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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Sheena Upton / Kerry Campbell

Tabloid Watch pointed out today that our beloved tabloid press – you know, the one that keeps screaming about how important it is that we have a free press in order to better hold people to account for their actions – in the form of the Daily Express can’t even bring themselves to apologise for an inexcusable error:

Buried at the bottom of page 30 of today’s Daily Express is the following correction:

Our article of May 14, 2011, “Drama teacher jailed for lesbian affair with pupil'” included a photograph said to be that of Caroline French, the teacher jailed for having an affair with a 13 year old girl.

The photograph was not of Ms French but of someone wholly unconnected to the case.

Is it really beyond the Express to apologise for such an error?

Meanwhile, in other news Sheena Upton – who you may know better as ‘Kerry Campbell’ the mum who received notoriety in the Sun for injecting her 8-year-old daughter with Botox – has now (according to TMZ) signed a ‘a sworn declaration’ in which she claims that:

she was recently approached by the British tabloid, The Sun , and asked “to play the role of Kerry Campbell ” for a story called ” I Give My 8-Year-Old Daughter Botox .” Upton now confesses The Sun paid her $200 adding, “I was provided with the story, instructions and a script to follow for a recorded interview.” After the story ran in The Sun, Upton says she was approached by ” Good Morning America ” and ” Inside Edition ” and claims she was offered “a large fee” to appear on camera. She went on both shows and re-told her story. After the interview, child welfare officials took Upton’s daughter away. Upton now admits in her declaration, “The truth is I have never given my daughter Botox, nor allowed her to get any type of waxing, nor is she a beauty pageant contestant.” Upton says professionals agree with her declaration, because on May 17, she took her daughter to the UCLA Medical Center and says, “After my daughter received a full medical exam, the results indicated that she has not ever received treatments including Botox or other such injections.” We’re told the UCLA reports were forwarded to child welfare officials, who then returned Upton’s daughter to her, with the provison that a cousin would stay with her and the child for the time being.

TMZ provides an update in which they look at how ABC news are struggling to establish the truth of this ‘rapidly shifting story’ and they point out that they have ‘repeatedly questioned Upton, members of her family, and other sources who again and again stood by the Botox story’.

The truth will out – in time. But it’s not really important in many ways.

What is important here is that the claims of Sheena Upton / Kerry Campbell (that she was paid to play a character by the Sun) can be taken seriously in the first place. Surely, in a country that is supposed to have a wonderful system of self-regulation, no newspaper would ever stoop as low to pay someone in order to publicly vilify them? Surely there should not be a shred of doubt in our minds that Sheena Upton / Kerry Campbell is lying?

If there is doubt it is because we have know that our tabloid press regularly stoops to this sort of level, and, given their behaviour, we just cannot put this past them. If the Sun are telling the truth, well, it will be an exception.

A bad day for the Sun

From Football365’s Mediawatch page:

The World’s Worst Racist

‘BRUCE IN NEW RACE ROW’ positively screams the back page headline from The Sun in two-inch high letters, reporting that Bruce ‘has been caught up in another race storm.’

Oh lord. Really? It seems that Marcos Angeleri, the Argentine defender signed by Sunderland in the summer, is not happy that he has made only two Premier League appearances this season.

“The boss doesn’t talk to me, he doesn’t even say hello to me when he sees me,” Angeleri told ESPN Radio. “I think he doesn’t like me because I’m not English.”

Let’s ignore for a second the difference between racism and xenophobia, and the wonderful irony of The Sun getting all worked up about such xenophobia, and muse on Angeleri’s accusations.

If Bruce’s team selection is based on xenophobia/racism, then he’s bloody rubbish at it, since just this season he has given starts to an Egyptian, two Paraguayans, two Scots, a Belgian, three Ghanaians, a Frenchman, an Irishman, a Beninian (is that right?), a Nigerian and a Dutchman.

Could your lack of action perhaps be because you’re not very good, Marcos?

As for The Sun, their claim of an EXCLUSIVE! for this story, taken from quotes given to a radio station, is the least of our worries. How about their attempt to paint Bruce as a serial racist, the other example being Gerard Houllier’s equally nonsensical accusation over the Darren Bent transfer?

Still, more fool us for expecting anything better, really.


The Sun also indulges in a round of back-slapping this morning, terribly pleased with themselves for apparently being the ONLY paper to break the news of Gareth Bale’s injury, according to them in training for Wales.

Mediawatch would simply note Gary Speed’s comments in his press conference, in which he insisted that the ‘incompetent amateurs’ that fitness coach/assistant Raymond Verheijen was referring to in his Tweet of Thursday morning were not Spurs, as was claimed, but in fact the hacks from The Sun who reported the story.

More classic back page headlines

From the ever-excellent Football365’s Mediawatch section:

When Mediawatch saw Pep Guardiola’s comments about Jack Wilshere, we sighed and knew, just knew, that the tabs would run around screaming and wettting their pants like little boys who’d had too much Capri Sun.

For the record, Pep said (in his second or third language, note): “Wilshere is a top player. He is an excellent player, not just Arsenal, but also for the national team. [But] he is lucky because we have many players in the second team like him but he plays because there is no pressure at his club to win titles.”

This was said – as the papers well know – in the context of the pressure being so great at Barca to compete with Real Madrid that it’s not as easy to blood players as young as Wilshere in their first team.

But, even after Pep praised Wilshere’s qualities no less than four times even in that short passage, the coverage in the tabs ranges from the given, with The Daily Star opting for the headline ‘JACK BOOT: WE’VE GOT BETTER PLAYERS IN OUR RESERVES’, the expected, as The Daily Mail go with the headline ‘SECOND RATE: GUARDIOLA TELLS WILSHERE HE’D ONLY MAKE THE BARCA RESERVES’ to the hilarious, with The Sun’s self-appointed European Football Correspondent Antony Kastrinakis claiming Pep offered a ‘jibe’ at Wilshere and ‘taunted’ the young man.


Ink bomb defused ’17 minutes before it was due to go off’

According to reports in the Daily Mail, Mirror, The Sun and the Daily Telegraph one of the ink bombs was defused just ’17 minutes before it was due to go off’. The information was disseminated by the French interior Brice Hortefeux via French TV. The Mail, Mirror and Sun all fail to make any mention of how credible this information is. The Daily Telegraph does point out that the Metropolitan Police are unable to confirm this detail, having only announced that they had found a ‘viable explosive device’.

Interestingly, both Forbes and the Washington Post have run an Associated Press follow up that reports:

The White House says it has no information that would confirm a French government report that one of two bombs mailed to the United States last week was defused just minutes before exploding…

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday the question of when the bombs were to go off is still under investigation and there’s no information confirming such a close call.

U.S. investigators have also said they were unable to confirm the French report.

A quick Google search for ‘ink bomb’ brings up reports from the Sun and Daily Mail that the bomb was just 17 minutes away from exploding. This information has perhaps already become accepted in the minds of many, whether it is confirmed or not. The tabloid press don’t care whether it is true or not. They do not seem to be updating their articles to include the lack of confirmation that the White House was able to provide nor whether any other source has confirmed it.

It is just another terror story that goes global before any real information is known. It might be true, it might not be; but the whole point of good journalism is to hold back from printing such claims as absolute truth until the relevant sources have been checked and the truth established. Still, good journalism is bad business and vice-versa.

Wishing for just a little bit of context

Occasionally a story comes along and the shoddy and dishonest way it is reported really makes me realise why I spend time writing this blog. This isn’t the case of a ‘few bad apples’ but a universal, consistent and poisonous misrepresentation of reality. Spotting the obvious lies is easy, but when a story lingers on in your mind and you dig a little further you realise that a lot more misinformation was contained within it and that different newspapers told different versions; the only thing the tabloids have is that they misrepresent the truth but they do so in many ways.

The story I’m referring to is the news that Rhondda Cynon Taff ‘wastefully’ spent £190,000 on a bridge for Dormice as covered by Richard Littlejohn. At the time I pointed out a number of issues that I had with Littlejohn’s article, mainly his shoddy use of language which actually served to completely negate the point he was trying to make. One thing I didn’t have time to look into was his claim that:

The number of dormice affected by the new bypass is said to be around 60 – which works out at over £3,000 each

Now, the evidence over the years – repeated mistakes, relying on emails from readers as the only base for his columns – suggests that Richard never does any research, so how did he find out this figure? I searched for a while and couldn’t dig the information up, nor could I find the original environmental impact reports on the council website or on the contractors website. However, Richard does read the Mail (it is his only form of research) which does contain the number ’60’ in its report:

A spokesperson for Rhondda Cynon Taf Council also defended the move and said: “Three bridges has been erected for dormice to safely move from one area to the other while new ponds have been dug for the relocation of newts and other amphibians.

“We put up the dormouse brides, along with 60 dormouse boxes, to help get them from one side of the road to the other.”

This is the only reference to Richard’s claim of 60 Dormice I can find and as you can see, it refers to the number of boxes put up in trees to encourage Dormice to use the bridges, it has no relation to the number of dormice in the area. This means Richard has either misunderstood what the 60 boxes meant, or he wilfully lied. Either way, shoddy journalism – also note the sly way he phrases is: ‘The number of dormice affected by the new bypass is said to be around 60’ – clearly he is implying that someone has actually said this number, whereas in reality the only person who has suggested any figure whatsoever is him, and we know he is either blatantly inventing the figure or he has misunderstood a  simple concept because he is so bloody thick.

My final point on Littlejohn’s inane drivel is his insistance that all the council needed to have done was stretch a length of string over the road and be done with it. Well, as the Countryside Council for Wales [CCW] makes clear:

The CCW spokesman said: “Dormice are threatened, hence the highest level of protection afforded to them via the EU Habitats Directive and the special treatment required in this instance. There is a legal requirement – it’s not optional – to provide appropriate mitigation. The EU legislation places on the council an obligation to protect the dormice and RCT are to be commended for their actions in fulfilling their obligations.

The key phrase is ‘provide appropriate mitigation’. If the council constructed Littlejohn’s two poles and a piece of string it would probably have ended up with expensive legal problems and the refusal of allowing the construction to go ahead. Considering the scale of the project £190,000 or around 0.2% of the overall budget seems like pretty good value for money to deal with providing ‘appropriate mitigation’ for wildlife. Furthermore, as far as I can make out the £190,000 also covers the creation of habitat for newts (a series of ponds), grass snakes and rare butterflies, all of which were carefully caught and relocated prior to trees being removed and the earth bulldozed. So again, not a huge expense in the great scheme of things and the end product is a pleasant road to drive down that you can see has lots of works either side to accomodate wildlife that actually add value to the landscape (the road is my commute to work).

It isn’t that this is the worst thing that Littlejohn has written – it isn’t even close – but it’s just the whole shoddy laziness of it all, the cliches being wheeled out for an audience who just want to piss and moan about stuff because they cannot put things into context. Accusing a council of being ‘wasteful’  – as pretty much every tabloid does, including the Daily Mail – is missing the point entirely: they had to spend this money in order to comply with the law and avoid European fines or other expensive legal action. This is ignoring the fact that a £90m project set aside just 0.2% of its budget for environmental concerns, it all gets lost as journalists scrabble around the £190,000 figure and contact the Taxpayers Alliance for a suitably outraged soundbite.

The Sun manages to get it even more wrong:

Environment chiefs in South Wales said the three walkways are designed to protect the area’s dormouse population.

They will allow the rodents to cross the £4.6million Church Village bypass between Pontypridd and Talbot Green.

As above, it is a £90m project so how do the Sun get it so wrong? Well, the writer – John Coles – when copying the story from another news source noticed that the bypass was 4.6 miles long and mistook this for costing £4.6m. Is this really what journalism has come to? One newspaper copying another in an attempt to conform to such a simplistic and utterly depressing outlook on the world?

My one hope is that if readers were just given a more balanced account of the story perhaps they’d  take away a more positive and uplifting message; that somehow, even though humanity seems pretty intent on destroying the world and itself, we do sometimes find the time to take care of our fellow inhabitants, no matter how small or insignificant they might seem to be.

The Sun’s inventive back page

Readers of Football365’s Mediawatch section will be aware of just how much stuff on the back pages of newspapers is utter fiction, but one example struck me recently as pretty breathtaking: ‘Carlos Tevez in Euro taunt at Manchester United‘. The opening line of the article claims that:

CARLOS TEVEZ says winning the Europa League with Manchester City would match his Champions League triumph with United.

Except he doesn’t say anything even vaguely similar to this. The article quotes Tevez talking about the possibility of winning the Europa League and claims that ‘Tevez insists a Euro success with City will rank alongside that famous night in Moscow’, but what he actually says is:

My hope is that I win something with Manchester City.

I want to win here just as I did with Manchester United.

That is what we are here for. I would love to do it.

All the games are important and all competitions are very important.

But the manager has made it clear how important the Europa League is.

So the headline, the introduction and the repetition that Tevez ‘insists’ that winning the Europa League would match winning the Champion’s League is a complete fabrication – Tevez does not even mention the Champion’s League.

This is fairly typical of back-page journalism, headlines stating that one manager has ‘blasted’ another, that one player wants to move somewhere and so forth are almost entirely fictional. I guess when you get used to the deception and lies that newspapers think they can get away with on the front page, you can imagine just how bad the back page is.

No journalistic justification

Continuing the theme that the Daily Mail will use any excuse to print pictures of half-naked women comes this story:

Why do they need to print this picture?

Again, there is no journalistic justification for including this photo. It is simply used to attract the eager clicks of visitors curious as to whether the photo is repeated next to the article without any crude censorship. It is repeated in the article revealing a duvet just about covering her modesty, whilst the crude censorship remains, but the article states the photo was taken on her honeymoon by her husband. It is not newsworthy and as the article uses several other clothed photos of her, they cannot even use the justification that they had no other pictures to choose from.

There is something deeply unpleasant about this deeply personal image being used to attract a few more clicks and a little bit more advertising revenue for the Mail website. As if this unnecessary voyeurism wasn’t bad enough, the staggeringly puritan supposed moral stance of the Daily Mail makes this janiform obsession completely hypocritical.


The Sun / News of the World (link on Sun Website takes you to NOTW article), needless to say, do not hold back. Not only are they happy to put up the topless photo uncensored, they also provide a photo slideshow for eager readers, culminating with Anna Chapman and a sex toy – because such a photo is an integral part of the spy story you understand.

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A Fishy Tale

Hot on the heels of the cute pig in wellies suicidally promoting sausages comes this story about a Piranha supposedly caught in Kent: ‘Mystery of the killer Piranha caught by angler in a FOLKESTONE pond‘. As unlikely as this sounds the original headline is one of the most laughable that I have seen in a really long time: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1287272/Piranha-caught-Kent-lake-raises-fears-fish-breeding-Britain.html. How can one fish – believed in this article to be released in isolation – into a small, landlocked pond, which would normally die within minutes or days (due to either acute stress or simply the cold water) possibly ‘raise fears’ of them ‘breeding in Britain’. Even for the Daily Mail that is a very stupid headline.

The terrifying ordeal, described by fisherman Derek Plum – presumably with outstretched arms and claims of ‘It was THIS big!’ reckoned that:

‘I felt an almighty tug on my rod. Next thing I knew it had dragged my line about 500 yards. It was going all over the place,’ Mr Plum told The Sun.

‘It took me about 15 minutes to reel it in.

‘When it emerged it was thrashing around and was going crazy.

‘The other fisherman were yelling “you’ve caught a Piranha”. I couldn’t believe it. Luckily the fishing hook had fallen from its mouth, otherwise I would have somehow had to remove it myself.’

I’ll simply point out that the Mail barely makes it a few more paragraphs before sticking in a scantily clad Kelly Brook still photo from the soon-to-be-released ‘Piranha 3D’ film. I’ll let some anglers respond to Plum’s tall tales:

Piranha 3D anyone?Piranha 3D anyone?Piranha 3D anyone?Piranha 3D anyone?Piranha 3D anyone?

Journalistic Standards

Another day, another lazy Richard Littlejohn column. His main article is criticising an four-page leaflet produced by the Food Standards Agency, which mainly involves quoting large chunks of it verbatim (presumably, but you never know). Out of 922 words, 230 words (around 25%) are copied word-for-word, whilst another 50% seems to be paraphrased from the pamphlet. A member of the Mailwatch forum has an interesting theory as to why Littlejohn’s column is centred around an inane leaflet this week:

I think this latest column shows the fuck-ups of last week must have got back to him in some way – it’s a greatest hits of the usual simplistic bullshit to get the Mailites back on side. Bin collections, allegations of wasting money on ‘elf and safety, a dig at a comedy target (fat people), some climate change denialism, a dig at the BBC, a dig at labour and an accusation that Campbell is as bad as a Nazi. Short of a Dad’s army reference, it’s all there. And buried within, an apology that I’m sure he’ll hope his readers skim over, thinking it’s just a follow-up rather than an admission he does no research whatsoever.

While I’m depressingly sure it’ll work and he’ll have his fans wheeling out stale plaudits, it’s nice to know he obviously had a bit of a knock to the ego last week to feel the need to cram quite so many crowd-pleasers into one column. It’s like a faded rock star wheeling out all his best of hits everyone has heard a million times after his new material goes down like a lead balloon.

I appreciate the hypocrisy of calling Littlejohn lazy and then copying and pasting the above, before anyone points that out. If you haven’t seen Littlejohn’s apology, then you really should pop over to Tabloid Watch and take a look at it, it really does make clear that Littlejohn doesn’t even attempt to fact check the stories that are emailed to him.

But he isn’t alone, because surprise surprise the ‘boy thrown off bus for wearing England shirt’ story has now been unequivicolly debunked. This was a story in which a journalist just printed a story because it fitted the media narrative being created (England shirts are banned, as is patriotism and foreigners get offended with our way of life), not because it was true. The sad truth is that the journalist probably knew it was rubbish but printed it anyway.

Whenever a newspaper prints a story that was always unlikely to be true I’m always reminded of Kelvin MacKenzie’s ‘secret’ key to successful tabloid journalism. He imparted this wisdom after appointing only Oxford and Cambridge graduates during his early days at The Sun:

Satisfied that my bold move would take The Sun to a higher plain I waited for the results. They were not forthcoming. In fact, very little emerged from my new hirelings. Most disappointing.

I had to get to the bottom of this. It became clear that with their keen and analytical minds they had made a fatal mistake – they had continued investigating every story to the point where they had satisfied themselves that there was no story at all. This would not do.

I called in one of the super-brains and and explained a philosophy that had served me well over the years. The reporter leant forward with an earnest look as I told him the secret: if a story sounded true it probably was true and should therefore appear in the paper or there would be lots of white, unexplained spaces.

Such journalistic ‘standards’ result in stories like: ‘Child spotted apparently drinking beer at U.S. baseball game‘. In which we find out that:

The identity of the child, or the adults surrounding him, was not known and it has not been confirmed whether the bottle actually contained beer.

Still, we had better put it on the website, otherwise there would just be all this white space…