Due prominence

The Leveson inquiry examining the culture, practices and ethics of the press concluded with a printed report on the 29th November 2012. It recommended that the press – having failed to effectively regulate itself, despite being given more than one chance to do so – be regulated by a truly independent regulator with some form of statutory underpinning. What this meant in simple terms: because the press so clearly cannot be trusted to a, behave appropriately and b, punish any misdemeanors through the PCC, some formal system is needed to ensure that appropriate sanctions would actually be applied.

The press took this as the ‘end of press freedom’ and has been fighting against any form of regulation (again) ever since. What is interesting, though, is that whilst this fight has been ongoing the press has still been completely ignoring the PCC code of practice – which, as I have commented before, is actually not bad. What the PCC code of practice (both the shortened quick bullet points, and the longer, more detailed examination of how a modern press should behave) demonstrates is that newspaper editors understand the kind of behaviour that a decent, moral press would engage in, and what is unacceptable. It clearly isn’t ignorance of what a good press should be that is holding editors back, it is rather that they understand that they can completely ignore such a code as there are no sanctions for doing so.

Think of the PCC code of practice as being exactly the same as the New Year’s Resolutions you might set yourself: sure, you understand that eating healthy is a good thing to do and you could even right a perfectly logical rationale in support of it; this doesn’t mean you have any intention of sticking to the resolution and nor is there any external reason why you should. Most New Year’s Resolutions end in abject failure; just like the PCC and press self-regulation.

In terms of the Leveson report and the ongoing press struggle against any form of regulation you’d think it would be in the interests of the press to abide, strictly by the code to demonstrate to everyone that they are capable of self-regulation without statutory underpinning.

Yet they haven’t changed their practices at all.

One of the clearest examples is the PCC code of practice stating that:

A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

This, to my knowledge, has never happened – either before or after the Leveson report was published. The latest example is provided by the Sun:

I’m pretty sure that this story (having done the rounds on the Internet very effectively) wasn’t published in a tiny corner on page 2 (the page which is the least read in the newspaper format according to what I’ve read in the past).


The image was taken by Giles Goodall, you can follow him on Twitter if you’d like.


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Has the Daily Mail Jumped the Shark?

The TV show Happy Days in many people’s view went in to a terminal decline when The Fonze jumped over a shark whilst water-skiing. Watching the show always involved suspending disbelief to quite a large extent as the Fonze is clearly a ridiculous character but the point when he jumped over a shark was the point at which the writers went too far. Was it hubris or over-confidence or simply desperation that led the writers to take their audience for granted? Either way it was a watershed moment. I wonder whether the Mail has similarly over-reached itself – not with its attack on Ed Miliband via his father so much, but by their attempted defence.

fonzie_jumps_the_shark

In many ways the attack on Ralph Miliband was typical of the Daily Mail – it is typical of their Modus Operandi: prejudicial, ill-conceived and misrepresentive of the subject. This response by Miliband Senior’s biographer is very telling.

The sole basis for this assertion was a diary entry at the age of 16 in autumn 1940, where Ralph Miliband wrote that “the Englishman is a rabid nationalist” and, “when you hear the English talk of this war you sometimes almost want them to lose it to show how things are.” Such sentiments might sound shocking, but they need to be put into their real context.

A few months earlier Miliband had arrived in Britain with his father, having walked from Brussels to Ostend, where they took the last boat leaving for Britain. While working hard to improve his English, he was also spending much of his time wandering through the streets of London trying to make sense of his new environment. He was in a constant state of anxiety about the fate of his sister and mother, who had remained in Nazi occupied Belgium as stateless Jews.

Because he believed that the earlier appeasement of Hitler was largely responsible for the situation, he was occasionally exasperated by the atmosphere of complacency and superiority amongst the British upper classes, and this no doubt provoked his intemperate diary outburst.

There is nothing new in any of this: The Mail has done this to many others. What is unusual is that Daily Mail could not deny Ed Miliband a response.

 

The petulance that accompanied the printing of Ed Miliband very measured article was impressive to behold.

Ed Miliband:

Britain has always benefited from a free Press. Those freedoms should be treasured. They are vital for our democracy. Journalists need to hold politicians like me to account — none of us should be given an easy ride — and I look forward to a robust 19 months between now and the General Election.

<snip>

The Daily Mail sometimes claims it stands for the best of British values of decency. But something has really gone wrong when it attacks the family of a politician — any politician — in this way. It would be true of an attack on the father of David Cameron, Nick Clegg, or mine.

There was a time when politicians stayed silent if this kind of thing happened, in the hope that it wouldn’t happen again. And fear that if they spoke out, it would make things worse.

I will not do that. The stakes are too high for our country for politics to be conducted in this way. We owe it to Britain to have a debate which reflects the values of how we want the country run.

The Daily Mail Comment

Red Ed’s in a strop with the Mail. Doubtless, he’s miffed that his conference was overshadowed by the revelations of his former friend, the spin doctor Damian McBride, serialised in this paper, which exposed the poisonous heart of the Labour Party.

Nor did he see the funny side when we ridiculed the yucky, lovey-dovey photographs of him and his wife, behaving like a pair of hormonal teenagers in need of a private room.

But what has made him vent his spleen — indeed, he has stamped his feet and demanded a right of reply — is a Mail article by Geoffrey Levy on Saturday about the Labour leader’s late father, Ralph, under the arresting headline ‘The Man Who Hated Britain’.

They seem to want us to believe it was an act of great magnanimity for them to publish the response rather the act of cowardice and calculation it really was. They know how much worse it would be if it was published elsewhere under the headline What the Mail refused to print. The choice of the grave photo shows the standard dehumanising attitude of the DM to those they oppose – although to be fair to them they have at-least acknowledged that this was in poor taste. Note the choice of language – responding to a deeply personal attack on his father, Ed is characterised as behaving childishly, whilst the Mail repeat the words ‘evil’ in reference to Ralph Miliband’s views.

If the professional ethos of journalism is to speak the truth to power then the Mail is undoubtably the very antithesis of a journalistic organisation. The reaction to this particular example though is interesting. The hardcore Mailites remain loyal but their wider credibility as a newspaper has been compromised. I – and many others – have long seen through them but the Mail has always maintained this pretence of seriousness. It is interesting, and not a little ironic, to see this pretence stripped away by their own bloody-mindedness. While Stephen Glover whines about the leftist conspiracy and alleged hypocrisy, the country at-large seems to take a different view. I find myself wondering if they have perhaps over-reached themselves this time?

I for one, truly hope so.

 

AFZ

Children of famous parents and their right to privacy

Another thing I would like to see from the Leveson Inquiry is the conclusion that plastering the faces of young children across newspapers and their websites simply because they have been born to famous parents is utterly unacceptable. The PCC code of practice does mention Children and states:

Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.

However, perhaps it should address the celebrity-driven nature of newspapers now and state specifically that it is not acceptable to publish lots of photos of them either – unless they are specifically engaged in a public appearance with their parents. Of course, whatever replaces the PCC will have to have relevant enforcement powers.

It troubles me that so many of the activities a family might want to engage in take place in public and that means the press have a never-ending supply of easy stories involving the children of celebrities. Like this published on the Mail website today: ‘Fun and hugs: Doting Olivier Martinez has a beach playdate with Halle Berry’s daughter Nahla’. The article includes 8 close-up long lens photos of Nahla who is not yet four years old – also rather disturbingly the sub-editor who writes the photo captions has a habit of pointing out that young girls look older than their years, today is no exception:

Growing up fast: Nahla will turn four years old in March, but already looks older than her tender years

This kind of article shouldn’t exist – let alone with such disturbing captions; people have the right not just to privacy in their own homes, but also the right to a certain level of privacy in public – unless you really want to argue that as soon as someone famous steps outside their house the press has every right to harass them with long-lens cameras and then publish beach snaps of 3-year-old children worldwide to make a few quid. The press constantly talk about privacy as if respecting it stamps on some kind of sacred right that the press has, yet the reality of 99% of press intrusion is the morally and ethically bankrupt pursuit of celebrity gossip.

This not only ends up with vulnerable young children being exploited, it also means that things of real importance are being ignored because the media have decided instead to focus on feeding us non-stop celebrity drivel.

Richard Peppiatt’s speech to the Leveson inquiry

Your must read article of the day, largely because it is someone from inside the newspaper industry confirming my own arguments about how media narratives are constructed and adhered to by all of the journalists working for a particular newspaper:

In approximately 900 newspaper bylines I can probably count on fingers and toes the times I felt I was genuinely telling the truth, yet only a similar number could be classed as outright lies. This is because as much as the skill of a journalist today is about finding facts, it is also, particularly at the tabloid end of the market, about knowing what facts to ignore. The job is about making the facts fit the story, because the story is almost pre-defined. Laid out before you is a canon of ideologically and commercially driven narratives that must be adhered to. The newspaper appoints itself moral arbiter, and it is your job to stamp their worldview on all the journalism you do.

If a scientist announces their research has found ecstasy to be safer than alcohol, as a tabloid reporter I know my job is to portray this man as a quack, and his methods flawed. If a judge passes down a community sentence to a controversial offender, I know my job is to make them appear lily-livered and out-of-touch. Positive peer reviews are ignored; sentencing guidelines are buried. The ideological imperative comes before the journalistic one – drugs are always bad, British justice is always soft.

This ideological imperative is bound to a commercial one, founded on one main premise: It is easier to sell people something that reinforces their beliefs and prejudices than to sell something that challenges them.

Your success as a reporter is determined by how well you apply this philosophy to your news judgements. Pitch a story to your newsdesk about a peace conference in Wembley attended by thousands of Muslims, you’ll likely get more sneers than you will paragraphs in print. Pitch a story about a three Muslim men shouting “death to infidels” outside a courtroom, you’ll likely be brought a pint and given the front page.

Such narratives, Peppiatt claims, are not driven by the team of journalists but the editor:

typically news stories are passed down the chain of command rather than up, with reporters being assigned stories by their editors. It is here that many of the worst journalistic and ethical failures occur.

News editors, keen to appease their superiors with eye-catching news lists, dump the onus on reporters to stand-up their fantastical hunches and ill-informed assertions. The question is not: “Do you have a story on X?” It is “Today we are saying this has happened to X -make it appear so.”

Go and read his full speech here.

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?‘ [istyosty.com 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.

Journalists go on the attack

As I commented last night the morally bankrupt newspaper industry wouldn’t spend long aiming their bile at the News of the World and would instead find new people to blame for the NOTW’s demise. No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands looks at Telegraph journalist Brendan O’Neill who blames Twitter and a few liberals for closing the NOTW, as No Sleep comments:

Let’s get this out of the way right at the start; regular people didn’t close down the News Of The World. The owners of the News Of The World made that decision. Few even among the Twittersphere demanded its closure, fewer still actually expected it. There was a groundswell of outrage at the paper’s conduct which led to a campaign for advertisers to boycott, but the decision to not even attempt to ride out the storm and shut the paper down almost immediately the moment the story hit the front pages was not ours.

Meanwhile Tabloid Watch posted a screengrab of the Sun Politics Twitter feed in which they posted: ‘NotW – RIP. A loss to 1st class journalism. Ed Miliband, Guardian and BBC; how proud you must be of your work this week’. An hour later – after much criticism they posted an excuse and deleted the original tweet, claiming that the Tweet was unauthorised.

Funnily enough, Tabloid Watch has today pointed out that Trevor Kavanagh – former political editor and current associate editor of the paper – writing in the Sun seems to entirely agree with the Sun Politics tweet. It seems that laying unreasonable blame on others is such standard practice for journalists that they just can’t stop – even when the blame clearly lies on their own doorstep.

The Daily Mail has got a few more of its valued team to write about how the horrible liberals are to blame and that it’s all a big lentil-eating ruse to shackle the press so that MPs can claim more expenses or let in more immigrants or something. Melanie Phillips is shocked that men who have got up to ‘naughty’ stuff in the past (Hugh Grant, Max Mosley and Steve Coogan) could possibly dare to be outraged by the behaviour of the NOTW. It is a classic Phillips piece in which she misses every single point by a country mile but the smugness and certainty of it is still strong enough to make your eyes bleed.

Amanda Platell has been told to weigh in with her usual sharp insight, being tasked with taking down Hugh Grant. She decides to title her piece: ‘How come handsome Hugh’s so full of hate?’. Answer: he’s not, he was simply guilty of giving a sterling performance on Newsnight – he was critical, humorous and very much Hugh Grant. It is actually pretty amusing how Amanda can write that he:

came across as someone who is utterly embittered and jaundiced with life.

It is this kind of fictionalised personal attack that kind of proves the point that so many people have been making lately: the press constantly rely on aggressive smearing to shout down opponents rather that actually trying to engage them with any kind of reasonable debate. It is little wonder that our political process is broken when our amazing free press actually work as a psychotically violent censor, attacking anybody who dares raise a contrary opinion irrespective of how reasonable (or indeed factual) that opinion is. It is laughable that the Daily Mail is screaming about the dangers of censorship when they are so consistently guilty of censoring debate and misleading their own readers as to the state of the world.

The Mail also found the time to attack Steve Coogan, basically digging over his past as if his past behaviour somehow disqualifies him from commenting on the behaviour of the press. The problem with this line of argument is this: Steve Coogan has never claimed to be the moral arbiter for our culture and thus he does not have to conform to soceity’s notions of acceptable behaviour. The press on the other hand do keep claiming to be our moral guardian and the guardian of truth – which does mean that they actually need to show some respect for those two notions.

They do not, hence why they are now receiving so much stick.

I do look forward to Richard Littlejohn’s take on the matter tomorrow. No doubt he will be telling us all about how the Guardian makes a loss, how the NOTW was destroyed by a bunch of hypocritical luvvies and how the BBC is secretly stuffed full of Communists or something.

The Wriggling Begins

The News of the World has just published its last ever edition after an increasing number of revelations / allegations over the tactic of phone hacking and the expectation that worse behaviour is yet to be revealed. The story is so big and the behaviour of the NOTW so outrageous that the newspaper industry has turned its criticism inwards in a rare competition of which newspaper can seem to be the most disgusted by the behaviour of the NOTW – the Daily Mail for example leading with a front page assertion that the NOTW had ‘died of shame’.

This is unprecedented, but it has also been short-lived and entirely false. Already the newspapers are preparing their defence – and fittingly the defence, like so much modern journalism, is based on distortions, logical fallacies and scaremongering. The threat to the press after the closure of the NOTW is that it is finally being widely acknowledged that the Press Complaints Commission is an utterly ineffective regulator and that it must be replaced with something far more powerful – a complete move away from the heady days of press self-regulation. The press, therefore, are desperate to protect the PCC and their own freedom to lie, distort and bully with the impunity that they have enjoyed alongside the NOTW – for it must be remembered, repeated and shared that the NOTW are not an exception here.

And so it begins, the backlash, the warnings and the frankly insidious arguments that the proper and fit regulation of the press is dangerous to democracy and is motivated by devious politicians rather than a devious and dishonest press.

Andrew Gilligan writing in the Daily Telegraph [‘Phone hacking scandal: enemies of free press are circling‘] warns that:

The clear danger now is that they [politicians] will see the public anger about phone hacking as their chance to push through a “new and different regulatory system”…

That would be wrong…

As Iraq showed, Britain’s democratic institutions are relatively weak. But what makes up for that is the strength of our democratic culture – pressure groups, academia, and, above all, free, robust journalism: the very force that brought this latest scandal, and that of Iraq, to light. Be really careful before you let that go.

The Daily Mail have put their army of compliant columnists into action:

  • PETER HITCHENS: Politicians want Fleet Street to be tamed… you need to ask why
  • MAX HASTINGS: A very imperfect trade: British journalism has received a body blow but without a free Press we would all be poorer
  • STEPHEN GLOVER: Cameron can’t be allowed to shackle the Press

The message is a clear distortion of the reality of what regulation sets out to do – and why press regulation is desperately needed. No-one is attempting to ‘tame’, ‘shackle’ or diminish the freedom of the press. Regulation is merely trying to ensure that newspapers are properly accountable for their actions – and as the press feels that it is fit to hold us all accountable for our actions it seems only fair that we have satisfactory recourse to ensure they do so fairly.

Let’s just answer one question here, the indirect question asked by Peter Hitchens: ‘Politicians want Fleet Street to be tamed… you need to ask why’.

Ok, here goes.

Research carried out by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News discovered that over a ten year period the PCC had received 28,227 complaints. Over 90% of those complaints were rejected on technical grounds without the PCC even investigating their content. Out of the 28,227 complaints just 197 were upheld by an adjudication – that is just 0.69%. What’s worse is that the adjudications even when successful do not punish the newspaper in question satisfactorily (i.e. such punishment is not powerful enough to change the behaviour of the newspaper in the future). As Davies comments:

Since most complainants… find that the courts are closed to them by the sheer expense of suing, this leaves newspapers in a position of considerable security. The Daily Mail has a special place here.

Davies discovered that the Daily Mail had ‘been provoking justifiable complaint against unethical behaviour at just over three times the rate of the other national titles’ with the repeated invasion of privacy, inaccuracies or simply ‘taking the truth and distorting it’. Whilst the Mail has happily been attacking the NOTW over its journalistic malpractice there must be a lot of nervous journalists in Northcliffe house – including Paul Dacre – for how long will the Mail avoid damaging revelations about its own behaviour?

A report by the Information Commissioner’s Office titled ‘What price privacy now? The first six months progress in halting the unlawful trade in confidential personal information‘ [pdf] has a neat little table on page 9 showing the number of transactions positively identified for each newspaper alongside the number of journalists involved. The Daily Mail is top with 952 transactions involving 58 journalists. To put this into perspective: the News of the World is in fifth place with just 182 transactions and 19 journalists. The Mail on Sunday – the newspaper that Peter Hitchens is so proud to write for – is one place above the News of the World with 266 transactions involving 33 journalists. The Daily Mail ‘Weekend Magazine’ supplement and the Mail on Sunday ‘Night and Day’ supplement also feature in the table.

Furthermore the lawyers of Associated Newspapers haven’t contacted the New Statesman over the allegations made in a Hugh Grant article in which he bugs former News of the World executive Paul McMullan. Grant recorded McMullan claim that the Mail did use stories based on hacking:

For about four or five years they’ve absolutely been cleaner than clean. And before that they weren’t. They were as dirty as anyone . . . They had the most money.

Nor have the lawyers been in touch with Nick Davies who writes of the Daily Mail:

Looking back at these cases – at the PCC and in the courts – a pattern begins to emerge: facts are swept aside or distorted; the story is published; the subject of the story then complains and is confronted by the wealth and cleverness of the Mail which will fight them right up to the point of final defeat, when, if need be, it will surrender and offer some kind of deal. And the pattern repeats. It repeats because the penalty is no match for the rewards of the behaviour which is being penalised.

The Mail is deriving at least some of its commercial and political success precisely from the fact that it can play fast and loose with the facts and frequently have no fear of the consequences: the PCC bails them out; the victim can’t afford to sue’ or, if the victim does sue, the paper can live with the cost.

The focus at this moment is on the News of the World and what allegations will bear fruit, what fresh revelations will unfold and what punishment with be meted out to those involved – and how high up that punishment will be able to extend. As a consequence of the actions of the NOTW the PCC will now almost certainly be disbanded and replaced with some new form of regulation. This must happen in order for the press to have any motivation to change their behaviour. However, such changes should not take place until every newspaper is properly investigated to establish whether they were also guilty like the NOTW of illegal, unethical and shameful behaviour.

We know that the Daily Mail in 2010 was still attracting the most ‘resolved’ complaints through the PCC (66, compared to just 18 for the News of the World). We also know that the Daily Mail has a huge amount of political and social influence and its reporting serves not just to ‘mislead its readers about the state of the world but to distort the whole political process’ [NicK Davies, again]. And at the end of his chapter on Mail aggression Davies concludes:

It’s the aggression that makes the Mail powerful. I know of nothing anywhere in the rest of the world’s media which matches the unmitigated spite of an attack from the Daily Mail. And since it is part of an industry in Britain whose sole attempt at regulation is an organisation which rejects more than 90% of complaints without even considering their content, that aggression is free to cripple reputations, free to kill ideas, regardless of justice, regardless of truth.

He also quotes and unnamed senior Labour source in a book by John Lloyd:

‘The Daily Mail is an extraordinary product. It springs from the mind of Paul Dacre who has the kind of prejudices and beliefs no one knows about. I won’t go into them. But he is accountable to no one. He has absolute and unaccountable power.’

We cannot allow the Daily Mail or any other newspaper to turn the story of how journalism has routinely descended to the lowest depths of depravity to pursue the most inane or invasive stories into some kind of politically motivated attack on the free press. The press must take responsibility for their actions and realise that as – in the words of Paul Dacre – the ‘guardians of truth’ they must ensure that what they print is actually a fair and accurate reflection of the truth. Newspapers must no longer be allowed to print untruths or comment as news or have a virtual immunity from the ramifications of being caught doing so.

Good journalism will always be needed as a check on the rich and powerful. Good journalism has nothing to fear from any new regulator. Only the serial bullies and distorters of truth should fear proper, robust and proactive regulation. It is no wonder the Daily Mail is already attacking the very notion that the PCC should be scrapped. Proper and fit regulation will destroy the Daily Mail’s entire editorial outlook. Let’s do everything we can to make sure this happens, the world will be a brighter place without it.


Apologies for so liberally quoting Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News. Do please buy a copy; it is a revelation and essential reading for anyone just becoming interested in the state of the British print media.

David Cameron admits he was badly wrong about the PCC

Im May this year David Cameron – appearing on Radio 4’s Today Programme – defended the concept of press self-regulation and in particular he made sure he directed some praise towards the PCC. He said:

“I sense that there’s still more to be done to recognise that actually the Press Complaints Commission has come on a lot in recent years, and we should be working with that organisation to make sure that people get the protection that they need…. while still having a free and vibrant press.”

As Roy Greenslade noted at the time:

He added: “We don’t want statutory regulation of the press.” And, pushed further on the whether there was a need for a specific privacy law, he reiterated his support for the PCC.

Greenslade suggested that ‘it may be the only time’ that a prime minister had gone ‘in to bat for the PCC’. Perhaps his defence isn’t that surprising given that he had appointed Andy Coulson (director of NOTW from 2003 to 2007) as his director of communications and the PCC – along with the Metropolitan Police – had so convincingly failed to investigate the role of Coulson or properly challenge his denials of having any knowledge about what his journalists go up to during his time as editor. If Cameron criticised the PCC or gave the impression that it was failing to tackle the endemic problem of phone hacking then it might have opened up the can of worms that is only now being scooped out thanks to the Guardian.

As Greenslade noted, Cameron’s defence of the PCC was completely out-of-step ‘with the negative views on the PCC in recent reports by the media, culture and sport select committee, chaired by Tory MP John Whittingdale’. Furthermore, Cameron’s defence came at a time in which the PPC had ‘been under consistent fire’.

Suddenly, after the dramatic and ongoing revelations about the News of the World, Cameron has changed his tune, according to the BBC today:

He said the scandal showed the PCC was “ineffective and lacking in rigour” and there was a need for a new watchdog.

Furthermore:

Mr Cameron said a second inquiry would look at the ethics and culture of the press and he also said the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) would be scrapped, adding: “I believe we need a new system entirely”.

If the News of the World revelations were really shocking – i.e. we hadn’t known for a significant period of time that phone hacking was a standard journalistic tool employed by many more newspapers than just the NOTW – then you could perhaps understand Cameron’s sudden change of heart.

But it’s not. His backtracking has only come about because his hand has been forced by the NOTW overstepping the line in terms of what the public find acceptable. What needs to be remembered is that hacking the phone of Milly Dowler is no more illegal than hacking the phone of any given celebrity. Isn’t it odd that it took moral outrage to force the police and the government to finally acknowledge that an illegal act should be properly and fully investigated irrespective of whom it is used against (although I would of course make clear that the public interest defence should always remain strong to protect genuine journalism).

One final point that must be made – and driven home – at this juncture is about censorship. Many people – including the hopelessly simple Jon Gaunt on BBC Question Time last night – equate regulation with censorship. When Hugh Grant argued that the Press Complaints Commission and along with it the notion of self-regulation for the media should be scrapped and replaced with a properly enforced regulator, Gaunt screamed that this simply meant Grant wanted to censor the press.

This is an moronic argument. There is a vast difference between ensuring that the press does not lie to its readers, libel or defame the innocent or break the law by hacking, blagging or otherwise pursuing individuals when there is no justifiable cause and censorship. There is a vast difference between breaking the law to pursue a corrupt politician or a corporate scandal when such actions are clearly in the public interest and hacking the phone of a missing girl.

Calling for proper regulation should never be confused with censorship, and the freedom enjoyed by the press should never be allowed to be abused by that press. With great freedom and power comes great responsibility and it is now proven – beyond all reasonable doubt – that self-regulation cannot enforce responsible journalism.

It is time for change. It is time for every newspaper lie – be it about immigration, the reporting of science, the European Union, gypsies, gays, single mums, those on benefits, the disabled or any other target group – to be properly challenged and for the press to finally have to take accuracy seriously.

Kia Abdullah is not a Guardian columnist

Paul Dacre, and therefore the Mail, seems to hold a special contempt for the Guardian. Dacre’s speech to the Society of Editors back in 2008 had lots to say about the criticism that newspapers received – largely because Dacre:

passionately believe[s] that Britain has the best newspapers in the world and – indeed, our papers today are as good as they’ve ever been.

He therefore seems to hold any newspaper that dare have a media section with a special contempt normally only reserved for the BBC:

Why does not a week go by that the media supplements and their columnists do not denigrate our industry as a whole?…

the problem, of course, is that it’s only leftish and liberal media outlets – who, almost by definition lose millions of pounds a year – that have media sections. With such a monopoly, they exert a huge and disproportionate influence on what people – particularly, I suspect, the judiciary – think of the British media.

In regards to his first rhetorical question: not a week goes without criticism because not a week goes by without exceptionally poor journalism being printed in the Mail, let alone all of the other tabloid newspapers. Secondly, Dacre seems to be in sync with the Mail outlook that somehow – even though the Sun and the Daily Mail are the top two selling newspapers in the UK – the ‘leftish and liberal media outlets’ have some kind of ‘monopoly’ going on. Presumably, Dacre – with sales of the Mail trouncing the sales of the Guardian – could easily break that monopoly by simply having their own media section.

Except, of course, tabloid editors rarely dish the dirt on other tabloids because they’re all waist deep in sewage and any ensuing shit-fight would see them all go under.

Anyway, this is a bit of context behind this headline today: ‘Guardian columnist Kia Abdullah Tweets cruel taunts death gap year boys‘ [istyosty.com link].

Kia Abdullah has indeed been stirring up a bit of controversy on Twitter with her comments about the death of three boys on a gap year. She isn’t however a Guardian columnist – even though the Mail describes her in the first two paragraphs as both  a ‘newspaper journalist’ and ‘Guardian columnist’. At the end of the article the Mail has to come clean (the article, as usual is attributed only to ‘The Daily Mail Reporter’) by quoting two Guardian statements. The first is pretty clear:

‘Kia Abdullah is an occasional freelance contributor to the Guardian’s Comment is Free website.

‘She has never been on contract, is not on the staff of the Guardian and has not written for any part of the Guardian since May 2010.

‘The Guardian is not responsible for what occasional contributors write on Twitter.’

The second even clearer:

Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of Guardian News & Media, said: ‘Kia Abdullah is not, as has been reported, a Guardian journalist or a Guardian columnist. She is a novelist freelance writer who, in common with thousands of others, has written occasional pieces for our comment website. The last of these was 14 months ago.

‘Her grossly insensitive remarks were on her own personal Twitter feed, for which the Guardian has no responsibility and over which it has no control. Of course we deplore her comments and the distress they have caused the relatives and friends of Max, Bruno and Conrad. The Guardian would never have published such offensive comments.’

Indeed, the last comment is interesting because what kind of newspaper would publish offensive comments about the death of fellow human beings? Well, the Mail certainly don’t mind publishing offensive articles about the dead – indeed they pay columnists an awful lot of money to do just that.

In 2005 the highly-paid Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn thought he’d discuss the murders of five women who worked as prostitutes and the Mail published the following:

It might not be fashionable, or even acceptable in some quarters, to say so, but in their chosen field of “work”, death by strangulation is an occupational hazard.

That doesn’t make it justifiable homicide, but 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…

These five women were on the streets because even the filthiest, most disreputable back-alley “sauna” above a kebab shop wouldn’t give them house room.

The men who used them were either too mean to fork out whatever a massage parlour charges, or simply weren’t fussy. Some men are actually turned on by disgusting, drug-addled street whores.

Or what about the newspaper that published that article by Jan Moir in which she claimed in her title that ‘there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death’. Of course, Jan Moir is another highly-paid Mail columnist and her article – in which she maintained that: ‘Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered’ – holds the records for the most complained about article in British newspaper history and the Press Complaints Commission website broke under the strain of it all.

Only this week the Daily Mail have used the hugely unlucky accidental death of a 13-year-old girl as a tool to attack the teacher’s strike, disgracefully forcing the shocked and upset parents to issue a request that newspapers stop using their dead daughter to pursue their own agendas. Yet here the Mail is, calling for someone to be hunted down for their comments on Twitter – comments which were made to a tiny following of 862 and are now only becoming well known thanks to their repeated publication in the press.

Two main things strike me about this Mail article:

  1. It’s insulting that the Mail have the balls to fain outrage over the kind of stuff they print every other day in unattributed ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ articles and what they pay huge sums of money to columnists to write.
  2. If the Daily Mail wants to use these Twitter comments as a way of attacking the Guardian for unfairly criticising other newspapers – including the Mail – it probably doesn’t help that the article smugly attacking the Guardian is just another example of the sort of dishonest agenda-driven drivel that the Guardian’s media section frequently points out.