Thursday 31 July 2008

The Sun misleads its readers over the BBC fakery scandals.

Today's Sun editorial is a standard example of its hypocrisy and complete failure to be honest with its readers:

"ONCE again, the BBC is fined for conning viewers.

Ofcom’s ruling should shame everyone in the Beeb’s management.

In a private company, heads would roll. Instantly."

The reality is that heads did in fact roll. The Ofcom ruling (PDF) pointed out Rix Blaxhill, the 6Music head of programming was directly responsible in one instance for the deceptions which occurred on the Russell Brand show. He resigned last year, far before yesterday's ruling. Likewise, Peter Fincham, BBC1's head of programming, resigned after the "Crowngate" affair.

The Sun's statement that in a private company heads would roll instantly simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny. The BBC's main terrestrial competitor, ITV, spent much of last year coping with fakery and deception scandals which make the BBC's look like the minor transgressions they mostly were. Despite Michael Grade, ITV's executive chairman pledging zero tolerance of any deceptions, no one was sacked after programmes like Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway were shown to have defrauded those who phoned in of up to £7.8 million. Indeed, Peter Fincham, having had to resign in disgrace from the BBC was quickly found a job at ITV as the director of programming.

What's more, the Sun has a massive conflict of interest which it doesn't bother to mention. BSkyB, the satellite and digital broadcaster is 39% owned by News Corporation, the Sun's ultimate parent company. BSkyB in turn owns 17.9% of ITV. Not only then does their claim that in a private company heads would roll over such fakery not stand up, the Sun's parent company if it so wished could have demanded that heads should have rolled. That it didn't ought to speak volumes.

An expanded post on this topic can be found at my own site.

EDITOR: septicisle (Beat: politics and ethics)

Who am I?

My name is septicisle. I live somewhere in the United Kingdom and have been blogging since the bad old days of just after 7/7.

What will I be writing about?

I'll be concentrating on the Sun's politics and the ethics of the paper's journalism. Along with Tim, I'll probably be the one here making the most posts.

Why am I doing this?

In the words of Dennis Potter, there is no one person more responsible for the pollution of what was already a fairly polluted press than Mr Rupert Murdoch, and the pollution of the press is an important part of the pollution of British political life, and it's an important part of the cynicism and misperception of our own realities that is destroying so much of our political discourse.

The Sun has been key, not just to the success of Thatcher and Blair in this country, but to the success of Murdoch himself worldwide. He had the nous to buy what was a decent but failing newspaper (the Daily Herald), to not tinker too vastly with its politics to begin with, but once he had succeeded in building it up, he then turned it into his own personal propaganda vehicle. Rather than involving the paper's readers in anything even remotely approaching discussion on the direction of the paper, the editorials instead dictate what they should think. Anything that threatens Murdoch's business interests, whether they be politicians, the BBC or Facebook, will be attacked habitually and without mercy.

Due to the paper having the largest sale of any British daily paper, it still has immense power across government. It doesn't matter whether the readers of the paper themselves agree with its politics; they are held up, due to the fact they buy it, whether they do so for the sport, the celebrity news or for the pitiful political reporting, as supporters of the editorial line. This means that any politician who has even the slightest aspiration of at some point gaining power has to follow the Murdoch line. As long as they are felt not to be a threat to Murdoch's businesses, deals can be made. This happened first under Thatcher, with the paper becoming the biggest cheerleader for Thatcherism in the entire country, while under Blair it meant that the newspaper supported the Iraq war to the absolute hilt, demanded that he constantly crackdown on crime regardless of the consequences we now see, such as the immensely overcrowded prisons, of which it still demands yet more, and has called for the harshest measures on terrorism that this country has ever seen, supporting first 90 day detention without charge and more recently 42 days.

If you want an example of just how the Murdoch empire works, you should know that every single Murdoch-owned newspaper, even if they were Chinese, supported the Iraq war. His argument for it was not the emancipation of the Iraqi people from a vile and murderous dictator, but because he thought that it would lower the price of oil to $20 a barrel. Without his support, it seems doubtful that Blair would have survived for as long as he did. Even now the support the paper is giving to Gordon Brown is effusive, as Murdoch has yet to be convinced by David Cameron. When he eventually is, it will be as if New Labour never existed.

If the Sun's methods were pure, it wouldn't matter so much. But they are not. They routinely lie, distort, invade the privacy of members of the general public on the slightest whim and perform hatchet jobs on those who oppose it. Along with the other tabloids, in recent years it has been directly responsible for the hysteria over paedophiles, the terrorist threat, gun and knife crime, and now over the so-called broken society. The paper in short, doesn't just report on misery: it helps to create and perpetuate it.

Some will argue that the Sun, unlike say the Daily Mail, is declining in influence. It's a view I'm sympathetic towards. The Sun, unlike the Mail and the Express, has been attempting over the last few years to move with the times. As the recent Dispatches documentary on Islamophobia showed however, it still remains one of the most intolerant and pernicious newspapers on many fronts. As long as it stays the biggest selling newspaper in the country, it deserves special attention.

My own blog has over the last few years been attempting to redress the balance, however slightly. I'm humbled and pleased to have been asked by Tim to contribute to this blog, dedicated to doing just that.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

EDITOR: Tim Ireland (Beat: Page 3)

Who am I?

My name is Tim Ireland. I live in Guildford and have been blogging since late 2001 at


What will I be writing about?

My main assignment is Page 3, with general input on the subject of politics and tactics.

I'm sorry if your main assignment doesn't end up being quite so cushy, but I was first in line, so there.


Why am I doing this?

This has been on the cards for a very long time, but what finally prompted action was the ad-lib blurted by Team Murdoch after David Davis threw the script out the window. Their true colours were shown not only as they boldly planned to introduce a political candidate funded by a foreign media owner, but also as they ran in fear from the backlash (claiming deliberate irony of all things) *and* had the temerity to brand Davis a 'quitter' as they withdrew from the field of play nursing their boo-boos.

I believe that media owners have too much influence in this country (and others) and that their antics have been a disruptive and negative influence in our democracy for far too long. Murdoch is the worst and most shameless offender at present, and his main weapon is the Sun newspaper. This weapon relies on the ongoing deception of millions of readers, and I think reporting the worst of these will allow us to at least dull the blade.

It is my position that many Sun readers, like most of us human beings, have considerable faults and weaknesses, but I believe that they should be grouped with other victims in this equation and treated as such, no matter how readily they victimise others, or appear* to victimise others.

(*HINT: Not every letter in the Sun is from an actual reader.)

I would expect anyone invited to tale part in this project to both appreciate and consider this position, not least because dismissing all of the Sun's readers as xenophobic nitwits is sure to alienate many of those we are trying to reach. I want to make Sun readers aware that they are being deceived, cheated or manipulated by the tabloid they trust (or dismiss as 'a bit of a larf'), and this can only be made more difficult if they feel they are being treated as the enemy. They need to understand that our pointing out that Rebekah Wade treats them like sheep does not mean that we regard them to be sheep.

Finally, I'm positioned on the left, but I'm not aligned with any political party and I think it would be a mistake to think or claim that any of the techniques used by the Sun are exclusive to the right end of the political spectrum. That said, there are many techniques that are typical of some of the more vocal outlets of News International (such as FOX News), and I see no harm in pointing these out.


Why have I chosen Page 3 as my main assignment?

1. I've already tracked this abuse of readers' trust for over four years. Key round-up reports can be found here and here, and many individual reports can be found here.

2. I regard Page 3 to be a useful example of betrayed trust that I think we can use to reach readers of this tabloid and alert bystanders. Many times I've shown people Page 3 and watched them stifle a yawn... until I've pointed out the editorial. I love watching their faces when they realise what's been going on all these years, and my favourite eyebrow-raising example appears below:

A woman paraded like a side of meat was introduced by Murdoch in 1969 (going topless for the first time in 1970), and it has since been defended as a great (if rather recent) British tradition. And yet Sun readers have so far managed to avoid being outraged by the repurposing of this great British tradition as an editorial/propaganda device.

No matter how empowering (or not) you may think it is for a woman to appear on Page 3, you cannot argue that it is in any way empowering to have the opinion of a newspaper owner or editor shovelled into your mouth and passed off as your own to an unwitting readership.

Imagine how the average tabloid reader might feel if they discovered that their favourite celebrity or sports personality didn't actually want to save the whales/rainforests/children, but was instead *told* to say such things by their management in order to pursue management's agenda and/or boost ticket sales. I would imagine if they trusted that celebrity or sports personality in any way that they would be quite displeased, and this is what has been happening to Page 3 girls for years under editor Rebekah Wade.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but I'll be contributing here and there on other matters (mostly on my own site or under comments here, given the 'beat' rules). For example, despite having a readership somewhere in the millions, Rebekah Wade still feels compelled to play number-shuffling games that aren't all that different from those played by certain wannabe media-moguls in the blogosphere.


Editorial Recruitment, Identity and Introductions

OK, something like the above is what you should expect to see from all editors who choose to join this project, and expectations/conditions that go hand in hand with inclusion are outlined in full below.

Editors will be introduced on an invite-only basis, with the decision to invite a new editor being made by the current group of editors. Members of the initial group will be invited by me personally. Each new editor is expected to write an introductory post including the details outlined below. A link to that post will appear in the sidebar along with their name/nickname, a link to their main site (if they have one), and a link to the profile link that will accompany any of the comments they make on this website (to avoid any identity confusion and/or the fraudulent shenanigans that usually follow any attempted outing of a fraud or team of frauds).

1. Who are you?

I'm reckless enough to operate under my own name, but I do not expect all writers to take this same measure. In fact, I expect that we as a team will rely greatly on our anonymous and semi-anonymous contributors should News International decide to start playing the man and not the ball. (I fully expect this to happen at some stage, BTW... which is why I'm building a Hydra that can move on to any location with or without the help of any team members that may be subjected to attack... including myself. The idea is to make it clear to Wade and other senior News International bods that it will be a very bad idea to attempt to bully any of us into silence, lest they get Usmanoved *and* have to deal with a renewed version of their original target.)

Fair warning: Tabloid types rarely play fair, so if you are in any way anonymous, they will use that to discredit you (and those around you), and often this will work to some degree even if they do this anonymously. If you blog under your real name, it is more than likely that they will use any details they can summon up about your past or private life to discredit or intimidate you (and here's a recent example of the latter).

Those invited to take part in this collaborative blog are free to make a decision about identity for themselves. The only condition laid down for all contributors is that they use one online identity and one online identity alone. If you already blog under your real name, you cannot join this project under an assumed name. If multiple identities have been used by you in the past for whatever reason, it is important that this practice stop from the moment you join this team.

(There is only one single exception to this rule: At some stage of the project, we will be engaging in some sport with our readers, the good people of the Sun and their readers by going 'undercover' within their little world. We will be telegraphing/announcing this move to avoid the usual faux-outrage and charges of sock-puppeting that originate from sock-puppeting tosspots, but it will be up to the Sun and our readers to spot us in action.)

2. What will you be writing about?

Most users are expected to provide general input on the subject of media, tactics and politics (usually under comments), but for the most part each contributor will have one subject or aspect to cover and they will cover this *only* when a good story or clear opportunity presents itself.

This structure is designed to keep our writers fighting-fit, and our readers engaged with a variety of quality coverage using clear examples of duplicity, hypocrisy and outright deception.

A primary reason for this should be obvious if you have ever watched anyone seek to avoid accountability by claiming that they are the victim of a petty vendetta.

So, each writer gets a specific section or aspect of the newspaper to cover. That's their beat, they are expected to stick to it and they are only expected to submit a post of their own when they have a juicy story from their beat.

3. Why are you doing this?

The only condition for this is that you are honest with yourself and the readers of this weblog, so tell it like it is. In some cases, a link or links to appropriate pages on your website will tell most of the story, but if you have significant political leanings or affiliations that influence your motive(s), it might pay to go to the trouble of declaring them here.

4. Why have you chosen your specific beat and/or what skills and expertise can you bring to it?

Not all editors will have the luxury of choosing their beat, but often there will be very good reasons why it was chosen for them. What is expected here is a paragraph or two explaining why you may know what you're talking about.


Editorial Policy

Additional to any guidance/policy outlined above:

a) All editors may operate independently, and write in their own style at their own pace. You are only expected to write what you want (on your beat) when you want. You are most certainly not expected to blog every day.

b) Editors are expected to stick to their beat and hand story tips, research and discoveries that are off their beat to the appropriate editor(s). Some collaboration/overlap may be required from time to time, but please stick to your beat wherever possible.

c) If there's a whopper of a story at the top of the front page, please think twice before posting and 'pushing' that story from the top spot, especially on its first day out.

d) Initially, each editor will be assigned a Label (i.e. a 'tag' or category) for their beat. Please do not create Labels additonal to those already in use without first discussing this with other editors.

e) This first incarnation has been launched in an account under my name. There was no way around this, and until the situation changes (i.e. with a new incarnation that follows this one), I get the final say on what may or may not be considered a fair comment/risk, especially when it comes to libel.

f) For this reason, I'll be moderating comments exclusively to begin with, but expect to share this task with other editors in the near future.

g) If you have any doubts about any of the above, you are expected to run it by the group. A mailing list will be set up for this purpose and for general chat and housekeeping.


Mission Statement

In this incarnation of the ongoing 'Sun watch' project, we are attempting to reach readers of the Sun newspaper and show them not just that they are being deceived, but how they are being deceived.

Readers of the Sun as a whole are not to be treated as the enemy here, and editors are expected to keep the above in mind when writing any story for this website or submitting any comment to this website.

Similarly, editors are expected to be sensitive to this policy on their own websites from this point on, no matter what might have been said in the past.

If this changes on this site or any other that follows it, a new mission statement must be published that makes it clear what those changes are and why they have been made.


And so it begins

Invitations will be issued over the next week.

Subtle changes may be made to this first post and/or proposed policy as negotiations take place with those invited to be editors.

Cheers all.

Tim Ireland