THE END OF THE ROAD FOR MURDOCH AND DACRE?

rupert murdoch

What a difference a year makes. There was a feeling after the referendum vote last year, not without good reason, that certain sections of the press had helped swing the vote in favour of the Leave group. The Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express devoted a sizeable chunk of coverage in the months leading up to the vote to stories blaming the EU for everything from voodoo murders to the banning of balloons at children’s parties. The stories were mostly rubbish but they seemed to have the desired effect.

The same papers (The Sun and the Daily Mail, mainly) were up to their usual tricks trying to influence the outcome of this year’s General Election. Both threw everything including the kitchen sink at Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. On election day, The Sun put Corbyn inside a dustbin on its front page alongside captions such as ‘terrorists’ friend’ and ‘destroyer of jobs’, while the Mail at one point devoted around a fifth of its total output to telling readers what a disaster and a danger the Labour leader is.

Only this time, the mud-slinging didn’t have the desired effect. It’s led many commentators to proclaim that the tabloids have had their day in terms of being able to sway the electorate at voting time.

It’s a bit of a comedown for The Sun in particular. The paper has not been shy of boasting in the past that it has the power to determine election outcomes in this country. The Mail, on the other hand, has always supported the Conservative Party so its influence has fluctuated over the years.

The truth is that the tabloid papers have been declining in influence for a number of years. The EU referendum represented a bit of an anomaly to the trend, mainly because it was the older groups of people who came out in larger numbers to vote in that election. It’s primarily the older generations that buy and read the mainstream papers. Not entirely, but what’s written in the pages of The Sun and the rest is not going to register with many people under 40.

We’ve reached the age of internet dominance in terms of news sources. Yahoo and Google are now the top two news websites. The likes of The Sun and the Mail are trying to keep up and both have a strong online presence, but neither have the same popular cultural clout as they did 15-20 years ago.

The tabloids have been declining in influence for a while and their sales are down. Add to that the current ongoing fixation with the phenomenon of ‘fake news’. The discourse around this hasn’t been especially linked to the tabloids but it has led to heightened levels of mistrust and scepticism around mainstream news. It’s made people think just a little bit more about where ‘news’ is coming from and how it is generated. Not ideal for the tabloids who would undoubtedly prefer it if people carried on unthinkingly digesting whatever they churn out.

More pertinent to this particular election was the increase in turn-out among younger voters. It’s already been mentioned that younger people are less influenced by the mainstream press. They’re probably also more cynical regarding fake news output.

Regarding The Sun and the Daily Mail in particular, it’s difficult to imagine anyone under the age of 30 treating these papers with anything other than indifference or disdain. Both papers have certainly never sought to attract young people. In fact, they’re usually portrayed as one of the groups responsible for social problems – either out committing crimes or lazily sponging off the state and expecting everything to be given to them on a plate.

Young people have no cultural attachment to the tabloids and no experience of having ever treated them as a serious news medium. The papers will have entered their consciousness already associated with phone-hacking scandals, Hillsborough lies, racism, homophobia and all the rest. The staple tabloid tactics of repeatedly attacking, ridiculing and slinging mud at anyone they don’t like will be seen for exactly what it is by many of today’s youths who are all too aware of bullying issues. It’s well known that Jeremy Corbyn enjoys support among younger voters as it is. The vicious coverage he received at the hands of the tabloids may well have driven a fair few more of them towards voting Labour last Thursday.

So the prospects are that as long as the youth vote remains high, the tabloids are in trouble when it comes to telling us how to vote. Even if it doesn’t, their relevance will continue to diminish. The Sun will probably never again be able to tell us it was them ‘wot won it’. Hopefully this election will force the worst tabloid offenders to rethink the appalling way they cover politics in this country.

But the game is far from over. The Mail Online website remains in the top 10 most viewed news websites globally. The Sun still shifts 1.6 million units daily and is only a small part of owner Rupert Murdoch’s News International empire.

Both have taken a blow and are no doubt smarting from failing to get the outcome they wanted from last week’s election, but it’s hard to imagine they’ll fade away and accept defeat. Until rules are put in place to ensure that the printed press operates with at least some level of political impartiality and objectivity, there will always be a danger of large news providers sticking their partisan oar in at election time and trying to get the result they want – if not The Sun and the Daily Mail, then whoever replaces them as influential news sources for future generations.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

THE RIGHT-WING PRESS LIES ABOUT LABOUR’S PLANS FOR A ‘GARDEN TAX’

Jeremy-Corbyn-Chatham-House

Glancing at the Tory-supporting press yesterday, one would be forgiven for thinking that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party was out to rob the British working classes and do them out of house and home.

That’s the impression they surely wanted to give as they coordinated to scaremonger readers with the idea that Labour is planning to hit households what they have termed a ‘garden tax’.

Pretty much identical articles ran in The Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Express about supposed plans to replace council tax and business rates with a Land Value Tax (LVT) that it was claimed would treble the amount that households pay annually.

The articles cite analysis from unnamed Conservative Party figures that claim the plans – which would replace property-based council and business tax with a tax on land owned – would instantly lead to a 224% rise in tax bills for the average family.

What the stories are referring to is a couple of sentences on page 86 of the Labour Party manifesto under the section ‘Local Communities’ where the party talks about plans for local government funding and the potential for reform:

‘We will initiate a review into reforming council tax and business rates and consider new options such as land value tax, to ensure local government has sustainable funding for the long term.’

So for a start, it’s not even a plan. The LVT will just be among considerations as part of a review into possible local authority spending reform.

But a bigger problem with the articles is that LVT has been totally misrepresented as a mechanism to hike tax rates up for ordinary families. But the likelihood is that the majority of home-owners wouldn’t see much difference in the amount they had to pay. LVT is a tax on the market value of the land rather than the property but, seeing as property value is based on land value, it would be unlikely to lead to much change.

The biggest difference with LVT is that it generates tax revenue on land owned that isn’t utilised, so it’s probably more accurate to term it a ‘land-owners tax’ than a ‘garden tax’. It would mean that landowners and developers would have to stump up on plots of land owned even if currently unused.

The papers mention that annual LVT could be set at 3% of land value (which makes up approx. 55% of property value). This would lead to a trebling of current council tax bills if true. But the amount that has been suggested for home-owners (in a policy paper by the Labour Land Campaign) is 0.85%, which is in line with current bills. A higher rate of 3% is suggested for large estates, second homes and business premises (which is in line with current business rates). There is a suggestion of raising the 0.85% rate over a 10-20 year period, while also reducing VAT and income tax rates so that the overall tax burden doesn’t fall on the poorest or average earners. For the press to state that LVT would lead to a trebling of bills for everyone is an outright lie.

LVT is seen by many as a more progressive and efficient form of taxation than the likes of council tax, as it generates more money from wealthier groups and encourages the development of unused space. It also means that the tax will be levied on landlords rather than tenants (although rents will probably be adjusted to account for this).

LVT has support as a method of taxation from the likes of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the free-market economic think-tank the Adam Smith Institute, as well as many on both left and right of politics as a more socially equitable form of taxation. Even Winston Churchill extolled the virtues of a land tax in a parliamentary speech as a Liberal in 1909.

However, like most ideas, it is not supported by all economists and political theorists. In 2005, the Institute for Public Policy Research published a report called ‘Time For Land Value Tax?’ which looked at both pros and cons of LVT.

The Tory press has rubbished the idea, even though it makes it into the Labour manifesto as a suggestion mentioned once, primarily because it can be used as another stick with which to beat Jeremy Corbyn. Also, as it’s another tax measure that would hit the wealthiest hardest, it’s no surprise to see these four papers (whose owners have a combined wealth of £20 billion) denouncing it. As with Labour’s suggested raise in the top rate of income tax, it’s in these papers’ interest to scaremonger and make it sound as if ordinary people will lose out.

For more information on Land Value Tax, see here and here.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

THE BRITISH PRESS IS A STAIN ON THE COUNTRY’S DEMOCRACY

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Here’s the thing with media coverage of politics in this country. The broadcasting regulator Ofcom states three things clearly in its guidelines for political coverage on TV:

  1. News, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality.

  2. Significant mistakes in news should be corrected on air quickly.

  3. No politician may be used as a newsreader, interviewer or reporter in any news programmes unless, exceptionally, it is editorially justified. In that case, the political allegiance of that person must be made clear to the audience.

All very sensible rules that are in place for a purpose – to prevent the broadcast media from abusing its power and exerting undue influence over the public.

Yet this system is rendered pretty much null and void by the complete absence of anything resembling the same rules for the British print media.

Bizarrely in this country, we have one rule for one medium and one rule for another. Regarding the three points above, newspapers continue to get away with:

  1. Frequent inaccurate reporting and no attempt at impartiality.

  2. Mistakes corrected months later (and often not given due prominence).

  3. Employing politicians and those with clear political allegiances as journalists (or in some cases, editors).

The bias in political reporting within the UK press is obvious to many people. The UK came bottom out of 33 European countries in a recent study on public trust in the press. Yet there seems to be no effort to do anything meaningful about it. The current main press regulator IPSO is laughably weak and ineffective. It doesn’t even cover all of the main UK press outlets, and many of those it does seem to be not bothered in any way by its puny sanctions. The worst three offenders – the Daily Mail, The Sun and the Daily Express – transgressed its rules 43 times between them in 2016.

This contrast between print and broadcast media is magnified during election time. Whereas TV channels are reminded to show extra care not just in reporting but in giving due prominence and airtime to political parties, the printed press ratchets things up a couple of notches and serves up an extra helping of bias.

The partisan nature of reporting is even seen as a thing of pride among some, with the nation’s best selling daily The Sun fond of boasting that it has the power to win elections for the party it throws its support behind.

Exactly how much influence newspapers have in shaping political opinion is open to debate. Some may say that in the age of social media, their influence is declining. Others may counter that social media has enhanced the power of these publications, with the ability to share and retweet stories broadening their reach (with the Mail Online site ranked 8th most popular global news site with 53 million visitors a month, and the Guardian 10th with 42 million).

While not everyone who reads a particular paper will share its political views, it’s fair to say that a percentage of people will be influenced. After all, if there was no correlation between these things, then the impartiality rules imposed by Ofcom wouldn’t exist.

So why can’t the printed press be subjected to the same regulatory checks as broadcast media? Surely if a political party proposed this, it would be a vote-winner with the public. Who wouldn’t want an honest, impartial press over a corrupt, partisan one telling people what to think?

The impartiality of the press benefits two groups in society – the owners of the newspapers guilty of impartiality and the political parties they support. The parties get a free form of advertising via the support, while the owners get to exercise unfair influence over political proceedings. While democracy gives each of us a single vote, press laws give newspaper proprietors an opportunity to steer millions of votes in a direction of their choosing.

While all of the main parties benefit from some form of support from the British press, historically it’s the Tories who have benefited the most (see table below). 4 of the 5 biggest selling dailies support the Conservative Party and this is strongly reflected in their editorial behaviour. The 6th and 7th biggest selling papers (Daily Star and Daily Express) are owned by Richard Desmond, who has donated over £1 million to UKIP. Labour and the Liberal Democrats enjoy more support among the lower-selling broadsheets, with the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror the only non-Tory paper in the top five. Critics who say that the British press is the most right-wing in Europe can point to these statistics to back up their views.

Newspaper owners are among the wealthiest people in society. The combined wealth of Rupert Murdoch (The Sun, The Times), Viscount Rothermere (Daily Mail), the Barclay Brothers (Daily Telegraph) and Richard Desmond (Star and Express) is £20 billion. It makes sense for them to back political parties that are going to offer lower taxes for the highest earners and be favourable towards big business. If the papers can get away with it, you can’t really blame them for trying to skew results in their favour.

Seen in this light, the negative campaigning against Jeremy Corbyn in large sections of the press makes a lot more sense. A left-wing Labour government would be very bad for them. Labour has promised to raise corporation tax along with tax for the highest earners, so these billionaires stand to lose under a Labour government. Taking advantage of lax almost non-existent press laws to influence proceedings and make sure this doesn’t happen is a rational self-interested response.

But this article isn’t about being pro-Labour or anti-Tory. It’s about levelling the playing field and not giving one or other party an unfair head start. To do this requires one of two things – either new laws are introduced to bring the printed press into line with the broadcast media in terms of impartiality, or papers are forced to declare their support for political parties by printing their logo on each page so that it’s made clear to the public that they are little more than marketing pamphlets in terms of political coverage.

Until something like this happens, the UK press remains a corrupting institution that diminishes our democracy rather than being a positive symbol of it.

UK daily papers

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

THE CANARY SEEMS TO THINK THAT TO BEAT THE TABLOIDS, YOU MUST BEHAVE JUST LIKE THEM

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The left-wing news website The Canary proved today that it’s not above using the same tactics of misinformation and misleading as the right-wing tabloids it attacks.

An article was posted by editor-in-chief Kerry-Anne Mendoza attacking The Sun for its front page headline yesterday in the wake of the terrible Manchester suicide bombing on Monday night.

MANCHESTER SET TO BECOME THE SECOND CITY TO BAN THE SUN AFTER ITS APPALLING RESPONSE TO THE CONCERT BOMBING, yelled the headline.

Great, you might think. It’s no less than the awful Murdoch-owned rag deserves. Reading the Canary‘s story, it appears as if the paper has been up to its usual opportunistic shit-stirring tricks.

As the country awoke to the dreadful news of 22 dead at a pop concert at the Manchester Arena, The Sun ran with a front page headline having yet another desperate ‘friend to the terrorists’ pop at Jeremy Corbyn. This time it was a supposed ‘Labour exclusive’ claiming that an ‘ex-IRA killer’ says Corbyn has ‘blood on his hands’ due to past associations with Sinn Fein leaders.

Several on Twitter were quick to condemn The Sun for what they saw as a despicable and cynical attempt to associate the Labour leader’s name with terrorism at a point when the emotions of the nation were running high. The Canary capitalised on this sentiment, accusing the tabloid of ‘naked manipulation of tragic events to serve its own political purposes.’

Now, far be it from me to defend The Sun. The article, like much of its Corbyn-centered output, is a half-baked one-sided character assassination designed purely to derail the Labour election campaign.

But the paper hadn’t been quite as callous as to try and cash in on the terrorist attack on Monday night. It had already gone to print by the time the bombing occurred. Its second edition front page yesterday morning carried the story of the atrocity (in typically sensationalist style which generated another Twitter backlash).

The Sun had actually published no fewer than five articles about Corbyn and the IRA on the night of the Manchester attack. But they had all been published online BEFORE the attack took place. Yes it’s true the paper was trying to stick the knife into Jeremy Corbyn yet again. But it was cashing in on an anti-Corbyn article written for the paper by ex-IRA man Sean O’Callaghan. The timing was coincidental.

A little bit of basic research from Ms Mendoza could have told her that, and only she will know whether it was a sloppy journalistic slip-up or a deliberate attempt at tabloid tactics. But her case isn’t helped by the fact that The Sun contacted the website to inform of the error. Rather than take the article down or amend accordingly, the article now carries an IPSO-lite correction at the end.

It’s a pity because The Sun can be adequately and accurately criticised for both the Corbyn/IRA articles and the crass and sensationalist way it covered the Manchester concert bombing, without misleadingly linking the two.

Some may say, who cares, it’s The Sun, the excuse for a newspaper deserves all it gets and is due a taste of its own medicine. But if you’re gonna take a critical stance against the likes of The Sun and the Daily Mail, you should hold yourself to a higher standard than them rather than sink to their level. Not something that seems to bother The Canary. It calls itself the alternative but, just like the tabloids, is quite happy to lie about its enemies.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

THE MAIL AND THE EXPRESS GUILTY OF TWISTING MIGRATION DATA YET AGAIN

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Another statistical report, another chance to twist the findings and stir up some more animosity over migration for the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.

This week, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released a report called International immigration and the labour market, UK 2016.

It was an analysis of numbers of EU and non-EU workers in various industries as well as those unemployed and economically inactive (retired, sick, etc.).

Nothing particularly astonishing about the findings (which can be viewed here). Migrants make up 11% of the UK labour market (which roughly corresponds with the level of migrants in the country overall); there are more migrants working in some sectors than others; migrants are more likely to be over-qualified for their jobs than UK nationals, and on average they work more hours and earn slightly less.

Overall, no big changes from a similar study done using data from 2011.

Commenting on the figures, ONS statistician Anna Bodey said: ‘Today’s analysis shows the significant impact international migration has on the UK labour market. It is particularly important to the wholesale and retail, hospitality, and public administration and health sectors, which employ around 1.5 million non-UK nationals.

Almost not newsworthy at all then, except perhaps as an opportunity to remind people of the importance of migration to keep the economy functioning.

However, the Mail and the Express rarely miss an opportunity to seize on academic or government figures relating to migration and twist them to try and portray migrants in a negative light.

The effort by the Daily Mail this time around was particularly remarkable. It went with the headline ONE IN SEVEN EU NATIONALS OF WORKING AGE IN THE UK IS UNEMPLOYED OR ‘INACTIVE’ – NEARLY EQUIVALENT TO A CITY THE SIZE OF BRISTOL.

Aside from being yet another ridiculously long headline (which the paper specialises in) that doesn’t even focus on the main study findings, it’s a peculiar thing to single out as this figure is LOWER than the UK average as a whole.

15% of working-age EU citizens in the UK are unemployed or inactive (1 in 7) compared to 21% of UK citizens (1 in 5).

So EU nationals are LESS likely to be out of work.

Why, then, would the Mail want to frame its story around unemployment figures of this particular group? Could the paper be trying to encourage its readers to view EU migrants as a burden on the state at a time when the subject of EU migrants in the UK is one of the most politically charged of them all? Even though the figures the paper is basing its report on state the opposite? Would the paper stoop that low?

It’s undoubtedly for biased reporting such as this that the editors at Wikipedia chose to ban the paper as a reference source.

The Express headline was more straightforward although no less hysterical. The paper went with SCANDAL OF OPEN BORDERS: 1 IN 9 WORKERS ARE MIGRANTS.

The scandal presumably being that the actual number of migrant workers in the UK is much lower than readers had been led to believe, given that Ipsos Mori polls have found that people in the UK (wrongly) believe that migrants make up 24% of the population.

The Express went on to blame the whole thing on EU freedom of movement – despite the fact that figures include all of the non-EU workers in the UK too – and the paper then did its usual thing of quoting a few UKIP and Brexit-supporting Conservative politicians outraged at the whole situation.

It’s the same cycle over and over. The tabloids jump at any opportunity to twist the facts and demonise migrants from both inside and outside the EU. Then there will be a horrific racist attack like the one on the asylum seeker in Croydon the other week and they’ll wonder how it could possibly happen.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

DAILY MAIL LIES ABOUT NHS WEEKEND EFFECT

NHS surgery

The Tory press strikes again. Last week, the Daily Mail put out misinformation about the so-called NHS ‘weekend effect’, contradicting the very research that it was reporting on.

The paper was reporting on research from Bristol University that examined evidence of the ‘weekend effect’ – the supposed effect on mortality levels of people admitted to hospital at weekends – by analysing data on patients admitted at weekends with hip fractures.

The research clearly found that there was no evidence of a ‘weekend effect’ among a quarter of a million NHS patients admitted with a broken hip between 2011-14.

Yet the Daily Mail reported using the headline ‘NHS ‘weekend effect’ IS Real’.

The paper went onto write that ‘Patients with broken hips are 10% more likely to DIE if they have surgery on a Sunday’. It also reported on a link between discharges on a Sunday and increased risk of death.

But the ‘weekend effect’, which has been repeatedly used by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in the dispute with junior doctors, is about mortality rates of those ADMITTED to hospital at weekends. It’s not about those discharged or having surgery on a Sunday.

The study did find that there is a 10% increased risk of mortality for those having surgery on a Sunday, along with a 52% increased mortality risk for those discharged on a Sunday and a 17% increased risk with out-of-hours discharge.

These are admittedly important findings. Adrian Sayers, the lead author on the research paper, stated that ‘the analysis has brought up questions of the importance of timing of surgery, how surgery on a Sunday differs from the rest of the week’.

But these are separate findings from those on weekend admissions, as the research makes clear. Hospitals have more control over surgery and discharge times than they do over admissions, meaning they can plan more effectively around such findings.

They also relate to one day – Sunday – rather than the weekend as a whole.

So why did the Mail have to twist and manipulate the findings? Why didn’t it accurately reflect the university press release on the study?

It could be that the ‘weekend effect’ issue has become a highly contentious one in the dispute between the government and the junior doctors. The paper has repeatedly sided with the government during the dispute and has published numerous attacks on the doctors and the British Medical Association for their plans to strike.

Interestingly, another major study at Edinburgh University has just found that weekend surgery has no affect on mortality rates. How did the Daily Mail report on this study? It buried the information away in two sentences at the end of the article on the Bristol study.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

IPSO RULING: DAILY MAIL MADE TO APOLOGISE FOR NOT FACT-CHECKING STORY SUPPLIED BY FREELANCE JOURNALIST

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Taken from the Daily Mail Clarifications & Corrections column, 24th March 2017. 

Following publication of an article on MailOnline on 25 October 2016, headlined “Pilot in DIY 14-foot plane he built in his shed is halted at Chinese border after being ruled a MILITARY THREAT during round-the-world trip”, Colin Hales complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that MailOnline breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required MailOnline to publish this adjudication.

The article reported that on the complainant’s bid to fly solo around the world in an aircraft he had built himself, he had been halted by Chinese officials at the Russian border who said the he “posed a serious aerial threat to the nation”. The article claimed that the complainant had been “halted by armed guards on the border with Russia”, and contained a number of quotations from the complainant, in which he expressed his frustration at having been stopped.

The complainant denied making the comments expressing frustration at the decision of the Chinese authorities. In addition, he said it was inaccurate to report that he had been stopped by “armed guards”.

The publication said that the article was supplied by a freelance journalist, and it had published it in good faith. It said that the article had been based on information posted on the internet, and on a source, who had supplied quotations from the complainant, having said that they had been in contact with him. However, it did not provide further details about its sources. The publication of information obtained in this manner as a series of direct quotations from the complainant, without any steps being taken to verify them, constituted a serious failure take care over the accuracy of the article, and a breach of Clause 1 (i). The claim that the complainant was stopped by armed guards was the conjecture of the journalist. However, this was presented as a factual claim, and was not clearly distinguished from conjecture, in further breach of Clause 1 (i) and a breach of Clause 1 (iv).

Attributing the disputed quotations to the complainant was significantly misleading, such as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The principal subject of the article was the complainant’s difficulty in entering Chinese airspace; to claim that the complainant had been “halted by armed guards”, when in fact, he had simply been denied permission to enter Chinese airspace, significantly misrepresented the nature of the incident. This was a further significant inaccuracy.

In this case the publication had offered to publish a correction which met the requirements of Clause 1 (ii), and the inaccuracies in this case were not personally damaging to the complainant. However, the Committee was concerned by the severity of the breach of Clause 1 (i) in this instance, which represented a serious failure in the editorial process prior to publication. It considered that the publication of the offered correction would not be an appropriate remedy to this failure, and that the appropriate remedy was publication of this adjudication.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.