Journalists and the Code

In my last post I suggested – based on what I had read on the PCC website and in the various communications that they put out – that journalists should be punished more frequently because the PCC code is often written into their contracts of employment. Thanks to a reader getting in touch I stand corrected and was directed to a recent bulletin issued by Mediawise in response to the independent review of ‘The governance of the Press Complaints Commission’. This bulletin made it clear that:

Contrary to a myth popular at the PCC for many years, the Code is not written into most journalists’ contracts, especially the increasing number who are freelances. And why should it be – they have no say in its compilation, nor in editorial decisions, nor in the PCC. And there is the rub. For the moment the Code of Practice policed by the PCC is indeed the Editors’ Code (they write it, agree to be judged by it and their publications pay the PCC to adjudicate on alleged breaches).

According to the logic employed throughout the review to justify the current system of self-regulation, if working journalists are to be disciplined under the Code – they should have a say in how it is compiled and moderated. If it is to be used to initiate disciplinary procedures at the behest of an external body, then working journalists and their organisations should be represented not just on the PCC but also on the industry’s Code Committee. Nonetheless MediaWise has argued that self-regulation would be enhanced among working journalists if they were to supplement, not replace, editors on the PCC.

The point is a good one and perhaps implies that because journalists do not form part of the regulatory process, or are necessarily contracted to abide by the code, more accountability lies ultimately with the editors in charge of journalists. It is reasonable to expect editors to take full responsibility for any breaches in the code because they are the ones who write it and agree to abide by it; whilst the journalists are not strictly subject to its ‘rules’ – such as they are. Presumably the role of the editor – whilst diminished in certain aspects of rolling news publication (online for example) – is still crucial in determining what is and what isn’t fit to print. In reality a journalist writes a story, a breach can only occur if the editor sees fit to publish it.

Once again the spotlight shines brightly at the likes of Paul Dacre who Chairs the Editor’s code committee, yet is editor of the most complained about newspaper in the UK. If his journalists are not part of the regulatory process then it is his job to apply the code to his editorial decisions. Something he seems pathologically against doing, considering the current output of his newspaper.

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The Myth of Press self-regulation

On Wednesday an independent review on ‘The governance of the Press Complaints Commission’ was published. The Guardian covered this report and attempted to summarise its findings for their readers – in particular the list of sanctions currently available to be used by the PCC, something that the report argued needed to be made clearer to the public. They also quoted the response of Martin Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, who points out that whilst the report is to be welcomed, it can only really be measured in terms of how many recommendations are acted upon by both the PCC and the industry – who could, feasibly, completely ignore the report.

The early indications for a more open system of press ‘self-regulation’ are poor. The Telegraph – currently feuding with the PCC over Rod Liddle’s baseless accusations about black men and crime figures – have not covered the review. The Sun, the Daily Star, the Daily Express and the most complained about newspaper of all – the Daily Mail – have not covered this report at all. This is where the reality of the dream of press self-regulation starts to fall to pieces. The report, sadly, places great faith in the ability of the press to self-regulate stating that:

…the basic philosophy of self-regulation… is sound. Press involvement in the system is a strength

Yet the press is not getting involved. Only the Guardian have covered the story and consider how they are scorned by others for daring to raise the issue of whether self-regulation of the press is effective in the past:

if a certain heavily loss-making, chattering class newspaper spent half the energy it devotes to its almost psychotic hatred of self-regulation and popular newspapers to improving its own lamentable performance, then it and Fleet Street would be in a healthier state.
[Daily Mail Editorial on the Commons Culture Committee report on self-regulation of the press, 25 February 2010]

The first step of self-regulation is to engage in the process, not just in negotiations behind closed doors with the PCC or the laughably ineffective and totally ignored ‘Editor’s code of practice’, but to actually be open with your readers about the process. This means covering independent reviews like this, to show that you are engaged in the concept of self-regulation and that you understand that this process only works if readers are aware of the purpose of self-regulation and the part that every reader can play in it.

Sadly this week has demonstrated once again that press self-regulation is never going to be anything more than fine words typed-up in reports like this. For not only do the press pretend debates surrounding the issue are not taking place, they also demonstrate through editorial choices that they have not got the moral decency to properly engage in self-regulation. For example, the sickening reporting of the case of two gay men who won their supreme court case to remain in the UK left us with headlines and editorials from a range of tabloid newspapers that left anyone engaging with them having the distinct feeling that they were ‘wading into a stinking cesspool‘. With stories like these the angles consistently chosen by the tabloid press shows that they are no longer reporters of news but merely being inflammatory, scaremongering and intolerant (often at complete odds with the truth) in order to ‘push the buttons of their readers‘.

The report recommends that financial sanctions should not be part of the PCC’s remit because they would ‘introduce confrontation into a collaborative approach that generally works well’. Instead they recommend that current sanctions are given more publicity so that people can understand the seriousness of any redress issued by the PCC, these include:

  • negotiation of an agreed remedy (apology, published correction, amendment of records, removal of article)
  • publication of a critical adjudication
  • public criticism of a title by the Chairman of the PCC
  • a letter of admonishment from the Chairman to the editor
  • disciplinary action against a journalist on the back of a PCC ruling that confirms a breach of the Code
  • referral by the PCC of the editor to the publisher for disciplinary action

All of which seem utterly pointless if the process is not transparent. For example, do I recall any public criticism of a publication, have I heard about a journalist being punished for breaking the code – even though it is part of their contract of employment and have I heard about an editor being reprimanded by a publisher? No, not necessarily because any of these things have not happened, but because we would never hear about it if we did.

Furthermore, newspaper content is created to sell as many newspapers as possible, so if breaking the code (or simply ignoring it) increases sales and generates more revenue; then is it in the interest of the editor to punish staff or the publisher to punish the editor when in monetary terms he is performing well? This is where the Editor’s code comes into direct conflict with the financial reality of what tabloid journalism has become; to abide by the code – become less intrusive into people’s private grief, less hateful against immigrants or any other target group or to stop making up stories about Muslims or Political Correctness or Heath and safety – is to put your newspaper in danger of losing revenue.  Unless the PCC has financial sanctions greater than the perceived loss of revenue that would occur should newspapers become less sensationalist and more fact or news driven, then self-regulation will not occur.

The first and only rule of press self-regulation is that you do not talk about press self-regulation. The Guardian faces the wrath of other newspapers not primarily because it is a wishy-washy, loony-left, bleeding-heart liberal newspaper, but because it actually has a media section that reports PCC rulings and dubious things carried out by other newspapers. It breaks the unwritten rule that one newspaper should never dig dirt or criticise another, largely because of the fear that if a battle commenced newspaper practices are so sordid across the board that the press could easily completely destroy itself.

Take for example the Independent’s adverts in the run up to the election declaring that: ‘Rupert Murdoch won’t decide this election. You will.’ Shortly after the adverts were published Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, and James Murdoch, son of Rupert, ‘stormed’ the offices of the Independent to ask ‘What the fuck are you playing at?’. Primarily because, according to the Guardian, the Independent had broken ‘the unwritten code that proprietors do not attack each other’.

And take one final story that demonstrates that the press as a body is not fit enough to be given the great responsibility of self-regulation:

No journalistic justification whatsoever
No journalistic justification whatsoever

I have left the picture in purely to illustrate the unnecessary identification of the deceased and to highlight the complete lack of dignity with which this ‘story’ is covered (I blacked out the face and name out of respect and will not be linking to any of the articles). This ‘story’ is the result of an inquest carried out to ascertain as best as possible the reason why a young women died, so that her family and friends could perhaps begin to come to terms with such a sudden and unexpected death. It was the perfect opportunity for the press to demonstrate that they appreciate what self-regulation means; the journalists involved should have realised that there was no journalistic justification for printing this story and that to do so would cause untold further suffering for the family and friends of the deceased.

Yet, the Daily Mail and Metro newspapers published this story and it has been picked up and republished by media sites all over the world, inviting not just shock from commenters who were appalled that journalists had stooped so low as to publish it, but also sniggers from people who seem to have lost their basic humanity. The life of this young woman – 30 years of it – her interactions with the world, relationships, hopes and dreams and personality have been wiped out so the Daily Mail and Metro could fill some whitespace and invite people to raise a snigger.

The tabloid press are an absolute disgrace and completely unfit for any form of self-regulation and it cannot be repeated enough that Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre is the current Chair of the Editor’s code, yet he also presides over the most complained about newspaper in the United Kingdom and he sees fit to print abhorrently invasive and disrespectful stories like this.

The only effective form of press regulation currently available to the public is the boycott of tabloid newspapers, and sadly in this area I am sure I am only preaching to the converted.

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The PCC Idea of ‘Resolved Complaints’

Looking through the Press Complaints Commission’s recently resolved complaints you become aware of just how unsatisfactory such resolutions often are for the complainant. The PCC and editors seem to think it is enough to merely remove offending articles, rather than actually attempt to offer any kind of redress or explanation.

Take the example of teacher Michelle Smith who complained to the PCC that the Daily Mail had:

published a story about a personal photograph that was uploaded to her school’s website by mistake. She said the article contained inaccuracies and was generally misleading to readers as it failed to explain the full circumstances behind the taking of the photograph

This complaint was resolved – according to the PCC – ‘when the newspaper removed the online article and photograph’. No mention of investigating the inaccuracies, no right of reply for the victim, merely the removal of the article. Is this really satisfactory? If you search for ‘teacher Michelle Smith’ on Google you can still find the outraged headlines from both the Daily Mail and The Sun (to whom Michelle Smith also successfully complained), complete with the first paragraph of each article. Should you then click on the link to either the Daily Mail article or The Sun article you end up with a 404 error page, stating that the content is no longer there.

You do not get informed that the article has been removed following an upheld complaint made to the PCC. You are not informed of why the offending article has been removed, nor given the right of reply from the victim. You merely end up with the conclusion that the page has been mislaid, rather than purposefully removed because of shoddy journalism.

Next up Amanda Platell writes the following about Heather Mills in November:

Why does she roll up one trouser leg to show her prosthetic limb, yet leaves the other one covered? Not still milking the sympathy vote, are we pet?”

Luckily Heather Mills was able to issue a response through other media outlets to this question:

“She says I kept my trouser leg rolled up to show off my prosthetic, UNTRUE, It was rolled up so Bob Watts the prosthetic could see the alignment and work out why i could not do crossovers without catching my blade and falling over.

“If the lazy woman did her homework she would understand how near impossible it is to skate with one limb to raise money for a needy charity programme.

“And she would know this was a private lesson, no cameras allowed, someone obviously sneaked a pic and she presumes the worst, how about a face to face Ms Platell?”

But even so, how many Daily Mail readers would have found this alternative media response, seeing as it was not covered in the Mail? The PCC say the issue was resolved when the Mail removed the offending article from its website and ‘sent a private letter of regret to the complainant’. Why is it that a public entity like a newspaper is allowed to apologise in private? Why was Amanda Platell not publicly rebuked for such a malicious, pathetic and completely untrue swipe at someone?

Organisations also receive the same treatment. Wellington College complained about Daily Mail coverage of an alleged assault at the college, claiming it was ‘inaccurate and misleading’. Again, rather than attempt to investigate and if necessary correct the coverage, they simply removed it from their website and ‘marked its cuttings library to ensure that there would be no future reference to it’. Is this really enough? To not publicly acknowledge the removal of an article gives the Daily Mail readership the impression that the Daily Mail is largely infallible as a source of news. In reality, things are very different, but you’ll only know that if you spend your time trawling the PCC website looking at just how many articles are removed without any sound at all from the Mail website. No explanation, no apology, no right to reply. The inaccuracies of purposeful misleading of its readership just disappears into the void.

It also again raises the issue of just why should editors bother to adhere to the PCC Editor’s code of practice, when the only result of publishing inaccurate articles is their quiet removal from the website? The original article still scored Internet traffic and raised advertising revenue, essentially archived content of low level attraction such as the above stories have no revenue value to the Daily Mail, so all the PCC really achieve is helping the Daily Mail prune past stories from their website.

It has been suggested by the excellent Mediawise (more about them will be appearing on this blog in the next few weeks) that newspapers should have dedicated places to post details of PCC rulings / resolved complaints etc against them, both online and in print editions, so that readers can readily find out what their newspaper has been up to recently. This seems more than reasonable and that editors do not voluntarily do this demonstrates still further how utterly unwilling the press actually is to even get into the spirit of self-regulation.

The PCC and why self-regulation does not work

The recent submissions made by myself and others to the governance review of the Press Complaints Commission are now available to view on the PCC website. It is interesting to note the relatively small amounts of public submissions to what was an important opportunity for the public to inform the PCC of any concerns. Perhaps the paucity of submissions demonstrates the poor public awareness of the PCC, and perhaps indicates a certain level of cynicism as to whether a submission would make any difference to such a powerless and ineffectual organisation.

Indeed, the submissions themselves are telling. Take, for example, the submission from the Society of editors [pdf]. In their submission the Society basically argue that they appreciate the PCC have to keep up the appearance of being a organisation responsive to change, they insist that ‘it must not change fundementally’. Considering the PCC has fundamental problems as a regulator, this seems like the Society of Editors want the PCC to remain fundamentally ineffective.

Certainly their arguments follow those put forward by Paul Dacre – the man who insists that self-regulation works through the general decency of editors and the shame that they feel if they are caught breaking the code:

“It is a matter of huge shame if an editor has an adjudication against him; it is a matter of shame for him and his paper. That is why self-regulation is the most potent form of regulation, and we buy into it. We do not want to be shamed.”

Considering that Paul Dacre is editor of the most complained about newspaper in the UK, I think we can all see that ‘shame’ is not an effective regulatory force. However, this does not stop Dacre and the Society of Editors from implying that journalists are their own fiercest critics:

There is no fiercer critic of a journalist than another journalist. The code is part of editors’ and journalists’ contracts of employment. There can be no more powerful final sanction than the loss of livelihood.

Considering that Paul Dacre has an annual salary of £1.13m (a salary that has been criticised by corporate governance watchdogs) and is editor of the most complained about newspaper, it seems that no-one is actually willing to impose economic sanctions, even if such sanctions are written into their contract of employment. Certainly the PCC is not the regulator to impose fines against individuals, and I’m not sure members of the public consider an eventual, forced apology after several months really constitutes the ‘free and instant justice’ that Paul Dacre actually states the PCC provides.

The Society of Editors submission demonstrates that self-regulation of the press with never be effective as long as editors and journalists have such an uncritical and frankly deluded opinion of the industry that they work in. The submission in simple terms argues that editors and journalists alike all obey the code out of professional pride, and that fundamental changes to the PCC must not happen. Furthermore, they also argue that:

It should respond to genuine complaints from the public rather than from those who may hold particular subjective views about the role and behaviour of the press generally or any part of it

I imagine they would consider my views on the ‘role and behaviour of the press’ to be subjective, when in reality they just reflect the fact that I spend a lot of my time sifting through the lies, distortions and outright hatred printed as a matter of course by the press on a daily basis. I think I have every reason to have formed strong views on the behaviour of the press, the Society of Editors seem to argue that I should be ignored for being ‘subjective’.

However, where is the real subjective analysis coming from? Surely, given the completely unrealistic views held by Paul Dacre and the Society of Editors, the real subjectivity problem is being caused by the role of self-regulation? If Paul Dacre really believes that the shame of doing wrong is the most powerful form of self-regulation, then clearly an independent regulator must be created.

Clearly, if the Society of Editors genuinely believes that journalists are the fiercest critics of other journalists – yet we face a deafening silence in the majority of all media outlets when any newspaper of journalist is found guilty of any journalistic misdemeanor – then they are not fit to play any part in the governance review or the self-regulation process.

The submission from MediaWise makes much more pertinent arguments for change, based on evidence, rather than the dishonest assumption that self-regulation is working wonderfully thanks to shame and self-aware criticism. It points out that it is no longer acceptable ‘At every new crisis of confidence about press misbehaviour the public are assured ad nauseam about editors’ commitment to self-regulation and the Code of Practice’, when the public can clearly see that editors have no commitment to the code of practice. If they did, then the constant misbehaviour would not happen.

MediaWise also points out that the desire for ‘cheap headlines and sensational claims’ (often from the PR industry) ‘take precedence over well-researched and properly verified stories. They refer to examples such as Madeleine McCann, Max Mosley, MMR, avian flu and swine flu to demonstrate how the press constantly reports without any reference to fact or truth. All of this under the careful watch of journalists who supposedly face fierce criticism and economic sanctions and editors who adhere to the code as a matter of moralistic principle.

It also points out that the line between news content and editorial content has become dangerously blurred, and that the PCC again demonstrated its complete failure as a regulatory body by ruling that: ‘a headline should be regarded as a comment and so not subject to the Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code’. How can an effective regulatory body argue that headlines have no need to be accurate? As a result of this ruling the Express headline: ‘Bombers are all spongeing asylum-seekers’, was ruled as being perfectly acceptable.

The PCC does not work. As long as editors and journalists continue to think that their newspapers are doing a great job of self-regulation and abiding by the principles and spirit of the code, then the PCC will never work. If editors like Paul Dacre are allowed to make nonsensical statements such as refuting the claim that the Daily Mail engages in ‘churnalism’ (the act of rehashing or even publishing in full press releases or even wire copy without any fact checking or any journalistic input whatsoever), then the PCC will never work.

I have no faith in the PCC becoming an effective regulatory body in the foreseeable future, which is why I am putting together a new website aimed at amalgamating the huge amount of blog articles written each day on the national media – whether it be TV, radio, newspapers or online news sources. The aim of the website is to give more prominence to the lies and distortions of our unregulated media. It will try to publish articles from some of the prominent media bloggers, as well as encouraging any blogger who has written something about the media to submit their content as well.

In order to make the site work we will need editors to trawl and check content, writers prepared to submit work (already TabloidWatch has agreed to submit some content that may be outside the remit of watching Tabloids) and above all we need a name for it. I hope that the few readers who have made it this far can add some suggestions for the project, whether it be name function or a small commitment to lend your support to the project.

My hope is to create a site that isn’t as easy to ignore as individual bloggers, to create a site that becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The PCC does not work, let us provide a website that demonstrates just how badly self-regulation of the press has let us all down.

Paul Dacre: old, going bald, very grey and has jowls like the Churchill dog

He was once a sprightly young man who according to one eye witness ‘would stalk through the newsroom… shouting “what the fuck is this, you cunt, there’s not a fucking brain in this office” – tearing up pages’ and terrifying staff [1]. Yet recent video footage of Paul Dacre has revealed he is a grey, balding, plump-faced pensioner who struggles over basic sentences.

It seems a far cry from the man dubbed ‘the Vagina Monologue because he call[ed] so many people a cunt’ [2]. He also seemed to be obsessed with incoherent ideas and concepts that seldom bore any relationship with reality; at one point he claimed with a straight face and earnest voice that rather than members of public sue the Daily Mail he would: ‘obviously encourage people to go to the PCC [instead] where they get free and instant justice’. As well as claiming that ‘we have, i think, quite an effective system of self-regulation in the media, we come under a lot of scrutiny, rightly’. Amazingly, such was the sympathy garnered by Gollum’s dilapidated cousin, not a single peel of laughter rang out from the committee room. It was clear that Dacre was no longer a feared and powerful newspaper editor, but rather a senile old man who really thought the most useless ‘regulator’ ever created was a great success.

He increasingly looked like the father of Richard Littlejohn (which I really think he does and would certainly explain a lot), and his sense of victimised conspiracy – as well as complete disregard for reality – could have been plucked from any of Littlejohn’s Daily Mail columns.

The above is an attempt at a ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ style article pointing out that someone has got a little older, bolder, greyer and fatter. Something that Paul Dacre’s paper takes great pleasure in doing, as if it somehow constitutes news. Following yesterday’s post on what I consider to be the real outrages of the taboid press – the constant lies and inhumanity – I had a message from Macguffin from Tabloid Watch, who made a small correction: Dacre didn’t provide a written statement to the HoC Culture, Media and Sport Committee, he actually turned up to answer questions. He actually said the following with a straight face:

“It is a matter of huge shame if an editor has an adjudication against him; it is a matter of shame for him and his paper. That is why self-regulation is the most potent form of regulation, and we buy into it. We do not want to be shamed.”

So I was curious to see what else Dacre said, so the above quotations are actually transcribed from his grand day out, yes, he actually said those things with a straight face as well. Dacre goes on to say far more completely hypocritical things, like his statement on the human rights act.

The ‘Human Rights Act was a very well intentioned act, I mean who could deny human rights to anybody’ he says, seriously (15:58), which is presumably why the Daily Mail has spent years campaigning to have the act scrapped. In a typical Daily Mail article entitled: ‘What about OUR human rights‘ the Mail reported that a poll showed 61% of people where in favour of scrapping it, largely thanks I imagine to the negative reporting of the tabloid press towards the HRA. The Mail also stated that the act had caused many ‘affronts to natural justice’, listing numerous cases of criminals not deported, bombers let in and so on to support their view that the HRA was an act of madness. However, as the Guardian pointed out: the majority of those cases had nothing to do with the HRA and everything to do with legal loopholes. The HRA was a convenient target because the Mail does not support equality or basic rights to ‘others’ such as ethnic minorities.

He also bangs on about privacy – of course, that is the point of the committee – but here he again seems to be a complete hypocrite. As the Guardian points out, ‘until recently, Dacre has studiously avoided the public gaze’ and enjoys his perceived right to privacy. That is why I took a small delight above in looking at the man behind the hatred, judgement and bullying articles that make up such a huge bulk of Daily Mail content. He is, after all, a human being, as frail and as flawed as anyone. I would argue, though, that he deserves more limelight for most after his years of editorship of the Daily Mail, he dishes out the abuse but rarely seems to be on the end of it.

1 & 2 – Nick Davies, Flat Earth News, p379.

The Real ‘Outrage’

It’s no secret that the press – particularly the tabloids – are a vindictive bunch. You cross them and chances are your bins will be trawled, your old partners / school friends etc contacted for dirt, your phone calls / Internet use / bank statements / credit card statements and so on tapped for juicy information to take you down. The press are the worst bullies of all, and worst of all, because they stick together anything that doesn’t fit their worldview is simply not reported.

The situation isn’t helped by the fact that the PCC is so utterly spineless and ultimately powerless to do anything about the situation. The press like to cause ‘outrage’ amongst its readers, yet I cannot help but feel a different sense of outrage. Take the Daily Express for example, two recent examples (from a shameful collection of hundreds of similar headlines) have been covered by the Enemies of Reason on his shiny new blog.

The first is this:

This VIP club turns out – you’ve guessed it – to be nothing of the sort. The whole story is a completely made up farce designed to get complete idiots riled up about how the hard-working taxpayer gets fleeced while Johnny foreigner is given everything on a plate. The whole thing is ludicrous, the French aren’t exactly known for their lenient attitudes towards immigrants, so why would they want to build them a VIP departure lounge? The only thing more surreal than the story is that it can be published on the front page of a national newspaper without any consequences whatsoever. The PCC does not even bat an eyelid when such blatant lies are told with the sole aim of stirring up hatred towards migrants.

The second is today’s Express and is no better:

Again, the PCC will take no action against the Express for another utterly deceptive front page designed solely to stir up hatred towards migrants. It makes a mockery of the idea that in society we are held accountable for our actions, when our press – who take such pleasure in judging society and those within it – are completely unaccountable.

The truth about immigration and asylum seekers is in the majority of cases the polar opposite to the common perception spread by lying tabloids, as Chicken Yoghurt points out, a Human Rights Watch report released yesterday:

…documents how women asylum seekers with complex claims are being routed into a system designed for much simpler claims. The women are held in detention largely for the UK’s administrative convenience, have very little time to prepare a legal case, and have only a few days to appeal if refused. But the claims often involve such sensitive and difficult issues as sexual violence, female genital mutilation, trafficking, and domestic abuse. There is little time for lawyers or other representatives to build the trust with their clients needed for them to explain their claims or to obtain medical or other evidence needed to verify them.

Still, when most of the comments on immigration stories – no matter what the asylum seeker had suffered before leaving their country – basically state: ‘Not our problem / who cares send them straight back’ this report won’t make any difference to the hardened minds of those that actually believe the newspapers report immigration factually.

This moves us to Tabloid Watch’s latest post, and it is essential reading, The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has published its long-awaited report on Press standards, privacy and libel today. Read Tabloid Watch’s posts for the criticisms levelled at several tabloids and their editors, I just want to draw your attention to the complete lack of coverage such a report has gained. As Tabloid Watch points out in his conclusion, Sky News could not contain their bias as they completely dismissed the report as a political ‘vendetta’ and other media outlets managed a fleeting mention or editorials that dismissed the report as worthless.

In an age when global media corporations are run by a few individuals the truth has become a twisted concept, moulded to suit the agendas of those that run the news corporations. As a result the truly outrageous lies of the tabloid press provoke not just from their intended audience, but also from those who value truth. The only difference is that the real outrage isn’t reported and therefore doesn’t exist, whilst the phony outrage – such as that over immigration – is repeated again and again completely without consequence.

As Tabloid Watch points out, the tabloid press really have no shame and hypocrisy just isn’t a word they seem to know the meaning of. Paul Dacre, for example, editor of the Daily Mail, a newspaper which is consistently and comfortably the most successfully complained newspaper in the UK, stated this in this new report:

“It is a matter of huge shame if an editor has an adjudication against him; it is a matter of shame for him and his paper. That is why self-regulation is the most potent form of regulation, and we buy into it. We do not want to be shamed.”

Did he write that with a straight face? Or was he laughing at the fact that an adjudication from the PCC is utterly meaningless and completely unreported, so who cares? Apart from a few websites pointing out the shameful lies in the Mail and the occasional lawsuit that they lose on account of them, who else knows or cares? The readership are all too busy blaming immigrants and threatening to move to France or Spain because ‘Britain is broken’. Other newspapers are so deep in the same stinking shit they dare not cast the first stone for fear of the rightful rocks that are waiting to be flung back.

I hang my head every time I see a person reading a tabloid newspaper and raging about something I know to be completely false. I know it isn’t entirely their fault that they believe these things, because surely, in a civilised world in which truth, honesty and justice are supposed to be prized values, the tabloids can’t possibly print huge lies on their front pages, can they? That they do is to the eternal shame of the governments that rather than reign in the excessive lying and bullying of the tabloid press have instead done so much to seek their approval – much as Brown has with his shameful treatment of those seeking safety in a country supposedly committed to basic human rights.

A petition to the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee

The Petition

As you may have heard via Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads fame a small group of bloggers have submitted five suggestions to the Press Complaints Commission’s [PCC] Editors’ Code of Practice Committee for their annual review of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice. It has been submitted in the form of a petition – which you can sign here and add your own comment if you wish.

The five suggestions are as follows:

  • SUGGESTION ONE: Like-for-like placement of retractions, corrections and apologies in print and online (as standard).
  • SUGGESTION TWO: Original or redirected URLs for retractions, corrections & apologies online (as standard).
  • SUGGESTION THREE: The current Code contains no reference to headlines, and this loophole should be closed immediately.
  • SUGGESTION FOUR: Sources to be credited unless they do not wish to be credited or require anonymity/protection.
  • SUGGESTION FIVE: A longer and more interactive consultation period for open discussion of more fundamental issues.

For more information on this petition please read this post at Bloggerheads. The rest of this post will be concerned with a bit of background on the PCC and why it needs to change.

I hate these Sun adverts and the PCC

I found out via Twitter today that the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) chairman – Baroness Buscombe – has lofty ambitions for the PCC; such as extending its remits to the blogosphere. As the Tweeter (Unity) pointed out: they might want to actually start regulating the press first. Baroness Buscombe has a long history of working within industry and has spent the two previous years to taking up this role as Chief Executive of the Advertising Agency. Somehow, I don’t think she’s the sort of person who’s going to be on the side of the little guy against the abuses of the tabloid shit factory. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the PCC won’t get any better under her leadership and that if she thinks that the PCC is doing such a fine job of regulating the printed press that they should branch out into the digital media field of blogs then we may as well give up on the PCC as an effective regulatory force until it gets some leadership that hasn’t been groomed from within the media industry.

The whole issue of what an utter farce the PCC is has been brought home by the recent advertising campaign run by the Sun newspaper. Every time one of their adverts comes on the screen I want to put my fist through it and punch every smug, ignorant and bullshitting fuck who appears in the advert. You see I’d like to think that the newspaper that printed the headline ‘The Truth‘ and lied about the behaviour of Liverpool fans – innocuous things like accusing fans of pick-pocketing the dead, urinating on Police officers and trying to beat up people giving mouth-to-mouth – and never properly apologised for it wouldn’t have the gall to pretend that they are a serious journalistic bastion of truth and decency.

However, what becomes more apparent every time we are inflicted with a Sun advert is that the complete failure of the PCC to punish any excess of the tabloid press – and such excesses happen daily – is that newspapers start to believe a false sense of their own self-worth. We have to listen to Sun writers – people barely able to form a coherent sentence or an argument without making smutty jokes about gays or blaming immigrants for everything – talk to a camera as if they’re the modern equivalent of Swift’s pamphlets. These people are responsible for the absolute bile that the Sun spews forth each day yet they somehow are under the illusion that they can portray themselves without any apparent sense of irony as serious writers.

The whole thing is bizarre and if it is some kind of joke I really do fail to see the funny side. Perhaps they are being slightly ironic, perhaps they are blaming the members of the public that are stupid enough to lap this shit up and buy the newspaper each day. They state that the Sun headline is ‘part of the British culture’, which I imagine includes ‘The Truth’ headline. As an example of how everyone loves a Sun headline they wheel out the ‘FREDDIE STARR ATE MY HAMSTER’ as if we’re supposed to go ‘Oh yeah, great headline, wow aren’t the Sun a great newspaper’ and totally ignore the fact that the whole story was a complete fabrication. Perhaps the Sun does have a sense of humour if they want to celebrate the fact that they are best known for making stuff up and printing it in huge block capitals on the front of their newspapers. Wow, don’t I want to celebrate this wonderful anniversary of the newspaper equivalent of a pub bore drunkenly telling me ever more ridiculous lies to try and get me to listen to them.

Simon Cowell in the ad talks about the Freddie Starr headline and says something like: ‘It wasn’t true of course… which just about sums it up’. I’m not quite sure why the Sun left this in unless they really were having a celebratory wallow in their own shitness. Maybe they’re celebrating the fact that they’re a load of shit but they still sell enough newspapers to make a profit, so who cares?

Whatever the point of the adverts one thing is abundently clear: even newspapers and journalists as utterly fucking shit as the Sun and its writers think that they are doing a fabulous job. With the PCC a complete and utter farce I can’t see any reason for them to change their grand opinion of themselves, can you?

Boycott the advertisers, Destroy the Tabloid Press

I’m sure everyone is now fully aware of Jan Moir’s hateful, ignorant and homophobic article about Stephen Gately. It was covered on this site and just about every other blogger I know so I will not go over old ground by repeating things that have been covered elsewhere. Instead I want to focus on what should happen next, in general, with the tabloid media. There are now many blogs that exist to point out the hatred, racism, homophobia, misogyny, made-up science and general ignorant fear-mongering that makes up most of the content of tabloid newspapers but Friday was a rare event in that such bloggers rode a wave of anger over one particular article and a tabloid newspaper was forced to respond.

What surprises me isn’t that such a vast number of people took a few minutes out of their day to register their disgust at Jan Moir, it’s that such people don’t do it more often.

Why was there not a similar uproar for example over the Daily Express headline this week that stated that all Muslims were calling for complete Sharia Law in the UK, when it is patently clear that it is only one small faction – statistically insignificant within the Muslim population. A number of blogs covered Amanda Platell’s racism and ignorance a while back when she bemoaned in an article about population rise that:

Sadly, though, it is not the indigenous middle-class, hard-working, tax-paying population that’s exploding.

According to statistics, our latest baby boom is partly down to high birth rates among immigrants, and partly due to rising numbers of younger mothers.

The Explosion that Amanda was referring to was the rise in migrant mothers from 23.2% in 2007 to 24.1% in 2008, so the ‘boom’ is actually an increase of 0.9%. Yes it appears lies, racism and general bigotry only starts to rile the population if it is aimed at a popular figure. In my opinion everyone should take time out to counter any instance of a tabloid newspaper behaving in such a way – although that is a big ask considering just how frequently tabloid newspapers behave in this way. However, if we don’t apply consistent pressure to the tabloid press then they’ll simply be able to brush aside the Jan Moir reaction and carry on just as they did before. This year Richard Littlejohn has been named Poison Pen: Polemicist of the Year by the Comment Awards run by Editorial Intelligence which gives out a clear signal that homophobic, racist writers who constantly skewer reality and fact to suit their own hate-filled agenda are to be rewarded rather than chastised.

Remember, Richard Littlejohn is the writer who said of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda: “Does anyone really give a monkey’s about what happens in Rwanda? If the Mbongo tribe wants to wipe out the Mbingo tribe then as far as I am concerned that is entirely a matter for them.” And wrote the following about the murder of 5 Ipswich women in 2006:

…in the scheme of things the deaths of these five women is no great loss.

They weren’t going to discover a cure for cancer or embark on missionary work in Darfur. The only kind of missionary position they undertook was in the back seat of a car…

Frankly, I’m tired of the lame excuses about how they all fell victim to ruthless pimps who plied them with drugs. These women were on the streets because they wanted to be.

In 1995 Littlejohn made an hilarious comment on South Yorkshire Police Force’s attempts to become more aware of the concerns of the gay community where he claimed to have contacted a “tyke friend of mine” who “reliably informed me there are no homosexuals in South Yorkshire. [The friend said,] ‘Not live ones, anyway. We send them all down to London.’” Week after week Littlejohn repeats lies about ethnic minorities and makes hilarious snide digs about homosexuals, his lies are picked up every week by bloggers who point out that Littlejohn never conducts any research – even when a simple Google search would have told him his ‘story’ was utter rubbish. He merely regurgitates the already badly skewered news agenda of the Daily Mail and adds a further of layer of lies and hatred to obscure any passing resemblance that the story might have to reality.

Yet his reward is not to be mocked by his peers, but rewarded with a salary that is reported to be over £800,000 a year and awards from organisations that you’d hope would recognise what a sad joke of a writer he actually is. The tabloid media wallows in the reward of hateful, ignorant and base writers – as Tabloid Watch points out, just this week The News of the World has appointed Victoria Newton as its Deputy Editor; Editor Colin Myler commented:

‘I am delighted to welcome Victoria to the News of the World. She is one of the brightest journalists of her generation’.

Hmm. Really? Perhaps he should take a look at the wonderful Vickywatch blog, which proves what a hopeless, lazy and dishonest plagiarist she actually is.

Sadly, all too often tabloid writers get away with poisening the world with their ill-informed rants with only a ripple of discontent on blogs like this one. What Friday demonstrated is that with a bit more support change can happen, tabloid newspapers can be targeted because companies do not want their brand associated with any form of bigotry. Perhaps if certain brands advertising on the Daily Mail website were more consistantly reminded that the Daily Mail brand stands for racism, homophobia, dishonesty and functions as a detached mouthpiece for the BNP and other fascist organisations then they might look at removing their advertising revenue more permanently.

The tabloid media attempts to make everyone scared, hateful, paranoid and tries to always wedge lies and fear between communities. It feeds off of ignorance, paranoia and people who want someone to blame for whatever it is that gives them displeasure in life. The only way to defeat it is to make people like Jan Moir realise that the vast majority of people do not think or feel the way that she does, the Daily Mail and its readership need to realise that they are a minority, that their hate-filled vision of the world is not the norm. Advertisers need to realise that the vast majority of the UK marketplace abhors the values of the tabloid press; if people really want to stand up and destroy it then all we have to do is boycott any company that advertises through the tabloid media.

If we do not, Friday would have been for nothing.