Posts tagged ‘Holyrood’

May 18, 2018

Press Freedom, Fake News, the Herald and me

Press Freedom and propaganda

ipso herald breach
Press freedom is an interesting concept. Does it mean freedom for newspapers to write what they choose knowing there will be few or no repercussions even when downright lies are told? We are encouraged to think of press freedom as the ability to investigate and shine a light on corruption at the heart of the establishment – isn’t that worth defending? Of course it is.

In the week a dramatised account of the seamy episode in the ‘illustrious’ career of Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe is to be televised nothing could be a better reminder than the cosy alliance that too often exists between the press and powerful individuals who make bargains to keep their murkier activities between friends.

Once again press freedom is high up on the political agenda – some demanding more regulation while others demand less. Whatever the outcome surely nothing will stop the steady drift away from people buying a daily newspaper when there are alternative sources of news available. But! but! scream the journos we are the guardians of the truth in a social media world drowning in fake news.

“I fabricated stories about drug dealers, neo-Nazis, people who were selling guns, people who were selling fake documents.” Graham Johnson (New of the World journalist) May 2012

The Mail, the Telegraph, the Express in 2016 were reported to IPSO for publishing fake stories over Brexit – well, there were plenty of those around. Most of these were scare stories about immigrants, threat of Isil, invasion by terrorists if UK stays in the EU, crime soaring because of foreigners. You get the picture. We got the picture. The slim vote for Brexit proved it.

This was not fake news. The traditional press doesn’t do fake news. It makes mistakes and corrects them in small print, never headlines, always a corner of an inside page that is forever where corrections are buried. And smirks.

Defamation scream journos called out for their absurd prejudices packaged as the sword of truth. The print medium is never nasty, never petty, never offensive – “Up Yours Delors” and a two-fingered gesture to the “French fool” (1990, the Sun) was made in the best possible taste.

There’s nothing like the whiff of xenophobia to accompany your toast and coffee in the morning and there’s always been plenty of that in Britain’s dailies. Germany turning the Europe into a “Fourth Reich” snarled the Daily Mail, measured as always in 2011. Back in 1914 the same newspaper (propaganda weapon) produced hysterical references to the despised Germans to drum up support for war. None of it fake. Oh, no. Means to an end.

The notorious Zinoviev letter – way too far back for today’s journos to know about – was a fiction – a letter said to have been written by Grigory Zinoviev, part of the Soviet Union government, to Britain’s communist party, implicating the Labour Party in dangerous revolutionary politics fair alarmed voters and led to a huge Conservative victory in the impending general election. 

Scare tactics work. Newspapers and TV and radio know that. We saw how scare tactics were used with great success during the Scottish independence referendum and again in the Brexit referendum. Tell a lie, make sure it’s a big ‘un and keep on telling it. People will swallow it hook, line and sinker. Big lies, fake news – same difference – one of the successful methods used by the Nazis. It works.

Hysteria over fake news in social media is simply a case of the pot calling the kettle black and déjà vu all over again, and again.

Despite the dramatic fall in readership the printed press is everywhere on our high streets and in our village shops – headlines provide a narrative of events and issues we are expected to care about. Headlines define the scandal/problem/celebration/disaster. Headlines and the sub-heading that lots of readers won’t get past explain the story in a nutshell. The reader who cares to read further into an article will often discover, however, that the headline and sub-heading have been misleading at best and downright lies at worst.

In times of yore (years of reader exploitation) newspapers could print any nonsense then field a few letters to the editor from irate of Gairloch or whoever, pick and choose whose letters would get published and close down the correspondence when it got too boring/ too close to home. Social media such as Twitter and Facebook changed that. What’s the point of writing to a newspaper editor in the slim hope she/he will print it so the world can gain from your unique insights when you can editorialise in your own head and instantly post your opinions to an eager/indifferent readership right around the world, not just in Gairloch, on your favourite social media site?

You can also report dodgy newspaper articles to the press standards bodies: IMPRESS and IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation.) That involves dedication, time and persistence because any complaint against an editor of a newspaper is likely to be met with a quick denial of the wot me gov’? variety followed by a steady shake of the head that they made any mistake/told lies/hacked phones/covered up establishment scandals/covered up thalidomide/ manipulated information – you know – the kind of stuff they say goes on in other parts of the world – always Russia – but never, ever in the UK.

And Leveson ? Leveson peveson. Who cares? Another day. Another little tweek here a snip there – aahh, we wouldn’t have our news stories any other way  – trimmed to fit our own agenda.

Mischief in the art of headline creation is weaponisation of the press to push an ideology close to the editor’s heart. Think of the power of an unscrupulous editor/journo able to churn out articles aimed to discredit/ promote a government/council/issue. I’m sure many of you will have lots of examples springing to mind. And beware of under-educated narcissists who see news in terms of themselves.

With so much trash presented as news in Britain’s newspapers it’s little wonder the press is in the state it is. A dearth of talent, an explosion of one-sided comment from people distinguished only by their mediocrity. Who is the press there for –journalist or readers?

“Power without responsibility” was Stanley Baldwin’s description of the press in 1931. This week the UK government batted away the promised continuation of the Leveson inquiry – a decision immediately challenged in the Lords. Something is rotten in the state of British journalism.

herald - Copy

Earlier this year The Herald gave huge prominence to a story ostensibly about a report from Oxfam, Reward Wealth Not Work on the same day it was published, 22 January. Its headline:
SCOTLAND’S WIDENING INEQUALITY GAP IS ‘OUT OF CONTROL

and beneath

Oxfam report finds nation’s richest 1% has more wealth than the bottom 50%.

The Oxfam report published the day of the Herald article drew on its survey of 70,000 people in ten countries. One of the countries listed was the United Kingdom – nowhere in the Oxfam report was Scotland mentioned. When I challenged the Herald on its coverage of this report the paper claimed the piece and its figures were not a reference to that day’s report Reward Work, Not Wealth which I considered disingenuous to say the least.

The headline was bold – ‘out of control.’ A major claim in itself and a subjective point of view. Readers were led to believe this was a conclusion of that day’s report not least because the piece went on to make reference to that day’s Oxfam report – its international report – but note the subdeck included the term ‘nation’s’ i.e. singular which is odd since this report covered ten nations. The reader was led to assume Oxfam’s findings in the report referred to research done in Scotland since Scotland was mentioned in the Herald piece, however, there was not one mention of Scotland in the Oxfam report itself. I know I’ve read it.

The Herald insisted this headline did not breach the Editor’s Code for accuracy and the quote was from an Oxfam spokesperson in Glasgow; we are not told if this person was involved in the report (her name is not included in it.) In any case this was irrelevant. Whether or not she worked for Oxfam had no bearing on the findings of the Reward Work, Not Wealth report – the one alluded to in the piece.

Lest we should doubt which Oxfam report the Herald article had in mind it continued:

“A new report from Oxfam reveals that in Scotland…”

which was a downright misrepresentation of the report and significantly misleading.

I complained to IPSO of the misleading nature of the Herald’s high-profile article. In response the Herald responded, “I accept that the figures in the second paragraph of the story do not come from the Reward Work, Not Wealth report, as the general reader might infer.”

I suppose I am general reader, as will be the majority of Herald readers. Who is the paper written for if not the general reader?

The Herald accepted figures quoted in the second paragraph did not come from that day’s international report – meaning others did, just not those, conceding that the article conflated two reports – that day’s and the reason for running the story on 22 January 2018, not the 21st or the 23rd with an old report. 

Sandra Dick’s article continued : “It is now urging governments around the world, including Holyrood, to rethink economic and tax policies to help tighten the gap Oxfam’s report, Reward Not, Not Wealth, is published today …” The ‘It’ in question is Oxfam – the reference is its report. And, readers, remember there was no mention to Holyrood in the Oxfam report. It was as if desperate to make a political point the Herald included a direct reference to the Scottish parliament and not only that but emphasised Holyrood to make sure we all got the message.

And in the same careless or deliberately misleading fashion the next paragraph also began with ‘It’ – again quoting from the new report. The effect was at the very least sloppy but given the pointed headline surely there was more intention than accident in its construction.

The Herald fought my complaint throughout the IPSO process – threw up all kinds of distractions both bemusing and irrelevant and left me questioning the quality of those at its helm.

The Herald tried to argue the story was presented through a Scottish prism which would be fair enough had this been made clear but the Herald’s handling of the Oxfam report on the 22nd was more like the usual ploy of taking any issue and hanging a kilt on it.

• The report that led to the story being published on the 22 January this year was an Oxfam Report, Reward Work, Not Wealth released that day.
• The story run by the Herald was not run on the 21st nor the 23rd but the 22nd; the day the report came out. To dismiss the charge that it was that day’s report and not another from an earlier period, previously covered by the Herald, stretches credibility.
• The Herald chose to run this story because of the new report and placed it on its front page with a headline suggesting its findings in Scotland revealed Scotland’s inequality gap was ‘out of control.’
• Beneath the headline the paper published “Oxfam report” figures but some of these were from a report that was produced for Scotland in 2015.
• Conflating one report with another in this way the Herald led readers to conclude that day’s report had investigated Scotland and made specific references to Scotland which was not true and to pass this off, as the editor did, of a failure in editing was disingenuous.
• The whole inference in the article, because of the Herald’s construction of the story and its use of quotes and highlighting of certain words, led the reader to believe that day’s published report included data from Scotland (separate from findings across the UK.)
• The Oxfam report, Reward Work, Not Wealth, drew on international data including the UK but did not specifically refer to Scotland. Yet this is not what we are led to believe in the Herald coverage of it.
• That the Herald referred to “A new report from Oxfam reveals that in Scotland…” meaning Reward Work, Not Wealth, is patently untrue and significantly misleading.
• That the Herald made direct reference to Holyrood (the Scottish parliament) in the sentence beginning “It” – a reference to that day’s released report, Reward Work, Not Wealth is again grossly misleading and deceitful – “It is now urging governments around the world, including Holyrood, to rethink economic and tax policies to help tighten the gap Oxfam’s report, Reward Work Not, Not Wealth, is published today …” I reiterate nowhere in that report is there any mention of Holyrood
• The editor’s insistence that its references to Oxfam were to a researcher in Glasgow were not relevant to my complaint. The Herald already covered the information supplied by this researcher in previous editions of the paper.
• That Oxfam in Glasgow was happy with the coverage is again a red herring and this had no bearing on the complaint.
• The editor was happy to run a misleading story on his paper’s front page but coy about putting a link to an apology on this same page to the full correction on page 2.
• The wording for the correction on page 2 can never obviate the misleading impression left by this front page article.

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Fake news comes in many forms – complete fabrications, omission of information, manipulation of facts, figures and context. It has always been a feature of our press. Fake news wasn’t the invention of social media. It has always been a feature of our press. It always will be. That’s why I don’t buy newspapers anymore. I can get my fake news free on social media I don’t have to pay to read it. That must be progress of some kind.

Thanks for reading my blog and take care y’all.

https://www.ipso.co.uk/rulings-and-resolution-statements/ruling/?id=00855-18