Reason for hope

So whilst Uponnothing is away, I’m taking advantage of my posting privileges.

On Wednesday the Mail front page headline was this: The shirking classes: Just 1 in 14 incapacity claimants is unfit to work

This is classic Mail in so many ways, see how many you can count. These are the ones, I found:

1. Abuse of the poor

2. Abuse of the vulnerable

3. The use of dodgy statistics

4. The headline contradicted by the story

5. A Tax-payers’ Alliance quote

Everyone on incapacity benefit is facing a ‘testing’ process to decide if they are fit for work. Because this began with a pilot system and is now being rolled out we get a drip-drip effect as each set of statistics are released. The way it works, is that the government pay ATOS (A French company) £100m to assess people as belonging in one of three groups; ‘unfit for work’ ‘activity group’ and ‘fit for work.’ This, in principal is a good idea; people who wish to claim Employment and Support Allowance (that is replacing incapacity benefit) by definition will fit into these three groups. And moreover there are a lot of people who cannot work, who want to work and who will be able to work with support. It is even the case that people put into the activity group do get support to help them back into the work place.

The problem lies with the testing process, which according to the Work and Pensions Select Committee is completely flawed. 40% of people who appeal against the ATOS decision get the decision reversed and over 80% are successful if they have expert representation. (The tribunals alone cost the tax-payer £30m). This is of course, buried in the article thus destroying the credibility of the headline…. Overall, so far 160,000 people have successfully appealed.

Let’s have a look at the figures (from the article)

33% drop out before completing the process

39% declared fit for work

17% able to work with support

7% unable to work

Yes I know that the figures don’t add up. So let us look at this for a moment, the headline is claiming that 13 out of 14 people who claim Employment and Support Allowance are ‘Shirkers’ or whichever term of abuse you want to use – that’s 93%. Which isn’t even true on the basis of these figures. 24% are not able to work at present (The 17% in the support group are not able to work, but may be able to do so…). In addition they are assuming and/or implying that the third who don’t complete the process were by definition trying to cheat the system. An assertion for which there is no evidence whatsoever. Not to mention the fact that over 160,000 people have successfully appealed (which is 14% of the total). Never mind the fact that being turned down even if it is the right decision does not mean that someone was trying to defraud the system – many would have been honestly applying for a benefit they were told they might be entitled to. That’s what they are supposed to do.

These articles make me extremely angry. I don’t have the time, nor do I wish to make and already over-long post even longer, to explain fully the truth behind these stats and how I have no confidence at all in ATOS’s assessments. The point of the article, though, is not to inform and educate but to slur and demonise anyone who is unfortunate enough to be disabled. And that is plain wrong.

But as, you may have noticed, the headline for this post was ‘Reason for hope’ and I promise you my headline will not be contradicted by the body of my article. In general, reading the comments section of Mail articles is darkly amusing and more than a little depressing. Usually the most highly rating comments are those that have swallowed the Mail lies completely and want to be angry at, and abuse whoever is the Mail’s target this time.

But, but! When I looked today, this was the most highly rated comment:

Best rated

Can it be true? Are Mail READERS finally realising that they cannot trust anything they read?

Maybe, just maybe.



I’m on holiday from 3.40am tomorrow so it is unlikely anything will be posted for the next two weeks and a bit.

Which is a shame in some ways because it is an interesting time to be a media blogger.

As usual, use the links on the right-hand side to find other media bloggers, follow me on Twitter in case I find wi-fi points on my mobile and come back in two weeks – I might even try to put together something over the break that has a bit more thought put into it. I will take a pen and notepad just in case.

Dacre’s Little Helper

Stephen Glover has been a busy boy lately. It seems almost every day he manages to write something about the phone hacking scandal. Brilliantly, he has such amazing insight and journalistic integrity that he manages to see past those accused by mere mortals of being responsible for the hacking and blagging of information – you know, the editors running the newspapers at the time, the blaggers and hackers and the journalists writing up the stories – and has rightly identified that this isn’t the responsibility of News International but it’s actually a political and lefty conspiracy masterminded by the BBC to gag the freedom of the press.

You see, although it appears to most commentators that an awful lot of leading politicians and PMs were actually pretty cosy with Rupert Murdoch and News International, Glover rightly rubbishes this simplistic interpretation and rightly points out that politicians were really just playing a very long, very elaborate game in which the final move is to regulate the press. Stephen Glover has been giving us a masterclass of ‘following the editorial line in spite of all the facts’ which has culminated today with this stunning headline:

The BBC’s bias has been one of the most shaming aspects of this entire sorry saga

Yes. You might want to read that again. It is the kind of headline that just gets worse every time you read it. You don’t even need to read the rest of the column to know exactly what the content will be (although you can here, courtesy of

Here are the rest of his latest scribblings:

  • Police chiefs thrown to the lions and the hysterical politics of the lynch mob
  • Revenge of the political class
  • Cameron can’t be allowed to shackle the Press

Here are some highlights:

David Cameron was visibly uncomfortable during his press conference yesterday. He knew that the News of the World scandal has put him in a deep political hole. I am hoping and praying that he is not going to sacrifice a free press in order to dig himself out.

His sweeping aside of the Press Complaints Commission, his appointment of a panel investigating press ethics on which it seems there will be no journalists, and the implication of much tougher regulations could all lead to a cowed and timid media being prevented from investigating and reporting wrongdoing by public figures.

The travails of the Italian economy threaten Europe’s, and our, prosperity. Our war in Libya is unwinnable, according to a senior French minister. The British economy splutters along with little sign of recovery.

But none of this is of the remotest importance. All that matters is the phone-hacking scandal. I can’t recall a story that has so obsessed politicians and the media. Being a journalist, I am naturally agog, though I wonder whether the wider nation is as convulsed with shock and rage as David Cameron appears to believe.

The general turbulence among the political class is reminiscent of Revolutionary France before Robespierre got it in the neck. Would it be out of place to ask whether all this hysteria is not a touch overdone?

Reading history, it can be difficult to understand over the passage of centuries how rational men and women became so worked up by what seem to us unimportant issues that they were prepared to kill and be killed.

But until now I have seldom had the same sense of dislocation about contemporary events. Though I can perfectly well see that the phone hacking scandal is extremely serious, I find myself increasingly out of sympathy with people — mostly politicians and journalists — who are reacting much as might be expected if an enormous meteorite had landed on Hemel Hempstead.

The story is careering so much out of control that one would scarcely be surprised if the Archbishop of Canterbury were led away in handcuffs, or if some hysterical Labour politician, dutifully reported by the BBC, were to demand the immediate closure of all newspapers.

I admit it is with no very great hope of being listened to that I beg some of the wilder players in this ever-deepening drama to take a couple of deep breaths and ask themselves what they are doing.

I think Stephen Glover badly wants to win a ‘Tabloid bullshit of the month award‘ which Paul Dacre walked away with last month. Either that or he is not ashamed to whore himself out for the Daily Mail as it desperately tries to avoid a wider investigation into the behaviour of the press.

You come back in a few months Mr Glover when the behaviour of the Daily Mail starts to get a bit more attention, then we’ll be fit to judge what the ‘most shaming aspects of this entire sorry saga’ are.

A cliche, but: is this a new low for the Daily Mail?

Bedbound pensioner dies after being gnawed by rats as scrapping of weekly bin collection leads to rodent infestation [ link]’ screams the headline of a Daily Mail article attributed to The Daily Mail Reporter (no-one would want to claim credit for this article). The article claims that:

A bedbound pensioner who died after being gnawed by rats after her council abandoned weekly bin collections has died, it has been revealed…

Angry neighbours blamed the infestation on Reading Council switching refuse collections to a fortnightly pick-up but the authority denied this yesterday.

I love the insidious use of ‘it has been revealed’. It is such a wonderfully leading phrase, it invites the reader to believe what is written as fact because it gives the impression that all the Mail is doing is revealing a piece of information that had prior to this article remained hidden to the reader. It implies that the information is being passed to the reader without being tampered with: all the Mail are doing is showing you the information as they found it.

Of course, this is not the case at all, as readers who actually make it to the end of the article find out:

Council spokesman Oscar Mortali said… at this stage there was no reports of rats using bins as a food source.

‘There is no link between the move to weekly separated waste collections where householders follow the advice given to them and keep their refuse in closed wheelie bins’, he said.

As has been pointed out many times before: rats are unlikely to eat their way through a solid plastic wheelie-bin and if householders are responsible then fortnightly bin collections should have no impact on the food available to rats – even more so if householders have food bins as well which are tightly sealed and often have catches to prevent spillages even if a determined gang of rats worked together to tip one over.

Indeed, the council confirms that the problems seem to lie elsewhere:

Thames Water has been baiting and investigating its sewage network while the council was doing drainage work in the area this week.

Mr Mortali added: ‘The current evidence points to a drainage issue and that is where efforts are being focussed at present.’

But no, the Daily Mail are quite happy to directly link the sad death of a pensioner to fortnightly wheelie bins. When you can see so much evidence that the Daily Mail have no qualms about sinking to any level to pursue their agenda you can start to understand why the newspaper seems to be pretty keen that we all move away from the phone hacking scandal and the possibility that wider investigations of all newspapers will take place.

If this is the kind of distortion they sink to just to further their narrative on wheelie bins, imagine what tactics they use when pursuing narratives higher up their agenda.

Stewart Lee responds to Jan Moir article

Worth a read:

Moir’s column about ‘foul-mouthed left-wing’ comics who hate Michael McIntyre is only to able to suggest two examples of this ‘cabal’, me and, bizarrely, Frankie Boyle, the paper’s default bête noir. Here we go, point by point, chop chop chop, Timber.

Firstly, I am not ‘foul mouthed’. I swear once in the 180 minutes of the first series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, not at all in the 105 minutes of my last live show If You Prefer A Milder Comedian…, and only once in the 90 minutes of the previous live show, 41 Best Stand-Up Ever, when I describe Moir’s fellow Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn as a ‘cunt’, for saying the East Anglian sex worker murders were of no consequence. Michael McIntyre actually swears more than me.

Apparently I represent ‘a slime pit of unpleasantness’ and once again, a Mail newspaper de-contextualises one line from my 45 minute 2009 routine about Richard Hammond to prove this. The same routine also references the anti-PC brigade’s attempts to ‘upset the grieving relatives of Stephen Gately’, an explicit nod towards Moir herself, who either chose to ignore this, didn’t understand it, or hasn’t watched the piece. (You decide).

Ironically, because people like Jan Moir mean it’s impossible now to employ any degree of comic ambiguity for fear of them choosing to misrepresent it, the DVD of the bit actually ends with the line, to camera, “I don’t really think Richard Hammond should die. What I was doing there, as everyone here in this room now understands, just in case there’s anyone from the Mail on Sunday watching this, is I was using an exaggerated form of the rhetoric and the implied values of Top Gear to satirise the rhetoric and the implied values of Top Gear. And it is a shame to have to break character and explain that. But hopefully it will save you a long, tedious exchange of emails.’

Again, Jan Moir either chooses to ignore what is, essentially, a direct address to her, or else she hasn’t watched the bit.

You can read the rest here.

Brief thoughts on today’s hearing

Just a couple of brief thoughts on today’s U.K. Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee hearing.

Firstly, in many ways it was exactly what was expected: politicians demonstrating that they are not often elected on merit or ability; those summoned pleading almost universal amnesia or simply skirting around answering questions with a stream of waffle or even trying to claim that they don’t understand things which they clearly must. In many ways they can get away with this behaviour because it is exactly the same behaviour used by politicians whenever they face similar hearings. One could conclude from such largely pointless prodding that our democracy is very weak.

Secondly, on a slightly more positive note it was interesting to see many, many people watching, listening, blogging, tweeting and generally being proactive in following the hearing. It was, after all, public outrage that got us here in the first place, so it is good to see this not appearing to wane. Although, it must be admitted that my timeline was always likely to make me feel this way because I tend to follow those people who might be interested in such things. However, the trending topics seemed to imply that it was more than just that.

Thirdly, it demonstrated how easily distracted we are by small events, or events that seem much larger due to their unexpected or dramatic nature. I am referring, of course, to the shaving foam ‘pie’ incident which did get everyone interested as Twitter demonstrated with ‘WTF’ trending soon after the incident. Rightly the perpetrator was roundly condemned for their actions, taking the emphasis away from Murdoch et al’s amnesia tactics or any of the good questions they had stumbled over by those politicians up to the job today.

However, let us not place all of the blame on the ‘pie’ slinger here, sure, he gave the press an open goal with his actions, but the press don’t have to take it. It is not the moronic actions of one individual that writes the headlines, it is the editor of each respective newspaper. They must take sole responsibility for their frontpages tomorrow. It will be interesting to see which editors can rise above the irrelevant actions of one man to focus on the more important, significant and serious events of the day and which ones will choose a screen grab and a silly headline. I really do believe that each pie-centric front page will be seen by many as just another example of how our press fails in its coverage of politics and thus weakens our notions of democracy.

And finally, Melanie Phillips might want to reconsider her comments on the BBC being obsessed with the story when she sees the Mail Online home page:

Mail Online
Click to enlarge

Whilst the Mail does offer extensive coverage of the days events, it is sad to see them place such prominent emphasis on the ‘pie’ attack instead of relegating the perpetrator to the obscurity he deserves.

How big is Roundhay Park in Leeds?

The Daily Mail has covered [ link] the recent Red Bull Flugtag 2011 event in Leeds – you know the one where people invent comic flying machines and fall from a large platform into water. This time it was held in Roundhay Park in Leeds, or more precisely in the lakes there. I’ve never seen Roundhay Park and I have no idea how big the lake is, so I thought I would take a peak on Google Earth*:

Roundhay Park

Google Earth labels the lake ‘Fishpond’ and it doesn’t look massive, which makes perfect sense when you look at the official photos from the Red Bull website, they clearly show that it’s a small contained pond / lake.

The Daily Mail article also shows similar photos from the event, which it also places in Roundhay Park, Leeds:

The team dubbed James And The Giant Yorkshire Pudding were taking part in the annual Red Bull Flugtag festival, with the madness descending on the city’s Roundhay Park…

Over 15,000 spectators braved the weekend’s showers and were rewarded with laughs galore, with very few of the 34 ‘aircrafts’ managing to soar high above the waters for long.

But then, in amongst the many pictures, there seems to be something strange going on:

That’s a different platform isn’t it (wood rather than steel edge) and are those palm trees really around the Fishpond in Roundhay and doesn’t the water look another colour? Next:

That is a big boat to drive overland and crane into a fish pond.

What on earth possessed the Daily Mail to litter an article about an event in Leeds with photos clearly taken from a different event in another country – when it is painfully obvious to anyone flicking through the article what they have done. It says something about the state of journalism at the Mail that they cannot resist misleading readers and distorting reality even in harmless fluff pieces.

* image now updated thanks to those people in the comments for correcting me. It turns out I cannot zoom in very well on Google Earth and zoomed into the wrong lake / pond.

Melanie Phillips: in her own little world

Melanie Phillips. Mad Mel. Someone who I recall was once memorably described on Twitter as ‘batshit, faeces up the wall insane’. It says something that even in the reality vacuum, outrage baiting world of Daily Mail columnists, Melanie Phillips can still pull out a column so deranged that you have to re-read its title over-and-over whilst punching yourself in the face just to make sure your eyes are not deceiving you. Today she gets stuck into the Phone Hacking scandal with her own unique perspective: ‘If Miliband is such a hero, why won’t he tackle the REAL threat to our way of life – the BBC?’.

Seriously. ‘If Miliband is such a hero, why won’t he tackle the REAL threat to our way of life – the BBC?’.

And why, you might reasonably ask is the BBC a ‘threat to our way of life’ (whatever Phillips’ might mean by ‘our’)? Well, because the BBC:

is a media oligarchy which exercises far more power in Britain than News International…

The BBC’s monopoly over the media is indeed a running scandal. After all, just imagine if News International had been given the legal power to levy a tax on everyone who bought a newspaper in order to fund the Murdoch empire.

So, ignoring the fact that the News of the World has closed down after constant allegations / revelations over phone-hacking, police corruption and political collusion / blind-eye-turning at the highest level we should ignore all of that – and the wider role of News International in creating a culture in which this is all fine – and instead focus on media monopolies as if this is what the story is really about. Even for Melanie Phillips this is stretching credibility beyond breaking point.

She continues:

Indeed, since it is a direct competitor of BSkyB, the disproportion and relish with which the BBC has been reporting the News of the World scandal — allowing it on some current affairs shows to drive out all other news — leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. Moreover, the BBC’s role in all this is even more questionable when you factor in the real reason for Miliband’s double standard.

For his motives surely have precious little to do with any criminal behaviour or monopoly power. No, the real reason is that for the past three decades the Left has been desperate to bring Murdoch down.

For such people, he is a hate figure of diabolical proportions. The venom and hysteria he inspires are truly irrational.

Isn’t it strange to read this version of history about ‘the left’ when I seem to recall Murdoch switching allegiance to Labour when it was clear the Tories were finished in 1997 and Murdoch and Tony Blair having a very cosy relationship. I don’t recall any politician of substance (perhaps because there are so few of them) trying to take down Murdoch or even discuss it. It seems Melanie is just making stuff up to fit her warped world view in which the BBC are the Labour party or more generally ‘the left’ simply because they don’t take the same frothing right-wing editorial line as the Daily Mail or indeed they don’t subscribe to Phillips’ fantasy version of Britain. From what i’ve read – and I could of course be wrong – the real darkness of this scandal is that almost every politician irrespective of party has been either in bed with News International or to fearful to ever question it and that has led to the current situation.

Phillips continues – in an extremely influential right-wing newspaper that holds – in the words of Nick Davies – ‘outstanding political influence’:

Murdoch’s real crime in the eyes of the Left-wing intelligentsia is simply that he has stood in the way of their total capture of the culture.

The dominance of Left-wing ideas has been such that even among so-called conservatives, many of them have become accepted as mainstream. And one of the most powerful architects of that shift has been the BBC.

Yes, the Left-wing and their cultural dominance. That cultural dominance so widely-expressed through the Guardian and the Daily Mirror and… well, that’s it. It always amuses me when the overwhelmingly right-wing press claims to be the victim of some kind of left-wing, liberal conspiracy to stop them getting their own way. As far as I can determine the only mass of people capable of stopping right-wing ideas gaining complete dominance is the public. As much as it would pain Phillips to admit, the reality is that (shock horror) her ideas are only supported by a minority of blinkered Daily Mail readers. It isn’t a left-wing liberal elite that is preventing her ideas from spreading, but the fact that her ideas are so utterly repellent and stupid that the public as a whole just ignore her.

She finally does get to the point about why the BBC is the ‘real threat to our way of life’:

the BBC’s output rests upon certain articles of faith.

For example, traditional Christians are all fundamentalist bigots; the science of man-made global warming is settled; opponents of mass immigration are racist; Eurosceptics are swivel-eyed fanatics; and all who oppose these opinions and more are Right-wing extremists.

And then to add insult to injury, the BBC forces people to pay for the privilege of being told day in, day out that their own views are stupid or prejudiced.

So, in short, because the BBC has a different opinion to her (even if it is based on science or facts etc) it is a threat to ‘our’ way of life (by which she really means ‘her view of the world’). Wonderful stuff indeed. It really puts the Daily Mail into sharp perspective when you consider it sees fit to pay Melanie Phillips a wage for writing this moronic, self-indulgent drivel.

If you want the full ‘glory’ of the article, you can read it here via

Crime and _________?

One of the things that has always struck me about the Press Complaints Commission is that it rarely seems able to punish newspapers even when they make serious errors – or worse they are caught out deliberately lying. Very often this means that the only way a member of the public can feel like any kind of justice has been achieved – or to even get any compensation for any distress they may have suffered at the hands of a newspaper – they must go through the expense of hiring lawyers.

Take this example from the PCC website posted on the 7 July this year:

Adjudication – Hampshire Constabulary v Aldershot News & Mail

Hampshire Constabulary complained to the Press Complaints Commission on behalf of two women that an article published in the Aldershot News & Mail in August 2010 identified them as victims of sexual assault in breach of Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld.

The PCC in their adjudication noted, in very strong terms:

This was a truly shocking case in which two alleged victims of sexual crimes had been identified by name. There was simply no justification for naming them – as the newspaper itself had recognised – and the women, who were in a clearly vulnerable position, should have been protected as the Code required. The newspaper’s mistake was an appalling one, and the Commission had no hesitation in upholding the complaint.

So, what would the punishment be? Well, here is what the PCC did:

Given the exceedingly serious nature of this case, and the catastrophic failure of the editorial process, the Commission agreed to refer the terms of its adjudication to the Chief Executive of Trinity Mirror, the owner of the Aldershot News & Mail, so that action could be taken to prevent this ever happening in the future. It requested that the response be referred back to the Commission.

They contacted the owners so that they could ensure it never happened again. All well and good you might think, but imagine of this kind of adjudication happened in any other walk of life. Would the tabloids be happy if a teenager found guilty of doing something ‘exceedingly serious’ was not punished in any way, instead the judge just passed on his thoughts to the parents in the hope that they could take the appropriate action?

What if the Chief Executive of Trinity Mirror doesn’t do anything? What would the PCC do in that case? What could they do in that case?

In reporting cases like this every single journalist, editor, sub-editor and so forth should have it drummed into them that they can never, ever reveal the identify of victims or alleged victims of sexual assault. Yes, mistakes do happen, but they cannot be undone and anonymity cannot be returned to these two women and therefore some sort of statutory punishment must be handed down to newspapers as a start reminders to others.

Just imagine the outrage of our spiteful, tawdry and hateful press if any other form of regulation was as woolly, powerless or self-serving as theirs.

What about the real news?

Today’s Daily Mail editorial condenses all of the basic arguments that have been trotted out by their ever-so-compliant columnists in the past week as to why we should all forget about hacking and move onto something else: ‘Never mind phone hacking, what about the real issues facing Britain?‘ [ link].

In the real world, bleak economic storm clouds are gathering.

The euro crisis, which has already cost the beleaguered British taxpayer £12.5billion in bailout loans – an average of £600 for every family – deepens by the day.

Italy is the latest debt-ridden Eurozone country causing panic in the markets and even the credit-rating of the USA may be cut, which would spark a major crisis on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Britain, rampant fuel and food inflation cripple household budgets, unemployment remains around 2.5million and there’s fear on the High Street as big names like Habitat and HMV go under.

Despite empty promises from Business Secretary Vince Cable, the banks – whose criminal recklessness and greed created this crisis – cynically starve small businesses of vital funds they need to help kick-start the economy.

Even when loans are given, interest rates are usurious.

Mortgages are almost impossible to get for first-time buyers, leading to sclerosis in the housing market. Growth has stalled and we may even be back in recession by the end of the year.

In a sane world, politicians would be working round the clock to help rectify these dire problems. But sadly, they are far too busy enjoying a frenzy of vengeful score-settling against the Murdoch press.

It’s an insidious argument and the editorial reads as if it was written by Richard Littlejohn. One of the key narratives that the Daily Mail has tried to sell for the last week is that the phone-hacking story is only of interest to politicians or those in the media. Richard Littlejohn referred to the ‘politico/media village’ exploding into a frenzy as if the story had no impact outside of this sphere. In today’s editorial the writer falls back on one of Littlejohn’s favourite turn of phrases: ‘In the real world’. Basically this argument is used simply to dismiss one topic by implying that there are far more pressing problems to deal with – it is also used to again distance a topic from being in the public interest. In this case the editorial is clearly suggesting that only money problems impact upon its readership, whilst hacking is something that only politicians or the BBC care about (because it does not take place in the real world).

Clearly, the phone-hacking story is no longer about the actual hacking itself, but rather it is beginning to look at the utterly unchecked power held by a morally reprehensible press. This impacts all of us because we all realise that we are just one incident away from becoming a victim – whether we are a landlord of a murdered girl or the relation of a missing girl or dead soldier; we are all just one piece of bad luck or personal tragedy away from being hacked, smeared or otherwise invaded by a rampant press. This story is real, it is important, it dramatically affects the real world in which we live. The media for far too long have been completely free to lie, distort and attack anything that suits them, vastly impacting on political process and societal harmony. If phone-hacking is the foot in the door that allows us to tackle the wider unaccountability and ethical bankruptcy of the press then it is quite simply one of the most significant stories of our lifetime.

All of this is obviously ignoring the staggering hypocrisy of the Mail editorial telling us what is ‘real world’, important news and what ‘in a sane world’ would be ignored. This is, after all, the newspaper that regularly leads with stories about wheelie bins – followed up by ‘special investigations’ about them:

Tabloid Watch has also covered this as well, go read it.