SubScribe Google+

Friday, 25 November 2016

Why did the Daily Mail bury the story about the white terrorist who murdered Jo Cox?


Killers: Michale Adebolajo, Thomas Mair and Michael Adebowale


If Jo Cox had been a pro-Brexit Tory MP and her killer Thomas Mair a jihadist Syrian, what would the Daily Mail have done with the story?
As with many questions posed by that newspaper, the answer is that we don't know - but we can speculate. And most Mail watchers would speculate that the report of Mair's conviction and sentence would be a little further forward than page 30.
The positioning of today's court report - behind several pages on the Autumn Statement, a bit of frippery about Father Christmas and a story about "laughing" Calais migrants dialling 999 from the Channel - has raised eyebrows.
As has the main thrust of the Mail's spread, based on a conversation with a neighbour, that Mair might have been motivated by a fear of losing his council house to a family of immigrants. That and his dismay that his mother had married a black man.
How's that for a Mail hat-trick: blaming two  women - his mother and his victim -  a black man - his stepfather - and possibly non-existent immigrants? (The piece says he may have been mistaken in thinking that a foreign family was lined up to be given a home in his under-occupied house.)
Where were the questions about how Mair had been radicalised, the rise of far-right factions, secret cells and the like?

Here are some possible explanations:
It was a busy news day with Philip Hammond's first budget.
Mair never said a word, so it was impossible to know what was really going through his mind.
It had all been on television, radio and social media all day, so there was nothing new to add.

OK, so those don't really cut it. Let's try the flow of the paper.

A decision will have been made during the day to let the determinedly upbeat coverage of the Autumn Statement run from the front, right through the paper, until all angles had been covered, with the leader and comment pages forming a natural bridge to "the rest of the day's news".
After all that politics, the reader would need a rest, so some light relief was needed. Hence the positioning of the Santa story. A run of news stories that could be told relatively quickly -  rather than something that would require a spread - would also be in order.
This is partly a question of varying the "pace" of the paper and partly a matter of satisfying the advertising department. With all those clear pages for the budget up front, there would be ads to pack in before editorial could be allowed another open spread.

An alternative approach might have been to put Hammond on pages 1 and 2, followed by something lightweight on 3, the Jo Cox case on a spread or two from page 4, another breaker, and then the budget as a "pull-out" through the centre of the book.
Even taking into account the Brexit significance of the budget, it's a fair bet that  the running order would have been something like that had the killing been an act of Islamic terrorism. There might even have been space for a bit on the front.

No two news days are the same, but it is possible to flesh out such speculation with evidence from another brutal street murder with another victim whose working life involved serving the public: Lee Rigby.

Pages 1-7 of the Daily Mail on the days after the murders of Lee Rigby and Jo Cox

Fusilier Rigby was killed by a pair of black men in Woolwich in May 2013. Footage of one of the assailants holding a bloodied machete as he shouted into a cameraphone about avenging Muslims killed by British forces added to public horror at the crime. On the day after the murder, the Mail gave over its first seven pages to the story.
When Jo Cox was stabbed and shot during the referendum campaign, the Mail led on the murder (keeping its Cliff Richard puff), but then offered a bit of Seb Coe and Monty Don's begonias before returning to the story from pages 4 to 7.

It could be argued that the Rigby murder lent itself more to the blockbuster treatment: the unprecedented nature of the attack in the middle of the afternoon, the availability of pictures of the killers and the many witnesses to what was later described as their attempt to secure martyrdom through "suicide by cop" - attacking the police in the expectation that officers would be forced to fire on them.
The Mail certainly seems to have made that distinction. The Express also made more of Lee Rigby than it did Jo Cox. But - with the exception of The Times - other newspapers' coverage of the two murders was remarkably similar.
James Harding's Times gave far less space than the rest of Fleet Street to the Rigby killing, but under John Witherow's editorship, it marched in step with its rivals on Cox. The Mirror devoted one more spread to the murder of the MP than it had to the soldier.

Here's how they compared:






So if we accept that the papers generally regarded the killings as of roughly equal importance, did that stance follow through to the endings of the trials that led to two of the murderers being given whole life sentences and the third being ordered to serve 45 years?
All three were at some point in the proceedings described as "terrorists" and as "lone wolves". Police in both cases expressed concern about the difficulty in coping with individuals minded to kill for a "cause" and the potential numbers of such terrorists. Were those descriptions and their ramifications also treated equally once sentences had been passed?

This is how the Daily Mail covered the cases:



On the day the Rigby trial ended, the paper led on 80 people being hurt when a West End theatre ceiling caved in. Not quite the Autumn Statement, but a decent story. It didn't warrant the whole of the front page, however: there was still room for a puff for the following day's Christmas TV guide. The first mention of the trial came with the first of two spreads on pages 6 and 7.
Today the paper has faced flak for being alone in having no mention of Jo Cox on its front - but it could argue that that was because the budget story was so important that it demanded the entire page.

And while every other paper gave the Mair story more prominence than the Mail did, only the Times and Telegraph matched the space they had allocated to the sentencing of  Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale three years earlier.
Here's how treatment of the two stories compared:








The Times and Telegraph are notable not only for the parity in the space given to the two cases, but also because they have gone beyond the "human interest" elements of today's story - Brendan Cox's statement and Mair's background -  to consider the impact of the rise of the far-right and the danger that disaffected "loners" might turn into terrorists. 
Whatever your view on that, if it is legitimate to be alert to the radicalisation of individual British Muslims - "home-grown terrorists" as the Press likes to call them - then surely the same must apply to white supremacists and neo-Nazis?

The Mail's coverage today was shoddy. But it was far from alone in being found wanting. 
Why did so many papers fail this test?
Because of the Brexit link?
Because of a reluctance to see where a tide of nationalism can lead?
Or simply because they can't accept that white British terrorists are as every bit as bad as brown ones from overseas?




And then there's the small matter of the serial killer who murdered at least four gay men being tucked away on pages 48 and 49 of the Mail. On balance, if a story warrants a headline like this, the chances are it should be further forward in the book than a spread on "the ads elf and safety forgot".















Saturday, 12 November 2016

How Lego changes the game by doing nothing


lego promotions
The Mail's Lego promotions in May and October this year. 



And so Twitter erupted in joy. The BBC, the Independent, the Huffington Post reported that Lego was pulling its advertising from the Mail.
It isn't.
Lego was stopping its free giveaways with the paper.
It wasn't.
A promotion had run its natural course. When a customer wrote to say he didn't think the tie-in with the Mail was appropriate, Lego responded with the tweet at the top.
The customer's letter may genuinely have caused the company to pause and think: "Hey, no. We don't want to be associated with anti-migrant, anti-judge headlines." Or it may have thought: "Here's an opportunity for some good publicity at no cost. We don't actually have to do anything.
"After all, the last freebie promotion ended last month and the next one isn't due until the spring and then we can just pick up as usual."

Well the Twitter reaction means they won't now - unless the Daily Mail demonstrably changes tack in the next six months.
And therein lies Stop Funding Hate's victory. Not in what it has achieved, but in what it is possible for it to achieve thanks to Lego's response. For not only is Lego unlikely to resume any deal with the Mail - or any other newspaper that might be perceived as peddling hate - but other companies will also think twice before entering into promotional contracts with them.

lego promotion november 2015

The timing of the Lego story, coinciding with the anniversary of the terrorist attacks across Paris, couldn't have been bettered. For that atrocity demonstrated the importance to the Mail of the Lego promotions - and makes Stop Funding Hate's "victory" the greater.
The paper has combined with the company and WH Smith to give away the toys twice a year for the past two or three years. They clearly boost circulation as the launch puff is always bigger the norm, dominating the page.
And so it did for the issue of November 14 last year - in spite of the fact that even before the bombers and gunmen struck in Paris, there was a pretty big news story in the killing of Mohamed Emwazi, the ISIS killer glorified by the media as "Jihadi John".
As the scale of the horror in Paris became apparent, most night editors cleared their front pages. But at the Mail, the Lego puff remained inviolate, surrendering not an inch of space to the unfolding drama.
(The Mirror really came a cropper: it's "real" front page was concealed beneath a wraparound advertising Morrison's Christmas puds.)

Lego may have inadvertently painted itself into a corner, but the good publicity will be invaluable. It may well give it a Christmas sales fillip.
Unfortunately, John Lewis found itself on the other end of this see-saw. After two days of appreciative oohs and aahs over its latest Christmas video, it looks leaden and po-faced in its response to Stop Funding Hate's suggestion that it cease advertising with the Mail, Express, Sun etc.


This is, in fairness, what most businesses have told SFH. But, coming hot on the heels of the Lego story, it looks churlish.

And of course businesses do make editorial judgments. They decide where to advertise on the basis of which newspaper, radio station, roadside poster position best matches the customers they want to reach. John Lewis would not advertise in a porn magazine or a rundown inner city sidestreet because they wouldn't fit with its brand.

There are questions to be asked - and SubScribe has asked them - about the advisability of trying to get advertisers to put pressure on newspapers to change their attitudes.
Look at the furore over the Telegraph's lack of coverage - some would call it suppression - of the HSBC tax scandal last year, which was attributed to the fear of losing a valuable client.
Advertisers should not be in a position to decide what papers do or do not carry.
Stop Funding Hate accepts that, and argues that it is not asking advertisers to influence editorial judgments, simply to make a judgment of their own: Does their brand benefit from being associated with a particular type of journalism? And if it doesn't, to walk away.

This has all been theoretical until now. But Stop Funding Hate's bombardment of companies advertising in the Mail's "Enemies of the people" issue and its new video, combining some frankly offensive front pages with the cloying Christmas adverts, have brought its campaign to the attention of hundreds of thousands of people.

Not for the first time in its history, Lego may well be a game-changer.



Thursday, 27 October 2016

Sun vilified over true refugee story


Don't disbelieve everything you read in the papers.
Just because it's in a newspaper doesn't mean it isn't true.

Last Sunday the Sun carried a page lead about a woman called Rosie who claimed that a 12-year-old Afghan boy she had fostered turned out to be a young adult Jihadi sympathiser.
Her own children had become suspicious about his age when they noticed while swimming that his body was hairy. He had appeared adept at handling a gun at a shooting range. He was able to overpower an "older" boy living in the house. A driver turfed him off a school bus, refusing to believe he was under 16. A dentist told the family - and social workers - that he was probably between 18 and 21.

Coming after Tory MP David Davies's calls for dental checks to determine the ages of child migrants and the row over Gary Lineker's tweets, it was obvious that the story was just another pack of lies to further the Sun's xenophobic agenda.

Except it wasn't - a pack of lies, that is.
There were white lies and errors. But essentially the story was true.

The young man didn't "strip down" a rifle. Identities were changed to protect the source - the number one rule in journalism.
The photograph of "Jamal" was doctored not because it was fake or to protect him (one doubter asked: "why was his face blocked out when the Sun didn't mind showing photographs of arriving refugees?") but to protect the woman who gave the interview.
She was frightened both of "Jamal" - as stated in the story - and  that she might lose the other children she fostered and the opportunity to care for more in the future.

Why did she take a 12-year-old who had just fled a warzone to a shooting range? Good question. It turns out it was more akin to a children's activity centre.

Why did she march him off to the dentist as soon as he got there? She didn't - and certainly not to find out how old he was. She took him for a check-up at the request of social services.

All of this and more is on a recording of a face-to-face interview with the woman, including:

  • details of material found on his phone, 
  • evidence that he had used another name and another age (17) to try to seek asylum in another country,  
  • and the fact that the father of a 12-year-old girl at Koran classes complained about "this man" being with the children. 
It's probably also worth mentioning that this was not a woman on the make. She did not take her story to the Sun. The journalists approached her.

The Sun is not averse to giving a home to stories that put immigrants - and the immigration system - in a bad light. One reporter tells SubScribe that there was a ready market for such material before the EU referendum. There are legitimate questions to be asked, but the overall impression of hostility that comes from the Sun means it may not be the right newspaper to ask them.

So which is? The Mail? The Express? Just as bad. The Mirror? The Guardian? The story might be more believable coming from them - but would they run it?

Political correctness allowed the abuse of girls of Rotherham and Rochdale to go unchecked for years until  Andrew Norfolk's dogged reporting for The Times forced authorities to confront what was going on under their noses. In today's xenophobic atmosphere, what right-thinking (as opposed to Right-thinking) paper would carry this story?
Yet it deserves - needs - to be told.

In the hands of the Sun, the story of Rosie and Jamal feeds into the prejudices of those who think we should be turning our backs on immigrants/refugees/asylum-seekers, call them what you will.
If you read the copy carefully, it is actually dead straight with no editorialising or ranting.
But because of where it is, the Sun's core market will think that such situations are typical and Sun-haters will write it off as lies. What is the paper to do? Wave its hands in the air and say "Honest, guvs, this one's true"?

The Sun is being vilified on social media and in the blogosphere over this. One needs only to look to its recent past to see why. But on this occasion, it has conformed with the best standards of journalism. It has told a true story that is undoubtedly in the public interest and protected its source in doing so.
The real villains of this piece are "Jamal" and the social workers who left him with a caring family even after they had evidence that he was not the boy he purported to be.

There will be some nasty people among the refugees and asylum-seekers, people who want to exploit others' humanity to advance  nefarious projects. That doesn't mean we should close our borders and shut our hearts to the vast majority.
Remember that news is about highlighting the unusual.

Sometimes you can believe what you read in the papers.