HERE WE GO AGAIN: FIRST BATCH OF ‘MUSLIMS BAN CHRISTMAS’ STORIES ARRIVE BEFORE WE EVEN REACH DECEMBER

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(Pic: SEN/Woolworth)

It was only a matter of time before the tabloids dusted off the old favourite ‘Christmas cancelled because of Islam’ headlines. They’ve treated us early this year, probably sensing the nation is sick of stories about Donald Trump and small Toblerones.

The dubious tales this time centre around a Woolworth store. Yes Woolworth. The chain closed down in Britain a few years ago but still operates in Germany. However, stories started circulating this week about one store in north Dortmund which – shock, horror – has removed all of its Christmas merchandise.

You can probably guess who the blame has been pinned on.

Cue the UK tabloids picking up the story and running with it. The Sun screamed ‘XMAS IS CANCELLED’, telling readers how ‘shocked shoppers’ were told the shop is ‘now Muslim’ and a ‘massive row has erupted after staff boasted that they would not have any Christmas decorations this year’.

A similar story ran in The Daily Express, who managed to squeeze out a piece about this trusty old narrative in between its current ‘Coldest Winter in a Million Years’ and ‘The EU is Run By Illuminati Elites’ output. It went with ‘WOOLWORTH’S STORE CANCELS CHRISTMAS OVER ISLAMIC CUSTOMERS’. Again it was stories of a ‘row’ occurring after ‘shocked locals’ found out that the store ‘had decided not to bother with Christmas… because it is now essentially a Muslim store’.

Even the Daily Mirror, normally more restrained in these areas, got in on the act with an article headlined ‘ROW ERUPTS AFTER WOOLWORTH’S STAFF STATE THE STORE IS NOW MUSLIM – AND THEY WILL NOT BE SELLING CHRISTMAS DECORATIONS’.

The papers were seemingly reporting on a story that ran in Die Bild (which is pretty much the German equivalent of The Sun). However, local paper Dortmund 24 investigated the story to discover that behind Die Bild‘s trademark sensationalism there wasn’t really much to report on.

For a start, the store is still selling Christmas decorations. They haven’t banned them or removed them or cancelled Christmas because of Muslims or anything else. They have simply scaled down their Christmas section. The reason? Low sales. The town does have a high immigrant and a lower than average Christian population, meaning that Christmas materials are not exactly rocketing out the door.

Despite the tabloids reporting on a mysterious unnamed member of staff claiming the store is now ‘Muslim’, district manager Oktay Guner explained: ‘It was purely a commercial decision’.

This was backed up by a Woolworth spokesperson Diana Preisert, who said: ‘In this branch, demand was too low’.

The excess stock has been distributed to other branches in Dortmund where it is more likely to sell. It hasn’t been taken to a local mosque for Muslims to destroy it by jumping up and down on it, which is probably the way it has been reported by the likes of Britain First and Breitbart.

To prove the point, Dortmund 24 took pictures of the Christmas display still in the Dortmund store.

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(Pics of the Dortmund store and of store manager Seda Capakcur by Daniele Giustolisi/Dortmund 24)

As for the fierce rows that were breaking out as shocked customers struggled to come to terms with the depleted yuletide stocks, the paper quizzed a few of the locals to get their views. It seemed that most understood the decision and weren’t that bothered by it.

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It seems the only place where rows and outrage were occurring was on the internet, after Die Bild and others had put their sensationalist spin on the story and published it to wind people up.

So basically, the Woolworth chain in Germany has relocated some of its Christmas stock from one store to another because of capitalist laws of supply and demand. Santa can sleep easy for the time being.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

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THE EXPRESS REFERS TO THE FAR-RIGHT OF EUROPE AS THE PEOPLE TAKING BACK CONTROL

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(Photo: Gage Skidmore)

The Daily Express has nailed its political colours to the mast with an article linking Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory to potential far-right victories in Europe over the coming year, calling it ‘people taking back control’.

Once again, the UKIP-supporting tabloid provided a mouthpiece for Nigel Farage, who it said ‘could barely contain his joy over the prospect of more nations following the path paved by Britain and the American people’.

Farage was excited about the forthcoming election in Austria where he gushed about ‘the possibility of a right-wing Austrian nationalist candidate winning’.

He is talking about Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party, the far-right party formerly led by Nazi sympathiser Jorg Haider. In an interview with Austrian far-right magazine Die Aula in 2011, Hofer was critical of Haider for toning down his nationalism.

This is the man who many believe could triumph when the Austrian election is held in two weeks time.

The Express goes on to quote two more leaders it sees as being representative of ‘people power’, who might very well send further shock waves across the globe in elections next year – Marine Le Pen of France’s Front Nationale and Geert Wilders of the Dutch Party for Freedom.

Both these politicians run on anti-immigration and anti-Islam platforms and have been working to try and form a far-right nationalist block within the European Parliament.

This article represents a worrying development for the paper, which has always been the most right-wing of the British tabloids but previously would have baulked at openly supporting the likes of Le Pen and Hofer.

It seems that the twin shocks of Brexit and Trump, as well as giving racists among the public the belief that it’s OK to brazenly abuse and assault minorities, has also unleashed a similar feeling among right-wing tabloids that they no longer have to restrain their sympathies.

Perhaps the Daily Express, and other tabloids such as the Daily Mail and The Sun, will see this as an opportunity to be more blatant with their prejudices and more cynical in their manipulation. They no doubt feel that they have popular opinion on their side. With only a weak and ineffective press regulator standing in their way, what’s to stop them?

The Express already appears to be making moves to tap into the conspiracy theory demographic of the Trumpist far-right in the US with not one but two recent articles aimed at the tin-foil hat market.

Worrying times indeed. The far-right across the western world has fed off public disillusionment with politics and economics and has repackaged itself as some kind of anti-establishment saviour. Enabled by a right-wing press – run by rich white men pretending to stand up for the masses against the establishment – that publishes its lies and normalises and mainstreams its politics of hatred and fear. There is a horrible feeling that something that could be very difficult to stop has been set in motion.

They might call it the people taking back control but it’s the exact opposite. It’s giving it away to some of the worst people imaginable.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

SUNDAY EXPRESS GOES FULL TIN-FOIL HAT

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(Photo: Getty)

The Sunday Express has descended into full-on conspiracy theory with an article about ‘chemtrails’ wiping out humankind.

The paper, not known for its sanity or rationality, published an article this week titled ‘SHOCK CLAIM: CHEMTRAILS ‘WILL WIPE OUT HUMANS’ AND CAUSE BIBLICAL-STYLE FLOODS, SAYS EXPERT’.

The paper quotes the views of an American Michael Tamez, who it refers to as an ‘environmental expert’ but who according to his website is a ‘holistic health coach’ with no professional scientific or environmental qualifications.

This is good enough apparently for the Sunday Express to give him column inches to voice the popular conspiracy theory that condensation trails left behind by aircraft are in fact dangerous chemicals being sprayed into the atmosphere as part of a sinister government plot kept secret from the public.

According to Mr Tamez, whose credentials as a health coach have obviously enabled him to do some in-depth research on the subject, these chemtrails are on course to bring about a series of armageddon-inducing floods, droughts and crop failure because ‘the strength of the sun is being diluted from the whitening effect of chemical aerosol geoengineering.’

‘Is it an effort to control the global population? Is it an attempt to start another world war? I’ll let you make an informed decision about it’, he adds.

Exactly how readers of the Sunday Express are supposed to make an informed decision is not made clear.

Of course, the Sunday Express could have spoken to any number of actual experts from the scientific community about this subject and discovered that the ‘chemtrails’ theory stands up to no scrutiny at all. There’s plenty that’s been written about it here and here.

But the Express publications tend to avoid proper experts as they deal in something these papers don’t have a lot of time for – facts.

The conspiracy theory route is an interesting fear-mongering turn though. Perhaps the paper has realised that, as the majority of its readership is of a certain age, it needs to tap into a slightly younger market. Or maybe it’s an attempt to reach out to that particular Trump-supporter demographic.

I eagerly await future Express articles on faked moon landings, 9/11 being an inside job and the SHOCKING discovery that the paper’s beloved Royal Family are reptilian shapeshifters.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

FORGET THE EU – NOW IT’S THE UK PARLIAMENT THAT’S UNDEMOCRATIC, ACCORDING TO THE TABLOIDS

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(Photo: Carlesmari)

It feels like an astonishing U-turn. Only a few months ago, several Brexit-supporting papers were urging readers to ditch EU membership in favour of ‘taking back control’ and returning sovereignty to the UK parliament.

Our laws and policies must be decided by politicians in Westminster not Brussels, went the cry.

Over the past 24 hours, those same papers have had a near-meltdown over a High Court decision to allow the very same UK parliament to decide the terms of our departure from the EU.

In what seems like quite a reasonable and sensible approach to negotiating our way through this complex and contentious process, our 650 MPs will debate through our terms of exit before Article 50 is invoked.

But according to some sections of the press, this seemingly democratic process will actually signal the end of democracy.

The Daily Mail led the way, as it often does in these situations. Throwing in a contemptuous dig at one of the court judges for being ‘openly gay’ along the way, the paper called the decision a war on democracy and an outrageous betrayal.

The Daily Express went even further, pronouncing ‘November 3, 2016 was the day democracy died’ and stating that the decision has plunged the country into its darkest crisis since World War Two.

The Sun called it a Brexit betrayal, while UKIP’s Nigel Farage came out of the pub to demonstrate once again how marginalised he is by the British media establishment by penning not one but two editorials in national dailies in which he tried to claim that 17 million people had clearly voted to leave the single market and nothing more needed to be discussed.

Judging by the headlines and sentiments expressed, you might have thought that Brexit itself had been cancelled.

But Brexit is still going ahead. All this decision means is that, rather than Article 50 getting rushed through by a government that doesn’t seem clear on what it’s doing, it will happen following proper parliamentary discussion. Given the importance of the issue, this is the least that we should be expecting to happen.

But as usual, these papers would rather stir their readers into a frenzy than calmly and rationally explain the situation.

The papers were keen to highlight that the majority of MPs are ‘remainers’, stating that they will use this as an opportunity to overturn Brexit. But we live in a representative democracy. The MPs are there to represent their constituencies, not to vote according to their individual preferences.

Any MP who defies a constituency that voted to leave is pretty much signing their own political death warrant and parliament knows full well that if it tries to ignore this vote, there will be serious unrest. Many ‘remainers’ have already pledged to respect the decision of the public throughout the process.

These papers obviously don’t trust our MPs or our political processes. Which kind of defeats the whole point of voting for parliamentary sovereignty in the first place, when you think about it.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

IS YOUR DAILY PAPER LYING TO YOU?

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We all know, or at least most of us do, that many of our so-called newspapers are as full of pork pies as a butchers in Melton Mowbray. But proving this is not always straightforward.

Papers have become more subtle in their techniques in recent years, especially in the wake of the Leveson Enquiry and with the danger of obvious indiscretions being circulated across social media. Rarely will you see the press publishing a complete and obvious lie that can be taken apart in seconds. But this doesn’t mean that the worst offenders have become any more noble in their craft.

Here are nine common techniques used by papers to pull the wool over the eyes of their readers.

  1. THE ROGUE HEADLINE

One of the most common of all techniques is the rogue or misleading headline. This is where a sensationalist headline is used that almost tells a totally different story from what appears in the actual text. Papers know the power of a headline – many people will only remember the headline and maybe the first couple of sentences of text, so papers often try to get away with misleading readers with the bold print and then claiming they haven’t lied as the main story is factually accurate. However, regulators can hold papers to account if the headline isn’t supported by the actual story.

An example of this is a front page in the Sunday Express which read MONSTERS ARE GIVEN THEIR OWN CELL KEYS with the sub-heading ‘Ian Huntley and Rose West are virtually roaming at will‘. The intention with the headline was to give the impression that soft-touch prisons were allow prisoners to live a Life of Riley, but the actual story explained that only privacy locks had been issued to prisoners to protect their belongings when they left their cells. Main locks to the cells were still controlled by prison guards.

Another tactic with headlines is the use of quotation marks to make someone’s statement appear as if it is a fact. Again, we can use an example from the Daily Express with a recent headline SYRIAN REFUGEE WITH FOUR WIVES AND 23 CHILDREN “CLAIMS £320,000 A YEAR IN BENEFITS”. The refugee in question hadn’t claimed this amount in benefits at all, a German blogger had merely made a statement about what he thought the refugee and his families would be able to claim. By lifting this quote from the blogger and using it in the headline, the Express tries to make it appear as a fact despite there being no evidence for it.

  1. FACT-BURYING

Closely linked to the rogue headline is fact-burying, which also relies on readers not fully digesting the whole article. This can be particularly effective with longer articles. Papers will often put their own spin on a story, which may be completely misleading, while hiding key facts way down in the article. Like with instances of rogue headlines, they think this gives them some insurance against charges of lies and deception.

A good example of this is a Daily Mail article titled WISH YOU WERE HERE? REFUGEES ARE TAKEN ON £100,000 JOLLIES TO ZOOS AND THEME PARKS… AND GUESS WHO’S PAYING FOR IT ALL. The article paints a picture of refugees milking the public purse for holidays and it’s only near the end of the article that it is made clear that the trips are a tiny end part of a charity-run education, skills and confidence-building project aimed at unaccompanied refugee children.

  1. TWISTING STATISTICS

How often do we see phrases such as ‘ALARMING STATISTICS’ or ‘SHOCKING NEW FIGURES’ screaming from the headlines and sub-headings of tabloids? Pretty often. Yet how often are links to the source of the data provided? Almost never.

Papers occasionally just make these figures up, but more often they cherry-pick statistics or key passages from a report to suit their agenda without putting it in the context of the overall report. This enables them to put out a completely different story from what features in the original report, such as with this article by the Daily Mail about an EU study on immigration and living standards.

Statistics are often meaningless on their own and taken out of context. People are also often easily confused by statistics involving big numbers taken out of context. For example, saying the UK’s annual foreign aid budget is £12 billion is likely to stir emotions in people as it sounds a lot. But explaining that it’s only 0.7% of the overall annual budget puts it into context and is less likely to anger people.

But papers know that they can use isolated big figures to wind people up. They also know that using such numbers from official sources makes them seem more legitimate.

Occasionally papers will commission their own studies to produce their own figures and these can be doubly misleading, as often the studies themselves will have been done in such a way as to produce certain results. Examples of this are The Sun survey on Muslims sympathising with extremists and the Daily Express survey on Turkish citizens wanting to come to the UK. Both surveys contained vague and misleading questions which the tabloids then used as ‘evidence’ to prove a pre-determined (and highly inaccurate) point.

  1. BUILDING A NON-STORY

Papers will often use this technique against individuals or organisations that they wish to paint in a bad light. If an attempt to dig proper dirt on a target has failed, journalists will often put together a story out of nothing and give it a juicy headline. But scratch beneath the surface and you’ll often find there is no substance to it.

Two prominent targets in recent months have been Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan. The Sun and the Daily Mail in particular have repeatedly attacked these two, with this piece in the Daily Mail on Khan shortly before the Mayoral election being a prime example. It’s presented as an expose that ‘dishes the dirt’ but on closer analysis is just a series of desperate attempts to link the London Mayor to extremists by highlighting occasions when he was in the same room as some shifty characters.

Those on the political right can be just as savagely targeted too, as could be seen during the Tory Party leadership contest in the summer where the press pretty much destroyed Andrea Leadsom’s campaign by twisting a comment she made about motherhood and using it against her.

This is where spin doctors play a role, working with the media to frame a personality in a bad light – a tenuous connection here, a quote taken out of context there.

  1. ABSENCE OF EVIDENCE

Similar to the non-story. Papers will often run with a story that again is made to sound important with a grand attention-seeking headline. But read through the text – where the headline claims are supposed to be backed up – and it turns out to be no more than hearsay or one person’s opinion.

The Sun is the king of this brand of substance-less journalism. Many of its articles are just a string of poorly written sound-bite sentences designed to whip its readers up into a frenzy about nothing. Two good examples are articles from this year about supermarkets supposedly banning Easter eggs and about a council supposedly banning a man from wearing a Union Flag jacket.

Neither article contained any evidence of these things actually happening, beyond one person saying they had happened. This didn’t stop the paper reacting as if the country was descending into militant politically-correct madness.

  1. THE MYSTERIOUS UNNAMED SOURCE

Even more dubious than stories that are referenced by a single named source are those that come from an anonymous source.

Now this is a tricky area as obviously papers are rightly duty-bound to protect the anonymity of those who come forward with sensitive information that should be published in the public interest. But it also gives certain papers a green light to produce highly questionable stories which are then very difficult to challenge or verify as the source cannot be examined.

Take this story that appeared recently in The Sun about a 21-year-old refugee who claimed to be aged just 12. Both the subject of the story and the source – a foster mum referred to as ‘Rosie’ – remained anonymous, which was problematic as the whole tale sounded more fictional and absurd than an episode of the Mighty Boosh.

  1. STRETCHING THE TRUTH

Papers might not tell so many outright lies that will land them in immediate trouble. But what they will do frequently is misinform and exaggerate. Often it’s a case of how far they can stretch the truth. How can they take something fairly unremarkable and spin it into a social problem that people need to be worrying about?

Often this will be around either crime or welfare benefits and will involve a particular group that a paper might want to stir up negative sentiments about. A good example of this is an article in The Sun this summer which tried to paint all Syrian refugees as criminals.

Using data from crime figures that showed that nearly 900 Syrians have been arrested in England and Wales in the last year, the paper tried to link these cases to rape and child abuse. Yet it turned out that only three of the arrests were for rape or child abuse. The vast majority of offences were for fairly minor immigration violations.

  1. SPURIOUS LINKS

Another classic tabloid tactic. Highlight a problem, then point the finger of blame at someone that it has nothing to do with.

This has been a favourite game with several papers for many years now regarding that notorious institution we have come to either hate or tolerate – the EU. Over the years, the EU has been blamed for everything from voodoo to the flooding crisis.

The papers in question know that they can’t come out and simply say ‘the EU is to blame’ every time something goes wrong. They are a bit more subtle than that. Often it’s a case of mentioning the problem then throwing in a few sentences complaining about being in the EU, leaving readers to make the spurious connection themselves.

This can be seen in this article in the Sunday Express which appeared a couple of weeks before the referendum, where its editor tried to link a few illegal immigrants (none of whom were from EU countries) arriving in boats on the south coast to EU freedom of movement.

  1. REMOVING THE CONTEXT

This is the crux of how papers manage to get away with frequently misinforming the public. Everything needs to be understood within its particular context, also within the wider surrounding context. Statistics need to be understood within the context of the research that has produced them, as well as other relevant statistics. Quotes need to be understood within the context of the whole speech or discussion that has been taking place.

Newspapers, unlike proper pieces of research, are under no obligation to place their output within any context. They are pretty much free to take a chunk of something, isolate it and put whatever spin they like on it. Complaints about inaccurate articles can be made to the press regulator, but the punishment if found guilty is usually a small apology somewhere within the paper or on the website usually weeks or months after the original article was published.

Take this week’s front page article in the Daily Mail. The paper reports that it caught 17 foreign truckers texting at the wheel and uses it to make a xenophobic point in the wake of the Polish driver convicted earlier this week for manslaughter. It is isolating these cases from the wider research that shows that texting while driving is common across all groups. But the worst penalty the paper could receive for printing this front page misinformation is a small corrections notice some time close to Christmas.

This is something all papers are guilty of, as can be seen here with the way several papers – both tabloids and broadsheets – isolated a quote the Archbishop of Canterbury made in a magazine interview and used it to make various points.

So, how to check if your daily paper is lying to you? Here are a couple of tips:

  1. Read through the whole article to check for inconsistencies. Is the headline supported by the actual story? Does the article contain information way down in the text that contradicts the main thrust of the story?

  2. If the article is based on statistics or a report, try to find the original source if the paper doesn’t include a link. Make sure that the data has been fairly represented. You can normally do this using an internet search engine.

  3. Also, check the impartiality of the data. As mentioned, sometimes papers commission their own research which can be heavily biased towards reaching a desired outcome. Sometimes they may quote research that comes from a politically-oriented think tank. This doesn’t mean it has to necessarily be discounted, but knowing it will help you put the article in a better perspective.

  4. Analyse the evidence used to back the story up. Is it robust or is it just hearsay, or a quote taken from a single source, or a suspicious-sounding anonymous source? Has evidence been used fairly and accurately, without attempts to exaggerate or mislead?

  5. If quotes are used, particularly when in headlines or sub-headings, try and find a link to the whole speech, interview, discussion, etc. This will help you understand if the quote has been used fairly or taken out of context.

Finally, if you see an article that you think is inaccurate, you can report it to the press regulator. Most of the main publications are regulated by IPSO, some of the smaller ones are regulated by Impress and some are self-regulated.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.