The Talented Mr Littlejohn

We didn’t need a 2,000 page report by Leveson to demonstrate that something is rotten in the state of journalism, we just need to remind ourselves of the glittering career of Richard Littlejohn.

Here is a man who has worked in journalism since 1971 and in his most recent form – twice-weekly ‘satirical’ columns – has been handsomely paid by both the Sun and the Daily Mail (rumour from a few years back put his annual salary at £800,000). Along the way he has been named Fleet Street’s Columnist of the Year and he was also given a place in the inaugural Newspaper Hall of Fame as one of the most influential journalists of the past 40 years. Even this year Richard Littlejohn was runner-up (‘highly commended’) for the columnist of the year award in the 2012 UK Press Awards.

Only an industry which has no standards, no concern for facts and no qualms about regularly printing hateful spite aimed at the weakest in society would enable Richard Littlejohn to become one of its leading lights.

Littlejohn is infamous for writing unpleasant things and his column on Lucy Meadows was nothing out of the ordinary. Indeed, it was exactly the kind of column that Paul Dacre pays him so handsomely to write (and we must ultimately blame the editor, not the writer for what is deemed fit to publish). Lucy Meadows was the perfect victim for a Richard Littlejohn attack job. She wasn’t rich, powerful or influential; she was vulnerable, had no voice and was most importantly different. Whilst Richard Littlejohn’s surreal personal website insists that he is some kind of crusader taking on the rich and powerful, the evidence of column after column attacking the disenfranchised suggests that this is the one thing he doesn’t actually do.

He famously decided to attack the five female victims of a serial killer, labelling them as ‘disgusting, drug-addled street whores’ who were ‘in the scheme of things… no great loss’ because it wasn’t as if they were  ‘going to discover a cure for cancer or embark on missionary work in Darfur’.  He commented on the Rwandan genocide in which 800,000 people died:

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.

When Japan suffered a Tsunami in which over 19,000 people died Richard Littlejohn wrote that:

the Japanese people have a distinct culture of their own, which is entirely alien to our own values. They are militantly racist and in the past have been capable of great cruelty.

And went on to explain that whilst you shouldn’t blame current generations for the sins of the past, he does exactly that by explaining why some WWII veterans wouldn’t be joining in the minute’s silence for Japan because of Japenese cruelty during the war (77.4% of Japan’s population were not even born until after the end of WWII). Indeed, Richard Littlejohn – never a model of consistency, even had the gall to write: ‘But why Japan and not, say, those massacred in Rwanda or starved to death by Mugabe in Zimbabwe?’. Obviously, we’ve all read his real thoughts on the 800,000 killed in Rwanda, it’s just that Littlejohn hates so many nameless foreigners that he can’t keep up with which genocides he has in the past written derogatory comments about.

Richard Littlejohn is well known for his need to dehumanise his victims – indeed, most newspapers use this technique to make the targets of their hate easier to insult; if you take away a person’s humanity, you can write what you like about them with impunity. He’s also well known for his staggering laziness, rehashing the same few columns over and over again and failing to engage in even the most cursory research to avoid making simple mistakes or repeating the same tired old media myths (a lack of research is the kind way of viewing this, it could be he knows the truth, but just does not care).

He is, in short, terrible at being a journalist.

And this is what Leveson failed to really address, the fundamental problem that what falls under the general label of journalism because it appears in a newspaper is often the antithesis of the common understanding of what journalism should be. What Littlejohn et al clearly demonstrate is that the issue is best dealt with by Trading Standards – they need to determine what it is acceptable to label as a ‘newspaper’. If a newspaper should primarily be concerned with a factual reporting of general interest news items, then the label should not apply to the Daily Mail and it’s tabloid brethren. Perhaps we need to start from scratch and have a formal system that regulates news and separates it from comment – we need to recognise that most of our newspapers are little more than propaganda sheets published solely in the interest of wealthy owners.

Above all, we need to recognise that papers like the Daily Mail exist because their brand of hatred is popular and people buy it. The same goes for Littlejohn, he has – and continues to have – a glittering career because editors see value in writing populist myths as fact and in attacking the disenfranchised. All I ever wanted from Leveson was for him to come up with a regulatory system that leveled the playing field by ensuring that newspapers have to stick to the facts. I don’t mind newspapers having an opinion, but I do object when the evidence put forward to support their opinion is a vast tissue of lies.

It seems to me that the best way to detoxify newspapers is to create a system in which they are punished, substantially, for lying to their readers. Would the tabloid press really be as popular as they are if they couldn’t rely on wheeling out the same old populist myths to feed the flames of anger in their readership? Would Littlejohn have carved out any kind of career as a columnist if he couldn’t rely on telling lies to whip up anger and hatred?

The case of Lucy Meadows is very sad and anger should be rightfully directed at the Daily Mail and its editor, Paul Dacre, along with Richard Littlejohn for writing the piece. It should also be directed at the other newspapers who sent photograpers and journalists to harass Lucy Meadows and the people around her. However, it should also be directed at the people buying these newspapers – buying the Daily Mail et al is an anti-social act and should be looked upon as such by any decent citizen.

The only way we can change the press we get, is to change the press we buy.

For the Daily Mail Sorry really seems to be the hardest word

The Daily Mail today published a correction to an article published on 12 December 2011:

AN ARTICLE on 12 December 2011 suggested that Ned RocknRoll was still married to his wife Eliza when he met Kate Winslet. In fact, the marriage had already ended in divorce. We apologise for any contrary impression given.

The Daily Mail apologises for the ‘suggestion’ or ‘impression’ that Ned RocknRoll was still married to his wife when he met Kate Winslet. When you look at the original article this looks like a very slyly-worded apology indeed:

[After Kate Winslet started dating him] Abel Smith, who eccentrically changed his name by deed poll some years ago to Ned RocknRoll, subsequently informed his wife, Eliza Pearson, 23, the sweet-natured daughter of multi-millionaire Viscount Cowdray, that he had fallen for the Titantic star. While Eliza took it on the chin and decided to divorce him, Louis is still struggling with what happened.

The Daily Mail’s apology, therefore, seriously implies that the original article merely ‘suggested’ or gave the ‘impression’ that the couple were still together at the time. What it actually does is clearly state that after meeting Kate Winslet he ‘subsequently informed his wife’ who ‘took it on the chin and decided to divorce him’.

This half-hearted, weasel-worded ‘apology’ is made by the Daily Mail in the week in which its Editor-in-chief Paul Dacre has had to appear twice before the Leveson inquiry. Dacre was – as ever – bullish about press standards – especially when concerning his beloved Daily Mail – and he argued that press standards had improved greatly in recent years (how bad must it have been before?) and that statutory regulation was not needed.

Since the inquiry started Paul Dacre has taken great pleasure in repeating that the Daily Mail has taken the trouble to offer prompt apologies / corrections on page 2 of its print edition.

However, the reality is that apologies are not prompt or sincere and don’t even attempt to admit or acknowledge the true gravity of the original error. They are in many ways absolutely representative of the culture, attitude and ethics that pervades a press that like a stubborn and naughty child isn’t used – or even prepared – to say sorry properly.

The Daily Mail’s initial coverage of the Stephen Lawrence murder

A lot of rumours and half-truths have been buzzing around Twitter and comment threads about how the Daily Mail initially reported the Stephen Lawrence case, and why Paul Dacre allegedly changed from being hostile towards it to one of its biggest champions.

In 1997 The Observer and Guardian newspapers covered the Daily Mail’s famous ‘Murderers’ headline in some detail and commented on the fact that the headline marked a significant departure from the Mail’s coverage of the murder up until that point. A Guardian editorial published on the 15 Feb 1997 comments:

Cynics can also point to a very belated conversion by the Mail. Until yesterday, the Mail’s coverage of the shameful killing had been somewhat peripheral. The murder was only mentioned in three stories in the last year before the inquest, only six the previous year, and just 20 since the murder was committed. Moreover, compare yesterday’s leader with the paper’s editorial shortly after the murder which, while hoping the guilty would be caught, was quick to sneer at the supporters campaigning for the Lawrence family: “What is not helpful is the gusto with which the more militant of the anti-racist organisations have hijacked this human tragedy. The black African leader Nelson Mandela was enlisted, while on a visit here, to give publicity to the case. Racism is abominable . . . but is there not also something contemptible about professional protesters who capitalise on grief to fuel confrontation?”

The Daily Mail editorial quoted by the Guardian above seems very ironic given the role of the Daily Mail in becoming the ‘professional protester’, giving publicity to the case through the ‘Murderers’ headline and in particular Paul Dacre’s grandstanding video ‘interview’ on the Mail website which was also published in full in the Mail’s print edition. An edition which was a virtual commemorative Stephen Lawrence edition – followed up with exclusive interviews with both parents of Stephen Lawrence.

Things could have perhaps turned out very differently according to an Observer article printed on the 16 Feb 1997 titled: ‘Hostile Mail changed tack on Lawrence justice campaign’. The article gives the full details of the incident that has been doing the rounds in various forms on Twitter / comment threads:

THE Daily Mail, the newspaper which last week named as ‘murderers’ the five white youths linked to the killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, was originally hostile to the campaign to bring his killers to justice…

the reporter dispatched to cover the story last night told the Observer that the Mail changed its editorial line to support the close family of Stephen Lawrence when it emerged that Stephen’s father had once worked as a plasterer and decorator for Paul Dacre, the paper’s editor.

When the newspaper first covered the story in 1993, Hal Austin said he was ‘detailed’ to write a ‘knocking’ story about the Lawrence campaign, which it believed was orchestrated by a ‘rent-a-mob’, did not have the family’s approval and which it condemned in a fierce leader…

In May 1993, shortly after Stephen’s murder at a bus stop in Eltham, south-east London, the paper sent Mr Austin, a black reporter, to interview his parents, Neville and Doreen.

Stephen’s murder had ignited passions in the area. On the previous Saturday, 19 people, including five policemen, had been injured in street protests. Several rival political and anti-racist groups had contacted the Lawrences to offer their support.

The initial Mail approach was to treat the ‘campaign’ with hostility. Mr Austin, who no longer works for the Mail, said yesterday: ‘I was detailed to write a story knocking the campaign.’

During the interview with the family, Mr Lawrence asked what would appear and made inquiries about the Mail editor. He asked if he was a tall, balding man with a house in Islington. It emerged he had worked for Mr Dacre some 10 years previously. Mr Austin advised the dead boy’s father to contact Mr Dacre directly. It is understood that there was a phone call to Mr Dacre at about this time.

‘The following day my instructions were suddenly changed,’ Mr Austin said. ‘I was told by the news desk to forget the previous instructions and that they now wanted a positive story.’ Mr Austin felt the original approach undermined the family’s case because it implied that their grievances were not to be taken seriously.

Furthermore, the Observer article also comments on the Mail not normally being sympathetic to the black victims of crime, quoting the example of:

One black journalist who wrote for the paper about a sexual assault on a Tube train [who had] recently found her photograph replaced in the paper by one posed by a white, blonde model.

The Observer article also quoted another Mail ex-staffer’s cynicism of the Mail’s sudden change of heart:

‘It’s not an ethical position, it’s just expediency. I’m disappointed how many astute people are falling for it,’… ‘The Mail has a cast-iron agenda and it’s not suddenly going to get a social conscience. It’s a one-off, a personal thing. The Mail wouldn’t really care if all British blacks were pushed off the cliffs of Dover.’

It has been widely reported in the past few days that the Mail was initially hostile to the campaign that was building up around the Stephen Lawrence murder, and that Dacre supposedly changed his heart thanks to his fleeting personal connection with Stephen Lawrence’s father. However, I just wanted to clarify just what was reported at the time to correct a few versions of events that I have seen being spread, and to highlight in more detail the version of events as given by Hal Austin – a name which I hadn’t heard connected to the story before.

I also wanted to give the details from the 1997 Guardian editorial which points out not just the initial hostility of the Daily Mail towards the Lawrence story, but also how little coverage the newspaper gave the story until that headline in 1997.

Given the evidence above a cynic might suggest that Paul Dacre was more upset by the mocking, uncouth and sweary attitude of the 5 alleged murderers towards the British justice system than the initial murder of a black teenager.

Dear Paul Dacre

I watched your video on the Daily Mail website in which you celebrated the conviction of David Norris and Gary Dobson and in which you expected the Daily Mail to be praised for securing the conviction thanks to your vainglorious headline back in 1997 that accused 5 men of murder. I listened at your anger that 5 men (boys at the time) could murder a black boy solely because of the colour of his skin, and that when the 5 men left court they swore, and this uncouth behaviour made you even more angry and determined to pursue them.

I listened as you stated that this was a glorious day for British newspapers and the power of journalism; it seemed as though, as ever, you seriously think that the British press and the Daily Mail in general is a force for social good.

But I can’t help but be disgusted by your video and the blatant, bare-faced and shameless hypocrisy of you lecturing people on racism and racial justice when the newspaper you have edited since 1992 is  institutionally racist.

Your Stephen Lawrence headline, your Stephen Lawrence campaign for justice changes nothing.

The Daily Mail is part of a British press that is at worst responsible for creating the racial hatred and fear that exists in so many poorly-educated people in Britain over the last 30 years; or at best can only claim that it hasn’t created any racists, it is just responding to what racist consumers want by printing hateful, dishonest smears against other races. Either way is inexcusable.

Your newspaper is racist and it will still be racist tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. If you had any shame you would remove that video and instead spend your time addressing your role as editor in creating the racial outlook of your newspaper and your newsroom before seeing fit to lecture anyone else on racial hatred.

There are no words powerful enough to describe just what a despicable hypocrite you are.

Do computer games leave children with ‘dementia’?

Daily Mail headline: ‘Computer games leave children with ‘dementia’ warns top neurologist’. The first two paragraphs of the article:

Children’s brains could be left damaged and they could suffer temporary ‘dementia’ by playing computer games, a leading scientist has warned.

Eminent neurologist Baroness Susan Greenfield said yesterday that spending time online gaming and browsing internet sites such as Facebook could pose problems for millions of youngsters.

Three paragraphs from further on in the same article:

However, she did not reveal any research that had made a connection between screen technologies and brain degeneration.

Professor Mark Griffiths, a psychologist and Directory of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit, said he knew of no scientific evidence that such a link existed.

He said: ‘If anything the fact computer games are arousing can aid education by keeping children engaged.’

So, basically she is speculating that constantly being at a computer screen could damage your brain (for example, if you spend too much time on the Mail website) but she fails to provide any evidence to support her hypothesis. The Daily Mail chooses to ignore that and prefers to instead publish a headline that clearly implies the claim is based on evidence – i.e. if they accurately reported what the neurologist had said the headline would read: ‘Computer games could leave children with ‘dementia’ warns top neurologist’ rather than: ‘Computer games leave children with ‘dementia’ warns top neurologist’.

Paul Dacre doesn’t seem to realise that there is a lot more to bad journalism than just phone hacking and that tougher regulation isn’t just a result of that one crime, but rather the fact that the vast majority of newspapers publish bullshit every single day.

Dear Paul Dacre: there is more to journalism than sales

Paul Dacre has long tried to assure readers that the freedom of the press is critical to its survival. This includes the right of the press to continue its system of self regulation and to be protected from ‘the scandalous fees charged by lawyers in no-win no-fee cases’ – fees payable when a newspaper loses a libel or defamation case in court. At the same time Paul Dacre has reserved a special level of contempt for any newspaper that dares to criticise the newspaper industry or in general ‘denigrate’ it by daring to have a media section.

One newspaper that the Mail constantly criticises is the Guardian – and the Mail is not alone, the Guardian is almost universally scorned as some kind of lentil-munching-lilly-livered-liberal-cesspit. In an editorial in 2010 the Daily Mail published the following:

The all-party Commons Culture Committee report is to be commended for accepting that self-regulation is the best way of policing Britain’s newspapers and for identifying many of the threats to Press freedom…

And 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.

I wonder if Paul Dacre and the Daily Mail would like to apologise to the Guardian and to its readers for how it has forgotten that journalism is about more than sales figures. Clearly, the Guardian has been right to investigate the rotten state of journalism and have been noble in accepting that this kind of investigative journalism will not just make them a financial loss, but will also ensure them few friends inside or outside of the industry. It is undeniable that the self-regulation of the newspaper industry has been a complete failure and the dissolution of the Press Complaints Commission is now inevitable – another promised review and more worthless talk of lessons learnt from those at the top of the PCC are utterly out-of-step with reality. The press – like the banks they had so much fun attacking – have demonstrated beyond all reasonable doubt that they are not fit to regulate themselves.

The Guardian has devoted some of its energy to uncovering the horrific abuses carried out in the name of journalism by the News of the World and their work has resulted in the unprecedented closure of that newspaper. The Daily Mail website currently leads with this story, quick to jump on the bandwagon set rolling solely by the efforts on the Guardian. Until this week the Daily Mail have been one of the newspapers most keen to smash the wheels off of this bandwagon to ensure it never started rolling in the first place. As ever the Mail is hypocritical and, as ever, they are quick to join in the damning of others – describing the News of the World as ‘THE PAPER THAT DIED OF SHAME’.

Well, some of the shame should be felt by those working for the Daily Mail – and by Paul Dacre who controls so closely the editorial line of the newspaper. Dacre should be ashamed – not to mention utterly embarrassed – that whilst the Guardian struggled to make headway in a long story of hacking – starting with politicians and celebrities – he was editorialising about the scourge of wheelie bins and other inane drivel.

The Guardian having the temerity to investigate the actions of another newspaper is not a sign that the Guardian has a ‘almost psychotic hatred of self-regulation and popular newspapers’. It is merely that thing called journalism. Paul Dacre and the rest of the staff working for the Daily Mail should look that word up some time. Who knows, with enough effort they might even start practicing it again.

Corporal Jones

Considering that the Daily Mail regularly publishes the robust views of its highly paid writers it seems strange that the newspaper and its readers seem so averse to any robust views directed at it. The recent attempt to make me delete an old blog post simply because it was 2nd in the Google rankings for ‘Paul Dacre’ has led to other mildly interesting discoveries.

Firstly, I had never realised that the Daily Mail and Paul Dacre Wikipedia entries were so closely guarded by an editor called ‘Christian1985‘ who is a self-confessed fan of the Mail and Mail on Sunday – writing here:

The Mail on Sunday is my favourite sunday paper, I couldn’t live without it. I don’t believe in the biased derogatory stereotypes about Mail readers. I may be a right wing Conservative supporter, but I feel the accusations made against Mail readers are unfounded and unfair. I am also a very young Mail reader. I am a 21 year old student and have read the MoS since I was about 16. It is a fantastic paper in my view.

So, just the sort of neutral person you want editing Wikipedia pages on the Daily Mail and Paul Dacre. For what it’s worth he has received a lot of criticism for constantly (and dubiously) editing the Daily Mail Wikipedia page – criticism he brushes off by claiming that he is merely defending the page from ‘bias’ and ‘smears’. Someone had added a new section to the Paul Dacre Wikipedia page concerning the ongoing legal threats being made against me. No surprises that this was removed almost immediately by Christian1985 who had this to say about my blog:

I think it is the biggest load of crap I have ever seen and I am entitled to that view. I think it is a junk site…

So, a section on censorship and libel law (something that Paul Dacre has strong views on) is itself censored by a Daily Mail fan – even though the edit linked to Roy Greenslade’s piece on his Guardian blog which is classed as a reputable source by Wikipedia (blogs are not – in the eyes of Wikipedia the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Sun and even Daily Sport are all concerned reputable sources merely because they publish a print edition – no actual quality assessment is made). I think it is also an interesting example of confirmation bias. Most of my media articles are fairly well sourced but they can be dismissed as junk out of hand just because they happen to be critical of something this editor happens to be a fan of.

In the words of Corporal Jones: ‘They don’t like it up ’em’.*

* Richard Littlejohn manages to cram Dad’s Army into his columns every other week, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

Also, here is the updated ‘Paul Dacre’ search result:

Paul Dacre will die

Abuse and defamation, part 2

So, I’ve heard back from the lawyers representing Associated Newspapers and it turns out they’re not satisfied with the action I have taken so far (see here and here for the full background). You see, although I deleted the original post and replaced it with a short explanation as to why – in which I was very careful not to be at all defamatory – what the lawyers really want me to do is change the title of the post and the meta description. This is because when you type ‘Paul Dacre’ into Google you currently get this as the second result:

Paul Dacre must dieNow, Roy Greenslade believed that Paul Dacre would have had no knowledge of the legal action being taken in order to remove the ‘seriously abusive and defamatory’ material about him. Obviously I have no way of knowing either way, but what is clear is that the lawyers do not want anyone searching for ‘Paul Dacre’ on Google to be greeted by my considered musings on him. The lawyers have therefore contacted my webhosts for a second time, this time stating that:

We note the page has changed which we are looking into. In the meantime the title and meta description of the site still seriously defames our client.

We require that this be changed as a matter of urgency.

As many people have pointed out: the title and meta description (whilst abusive and arguably completely tasteless / out of order etc) is in no way defamatory of Paul Dacre. It kind of staggers me that they are still claiming otherwise. In defence of my webhost, they are in a tough position, they don’t like asking me to edit this post, but at the same time the lawyers are leaning on them with the threat of legal action if I don’t.

The worst thing is that as the author I have had no direct contact with the lawyers (I don’t even know their name) taking umbrage with my words and my request for a contact email address for them has been turned down by my webhosts – although they have offered to pass on my email address to the lawyers. It is plain to see that the UK system of libel law is completely broken when it comes to Internet content. My webhosts did not write, edit, publish or even know about the existence of that post. They were my words, chosen by me, published by me and I should be responsible for defending them. Any defamation or abuse or offense was caused by me and should be answered by me.

Therefore, the lawyers should be required to contact me as the person solely responsible for that content (as in the US). Instead – and this really works in the favour of the financially powerful – they can simply send a nonsensically vague threat to a webhost who doesn’t have anything invested in the post or the subject who will simply ask the end user to remove it in order to avoid being sued (no matter how unlikely or unrealistic this outcome is). They can just claim defamation where none exists and they know the webhost is highly unlikely to call their bluff. Essentially the rich and powerful media organisation can silence any UK hosted blogger without even needing to contact them directly.

Isn’t this an awful long way away from what the Press Complaints Commission is able to do when it comes to real defamation carried out by newspapers? Indeed, the Daily Mail have editorialised in the past about the importance of separating the PCC and indeed newspapers from any being on the wrong end of any kind of legal restraint or financial punishment:

The all-party Commons Culture Committee report is to be commended for accepting that self-regulation is the best way of policing Britain’s newspapers and for identifying many of the threats to Press freedom.

These include the scandalous fees charged by lawyers in no-win no-fee cases, the libel tourism that stains the reputation of British justice abroad, and the Kafkaesque world of secret super-injunctions.

True, we disagree with the MPs’ suggestion that the Press Complaints Commission should impose fines on errant newspapers.

This would inevitably involve lawyers and result in protracted, expensive disputes rather than the quick, cheap service the Commission now provides

Indeed, Paul Dacre has argued that no-win no-fee lawyers are extremely damaging to press freedom because it encourages people to sue newspapers for recourse rather than seeking out the useless PCC (although Dacre laughably argues that ‘self-regulation is the most potent form of regulation’). Dacre argued that the Conditional Fee Agreement system was being ‘ruthlessly exploited by unscrupulous lawyers’ and as reported by the Press Gazette:

He said the risk of being faced with a huge costs bill had forced newspapers to be more risk-averse. CFAs, he said, were a “lethal weapon in crushing press freedom”.

“Every day we are not going quite as far as we used to and we are settling things even at the expense of paying disporportionately high damages not to go to court,” Dacre said.

“The problem is the provincial press – they do not have the money to do any of this. The money we could lose in one case could bankrupt a provincial newspaper chain.”

And here I am, so powerless in the face of a legal action threatening my webhost that I cannot even be in the position to be bankrupted by an unnecessary libel case because they won’t even contact or sue me directly. My freedom is being crushed by forces I cannot even engage with. Even if I had the honour of being directly sued then Associated Newspapers know full well that I don’t have the funds to pay for a lawyer to defend me and I certainly could not afford to lose.

If Paul Dacre does know anything about this case – or he finds out about it somehow – then if he doesn’t tell the lawyers to back off then he could be accused of acting with astonishing hypocrisy. Unless, of course, you look at what Paul Dacre has said in the past about Conditional Fee Agreements (the no-win no-fee system) and believe that his problem with such a system is not its impact on freedom of speech, but rather that it effectively enables – for the first time – ordinary people the chance to take newspapers to court for libel because they can afford to lose (as the lawyers take on the financial risk rather than the client). This means that the little guy can bite back for a change, which is obviously bad for an industry that repeatedly makes stuff up about people. If this is his viewpoint then of course he is going to have no qualms sending in the kind of lawyers who he might describe – when acting on behalf of the little guy – as ‘rapacious… greedy, I think they are unscrupulous.’

CFAs are only really bad because perhaps the Daily Mail thinks that only the rich and powerful have the right to intimidate people and ‘crush’ freedoms?

Anyway. I have decided to amend the title of the troubled blog post and change the meta description to something I hope the lawyers find acceptable:

Paul Dacre will die

Paul Dacre will one day die. When this day comes, we can finally write what we like about him.

No defamation – not even any abuse – just statements of fact. If they do not find this acceptable I will consider switching my hosting to the US, putting the original blog post back up with the original title and meta description and I will then wait for the lawyers of Associated Newspapers to contact me directly.

[PS: any donations gratefully accepted]

Paul Dacre, Abuse and Defamation

As some of you might already be aware if you follow me on Twitter I received a rather dire warning from my webhosts today informing me that I had breached their terms and conditions. I immediately logged into my account to discover whether I had accidentally hosted any hardcore pornography or broken any superinjunctions. But no. It turns out some big and powerful lawyers working for Associated Newspapers had threatened my webhost and myself with legal action over an article I posted on my old blog way back in November 2009. You see, as much I try to write considered, thoughtful and sometimes philosophical posts occasionally I reveal the side of me that best represents the anger and frustration of constantly wading through the fetid mire of tabloid journalism, and the post that so upset the Daily Mail – part of Associated Newspapers – was one of these occasions.

You see I’m one of those lilly-livered liberal-lefties who kind of gets a bit annoyed when newspapers make stuff up about people with different colour skin just to appeal to the basest, most ignorant desires of their readership and this particular Mail article really pissed me off. So, naturally I wrote some unpleasant things about Paul Dacre because I assumed he’s the kind of tough-talking, thick-skinned adult that probably expects – editing the torrent of hatred that is the Daily Mail – to get a lot of stick. Indeed, this is the man who – according to Nick Davies in Flat Earth News – calls so many of his colleagues ‘cunts’ that his morning daily editorial meetings were given the name ‘The Vagina Monologues’.

But sadly, currently using Google to search for ‘Paul Dacre’ reveals my lowly little blog post as the second result:

Paul Dacre must die

And the lawyers for Associated Newspapers decided that the above blog post was ‘material which is seriously abusive and defamatory of Mr Dacre’. Hence they felt the need to rush off an email to my webhost giving them 3 working days to remove the offending article or face being taken to court – an event they kindly illustrate with a case ‘which ultimately resulted in a six-figure settlement’. I un-published the post immediately to placate my Webhost and Tweeted about it. Thanks to a lot of advice both on and off the record I slowly began to realise – along with a little bit of reading up on what constitutes defamation – that their threat was utterly hollow and that abuse in itself is not libellous (hence the continued ‘writing’ career of Richard Littlejohn who abuses the living and libels only the dead). It was the idle threat of a bully that knows it is too rich and too powerful to be challenged by an individual like myself who will choose to remove the article rather than invite them to sue and see where we all end up.

In the end, thanks to choosing a UK webhost, the decision is not really mine to take, the webhost has nothing to gain by defending me and everything to lose, they will simply point to their Terms and Conditions which cover no defamation / libel and will suspend your account if needs be. I understand their position, they are effectively hamstrung by a legal system that favours the powerful.

Anyway, putting that aside, let’s just take a few seconds to consider what I actually wrote. Firstly, you can read the post here because it has been cached by Google and logged by others on Twitter (thanks to therealsim_o for this). Secondly, you can read this post by Unity over at Ministry of Truth who goes through the post bit-by-bit and concludes that:

In short, there seems to be next to fuck all in Kevin’s article to warrant a claim of defamation – abuse, of itself, is not defamatory – if it were, then Dacre would, based on his reputation, spend half his life defending actions for slander from his own employees.

Having put what I wrote into context, I can now give you some clues on what is and isn’t defamation by looking at some of the stuff that the Daily Mail prints and can provide you with some simple tips to avoid receiving such scary emails in future:

  1. Be a well-paid columnist for the Daily Mail. Take Richard Littlejohn for example. He can call Gordon Brown a ‘sociopath’ and provide a list of ‘evidence’ including that he displays ‘Glibness and superficial charm; manipulative and cunning… Grandiose sense of self and entitlement… Pathological lying; absence of remorse, shame or guilt; callousness and lack of empathy… Authoritarian; secretive; paranoid; narcissism; grandiosity; an over-inflated belief in their own powers and abilities… Prone to rage and abuse; outraged by insignificant matters.’ and so on. If you are well-paid columnist this is not abuse or defamation; it is ‘opinion’. Indeed it is the kind of stuff we should all cherish as a wonderful example of a free press.
  2. Don’t mention individuals stupid! If you want to do a good ol’ bit of defaming pick a big group of people that you can just slag off in its entirety. Say like gypsies or immigrants, then it’s fair game. Go on, check with the Press Complaints Commission, they’ll tell you that yes: being hateful towards one named immigrant and you’ll get a slapped wrist (sort of, the PCC doesn’t really have enough power to do even that) but just slag off every single immigrant in one go and the PCC will give you a big thumbs up and possibly a badge.
  3. Don’t pick on on the kind of hypocrite that – for example – runs a national newspaper bemoaning the sexualisation of society whilst at the same time arguing against privacy laws that prevent him from reporting on ‘acts of unimaginable sexual depravity’ (which is, by the way,  bit of an oxymoron. How can they be ‘unimaginable’ if you are certain they actually took place?). Or who fights for the right for the press to be free of fines (i.e. stick with the powerless PCC exactly as it is now) and scrap no-win, no-fee libel cases because they don’t like being sued for honest mistakes or what in most cases is simply being caught making stuff up. Don’t pick on him because it seems to me that this sort of person would have no hesitation using the libel laws he finds so restrictive when they are aimed at his newspaper.

I think the main lesson is: don’t criticise the critics because they only like to dish it out. Dacre’s argument for invading the privacy of Max Mosley was that he was kind of in the public eye and had been up to no good, therefore invading his privacy to break the story was justifiable. Well, surely Mr Dacre is just as much in the public eye as Mr Mosley and certainly Mr Dacre holds substantially more influence and power. So why does he not expect – when he edits a newspaper recently described by John Bercow as a ‘sexist, racist, bigoted, comic cartoon strip’ (I wonder if Mr Bercow received a nice letter from the Associated News lawyers?) – to receive public scrutiny for what he does and the kind of insults that I aimed at him way back in 2009?

Whatever insults I could write here now aimed at Paul Dacre would always pale into utter insignificance when compared to the carefully constructed and energetically maintained media narratives about immigrants, single mothers, the public sector, asylum seekers, gypsies, gays and the disenfranchised in general that the Daily Mail has printed under his stewardship. My feeble words – which were only really a demonstration of how little recourse we have against institutions like the Daily Mail, so all we are left with is to wish those in charge of this offensive mess an early death – result in a threatening letter. Whilst Mr Dacre continues to exist as a highly-paid editor.

I think what bothers me most about Paul Dacre – and this applies to a lot of the Mail writers as well – is just what a coward he is. It’s that expectation that the Daily Mail can print the most horrific, made-up shit just to sell a few copies and stoke the fires of Middle-England rage and if anyone doesn’t like it they’ll just send out threatening letters. It’s Paul Dacre’s insistence that the PCC really works and that any criticism comes from people who are too stupid to understand how it works. Paul Dacre, chairman of the PCC’s Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, edits the newspaper that consistantly breaches the code more than any other newspaper, yet he still insists that the PCC works.

If freedom of the press exists then it should extend to all writers. As the Daily Mail – and most of the mainstream press – have demonstrated over-and-over again the informal code of ethics followed by most bloggers is incomparably superior to the moral vacuum in which most journalists exist, yet somehow the official label of being a ‘journalist’ somehow gives you the freedom without any of the responsibility.

Anyway, that was a disorganised ramble, so let’s try and wrap things up. I guess what I’m trying to say is that a lot of people think Paul Dacre is a piece of shit, not everyone wishes him an early death and a few people probably think I was stupid or going too far by even writing it. However, let’s not pretend it was libellious. It was just a frustrated insult aimed at someone who I see as being at the heart of a very evil newspaper, but someone whom the general populace is powerless to challenge because he will not engage with us.

Brendan Fraser ‘more paunchier’

Today Brendan Fraser faces the wrath of the Daily Mail for putting on weight, and this time the Mail have really outdone themselves with the headline and opening lines:

Brendan Fraser

‘Who ate all the pies?’ Is this journalism? Is this type of journalism that makes Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre ‘passionately believe that Britain has the best newspapers in the world and – indeed, our papers today are as good as they’ve ever been’? The Mail website has become increasingly full of ‘stories’ based around a celebrity daring to ‘parade’ themselves in public with a belly – even if they do not have a belly. The tone is always the same, there is always a disbelieving quality to the articles that seem to find it astonishing that celebrities are shameless enough to leave the house without being perfect. As they wrote about Pierce Brosnan on the weekend:

The GoldenEye star made no effort to hide his burgeoning belly, wearing a tight white shirt that emphasised every unflattering bulge…

These days, the actor seems to be thinking more about environmental issues than his increasing weight gain.

They cannot believe that anything could be more important to a person than their weight and the same sentiment is shared in every article – as if the Mail have a standard template that they just copy and paste different celebrity names and photos in:

Fraser’s bright blue sweater did nothing to hide his paunchy belly, while his face appeared to have filled out considerably.

However, he didn’t seem too bothered by the extra pounds, looking happy and relaxed as he walked smiling through the city.

Mention of ‘unflattering’ top, check, mention that person DOES NOT EVEN SEEM BOTHERED BY IT, check, photos of said person walking down street, check. All as formulaic as it is incredibly pointless, soul-destroyingly inane ‘journalism’.

As if to emphasis the terrible journalistic standards of the Daily Mail the final caption is really rather brilliant:

More paunchier

Indeed, and the Daily Mail just gets ‘more shitter’ every day.