SubScribe: 2016 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.

Saturday 22 October 2016

Gary Lineker, The Sun and free speech

Why would the country's best-selling newspaper (circulation 1.7m) declare war on the country's most popular football pundit (Twitter following 5.3m) over a couple of tweets about refugees from the Calais Jungle?
Because it hates the BBC?
Because it's worried about immigration?
Because it's not that keen on Gary Lineker?
Because it wants to distract attention from the jailing of a former star reporter?
Possibly - probably - all of the above.

But also because it is worried.

The Sun is worried because this week will see the next chapter in the saga that began when its sister paper's reporters started listening in to people's voicemail messages.

A body called the Press Recognition Panel, which has spent £2m of public money over the past two years trying to find something to recognise, at last appears ready to grant its imprimatur to an "independent" press regulator that will conform to the recommendations of the Leveson inquiry.

Impress has been set up with money from motor-racing magnate Max Mosley and encouragement from Hacked Off - both renowned lovers of our tabloid newspapers - and has the backing of the National Union of Journalists.
It does not have the support of publishers of national newspapers, most of which have agreed to be regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation, under the chairmanship of Sir Alan Moses. (A couple - the FT and Guardian - have chosen not to submit to regulation by anyone.)

Ipso, also established in response to Leveson, has been up and running for a couple of years and is, according to a recent review by a former senior civil servant, doing an OK job.
Given its rulings on Katie Hopkins calling refugees "cockroaches"  and Kelvin MacKenzie's protestations that a woman in a hijab shouldn't read news about terrorism, not everyone would agree, and many people still have qualms about it because it was set up and is funded by the publishers.
That tends to be the way of things with self-regulation - and even those wanting more controls on the Press insist that self-regulation is the preferred option.

Ipso won't seek recognition from the PRP because that was created and financed by the State, and state-backed regulation - even at "arm's length" and with "triple locks" - is anathema.

Now we are about to move from the situation of a recognition panel with nothing to recognise to one of a regulator with no one (apart from a few small publications) to regulate.

If you're not that worried about £2m of public money going down the drain, that might not matter too much. But the chances are that the Government will want to rescue its baby.
For the time being, forget Article 50. The pressing concern for journalists this week is whether Theresa May will trigger Section 40.

For this provision in the 2013 Crime and Courts Act includes the blackmail - an emotive word, but justified - that will require newspapers that decline to accept the authority of  a state-recognised regulator to pay all the costs any time they are taken to court. Even if they win.
The idea is to encourage the use of arbirtration rather than the courts to settle complaints, but the implications of such a law - which can be brought into force by statutory instrument because the parliamentary debates have been and gone - for press freedom are self-evident.

There has been some pretty ropy journalism from our national newspapers this year, particularly in the coverage of the referendum and immigration, but there has also been commendable work. Besides the huge sporting scandals, there have been investigations into tax avoidance by big business, sex abuse, charities, terrorism, election spending, religions and family courts - there are more than 50 entries in the investigations section for this year's British Journalism Awards.

Under Section 40, any or all of those could have been strangled at birth by a threat to sue.
Yes, editors have always had to weigh up the potential costs of pursuing a story, but under the proposed regime they will have to consider the greater risk of having to pay legal costs even if they come out on top in court.

(Remember that the phone hacking that started all this was exposed by exactly the kind of investigative journalism that might be thwarted by Section 40 - it takes a lot of time, money and nerve to go after the biggest beasts. It's also worth remembering that it did not require Leveson to bring guilty journalists to justice. There were laws in place, the problem lay in the way the police accepted obfuscation from the people they were supposed to be investigating.)

There is a provision in Section 40 that a judge does not have to enforce the costs rule if it is not "just" - and one would hope that if you proved someone was a lying toerag, a sane judge would find in your favour. SubScribe is convinced that the rule would collapse the first time it was tested in court. But  until that happens, the Press can only hope.

No wonder newspapers are squealing. The Times ran a top leader on Thursday headlined "Not impressed" that said the rival regulator could become a vehicle for an unprecedented attack on free speech. The Daily Mail, which fervently wants to Britain to be free of the European Convention on Human Rights, is invoking that very convention in its fight against Section 40. [Monday update: Today it reprints an article by Matthew Parris that first appeared in The Times on Saturday, describing the statute as "cowardly blackmail". The Murdoch papers are in full cry, with the leader and Parris in the Times, the Lineker story in the Sun followed up by a full-drop leader today, and a leader about the PRP replacing one about Putin at the last minute in the Sunday Times.]
 Local newspapers, which were blameless in the eyes of Leveson, are particularly worried and many have also carried leaders on the subject.

The Murdoch papers and the Mail are in full cry

The "worthy" argument focuses on centuries of freedom from state control, but there are also cries of "it's not fair". And it isn't. Because these provisions apply only to newspapers, putting them at a further disadvantage in their struggle against broadcasters and the internet.
That is why The Sun took the opportunity to attack a BBC presenter for something he said on unregulated Twitter - hitting two rivals with one stone.

The central concern for the Murdochs, Rothermeres, Barclays and their editors is, of course, commercial (always remember that newspaper publishing is a business, not a public service - proprietors are not obliged to print stuff that people don't want to read). They don't like competitors having an advantage and they want the freedom to print what they like.

As far as competition is concerned, nearly every paper indulges in routine BBC-bashing and leaders demanding that ministers rein in the corporation (they're not so concerned about editorial freedom and state control for the BBC because it is a publicly funded rival). But that's about as much as they can do. There's no way anyone can attempt to regulate the internet.

As to freedom, the ostensible objection to Impress is one of principle - the very notion that the State should have any influence at all, however far removed - and that is hard to argue against. But that battle was lost in 2014.
Even so, while there was no official regulator on the horizon, there was still some hope of winning the war by default. That is about to change.

Come on, I can hear doubters say. They aren't worried about free speech or constraints on their ability to hold the powerful to account; they're scared they're going to be forced to behave.

Well let's park the role of the State (yes, it's the crux of the matter, but bear with me) and ask would it make any practical difference if newspapers were regulated by Impress rather than Ipso?

For the moment, the answer appears to be No. Impress has published a draft code of conduct (currently out for consultation) that is remarkably similar to that employed by Ipso. 
Provisions for intrusion, privacy, accuracy all pretty well match Ipso's. Impress would have the right to instigate investigations without a complaint if it felt a story warranted it - but so does Ipso. Both can impose big fines.

Sir Alan Moses told the FT this month that he was frustrated by the "tone" and "nasty edge" of some newspapers before the referendum, but that while he would like the Press to be more responsible, "I don't think a regulator can address it."

SubScribe raised a similar issue with Impress last month, asking if it would be able to do anything to tackle the drip-feed of negative headlines about migration that the UN and European organisations have blamed for increasing racism and hate crime. It replied that - like Ipso - stories would be considered on a case-by-case basis. As it stands, then, there would be no way of dealing with the cumulative effect of a series of stories on any subject.

Thus, the signs are that Impress is unlikely to offer any greater comfort to those who want to restrain the tabloids than Ipso.
They might hope for a "hanging judge" to oversee complaints, but referendum coverage has shown how easy it is for papers to meet "accuracy" requirements by finding a patsy MP or whoever to say the right thing to justify its approach. Free speech for columnists - even when offensive - is sacrosanct. And newspapers, unlike public broadcasters, have no obligation to provide "balanced" coverage - for if they did, how could they campaign on issues of genuine public interest?

As Moses says, it would be wonderful if our papers were less nasty and more responsible. But there is nothing to suggest that Impress would be able to achieve that. And there is no chance that any national newspaper will sign up to be regulated by an organisation linked to Mosley and Hacked Off either willingly or under duress.

So why - apart from saving face and justifying the expense of Leveson and the £2m so far handed to the recognition panel  -  force the issue and make martyrs of the villains who set this whole sorry ball rolling?

Weary observers of the Press might be tempted to think that if all three Murdoch papers and the Mail are united against something then it must have something going for it.
Not this time.

The Sun was wrong in its McCarthyite attack on Lineker. It was absurd to run a leader headlined "Web of deceit" complaining about "lies" on Twitter on the very day Mazher Mahmood was sent to jail for perverting the course of justice. It was crass to allow MacKenzie to crow about a victory over an "anti-free speech mafia". It was unwise to let Trevor Kavanagh continue the Lineker fight in his Monday column (when you're in a hole...) and even more so for him to heap further unwarranted insults on Fatima Manji.

The Sun exaggerates the virtues of its journalism and over-eggs the freedom of speech argument (especially when it wants to deny Lineker the right to express his personal opinion on his personal Twitter feed).
The Sun is wrong in a hundred different ways every week.

But when it comes to newspapers being regulated by an organisation appointed and overseen by a state-financed panel, it is right.

The poke at "free-speech hating celebrities, Left-leaning Hacked Off" and "odious Mosley" in its Monday leader is irrelevant. It wouldn't matter if the twelve disciples, the prophet Muhammed and Buddha were sitting in judgment. The point of principle is not who is behind any regulator that might be approved, it is the wrongness of State involvement and coercion.

And that is why Mrs May should consign Section 40 to the dustbin.

Friday 23 September 2016

Freedom of speech? Not for luvvies (part 2)

Update Saturday 24 September:

Rod Liddle's brief Twitter timeline

SubScribe is not the only commentator to have picked up on this column by Rod Liddle. And the response seems to have struck a chord with him. 
He appears to have set up a Twitter account specifically to apologise for this piece, which he says was "crass, crude and poorly judged".
With only a handful of followers and one retweet, this apology (assuming the account is genuine) does not seem to have reached as wide an audience as it should.
His piece was spectacularly ill-judged - for the reasons spelled out below - but SubScribe applauds him for holding up his hand.

Rod Liddle column

Have you got your notebooks out?
Yesterday, Christopher Hart of the Daily Mail produced a helpful list of "luvvies" who should not be allowed to express opinions.
SubScribe apologises for not noticing that Rod Liddle was simultaneously offering the same service in The Sun. So you may wish to add some names to your collection.
He, too, dismisses Amal Clooney (remember Hart called her a dubious poseuse celebrity lawyer), describing her as hugely irritating and smug.
Liddle's "posh luvvies and their tiresome wags" also include "moppety actress" Carey Mulligan, of whom he says "I'm ashamed you're British", but he saves the real bile for Emma Watson.
She gets a picture and section all to herself, which I reproduce in full:

Hermione Granger has been addressing the United Nations General Assembly. Nope, not kidding.
The actress Emma Watson, right, is a UN "Goodwill Ambassador". What's that, when it's at home? I haven't a clue.
Anyway, instead of telling them all the rules of quidditch or how to turn someone into a frog, she bored them all rigid with whining, leftie, PC crap.
Just like all actresses do if people are stupid enough to give them the chance.
Why do we indulge these luvvie slebs, most of whom know nowt? I don't object to them having views and expressing them. I just don't understand why we take them seriously.
I suppose they got Emma in because Angelina Jolie is a bit tied up with other stuff at the moment.

It may be old-fashioned, but it seems pretty basic journalism that if you don't know what you're writing about, you find out before you start typing.
SubScribe suspects that Mr Liddle knows exactly what a goodwill ambassador is - and that he is feigning ignorance for effect, rather as Donald Trump does when he says something preposterous, holds out his arms and adds: "I don't know."
But just in case, it may be worth explaining that goodwill ambassadors are appointed because they are famous. That's the point of them: to use their fame to get a message across that might otherwise be lost.
The first was Danny Kaye; perhaps the most famous (until Angelina Jolie) was Audrey Hepburn. She worked for years for UNICEF and oOthers who have followed in her footsteps include Tom Hiddleston, David Beckham, Lionel Messi, Simon Rattle and Queen Rania of Jordan. Pierre Cardin and Herbie Hancock spread the word for UNESCO; the singer Craig David flies the flag for the World Health Organisation in trying to  prevent the spread of TB.

As to "knowing nowt", Watson was talking about sexual assaults on campus and gender equality at university, subjects on which - as a fairly recent graduate - she is probably well-qualified to speak.

And "boring them all rigid"? Watson is regarded as one of the UN's most valuable goodwill ambassadors and other reports of the event described the audience as "rapt" as she described the HeForShe campaign that she leads on behalf of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. (Was Liddle aware of the title - if so, how did he resist poking fun at it?) The aim is to persuade men to fight for equality and supporters include heads of state and the Secretary-General of Nato. More than a million men have made "practical commitments".

Leo McKinstrey column

Meanwhile, across at the Express, Leo McKinstrey was also having a go. He lifted the phrase "tasteless stunt" from Monday's Mail to describe the Parliament Square lifejacket demonstration, then added his own twist, calling the organisers "immigration fanatics". His "luvvie" list was shorter:   Juliet Stevenson,  "privileged left-wing actor" Carey Mulligan (squawking here, rather than whining), and "left-wing privately-educated" Benedict Cumberbatch.

These columnists are entitled to their view that a tougher approach to the boat people might dissuade others from risking their lives at the hands of unscrupulous traffickers. They may feel justified in taking Angela Merkel's words this week as an acknowledgement that her "open doors" approach to, migration was flawed.
They are further entitled to say what they think, to put their views to a wider public.
But why do they think they have the right to tell anyone else to shut up?

Freedom of speech anyone?

A reminder of the Sun's view on free speech - for itself and for "luvvies"

Thursday 22 September 2016

Woman with brain speaks, Mail has apoplexy

Mail puff

If there's one thing the Daily Mail can't abide (ok, there are many), it's an intelligent woman who dares to speak out. Especially if she can be branded a "luvvie" - even if her only connection to the arts is by marriage.

Take Amal Clooney. A well-established human rights lawyer, Clooney addressed the UN about refugees on Friday and has this week announced that she intends to try to take legal action on behalf of a Yazidi woman used as a sex slave by ISIS jihadists.
She also suggested that the UK – and other countries - might do more to help refugees from warzones and pointed out that only one Yazidi family had been granted asylum here, against 70,000 in Germany.

The Daily Mail website likes Clooney: she is beautiful, glamorous and married to the biggest name in Hollywood. It loves to put her in the “sidebar of shame”.
The printed paper is less sure.
President Obama may think her views are worth listening to and be willing to share a platform with her, but the Mail has difficulty looking beyond her bunions, her thinness and her wedding ring.
There was also that little spot of bother with her husband when it claimed that there was a family rift over their marriage


So this is how the paper reported her contribution to last weekend's refugee summit: 

“Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney angered MPs last night by attacking Theresa May and Britain for not taking more refugees from Syria.
“The wife of George Clooney, who lives in a mansion near Mrs May’s home in Berkshire...”
Thus a rentaquote MP's response, her husband and her living arrangements are all given precedence over what she had to say. Under a snide headline that suggests that no one has heard of her and that her opinion is risible. She is, however, comely enough to warrant a full-length photograph.

Christopher Hart oped

If Clooney and her opinions are so insignificant, you'd imagine that the paper would leave it there. But no, Christopher Hart is on parade today to denounce the "dubious poseuse celebrity lawyer and wife of the famous George".

Actually there's nothing dubious about Mrs Clooney; Hart had only to read his own paper's cuttings to discover that she has credentials beyond being a wife. When the couple became engaged in April 2014, the Mail wrote:
"Her life could not be more removed from the celebrity world which Clooney inhibits.
"She comes from a prominent intellectual Lebanese family who fled war-torn Beirut when she was a child and settled in a large modern house in Buckinghamshire.
"Her father, Ramzi, is a retired professor of business studies at the American University of Beirut...
"After leaving Oxford, where she gained a 2:1 in law, Miss Alamuddin studied at the New York University School of Law.Now working out of London's Doughty Street Chambers, she specialises in international law, human rights, extradition and criminal law."
 When they were married that September, the paper described her as "Oxford-educated, with a high-profile client list":
"She has represented Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and is an adviser to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan"
Amal by Amanda Platell

Even when the critical scrutiny intensified with a spread on Clooney's "scary skinniness", Amanda Platell noted of this "clever, thoughtful woman":
"A year ago, no one outside illustrious legal circles knew the name Amal Alamuddin. Fewer still had an opinion about her clothes, figure, hair, handbag or shoes.
"An internationally renowned human rights lawyer at the top of her career, her performance in court and her fine brain were all she was judged on."

Clooney's client list goes beyond Assange and Annan. She also represented Mohamed Fahmy, a journalist jailed in Egypt for "distorting the news"  in a case that prompted an international campaign to protect that cause so dear to the Mail's heart - Press freedom.

But none of that gives her the right to speak on a subject that is her specialty. That was apparently relinquished when she married an actor.

Just in case you can't get hold of a copy of the Mail, here's a list of other "bleeding heart luvvies" whose opinions are, according to today's Oped, to be discounted:

Leonardo diCaprio
Benedict Cumberbatch
Helena Bonham Carter
Stephen Fry
Emma Thompson
J.K. Rowling
Bob Geldof
Emma Thompson
Vanessa Redgrave
Cate Blanchett
Keira Knightley

In fact, the list is so long that Hart admits:
"Actually, it's probably just easier to say 'all of them'. The whole ghastly, smug, cosseted, self-adoring crew."
 Hart also has a dig at Juliet Stevenson and David Miliband's International Rescue charity for "hijacking Parliament Square" for a display of 2,500 lifejackets worn by refugees who died trying to cross from Turkey to Greece.

Mail 20 September

That exhibition - sorry, stunt -  really annoyed the Mail.
Most papers used a photograph and a brief caption to say that the demonstration was linked to the migrant summit in New York.
The Mail used the lifejackets (with the statue of Churchill circled in red) plus an inset picture of Stevenson alongside a story focused on those who thought the “protest” should not have been allowed.

Mail 21-09

Such was the paper’s distress about the whole affair that it wheeled out Max Hastings yesterday on a spread combining the event and Angela Merkel’s woes.
Migration posed the gravest threat to Europe since 1945, the headline said. “We need answers – not stunts”. 

Fair point. 

sue reid spread

Now let's wind the clock back to last Saturday, when the Mail ran a spread by Sue Reid, who hired a rubber dinghy to show how easy it was to sail to France and back without being stopped by any authorities. 
A smiley woman in sunglasses and a couple of male companions are perhaps not quite as suspicious as a boatload of young men, but Reid appears dismayed by the lack of interest they attracted.
She spots a Royal Navy warship on the horizon, assumes that its radar must have seen her dinghy and notes “yet they did nothing to stop us” – before conceding: 
“although, it must be said, the warship's responsibilities do not include checking boats such as ours”.
The lifejackets were laid out in Parliament Square to draw attention to the plight of  refugees. People took notice. 
But to the Mail, the display constituted a stunt.

Sue Reid hired her little boat to draw attention to a lack of border controls. No one took any notice. 
That was, of course, serious journalism.
Don't anyone dare suggest that it might have been a stunt.

These are the sorts of serious issues that Ms Clooney should be concentrating on

Saturday 10 September 2016

Remembering Aberfan

aberfan disaster

Were journalists covering Aberfan intruding into a village's grief or important allies in holding the culpable to account?
And what can we hope or expect of today's generation who make their way to Wales to mark the 50th anniversary of the disaster?

Guest blog: John Jewell

October 21 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. At 9.15 am on that day in 1966, just as Pantglas junior school was beginning its first lesson, a coal tip situated above this small village near the South Wales industrial town of Merthyr Tydfil slid down the mountain enveloping first a farm and then Pantglas school itself.  
Though some did manage to escape, it was a catastrophe that claimed the lives of a 144 people, 116 of whom were children.
While Wales is no stranger to mining disasters – between 1853 and 1974 24,470 colliery workers were killed at work in South Wales - the loss of so many young lives and the impact of the disaster on the community since, make Aberfan the single most shocking event in modern Welsh history.
This week Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies held a one-day conference  focusing on the themes of remembering, forgetting and moving on in the media and in the community. It brought together not only survivors of the tragedy, but also media practitioners and academics. They included photojournalist I. C. Rapoport , whose presentation was of a breathtaking poignancy that moved all to tears,  and the elder statesman of the Welsh media Vincent Kane, who reported from Aberfan in 1966.
Kane’s closing keynote speech was passionate, poetic, angry and robust. He was devastating in his condemnation of both the National Coal Board and the miners’ union, which both knew that the tip was built on a sloping hillside upon two underground springs that were clearly shown on ordinance survey maps. They were guilty of moral cowardice – failing to act on the knowledge that the tip could slide at any moment. But those who knew of the potential for tragedy failed to act to remove the tip because they knew that attempting to do so would put the existence of mining in Merthyr in peril. 
 With 50 years’ hindsight, how can we fail to conclude that the underlying cause was the intense pressure brought to bear on a frightened coal mining community by the policy of widespread and rapid pit closures implemented by the National Coal Board, supported by the National Union of Mineworkers and two governments, Conservative followed by Labour
Kane was critical of journalism, too. In the years that followed the tragedy the media had not been as forceful as it could have been in exposing the truth and defending the surviving community. In an atmosphere in which the residents of Aberfan were labelled greedy troublemakers,  the media had reneged on its responsibility to hold power to account. Kane said.
 The press, the media, the fourth estate, has an abiding responsibility to probe and to penetrate.  In the Aberfan period, perhaps Wales’s darkest hour in the 20th century, we should have been passionate in pursuit of the truth. Instead we were pedestrian.

Journalists who covered the original events have in the recent past spoken candidly about how they were affected. John Humphrys, then a young reporter at Television Wales and West and a man very familiar with the area, drove up to Aberfan on the morning of the disaster and witnessed first-hand the “great mass of muck and filth and utter chaos” as rescue attempts got underway. Unsurprisingly, Humphrys says the impact upon him has been profound. He said in 2006:
I have been a journalist for getting on for half a century now. I have reported wars and disasters all over the world, many of them involving many, many, many more deaths…. I have always said and I will always say that nothing – nothing – I will ever see will compare to the horrors of that day. 
Also in 2006, Malcolm Rees, who was the first reporter from the South Wales Evening Post on the scene, spoke about the worst event he had to cover coping by “just getting on with his job” amidst the eeriness of it all. Rees’s colleague, chief photographer Alan Trethewy, was more open about his distress. He said:
The camera acts like a barrier between yourself and the reality of what is going on around you. The tragedy is something I will never forget — I remember it like it was yesterday…..It is just burned into my memory. It was the most horrific thing I covered throughout my whole career.
At the time, though, the presence of the national and international media in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe concerned some local people and politicians. In the course of researching her novel, Black River, Louise Walsh,  who also appeared at the conference, accessed the National Archives and found that in 1967 Selwyn Jones, the town clerk of Merthyr Tydfil, wrote to Cledwyn Hughes, the Secretary of State for Wales requesting that he take action to ensure that the “glare of publicity” be taken away from the residents of Aberfan.
Walsh also records a letter from S O Davies, MP for Merthyr , to the editor of the Sunday Express expressing his disgust over an article in June 1967 which described the people of Aberfan as the “most tragically divided in the world”. The article was rhetorical filth, wrote Davies:
In all the cruel travesties of fact that have appeared in some organisations of the press, from the day of this terrible disaster the Sunday Express has…. exceeded all of them in fabrication, distortion and irresponsible journalese.
But this is not the whole picture. As Pantti and Wahl – Jorgensen  have pointed out,  in many instances the national Press sided with the mining village and gave its people opportunities to express their feelings of rage and resentment toward the (still) unbelievably mendacious National Coal Board and government. They state that the early media narrative of the disaster was “around a working-class community energised with the passion of anger against the National Coal Board, which was reported as having ignored warnings of danger for many years”. 
In this sense, with the tragedy still bitingly raw, the national Press was demonstrating its ability to act on behalf of the disenfranchised and to hold power to account by mobilising a “community of moral outrage”.
One day after the tragedy a Guardian editorial stated:
“The Welsh, who are used to tragedy, have now suffered their worst. The pits themselves do not kill children….There must be a safe way for the Coal Board to get rid of its waste. There must be a way of ensuring that yesterday’s tragedy is not repeated.”
The Aberfan disaster was also the first national tragedy to be covered extensively on television and, in the opinion of Stuart Hood, who was controller of BBC television in the early 1960s,  there was no more accurate or poignant method of reporting the tragedy than to “let us see the faces of the men and women waiting as the rescuers dug into the black mud”. 
For Hood, writing in 1967, television was an enabler, facilitating involvement in events where Aberfan became part of a greater community. Royal weddings, the football World Cup and Churchill’s funeral had all been events where national community had been created by television, Hood argued, it was therefore right and proper that at a moment of national tragedy television cameras should be present.
Perhaps Hood was right – and to be fair to him he does acknowledge that there is a certain brutality about journalism in these situations – but his rather idealistic words would have provided little comfort to the bereaved families who saw their shattered environment overrun with the world’s television crews all eager to send images back home. 
This was something that occurred to Gwyn Llewelyn, the first television correspondent to arrive in Aberfan.  In 2013 he told Media Wales of the broadcasting circus and the angry local reaction. He came, he said, to feel a certain guilt very quickly:
“I did ask myself numerous times what was on earth I was doing standing there reporting when the rescuers were up to their waists in slurry clearing the debris. I knew I was there providing a service by reporting from the scene of the tragedy, but I did feel like something of a voyeur staring at the heroic efforts of these people.”
Llewelyn’s concerns mirror those of many reporters who have covered disasters and the like. As Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies put it in 2001, a journalist’s symptoms of stress are similar to those of firefighters or police officers in the immediate aftermath of tragedies – but while public safety workers are routinely offered counselling after trauma, “journalists are merely assigned another story.”
In the aftermath of Aberfan very few people, journalists or otherwise, received adequate counselling or psychological treatment. During the course of the day at Cardiff University devoted to the discussion of events, what became increasingly clear was range of people represented. There were survivors of the actual landslide itself, ex-police officers, former Coal board officials and journalists – all in empathetic unity.
So whatever is written or broadcast about Aberfan now, as we approach the 50th anniversary of this tragedy, must be undertaken with greatest of care and respect for those still living with daily reminders of what happened to them.
Sitting in the comfort of a warm lecture theatre listening to the testimonies of those speaking, some for the very first time about their experiences, I was struck by the searing honesty and bravery of those who stood. Wounds have not fully healed, memories have not dimmed. 
Not for the first time, the privilege of my own existence, concerned as I am by the frustrations and trivialities of modern life, shamed me. Here were people whose entire lives had been shaped by the morning of  October 21, 1966 and, in the words of Professor Kevin Morgan, we should respect their knowledge.
Western Mail Aberfan front page

John Jewell is director of undergraduate studies at Cardiff University's School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies