr Farjo had treated Wayne.

We accept that this was wrong. Wayne has never had any treatment carried out by Dr Farjo or any clinic run by him.

His transplant was carried out at The Harley Street Hair Clinic, to whom we apologise unreservedly.

This appeared on page 3, the same page as the original article, which ran the day before.

According to Farjo:

I had originally provided comments on the subject for another interview regarding the rise in popularity of hair transplant surgery since celebrities, like Wayne, have spoken so candidly about their experiences in the national press...

While it’s great to see the media taking such an interest in my field of work, I was disappointed to see that the journalist [Aaron Tinney] had mistakenly named me as the surgeon responsible for Rooney’s new hairline.

Saturday 5 November 2011

'Misleading and alarmist'

The front page of Thursday's Express contained yet another health scare:

'Britain on alert for new super-flu: Killer virus could spread in 24 hours', it screamed.

Jo Willey's article begins:

A new strain of killer flu which could spread to Britain within 24 hours is “one of the biggest biological threats of our time”, experts warned.

The alert comes after people started to fall victim to seasonal flu and the more virulent swine flu at the same time.

The Mail followed it up with the article 'Fears of new deadly super-flu which 'could spread to Britain within 24 hours''.

The 'could' is important because the 'deadly' 'new super-flu' - which Britain is 'on alert for' - isn't known to exist.

Secondly, the people who have 'started to fall victim' to seasonal and swine flu at the same time, are two people who fell victim in 2009.

In Cambodia. 

As the NHS Behind the Headlines report explains:

The research the news was based on was actually a small, but important study that had examined a Cambodian patient who became unwell during the swine flu pandemic of 2009. Examining the man and four of his contacts, scientists determined that two of the five subjects were infected with both swine flu and a seasonal flu virus that was circulating in the environment at that time. None of the five infected individuals required hospitalisation and all made a full recovery.

This is valuable research in the light of the very real public health threat faced by flu pandemics; particularly as co-infection also offers the possibility for different viruses to combine their genetic material and produce new strains. However, such a ‘super-flu’ or ‘killer-flu’ has not been found, and is merely a possibility.

So what of the Express' front page headline?

Although news coverage has reflected the findings of this study accurately and quoted flu experts, the overall emphasis of reports has been misleading and alarmist. Their headlines suggest that a “deadly super flu” has been found and is ready to spread to the UK...[but] these are laboratory findings from five people infected in 2009 with swine flu and/or seasonal flu. None had severe illness or required hospitalisation, and none died from a ‘deadly new super-flu’.