SubScribe: 2017 Google+

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Kelvin MacKenzie the fall guy?

Kelvin Mackenzie column 14-04-17

How did it get in the paper? And on this Hillsborough anniversary weekend?

1: Because, after the Ipso rulings on cockroaches and hijabs, the Sun believes that it can be as obnoxious as it pleases?
2: Because no sub or backbencher dares question star columnists?
3: Because there are no subs left?
4: Because comparing a man to a gorilla is a mild insult by Mackenzie's standards?
5: Because no one in Liverpool reads the Sun, so they wouldn't notice?
6: Because the editor is incompetent?

Why has Mackenzie been suspended?

1: Because he wrote something offensive?
2: Because the Merseyside police are investigating something that he wrote?
3: Because the Mayor of Liverpool objected to something he wrote?
4: Because of the Sky takeover bid?

Last July, Kelvin MacKenzie managed to insult an entire religion with a few ill-chosen words. More than 800 people complained to Ipso after he criticised Channel 4 for allowing Fatima Manji to appear on screen in a hijab in reporting the terrorist murders in Nice.
Did The Sun or News UK retract? Not a bit of it. The article was cleared as "fair comment" by the regulator's complaints committee, Mackenzie crowed about his victory, and Trevor Kavanagh - who sits on the Ipso board - injudiciously weighed in with another pop at Manji in his Monday column.

Last Friday, MacKenzie managed to insult an entire city with a few ill-chosen words. Hundreds of people complained on Twitter after he likened the Everton footballer Ross Barkley to a gorilla and said that drug dealers were the only people in Liverpool to earn his sort of salary.
This time the Sun's initial bullish response that its columnists were known for their robust opinions was swiftly overtaken by a statement from parent company News UK saying that MacKenzie had been suspended over his "wrong and unfunny column". As in the past, it also noted that the columnist's opinion did not reflect the "view of the paper".

Ross Barkley note

Which brings us to the first question: how did such a piece get into print?
Did no one look at it?
Of course they did. But tinkering with top writers' copy tends to be a dangerous strategy on virtually any title (Giles Coren wrecked a Times sub's career over a two-letter word), and Sun subs are probably inured to MacKenzie's personal offensiveness.
An insider says that the procedure for Mackenzie's golden prose is for it to be sent to both features and news backbenches (features to get it into the paper, news for cross-reference purposes). It is then subbed, revised on the middle bench and lawyered before returning to the backbench for the final revise. The editor sees the column at the beginning and end of this process.

Unlike the attack on Manji, MacKenzie's note was not overtly racist. Could he have been expected to know that Barkley's grandfather was born in Nigeria? Even if he did, he didn't allude to his race at all; he was simply rude about the footballer, questioning his looks and his intelligence. And being rude about people's appearance and intellect is stock in trade for tabloid columnists (take a bow, Sarah Vine). Editors believe that is what sells papers.
Nor was there anything particularly nasty about the page layout, matching two pairs of eyes in line with the start of the piece. (The web version was far more egregious, with picture researchers digging out a photograph of Barkley in "gorilla" pose with a side-splittingly witty "missing link" caption.)

Online version of Mackenzie comment

The real problem was not that he insulted Barkley, but that he insulted the whole of Liverpool. Again.

Can there be anyone on the paper who doesn't understand the problems involved in even straight reporting of the city, let alone the perils of publishing a gratuitous - and demonstrably unjustified - swipe at its people?
Why did no one in the extensive chain of command question it? Well, in spite of all the executive assessment of the material, it is entirely possible that the first person to read the column properly was the sub.  They may have just ticked it up without thinking - if the paper can traduce all Muslims and all migrants with impunity, why not all Liverpudlians?
Or they may have dared to ask someone higher up: "Do we think this is ok?" and been told to get on with it and stop asking awkward questions.

And where in all this was Tony Gallagher? Editors may not read every word in their papers (though Andrew Neil did at the multi-supplemented Sunday Times), but any editor worth his salt makes sure that he sees certain pages: the leader, the splash, the big columns. With a loose cannon like MacKenzie on the staff, Gallagher would be a fool not to keep a close watch on what he was writing, even when on holiday - which he may well have been, given that it's Easter.
(Remember Rebekah Brooks's phone hacking trial testimony about how she kept tabs on what was going in the paper while she was away? Every editor I have ever worked for has been exactly the same. Control freakery is part of the job description.)
So Gallagher was either negligent in not checking on his columnist or incompetent in not recognising that the note was beyond the pale.
Unless he wanted rid of the man occupying a rather splendid top-floor office at the Baby Shard, courtesy of his friend Rebekah, and deliberately allowed him the rope to hang himself. But that would be a dangerous strategy, since whatever any contributor writes, it is the editor's choice - or judgment - whether to publish and, if it comes to it, be damned. It is, after all, the editor, not the reporter, who carries the can when a libellous story appears in print.

Which brings us to the second question: why the suspension and the statement disowning MacKenzie as though no one else had anything to do with publishing the offending article?

The Sun page 2, 15-04-17

The News UK statement, reported on page 2 of the Sun on Saturday, says that the matter will be "fully investigated" when MacKenzie returns from holiday, but what is there to be investigated that requires his return? Imagine the conversation:

"Why did you write such a horrible piece?"
"Because that's what you pay me for."
"But it was really nasty."
"So why did you put it in the paper? Writers write, editors are supposed to edit. I didn't choose that gorilla picture on the website."

News UK knows that the Sun will never be accepted in Liverpool. The suspension and apology will change nothing. A paper that has made clear its scepticism about "race crime" incidents  is unlikely to have been influenced by the mayor's complaint or a police investigation. Brazening it out is always the default position in the face of such challenges.

Except that, just at the moment, it is important for its parent company to be seen as a responsible news organisation. The O'Reilly furore at Fox News in America and Europe questioning Murdoch's suitability to take full control of the TV network he founded are making life quite difficult enough, thank you.
It is hard not to conclude that, just as an entire newspaper and its staff were sacrificed in a doomed attempt to save the Sky takeover after the hacking scandal in 2011, this time it is MacKenzie who is being tossed to the wolves.

Welcome to the post-Truth world, Kelvin.

The Sun's Hillsborough slur

PS: News UK may have suspended MacKenzie, but it still ran a full-page ad for his comparison website in Sunday's paper.

A Spokesman Said advert 16-04-17

A Spokesman Said website
The advertisement in Sunday's paper, left, and the
"about us" page  of the A Spokesman Said website

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Press v Google - or pots v kettles

Google front pages March 2017

You could almost touch the schadenfreude as big-name advertisers walked away from YouTube after finding themselves appearing alongside extremists.
 "At last!" proclaimed a Daily Mail leader hailing the "fightback against web anarchy". Google (which owns YouTube) rightly stood accused of profiting from hatred, it said:

Day after day, the already deeply tarnished reputations of the filth-peddling, tax-dodging terror-abetting internet behemoths sink lower into the mire.
For many years, Google, Facebook and Twitter had wilfully turned a blind eye to poisonous content, it continued. But now the day of reckoning had arrived. The BBC and Whitehall had pulled their ads. And when banks, supermarkets and Marks & Spencer joined the exodus, there was more from Dominic Lawson on the "utter shamelessness of the filth-peddling web giants".

For The Times, which set the ball rolling with an investigation by Alexi Mostrous, this was the "shaming of Google", which should now face up to its responsibilities. The alternative was "an unacceptable role as an accessory to barbarism".

The Mail and the Murdoch stable hate the internet giants because they think they are stealing their revenue and readers. Having had the field to themselves for more than 200 years, newspapers resent the interlopers. Free marketeers all, they just can't stand competition. It's the same as their gripes against the BBC (publicly funded left-wing propaganda - just look at that anti-Brexit Countryfile with the farmer saying he'd go under without migrant fruit pickers) but writ larger.
Essentially, their cry is "It's not fair!"

Murdoch titles dominate the British print media and his Sky channels dominate the satellite television market. The Sun and Times reach 31 million people a month, according to the National Readership Survey, and figures from the British Audience Research Bureau suggest that the Sky channels between them achieved a total audience of about 8 million last week. The Mail is the most successful news website in the world and its print and online offerings now reach 29 million a month. But they want more.

Murdoch not only wants full control of Sky, but he wants the opposition nobbled. Having moved into BT's world of telephones, he started complaining - through his newspapers - that it was anti-competitive for BT to have control of the cabling. And when a deal was reached with Ofcom for Openreach to be hived off as a separate company under the same umbrella, that still wasn't enough. He wants an enforced sale.
The "respectable" argument is that BT is failing to invest enough in improving broadband speeds - a view that SubScribe wholeheartedly endorses - but it's hard not to notice that BT Sport has been outbidding Sky for key football rights.

The fight with Google goes back even further, with Murdoch threatening in 2009 to remove his newspapers' content from the search engine in a row over free access. That was followed in 2014 by News Corp's appeal to the much-derided European Commission for action to combat what it called "a platform for piracy". Then came the furore over tax in January last year. Mostrous, who had been honoured for his work on celebrity tax avoidance in 2015, was again on duty for The Times, showing how little tax Google paid and how the Government had failed to get as much as other European countries out of the company.
It was a legitimate investigation - if a bit rich from a paper whose parent company had previously managed to pay not a penny of UK corporation tax on billions of pounds of income over a period of 11 years.

The Times inside coverage

The latest assault is also a valid inquiry - the speed with which MPs and big businesses responded proves as much - and it has thrown up three distinct strands:
  • the content itself;
  • the algorithms that place advertisements alongside extremist videos;
  • the fact that money generated by the ads goes to the video makers and so funds extremism
One of the biggest beefs of the Mail and the Sun is that the internet is not regulated. British newspapers, they say, are subject to the toughest regulatory system in the world. They invest money in journalism and strive for accuracy, but their very existence is being imperilled by people like Gary Lineker who can reach millions with a tweet that turns out to be misinformed. And don't get them started on fake news. (Well, actually, they’ve already started with the News Media Association’s submission to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry saying there should be a government investigation into Facebook and Google – but “don’t bring in any new rules for us”).

The Mail warmed to that theme in its leader on Saturday, accusing the web giants of ruthlessly invading the privacy of their users by gathering and exploiting personal information, going on: "Meanwhile, endless fake news and blatant libels are spread with impunity around the world."
Impunity? They must have short memories in Kensington, for only days before the Mail Online's own columnist Katie Hopkins had to pay libel damages and costs over a tweet.

Mail Google coverage

For a technophobe who does not use a computer, Mail editor Paul Dacre seems remarkably well-informed about the "vile" material all over the web and its malign effects on society. His newspaper has run hundreds of stories on the subject and appears to be of the opinion that all such material – porn, fanaticism, body-shaming - should be removed. Yes, some of it is execrable, but wouldn’t that be censorship, an attack on free speech?

The advertisers seem more concerned about their good name than about removing content from the web. They don't want to be associated with inappropriate material. If Google cleans up its algorithms, they'll go back.
Then there's the notion that advertisers and their customers (and, in the case of Whitehall and the BBC, the taxpayer) are inadvertently funding hate because a proportion of the fees they pay ends up in the hands of the people producing the page on which their ad appears.
The papers say this adds up to hundreds of thousands of pounds. Google says it is "pennies".
[SubScribe can attest to the fact that Google is not exactly generous in sharing the proceeds of web ads with the page producers, but then again SubScribe does not get millions of views, so please click on an ad or two!]

So the Mail could be said to be in favour of the ad boycott to force the removal of material that spreads hate and fear.

Wait a minute. Funding hate? Ad boycotts? Material that spreads hate and fear? Doesn't all that sound familiar?
For the past eight months a group called Stop Funding Hate has been trying to persuade household names not to advertise with the Mail, Sun and Express while they continue to run so many anti-immigration stories. It chose those three papers because they were called out by the UN for the tone of their coverage. The organisation - which has just raised more than  £100,000 through a crowd-funding appeal to expand its work - argues that it is not good for companies to be associated with such a material, that the newspapers are profiting from spreading hate and fear, and that by advertising with the newspapers, advertisers are effectively using their customers' money to fund those hate messages.
This is what the Mail had to say in a leader about that:

A more malicious threat comes from Left-wing campaigners who seek to blackmail firms into withdrawing advertising from newspapers with which they disagree.
Particular targets are those, like the Mail, which voice public concerns about mass unrestricted immigration and the wanton waste of taxpayers' money on overseas aid, while the elderly and vulnerable suffer at home.
But with fair-minded companies refusing to be bullied by groups such as Stop Funding Hate, this assault on free expression can also be overcome.
Thus far, only Lego and the Body Shop have shown tangible support for the SFH campaign. Most other advertisers, including some that have pulled away from Google, have responded along the lines that they have no say in what appears near their ads.
But their reaction to the Google "scandal" proves that they think they do - or at least that they do not want to be seen next to material that runs counter to their brand image. That is exactly the judgment SFH is asking them to make about the newspapers.

Let’s be clear:
  • It is censorship for campaigners to ask advertisers to influence the mindset - as opposed to the specific content - of newspapers.
  • It is not censorship for the Press to demand that Google removes material from its platforms.
  • It is not censorship for advertisers to seek to influence what appears on Google’s websites.
Come on! That’s obtuse! You know that a radical cleric who has been banned from the country preaching jihad is far more dangerous than a newspaper telling you that migrants take all new jobs - even if the 120pt splash caps heading and story are wrong. One is a threat to Western democracies, the other is an honest mistake made in the rush of getting important information across to readers who need to know. And newspapers own up and correct their errors (months later, in 8pt on page 2 or 32).

Of course it's all a question of scale. There are some really bad people on the web advocating some really nasty stuff. We can see how lives could be put at risk, so it's an easy call for M&S to say it doesn't want to be shown alongside real people with real guns and bombs (as opposed to the ones in Homeland).
It's harder to take a stand against a stream of prejudicial headlines, especially when those headlines are delivering the very Middle England readership it wants to talk to. But there is evidence from a number of respected sources, not simply lobbyists, that lives are being blighted - and possibly endangered - by some of things printed in our newspapers. A lot of blind eyes are being turned.

Richard Wilson, who set up SFH, is encouraged by this week's developments, saying:

We think it's brilliant that there is now a serious discussion about hate speech and about the responsibility of advertisers to acknowledge their role in it. Obviously this is a major concession from the previous position of insisting that any suggestion advertisers should consider these things was an abuse of free speech. Even the Mail now accepts that advertisers do have to think about this and act accordingly.

The Mail would naturally argue that that it does not print "hate speech". But here's a thing.  In listing obviously offensive and extremist videos from "terror groups, neo-Nazis and homophobes", the Mail reported:

An investigation by The Times found that the Home Office, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force all had advertising promotions placed beside video rants from 'shock-jock' Michael Savage, who infamously told one gay caller he should 'get Aids and die'.

The often-offensive Savage Nation podcasts pull no punches, but they come with a health warning of "adult content, adult language and psychological nudity", and they are sufficiently mainstream for the presenter to have been inducted into the radio hall of fame last November.
If it is reasonable for advertisers not to want to be associated with his output, what about the output of a woman (Katie Hopkins) who calls refugees cockroaches or a man (Kelvin MacKenzie) who thinks it's outrageous for a newsreader wearing a hijab to report on a terrorist attack  - both "vindicated" by the toughest newspaper regulator in the world?


In taking the Google story on from the Times's findings, the Mail also reported that Google, Facebook and Twitter had been "branded morally bankrupt for hosting thousands of images showing youngsters how to starve themselves or self-harm". It helpfully reproduced a photograph of a thin young woman. There is a real problem of mental health issues among teenagers and pro-anorexia sites exacerbate it. The Mail has written a fair bit about the tyranny of fashion and size zero models, but it would never do anything to make women worry about their body image, would it? This collection was taken from half - yes half - of yesterday's "sidebar of shame".

And one last thing:

The Mail also reported  concerns about Google's "political clout" and its "cosy relationship" with Whitehall, as evidenced by  figures showing that the company had at least 27 meetings with ministers in the 17 months after the 2015 election. There was also a "revolving door" that had seen at least 26 Whitehall staff hired by Google in the past decade.
Murdoch made a similar point in January last year, when he tweeted that Google was infiltrating Downing Street and the Obama White House.

Those Google meetings included one with David Cameron and another with Theresa May when she was Home Secretary. Over the same time period, executives of  News Corp held 20 meetings with senior government ministers, 18 of them with the Prime Minister, Chancellor or Culture Secretary. Murdoch attended seven. His chief executive, the former Times editor Robert Thomson, was at eight.

Pots and kettles.

SubScribe has analysed coverage of immigration and related issues over 2016. You can read about the front pages here and about the white-top inside pages here.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The Sun piles on the agony for Lizzie Kelly

Last week Lizzie Kelly became the second woman to ride in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Her horse fell at the second fence.
It's the sort of story that would get decent coverage on the back  pages and a sentence or two in the news report of the race. It is, after all, one of those events that transcend the sports section.
The Sun found a better line, however. It could "reveal" that some intimate videos of Kelly had been leaked and had been doing the rounds during the festival.
A reasonable story. Except...
First the heading: "Girl jockey sex vid agony".
There is no evidence that Kelly was agonised. The Sun clearly hadn't spoken to her to gauge any reaction. Instead, it "believed" that she was aware of the leak - which "a source close to the jockey" said had been doing the rounds for a year. Nor could it be sure about her boyfriend: it "understood" that she had set up home with another jockey.
Then there's the photograph. If you want to illustrate a story about a woman apparently distressed by people ogling revealing pictures of herself, of course the best way to do it is to show her naked.
The portrait of Kelly on a horse simulator was taken by The Times's award-winning photographer Marc Aspland as one of a series of carefully posed nudes entitled "My Sporting Body". Other subjects included stars of  rugby, tennis, judo, weightlifting, swimming and golf. They can all be seen, with commentary, on The Times's website here (if you can get behind the paywall), where Aspland explains:  "From rugby players to Isle of Man TT riders, by stripping the athlete of their kit we were able to show how many years of hard work has given them the perfect physique for their sport."
The Sun report mentions the feature, but not the rationale.
We can be pretty sure that neither Kelly nor Aspland intended the photograph to be used as a "come on" to readers who might think that it was a still from a sex video. But, as The Times's sister paper, The Sun presumably didn't need to ask permission to print it.
Shoddy work.

On the same page, the Sun showed its class again with a photograph of a man in a recognisable pose by the wheel of a lorry. Oh those Cheltenham headline writers, such wags.

Friday, 17 March 2017

British Press pays homage to Emperor Dacre

Daily Mail covers itself in glory
The Daily Mail covers itself in glory

It's nice to win prizes. We may say they don't matter, that they're not the reason we do whatever we do, but a bit of recognition is always welcome.
Last Tuesday, The New European was presented with the Chairman's Award at the British Press Awards. Newspapers cannot "enter" this category, the prize is in the gift of the judges and is awarded only when they want to honour something special (though they do manage to find a winner most years).
As an occasional contributor to The New European, I was delighted by their decision - as was my Twitter feed. This, of course, is the Twitter feed of a snowflake Remainer. Those who move in other social media circles will have been less enthused. Michael Gove was among them, tweeting:

Well, for a start, Michael, the Press awards are open only to national newspapers (although the London Evening Standard is also allowed in) and the two publications you mention are periodicals.
And for what reason? Because it was innovative. Because editor Matt Kelly was astonishingly quick off the mark in identifying a potential market, astonishingly quick in getting the first issue on to the news stands, and astonishingly quick in securing the services of far better writers and bigger names than this blogger to move things along.
In a year that had seen the birth and death of The New Day, here was a print success story to celebrate. The Trinity Mirror group, with all its resources, managed to keep its baby alive for only three months. Archant, a far smaller local newspaper group, did not expect its little one to survive for more than a few weeks, yet it's now a strapping seven-month-old showing every sign of reaching at least one birthday. It is very good at what it does.

Matt Kelly
Matt Kelly of The New European

Once Kelly had left the stage with his trophy, having had a pop at Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and a slightly ungracious joke about coming back next year for the Cudlipp "prize we really wanted", it was time for the big one - the "best picture" of the Press industry's Oscars. This is what the judges had to say:

In the seismic year of Brexit, the battle for No.10 and campaigning journalism, the winner had its finger on the pulse of the national conversation. Not only did it shape both the agenda and the narrative, it reflected the temper of a large part of the country in a year of political upheaval. It was a must-read across the political and public spectrum and its strong and provocative voice never wavered.
From crusading reports on press freedom to Brexit, the Sepsis scandal, the madness of drivers using mobile phones, wasteful foreign aid spending, betrayal of Afghan interpreters, the harm caused by ‘plastic poison’ and the battle to end the witch-hunt against British troops, the conviction of this paper’s commentary and campaigning in 2016 was only matched by its energy. It is also never afraid to have a strong opinion.
It is the job of a newspaper to hold power to account and to forensically question and probe those who act in our name.
The decision of the judges was that it dominated the narrative and produced agenda-setting and stand-out coverage in 2016.
The Newspaper of the Year for 2016 is the Daily Mail.

 Dacre was there to collect the award and make a brief acceptance speech commending his "brillliant" journalists and an industry which had "still got a hell of a life in it", before compere Nick Ferrari ordered everyone to the bar.

SubScribe, watching the event on a streaming service, certainly felt in need of a drink. A paper that bends and distorts facts to its will; a paper whose stock in trade is to invite readers to hate or mock people trying to go about their daily lives; a paper so cocksure that it deliberately sets out to make its core readership of middle-class women feel guilty or inadequate. This was what the newspaper industry held to be the shining example of our trade?

Many journalist colleagues, mostly of the broadsheet persuasion, were equally perplexed. As one said:

How the pernicious, mendacious, xenophobic Daily Mail, a publication that produces disgraceful front-page headlines like 'Enemies of the People', won Newspaper of the Year in last night's British Press Awards is quite beyond me.
Others, mostly of the pop persuasion, came back to argue that - unlike most news organisations these days - the Mail invested in journalism, paid people decently, understood its readers, and actually exercised a great deal of rigour in making sure that what it printed was right. As SubScribe has frequently pointed out, accuracy is not the same as truth or balance, but diligence in making sure that you can defend what you say is a start.

Nobody would deny that the Mail is the most polished newspaper to come out of what used to be Fleet Street. It - or rather Dacre - does have the knack of knowing exactly what will strike a chord, which battles to fight, which stories will amuse. From conjuring up imaginative picture spreads out of nothing  to telling the Government what to do, it does everything it does better than anyone else.
Look back at the citation and its list of campaigns. Brexit? The Telegraph, Express and Sun all campaigned every bit as vigorously. Mobile phones? The Sun was there first. Foreign aid? The Times and the Express have been there, done that. Afghan interpreters? Ditto. And so it goes on. But no one campaigns quite like the Mail,  and it certainly achieves results - most notably, in SubScribe's opinion, on charity cold-calling.

Daily Mail 16-03-17

Only this week it was claiming victory - by applauding its readers' contributions to the defence fighting fund - in the battle to get Marine Alexander Blackman's murder conviction overturned. Blackman had, the paper said, been hung out to dry by top brass. It was to be hoped that no other soldier would be charged with murder for a battlefield killing.
Blackman was the first serving soldier to be found guilty of murder on active service after shooting a dying Taleban insurgent. Video footage taken from helmet cameras provided evidence that he knew exactly what he was doing and that he knew it was wrong. He even said: "I've just broke the Geneva Convention."
We can only speculate on how the Mail might have reported the case had the roles been reversed and it been a British soldier on the ground with an Afghani standing over him, gun in hand. What we do know is that when Blackman was first convicted by a court martial, the Mail endorsed the murder charge it later denounced, writing in a leader that nothing excused or justified the sergeant's actions:

The Army - which has such an admirably proud record of treating detainees with humanity and respect - had no option but to bring a prosecution against him for murder.
His conviction yesterday, while deeply saddening, affirms Britain's unyielding commitment to the Geneva Convention - no matter how grievously our soldiers are provoked.

As time goes on, more information comes to light, understanding of the complexities of a situation grows, views may change. It is not, perhaps, unreasonable for the Mail to adjust its stance in such circumstances. The same might be said about its attitude to child refugees - a call for compassion last April to leader column silence on the ending of the Dubs scheme last month. Maybe people were taking advantage, maybe there were better ways to help.

The thing is, though, that while the Mail allows itself to reverse ferret (and is punctilious in admitting as much when its new opinion runs counter to its prevailing argument), anyone else who does so is a hypocrite to be reminded of what they said earlier.

This "one rule for us, another for the rest of the world" attitude is pervasive, but was most sharply in focus during the referendum campaign and its aftermath. The Mail's coverage was relentlessly one-sided - as was its right, as an independent newspaper - but it had a constant eye out in case anyone or any organisation that "ought" to be impartial strayed towards the Remain side of the argument. The BBC, always a target (publicly-funded, unfair competition) was commended for its "surprising balance" - which meant that any time someone said something that might help the Remain cause, someone else had to put forward a Leave counter-argument. Since there were lies told on both sides, this may have been balanced, but it was far from informative.
So it was, too, with the Governor of the Bank of England, the IMF, the CBI, the Treasury, even the head of the NHS: all should have taken a vow of silence while the Mail should be free to say whatever it liked.
Once the battle had been won, it was the "will of the people" - as interpreted by the Daily Mail - that should hold sway over unelected Eurocrats and judges. Oddly, it seems the unelected editor of the Daily Mail and the unelected Prime Minister should also hold sway over elected MPs.
Mail 04-11-16

Freedom of speech is a vital democratic right for a free Press that "holds those in power to account", Freedom of speech for those who hold a different view from the Mail - celebrities with opinions on refugees, in particular - is another matter. They can, of course, say what they like, but they'll be pilloried for it. And if they suffer because trolls and stalkers have been worked up into a lather by intemperate columnists, well, the Mail doesn't condone such behaviour - but nor will it take responsibility for it.

These are the sorts of things that make people dislike the Mail and make some journalists uneasy about the honour bestowed on it last Tuesday.
 About a million and a half people buy the paper every day, ten times as many look at its website. But that leaves some 50 million who don't. The vast majority of those will be ambivalent about the Mail; many thousands actively detest it - but how many of those ever look at it? I don't care for East Enders, but I don't watch it. I've made my decision on the basis of what little I've seen and heard about it. Hardly an informed judgment. The same could be said of the non-reading Mail haters.
The only real evidence we have is those people who do buy the paper and stick with it. Paul Dacre is clearly giving them something they like - or at least tolerate.

So by what measure should we be judging which newspaper is most deserving of prizes? The quality of the journalism? And how would you assess that? By the amount of effort that goes into it? Its readibility? Its relevance to its audience? The impact it makes? Its business model and ethos? Its politics? If papers are free to campaign for justice for poppy sellers, are they not also free to campaign to secure the election of the political party they favour?
We like to say they have a duty to inform, to present facts, but most "facts" are subject to interpretation. There are experts in every field with differing opinions; there is no absolute truth.
Where many of us take issue with the Mail - and also with the Express and Telegraph, though they are not under discussion here - is its ability to play down or even ignore inconvenient facts. But aren't the Guardian and the Mirror just as partisan on issues close to their hearts?
 Interestingly, it seems that the Mail's closest rival for the crown this year was the i - the paper that tries hardest to be impartial, but which just doesn't have the same confident swagger.

Maybe it all comes down to that swagger: to the lesser children in the playground sucking up to the classroom bully. More likely it is simple admiration for someone who has come up with a viable commercial model in a declining industry.
If so, the same could be said for The New European. A hat was tipped to its "brilliant roll call of contributors", but the prize was really for its "unusual success - the counter-intuitive story of a new print launch in a digital age". Like the dog walking on its hind legs, the accolade was not so much for the excellence of its journalism as for the fact that it existed at all.
Those of us who admire The New European and sometimes despair of the Mail would do well to remember that both are partisan, opinionated papers with a direct connection to a dedicated readership.
The Mail is mean and shouty and cruel. It is not a good role model for budding journalists or students of ethics. It is certainly not a good advertisement for responsible, compassionate journalism.
But, yes, after an initial gasp of dismay, SubScribe suspects that by most measures, the Mail probably was THE newspaper of 2016 - rather as it was inescapable that Time would name Trump its person of the year. It virtually governs the country, for heaven's sake.
So as the Emperor Dacre was duly crowned, plenty in the crowd were cheering.
But there are many more of us on the sidelines muttering about his clothes.

Paul  Dacre
Emperor Dacre accepts his due

*Photographs from The Society of Editors

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Press and immigration, part ii: the inside story

 Last September, SubScribe looked at the prevalence and tone of anti-immigration stories produced by Fleet Street, accompanied by a bar chart of front pages. At the time there were 195. By the end of the year, there were 277, with more than half coming from two newspapers – the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.
That original study dealt only with stories relating to immigration and a rash promise was made to update with further analysis. SubScribe has now looked at all of last year’s coverage of immigration, race relations and the treatment of foreigners (with some exceptions, detailed on the right) by those two papers. It was not a happy exercise.
Between them, they printed 1,768 pages that included at least one such story, making an average of more than three per issue for the Mail and two for the Express (which has far fewer news pages). If every page were laid side by side, they would stretch for a third of a mile.
With the exception of Afghan interpreters being denied entry to the UK and some elderly white South African women facing deportation, the coverage was overwhelmingly negative, rising through the spring to a peak just before the referendum (six pages in the Mail, five in the Express on the day before polling). It then fell away sharply, only to rise again when the first child refugees arrived from Calais and the Jungle was dismantled.
The Sun, which came a distant third in the page 1 league with 23, averaged one per issue.
In order to display slideshows of the pages, along with panels and an explanation of methodology, I have decided to publish this research on the mothballed SubScribe website (where you will also find some Brexit material). Please take the time to take a look.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Have your say on the rules that govern the Press

sun june 2016
Does this conform with the code? Should it?

A strictly regulated Press fighting for survival against fake news, unregulated social media and subsidised broadcasters - or a lawless bunch of ne'er-do-wells intent on marking their own homework?
Five years ago some of us became daytime television addicts as Sir Brian Leveson, Robert Jay and a parade of celebrities, politicians, police officers, journalists and newspaper proprietors took us on a giddy tour of how the Press worked - or didn't work. It wasn't my trade's finest hour, but it was gripping to watch.
The inquiry set up in the aftermath of the phone-hacking scandal led to the birth of a new Press regulator - the Independent Press Standards Organisation - and legislation providing for the establishment of alternatives should any come forward and wish to seek state approval. So far, only one has - Impress, which does not enjoy the support of any major publication.
The arguments about self-regulation and independence and state interference have been aired endlessly - most recently last month as a public consultation on the dreaded Section 40 drew to a close. There is little point in going through them again here. The issue is, for now, out of everyone but the Government's hands.
What can be influenced, however, is how the Press regulates itself.
Hacked Off and others unhappy about the way newspapers behave may scoff at Ipso and dismiss it as a sham regulator, but it is what we have. It is the regulator that most newspapers accept and it is there to be used.
And this week people who think the Press should be brought into line have a golden opportunity. For they can not only complain when the rules are broken, they can help to rewrite the rule book.
Should there be tougher rules to stop the spread of hate? Is it fair for a tearful boy to have his face on the front of our best-selling paper just because his dad is famous? If Wayne Rooney doesn't want to antagonise papers, should others be able to complain on his behalf or is that the way of censorship, of preventing people reading material of interest just because you don't like it?
This is the moment not to mutter in your beer, but to make your voice heard. For the Editors' Code, which governs the way newspapers behave, the rules they are supposed to abide and by which they -- and complaints against them - are judged, is being reviewed and members of the public have until Friday, March 3, to say if and how they think it should be changed. Paul Dacre, the Mail editor who oversaw the existing version, has gone; it's the start of a new era.
Outside of that process, people have another weapon if they think the Press is misbehaving: they can complain. And complain. And complain.
But why should we have to keep complaining? Why can't papers just behave responsibly?
A teenager knows he shouldn't pinch money from his mum's purse, but when he needs another 50p for his bus fare and she's not there to ask, where's the harm? He'll pay it back when he can. And then it's a pound, and a fiver. Until she clamps down on him. So it is with papers. They will do what they can get away with, whether it's stretching the rules to tell people what they really need to know or just to sell papers. But the rules are there. And if we, the public, aren't prepared to enforce them, we shouldn't be surprised if they get flouted more often and more outrageously.
Papers that have signed up to be regulated by Ipso have entered into a contract; they cannot just walk away if the regulator is nasty to them. Some are already regretting having joined the club, and critics who think the watchdog is toothless might  be surprised to know how seriously papers take the complaints procedure.
They might also be surprised about the efforts newspapers make to ensure that stories are accurate - yes, they may be selected to fit an agenda or a marketing strategy, but they still need to be true. And if you doubt that, look back to the phone-hacking trial transcripts. Methods used were despicable, but they were despicable in the pursuit of accuracy: the killer newsdesk question was always: "Are you sure it's true?" (Not necessarily the truth, which is a completely different thing.)

Disillusion with Ipso tends to be focused on three things:

  • it is financed by the newspapers (Leveson said that they should fund the regulator and the then Culture Secretary Maria Miller was at great pains to emphasise throughout the post-Leveson parliamentary debates that the Press should be self-regulating); 
  •  the failure to require corrections to be given the same prominence as the offending report - this was cited by more than half of respondents to SubScribe's "have papers become nastier?" survey;
  • the fact that complaints about articles like Katie Hopkins's egregious "cockroaches" column are being rejected.

Regarding prominence of corrections, Ipso has now made 15 adjudications requiring papers to signpost their failings on the front page - two in a week  in the case of the Express - and it has the power to determine the wording and positioning of such corrections. As Niall Duffy, the director of external affairs says, it's a question of picking the right moment to "go nuclear".
But we can be pretty sure that it will happen: there has been a marked increase in rigour. That tougher line can be traced to the assiduous complaining of InFacts during the referendum campaign and since and by Miqdaad Versi of the Muslim Council over the past three months.
Complaining works - and is encouraged by Duffy and Moses. We, the readers, just need to be prepared to make the effort to do it. And the more we do, the more Ipso will be able to identify any patterns of offending and take further action.
As to the cockroaches, Clause 12 of the editors' code deals only with discrimination against individuals - and only the individual offended can submit a complaint. Ipso received a record number of complaints about that article; had one been from a refugee who had reached safety after their ordeal in the Med, it might have been upheld.
If this sounds bonkers to you, you are not alone. If this clause of the code were changed to allow groups to claim discrimination and for uninterested parties to be allowed to make complaints on behalf of others, the outcome might have been different.
Newspapers do a great deal that is good and rather too much that is bad. A revised code might tilt the balance further towards the former.
Or it may not. But be sure of one thing: Impress is not a magic bullet that will cure a recidivist Press of its bad habits. Forget the fact that it has no one of import to oversee, the key point is that its draft code of conduct is virtually identical to that used by Ipso. So the same rules would apply, the same defences would be offered - and succeed.
The question of arbitration and state involvement (yes, even at a clown arm's length and with as many locks as you can think of) are part of a different argument. This is not about some dreamland that is never going to become a reality, it is about making the best use of the system that is in place.
Make sure your voice is heard.

*Submissions for the consultation on the Editors’ Code can be sent via the  website, by email to or by post to Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, c/o News Media Association, 292 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 1AE.

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Mail and the Dubs refugees: Day 2

More interesting coverage from the Daily Mail this morning of the Government's decision to end the Dubs scheme to give refugee orphans the chance of a new life in Britain.
This was the scheme trumpeted by the paper in a front-page splash as a "Victory for compassion" - and by extension the Mail - when it was approved last May.
Yesterday the paper reported the scrapping of the policy at the foot of page 6. Today it moves up the agenda to make the page 6 lead, focusing on the Archbishop of Canterbury's "highly political intervention". The piece is illustrated with photographs of three of the refugees who arrived last autumn, which notes in the caption that they were "said to be between 14 and 17". The inference is obvious.
The coverage is intriguing because the Mail usually makes it quite clear to readers what they should think. This story is almost perfectly balanced.
It again talks about refugees living in "squalid and dangerous" conditions and about  a "chorus of protest" and a "furious backlash" over the decision. It gives more slightly more space to the criticisms than to the defence and, while angry Tory MPs make an early appearance,  Theresa May insisting that the Government is "absolutely right" doesn't get a look in until four pars from the end.
In promoting and then celebrating the acceptance of the Dubs scheme last year, the Mail pointed out that it would be open only to children who had been in Europe since the previous March - and so should not act as an incentive for people traffickers. It also said that Whitehall would be financing the scheme - possibly using some of the foreign aid budget.
Yesterday Amber Rudd told the Commons that the scheme was dangerous because it acted as a "pull" for traffickers, and councils were reported not to be able to afford to look after the children. The Mail, which has a master's degree in reminding people what was said in the past, does not pick up on either point. And there is no leader.
If it still believed in the scheme, you'd expect the Mail to be shouting "betrayal". It isn't.
If it believed the Government was right, the Mail would put May at the top of the story and run a leader saying "We tried, we were taken advantage of, it's right to stop". It didn't.
The Mail sitting on the fence? Unheard of - especially on a topic it has claimed as its own.
So is it embarrassed about that uncharacteristic burst of compassion?
Or so in love with Mrs May that it doesn't want to embarrass her?

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Mail and the Dubs refugee children

Mail "foreigner" splashes 2016

The question of foreigners - immigrants, refugees, asylum-seekers, hospital patients, murderers, rapists, mobile phone-using lorry drivers - coming to Britain is of abiding concern to the Daily Mail. It was deemed the most important issue of the day 56 times last year, accounting for 18% of the paper's lead stories.
It is probably fair to say that the Mail did not regard these arrivals (or potential arrivals) as a good thing.
But in the sea of hostile headings, one stood out.
On May 5, the Mail hailed a "victory for compassion". Three thousand lone children were to be allowed into the country and to stay here for up to five years, after which their cases would be reassessed.
The previous week David Cameron had reiterated his refusal to admit refugee children who had no family here, and a Commons attempt by Yvette Cooper to force his hand had failed by 18 votes.

Mail splash and leader 28-01-16
The Mail splash and leader, January 28, 2016

The Prime Minister had first set out his objections exactly three months before. The Mail splashed on the story and ran an editorial praising his “brave and difficult and humane decision”. The leader predicted that Cameron’s enemies would have a field day, but that he was wise to stick to his existing policy.

Daily Mail 28-04-16
Daily Mail, April 28, 2016

The Mail, however, turned out not have the Prime Minister’s willpower. After the narrow Commons vote, it took a deep breath and published a full-page leader. It denounced Cooper's "intemperate attack"; it attacked the paper's "sneering critics, parading their right-on consciences while enjoying the benefits of cheap nannies and plumbers"; it attacked the "bien pensant liberal elite, cocooned in their prosperous postal districts"; it attacked Angela Merkel, whose refugee policy had "left her with blood on her hands".
Cameron, it said, had "nothing whatever to be ashamed of".

BUT...he was wrong on this. Emphasising at every turn how the UK had "no duty to these children, however wretched or desperate they may be", the Mail decreed that he should let the children into "these overcrowded islands".

While we understand the the arguments for hardening our hearts, we believe that in the exceptional circumstances of the crisis it would be wrong to do so. True, we have no legal or treaty obligation to lift a finger to help. But our moral and humanitarian duty cannot so easily be shrugged off.

Influenced by the Mail leader - or by the prospect of a Tory rebellion (this was just six weeks before the EU referendum, on which he was already battling against half his party) - Cameron retreated and gave his backing to Lord Dubs's proposals that would allow up to 3,000 children who had already reached Europe to come to Britain.

Daily Mail 05-05-16
Daily Mail, May 5, 2016

And so, on May 5, the Mail splashed on the change of heart - making quite clear in the overline and the second sentence its own importance in driving the new policy.

Up to 3,000 children stuck in squalid and dangerous EU refugee camps will be given a new life in Britain. Just days after the Mail called for David Cameron to show compassion, he dropped his opposition to the offer of sanctuary yesterday.

Further down the story, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron says: "Today's result would not have happened without the Daily Mail and its readers."

A leader also played up the paper's part in the about-turn, starting: "When the Mail called on the Government...." and continuing: "Common decency demands that we help them and it was for this reason alone that we urged the Government to act."
To complete the package, Robert Hardman had been despatched to Calais to tell the story of 12-year-old orphan Zyrat and why a civilised Britain should take in children like him.

Well done, that paper.

Details of how the scheme would work were understandably sketchy at this stage, but the suggestion was that local councils would be in charge of the practicalities and that Whitehall would pick up the bill. Some of the foreign aid budget (another of the Mail's abiding concerns) could be used for the purpose.
It shouldn't be too difficult, the Mail leader said: "Given that we currently have annual net migration into Britain of 330,000, it should not be a huge burden." As it had reported the previous week, Sarah Brown had written on Mumsnet that 3,000 children amounted to just five per constituency - nowhere near the 10,000 (including Lord Dubs) that Britain had saved through Kindertransport before the Second World War.

Daily Mail Oct 19 and 20, 2016
Daily Mail, October 19 and 20, 2016

The children finally started arriving in the autumn and they turned out not to be the smudge-faced little moppets in raggedy dresses the Press had been hoping for. Some looked over 18. Rather than open our arms to them, some suggested that we open their mouths to subject them to dental tests to find out how old they really were. In the Mail, Sue Reid asked: "Yes, we must show pity, but is it being abused?" The next day the paper went for an approach even more scientific than dentistry: it scanned photographs of the incomers using a "fun" computer app called "How old do I look?" and concluded that one of the refugees was 38.
In the scramble to get refugees out as the Calais Jungle was being dismantled, a handful of older people may well have struck lucky, but there has been no definitive reporting of the ages of the overwhelming majority of the few hundred children who finally made it here.

Now the door has been shut, with the final tally of children accepted in Britain likely to be about 350 of the 3,000 who were originally promised a new start.
Immigration minister Robert Goodwill announced yesterday that councils had told the Government that they could cope with only 400 children to the end of the financial year - and 50 of those were coming under a different scheme.
Tim Farron, who had commended the Mail's role in securing the promise last year, described the decision as "a betrayal of vulnerable children and a betrayal of British values".

"Betrayal" is one of the favourite words in the Mail's lexicon and you couldn't blame the paper if it felt that it, as well as the children, had been betrayed by yesterday's decision.
It would surely be asking questions today. Questions like what happened to the government giving the councils the money and support they needed to help these children? Or asking why, if there are resources only to the end of this financial year - which ends in a few weeks - the programme couldn't resume in April?
Remember we're talking about five children per constituency - or about 32 per council with social services responsibilities.
Remember, too, that only last month the Mail published another full-page leader. This time about the importance to a democracy of a free press that was able to call those in power to account.
So it did that today?

No. It gave the story  318 words at the foot of page 6.

Mail 9-02-17
Daily Mail, February 9, 2017
Rather more space (albeit further back) was found for a double-page hatchet job on Gary Lineker, who not only dared to speak up for the refugees on Twitter when their ages were being called into question, but also had the temerity to upstage Theresa May by being accorded a Saturday Profile in the New York Times on the day it virtually ignored the Prime Minister's "historic" meeting with Donald Trump.

Ironically, the Lineker tweets that so enraged the Mail – and The Sun before it – called for compassion for the very refugees whose arrival was the result of the Mail’s “victory for compassion”.
But this was the wrong sort of compassion. It wasn’t Paul Dacre-endorsed compassion; it was Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband-endorsed compassion.
Lineker’s punishment was a quick trawl through Companies House that showed he had invested in a perfectly legal tax avoidance vehicle (which had been previously reported elsewhere) followed by 2,600 words of bile and speculation that included one rather galling fact: that he has 5.5 million Twitter followers, rather more than the Daily Mail has readers.
Mail Lineker spread
Daily Mail February 9, 2017

The politicos and their news bunny friends have moved on. In the summer there are boats full of refugees capsizing in the Mediterranean, most people are moved by their plight.
But this is winter. The boats aren't putting to sea at the moment. Hospitals are, however, full to bursting and the spotlight is falling on "bed blocking" because the social care system is unable cope with people who are fit to leave hospital but not well enough to look after themselves.

And so the refugee children must stay in their "squalid and dangerous camps".
Five per constituency were just too many.

Friday, 3 February 2017

Have newspapers got nastier?

We've always been below the salt, required to use the tradesmen's entrance. Journalists are proud to see their work as a trade rather than a profession. But people don't trust us. Survey after survey tells us that we are ranked down with estate agents and politicians in public esteem, while doctors and teachers soar away at the top.
Actually, nearly all of us work pretty hard at what we do and with the best of intentions. Few of us achieve the kudos that comes with being a war correspondent or a renowned investigative journalist, but from local paper to national broadcaster, thousands do their best to tell people what those in power are up to.
It's a matter of great regret that this blog has so frequently found itself returning to the ugly side of our industry, to biased and prejudicial reporting - particularly of immigration. It used to be a pleasure to open the papers in the morning, now it is a painful duty. There is so much shoutiness, so many of them seem so angry about everything.
Is this new? Or was the nastiness always there? Am I noticing it now because it has got worse or because I was blind when I was swept up in the wonderful busy-ness of helping to put together a newspaper night after night?
If it has got worse, why? Because we live in a less deferential society? Because Twitter and BTL comments have made aggressive language acceptable, even the norm, in the public conversation? Because there is more to be nasty about?
And when did it start? With Thatcher? Earlier than that? After Leveson? Or later than that?
And, finally, does it matter? What is the impact on society - and journalism - of an aggressive Press. Does it help to "hold the powerful to account"? Or does it foster divisiveness? Does anger sell papers - or is it a factor in declining circulations?
SubScribe would love to know what you think. I know those pop-up "we'd love to get your feedback" surveys are a pain in the neck, but please, on this occasion, could you take a few minutes to share your thoughts on this short  questionnaire. Thank you.

  Create your own user feedback survey

Friday, 6 January 2017

Section 40, Press freedom and the rival regulators

Section 40 in the press

Newspaper readers have been bombarded this week with dire warnings about how the Government, the Left, a gaggle of press-hating fanatics, celebs and vindictive tycoons want to censor what they read. Reporters, leader writers and columnists on both national and local titles have been called to arms to hammer home the argument.
Their articles take a similar approach: "This is really boring and you may not think it matters, but it's important for YOU." So important that the Metro published its first leader in 17 years to make the case.
Meanwhile on social media and in the blogosphere there has been a similar flurry of activity, denouncing the lawless, lying Press and its scare-mongering.
Newspapers say they face the toughest regulation in the world, critics that our Press is one of the least trusted in the world.

What has got everyone hot under the collar? Press regulation.

But didn't we go through all this a few months back? Yes.

Last October a putative regulator called Impress gained recognition under the Royal Charter set up after Leveson. That raised the prospect of implementation of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act -  which could not apply until there was an approved regulator - and the first bout of "beware the enemies of Press freedom" editorials.
Rather than enforce Section 40 (details soon), Culture Secretary Karen Bradley announced a public consultation on the subject and on whether the second part of the Leveson inquiry - looking into the relationship between the Press and the police - should go ahead. That consultation period ends on Tuesday, hence the latest clamour.

Rather like the EU referendum campaign (there are other similarities, not least David Cameron opening a can of worms to help him wriggle out of a sticky situation), the arguments put forward  are partisan and incomplete. Both sides of the debate claim that their preferred regulator is independent and that the rival one is beholden to a vested interest. Both sides have published opinion polls that apparently show public support for their case. One side says the freedom of the Press is in danger, the other that it is being protected. The newspapers have bandied Max Mosley's name around a lot, although he is actually a red herring.
SubScribe has written about regulation on several occasions, most frequently in 2013 in the aftermath of Leveson, when the whole Royal Charter debate started. Looking back at the posts, I would change a few things - not least some of the language - but today I want to try to set out the background and examine some of the claims and counter-claims. As all our columnists say, it's likely to be tough going for the reader, but I hope it will be worth it.


Sir Brian Leveson's inquiry concluded that a new system of "independent self-regulation" was required for the Press that would protect the interests of the public and govern the industry. Since newspaper misconduct had been the subject of seven official inquiries in as many decades, Leveson felt that legislation was needed to underpin the establishment of  the new body (or bodies).
It was not, he said, for the Government or Parliament to set up such a body; that should be down to the Press. The new regulator should operate independently of government and of the newspapers it oversaw and have no influence in the publication or suppression of anything other than corrections. Parliament's role would be to accept a duty to protect the freedom of the Press and  to establish a process by which the new body would be officially recognised.
The report went on to list 47 recommendations on the form and function of the new regulator.

The Royal Charter

Parliament accepted most of Leveson's recommendations and decided to create a Royal Charter to establish a Press Recognition Panel, which would determine whether any regulator that came forward complied with the Leveson criteria. The shape of the Royal Charter was agreed by the three main party leaders and put to representatives of the lobby group Hacked Off in an early-hours meeting in Westminster. No representatives of the newspaper industry were in attendance.
The industry meanwhile dismantled the discredited Press Complaints Commission and established the Independent Press Standards Organisation, under the chairmanship of the former Appeal Court judge Sir Alan Moses. Most national and local newspapers, with the exception of the Guardian, i and Financial Times, have signed up to be regulated by Ipso. It has not sought recognition under the Royal Charter.
A second regulator, Impress, was set up independently of the industry with £3.8m of financial backing from Max Mosley plus crowd-funded donations, including contributions from JK Rowling and David Sainsbury. Up to 50 (reported numbers vary) mostly local organisations have signed up to be regulated by Impress and it was given official recognition in October.

The Royal Charter was brought into being through two acts of Parliament, one of them the Crime and Courts Act 2013. It is this law whose Section 40 is the subject of the current angst. This seeks to encourage newspapers to sign up to a recognised regulator by offering a level of protection against vexatious litigation, while also making redress more accessible for people without deep pockets who have been wronged by the Press.
In order to achieve recognition, a regulator has to offer people with legal complaints (such as libel or invasion of privacy) against a newspaper an affordable arbitration service to avoid racking up expensive court costs. Under Section 40, any complainant  - or newspaper - who insists on going to court when they could have used arbitration must expect to foot the entire legal bill, regardless of the outcome.

The rival regulators

Leveson provided a template for how a regulator's board should be appointed, who should be qualified to serve, how it should conduct itself and so forth.
He suggested the chairman and board should be appointed by panel with a substantial majority of members of people "demonstrably" independent of the Press, at least one person with a current understanding/experience of the Press, and no more than one serving editor.
The board itself should also have a majority of people independent of the Press, a "sufficient" number of people with experience of the industry, including former editors, senior or academic journalists, but no serving editors or MPs.

The Ipso board has 12 members. Five, including the chairman Sir Alan Moses, have no discernible connection with the Press, two others are mostly involved with television, three are former newspaper editors, one is a serving magazine editor and one a national newspaper executive.
Its 12-strong complaints committee comprises eight journalists, a solicitor, two with knowledge of dealing with disputes involving the NHS or financial services, and Sir Alan.

The Impress board has eight members under the chairmanship of Walter Merricks, a former financial services ombudsman. Three are journalists, though none now works for a newspaper, another is the chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, one an insurer and two practise media law.

In the sticks-and-stones world, those who deride Ipso point to the fact that Trevor Kavanagh of the Sun serves on its board, while those mocking Impress point their fingers at Martin Hickman, the former Independent journalist who co-wrote Dial M for Murdoch about the death of a private investigator linked to the News of the World.
Ipso is criticised for having "too many" journalists on board, Impress for having too few.

Newspapers knocking Impress also make great play of its financial dependence on Mosley, who won a libel action against the News of the World after it accused him of involvement in a "sick Nazi orgy" with five prostitutes. The court ruled that there was no Nazi element to the goings-on.
Critics of Ipso say it cannot be independent because it is funded by the newspapers it regulates. It was, however, Leveson's expectation that the Press should finance its own regulation and Impress hopes that fees paid by papers that sign up will eventually fund its operations.

Both organisations insist that their boards operate entirely independently of the bodies that finance them. Mosley's money is funneled through a charitable trust and cannot be withdrawn other than in exceptional circumstances - such as Impress going bankrupt. Ipso's money comes through a funding company whose board is entirely made up of industry representatives. It says that its independence is guaranteed because of the lay majority on its board.

Supporters of Impress cite a YouGov poll commissioned by Hacked Off showing that 73% of people believe that newspapers should be regulated by a body independent of government and publishers, with only 3% supporting a regulator set up by publishers. Newspapers counter with another YouGov poll, this time commissioned by the News Media Association, showing that 49% of respondents thought the Press should finance their own regulation with only 4% thinking wealthy individuals should foot the bill. Given the phrasing of the questions, both sets of responses were entirely predictable - as was the fact that each camp accused the other of misinterpreting the results.
One "external" assessment of Ipso says it's doing an OK job, another that it's a disaster.

Both regulators offer a "low-cost arbitration"service, although Ipso's is only a 12-month pilot project. The Impress system, which uses a firm of commercial arbitrators, is free for complainants. The website says that an administration fee is payable, but complaints chief Brigit Morris told SubScribe that plans to charge £75 had been abandoned at least for the time being. Ipso charges £300 plus VAT for basic arbitration and if the complainant wants a further ruling, they have to pay a maximum of £2,800 plus VAT. Both expect the publisher to pay the cost of the arbitrator and for each side to pay their own legal fees. Both discourage the incursion of such fees, emphasising that the intention is to create a lawyer-free zone.

The consultation

The Government is asking people whether Section 40 should be implemented, repealed, put on hold or implemented in part - allowing papers signed up to Impress to benefit from the costs protection without penalising those outside the regime. Responses are invited in the form of a questionnaire and Private Eye has helpfully tweeted the link, which is reproduced here.
Campaigners have been even more helpful. Hacked Off has produced a template response, which you can see here, and also published a critique of a rival template published on a site called
Hacked Off notes, correctly, that the template is the only content on the freethepress site and that it gives no details of members of supporters. Yet the group asserts that it was set up by "the Trotskyists-turned-libertarians of Spiked magazine" and "appears to be financed by the newspapers". It may mean the hashtag Twitter campaign and possibly material on the News Media Association site, but that's not what it says.

Section 40 on Twitter

What does SubScribe think?

Ipso got off to a promising start, but seems to have stalled. It needs to make sure it is Leveson-compliant, fine-tune its arbitration service and generally shape up so that it can secure at least the support of the unregulated Guardian, FT and i. The failure to do that speaks volumes.

It also needs to be more pro-active in initiating investigations; it was too slow off the mark during the EU referendum campaign where newspapers knew that they could write whatever they liked and that there would be no time for them to be forced into correcting misleading material before the vote. It should be more robust in enforcing the Editors' Code provisions for separating news reporting and comment and be bolder in demanding prominent corrections - it is unfathomable that it is still seen as acceptable to publish a lie in 120pt on page one and a correction in 8pt on page 2.

There are signs of hope in that Paul Dacre has at last stood down as chairman of the Code committee (of course, levels of joy about that depend on who replaces him) and that Moses has shown a willingness to engage with groups of people who want to discuss various issues with him. That hope is, however, dampened by an interview with the FT in which he said that much of what he saw in the papers -about immigration in particular - dismayed him, but that he was not in a position to do much about it.

Faith in Ipso was certainly dented with the rulings on Katie Hopkins's "cockroaches" piece and Kelvin MacKenzie's tasteless remarks about the newsreader Fatima Manji. Tony Gallagher's defiance after being forced into a correction on the Queen and Brexit and Trevor Kavanagh's crowing over the Manji ruling did not help.

The question is, would another regulator have ruled against Hopkins or MacKenzie? Obnoxious as their words were, they were expressing personal opinions and we have no right not to be offended. SubScribe readers will know that this blog finds much coverage of migration offensive and disproportionate, but where it is true, readers are the only people who can stop it - by not buying. No regulator can dictate news values or impose punishments because they think an article is in bad taste.

As to Impress, it never had a chance of attracting the support of any significant newspaper. Mosley's involvement is an irrelevance - a bit of colour for the Littlejohns and Liddles, an opportunity for the Sun to give us all a laugh with a leader saying we can't entrust our free Press to a vindictive tycoon. (Of course it wasn't irony fail, as Twitter chortled. It could only have been deliberate.)

As Sun editor Tony Gallagher said in his interview on Radio 4's Today programme this week: "No newspaper worth its salt will sign up." Not because of Mosley, but because newspapers are resolute about having no truck with any State-approved regulator, no matter how many checks, balances, promises and pledges are made about political interference. Impress could have been set up by the Angel Gabriel, financed by the most benign benefactor and staffed by legendary journalists and the greatest brains of the age. The answer would still have been No.

[Incidentally, Gallagher was given a rough ride for asserting in his Today interview that Leveson had cost £50m. It didn't. It cost about £5m, and Sarah Montague put him right. The inquiry, the police investigations and the court cases cost £43m - but none of those would have happened if Gallagher's sister paper hadn't broken the law and his employers handed over masses of material betraying staff and sources alike. That apart, it was game of him to agree to appear at all; tabloid editors do not generally submit to interview.]

And so to Section 40.  Leveson recognised  that newspapers would need to be cajoled into accepting a regulator approved by the State, so he suggested introducing a penalty for unregulated papers that ended up in court rather than use a cheap arbitration service. His idea was that they should not have their own costs reimbursed by the litigant, even if they won:

The normal rule is that the loser pays the legal costs incurred by the winner but costs recovered are never all the costs incurred and litigation is expensive not only for the loser but frequently for the winner as well. If, by declining to be a part of a regulatory system, a publisher has deprived a claimant of access to a quick, fair, low cost arbitration of the type I have proposed, the Civil Procedure Rules (governing civil litigation) could permit the court to deprive that publisher of its costs of litigation in privacy, defamation and other media cases, even if it had been successful. After all, its success could have been achieved far more cheaply for everyone. 

If MPs had followed that advice, we might not be in the middle of this furore. But they took it a stage further and decided that, win or lose, whichever party had shunned arbitration should pay both sets of costs.  Section 40 states (on page 45 of this link): 

If the defendant was not a member of an approved regulator at the time when the claim was commenced (but would have been able to be a member at that time and it would have been reasonable in the circumstances for the defendant to have been a member at that time), the court must award costs against the defendant unless satisfied that (a) the issues raised by the claim could not have been resolved by using an arbitration scheme of the approved regulator (had the defendant been a member), or (b) it is just and equitable in all the circumstances of the case to make a different award of costs or make no award of costs.

[The Act's previous paragraph makes the same provision in reverse for claimants who could have used an arbitration service, in an apparent attempt to offer a carrot as well as a stick to newspapers to sign up.]

The potential for abuse is obvious. Anyone could attempt to deflect any investigation of their activities by threatening to sue, knowing that they could hire the costliest lawyers in the land and not have to pay the bill. A provision that was supposed to encourage compliance with a regulatory regime and provide cheap redress for ordinary people was turned into a potential weapon for the wealthy, powerful, corrupt and criminal.
Newspapers that don't want to be regulated by anyone authorised by the State - let alone Max Mosley and Hacked Off - felt that they were being blackmailed into submission.
The language may be melodramatic, hysterical even. If you want to see threats to Press freedom, look at Turkey, at Egypt. Read the Committee to Protect Journalists or Reporters Sans Frontieres websites. To say, as many papers do, that Britain has the toughest system of Press regulation in the world is patent nonsense. Yes, Ipso has the power to fine miscreants up to £1 million, but I am not aware of any financial penalty being imposed on any publication (I may be wrong).

Had MPs enacted the Leveson recommendation, newspapers would still have squealed, but their case would have been weaker. They might lose money defending a winning case, but at least they would be in a position to make a decision about how much they were willing to risk in the fight. If they have to pay the other side's legal bill as well, there is no knowing where it could end.
As it stands, Section 40 offends natural justice, and it is this fact that adds power - and some public sympathy - to their argument.

SubScribe suspects that courts would recognise that, and that judges would reject the costs directive in favour of the (b) provision that it would not be just or equitable. But the very existence of Section 40 would leave papers vulnerable and local journalists, in particular, could be scared off tricky investigations. The protection against vexatious litigants wouldn't be enough to overcome the risk of bankruptcy if a case ended up in court.

So just sign up? Well here the Mosley factor comes back into play. Even if papers put aside their qualms about state-backed regulation, most would balk at being regulated by an organisation funded by Mosley and supported by Hacked Off - although the NUJ does support Impress.

What if Ipso applied for recognition? That would be the simplest solution. It would need to beef up its act - which it ought to do anyway - but that aversion to being tied to anything with any State involvement is still insurmountable.

Where next then? SubScribe's instinct is that Bradley will introduce the costs incentives for Impress publications without the penalties for the rest. To repeal Section 40 would show bad faith to victims of the excesses of the Press - and invite still worse behaviour from the worst of the newspapers.
There might be some value in leaving it on the books and offering abolition as a carrot if an unrecognised Ipso can demonstrate its independence and the effectiveness of its arbitration system.
But to enforce it and antagonise Murdoch and Dacre when Theresa May's Government needs all the help it can get in this pre-Brexit world? She'd be bonkers.

And isn't that where we came in - disquiet over newspapers' political influence and journalists' cosiness with politicians?

Further reading:

On SubScribe:


Tim Fenton, Zelo Street: Littlejohn lies for his supper
Tim Fenton, Zelo Street: Free speech campaigners busted
The Spectator, Tanya Gold: If you want more Katie Hopkins, campaigning for press regulation is the way to go
Hacked Off, Brian Cathcart: Four-part response to the consultation
David Higgerson: local papers will die if those who claim to champion a free press get their way
The Press Recognition Panel letter to Bradley

Newspapers all over the country: a comprehensive set of links to articles published since the consultation started can be seen on the Press Gazette website (there are a lot expressing the same view)

If you have read something that deserves to be added to this list, please comment and add the link, thank you.