Thursday 30 October 2008

What a charming young lady.

We've noted in the past that the Sun's readers often think that the antics of the newspaper they read are either tasteless or out of order. No real surprises then that they don't think much of the paper's buying of the story of Georgina Baillie, currently at the head of the storm involving the calls made by Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross to her grandfather, Andrew Sachs:

"Excuse me ???? She said her issue over this was that whatever happened between her and Brand ought to have been a private matter.!! NOW she comes to cash in. Hypocritical in extreme.
Spilling the beans is almost as bad as Ross/Brand yelling it down the phone to her grandfather.What bit does she not get about "respect" ??????"

"So the official response to despicable behavior is then to behave (and print) vengeful abuse in return? Why didnt I figure that one out, there was me thinking publically abusing people was bad, apparently not, only if someone does it without being paid for the story first. I get it."

"what a hypocrite, she whines that her privacy was invaded and then does the exact same thing back"

"I do believe that Andrew Sachs was genuinely upset over the comments made about his grand daughter. Not something you want to hear. But his grand daughter seems to be reeping the rewards for what happened. She wanted her relationship (if thats what you call it) with Russell to be private but now she is selling her story on their sex life (slept with him on first night, must be well proud). I would also like to know if this radio programme had not gone out on air, would there be so much hype about it. Ross and Brand took a joke one step too far but I dont think they should be sacked. To be honest the cost of TV license is more of an issue and cause for complaint than this."

"An unkonown milking this for all it's worth. For god's sake give it a rest, nobody is interested."

"Unfortunately for her poor granfather, he now has to read about his granddaughters antics in The Sun. What a charming young lady."

"What is more upsetting to Andrew Sachs? Russell Brand saying it on a radio show that 400,000 people listened to or his grand-daughter repeating it over and over again in a national newspaper giving all the sordid details?"

"This is pathetic, if this girl is so upset by what has been said. Why is it that she has sold her story about her relationship with brand to the newspapers. There are far more serious things going on in the world at the moment. This show was pre-recorded so why didn't somebody edit all this out before it was broadcast?"

"Not only has poor Andrew Sachs gone through the humiliation of all of this, the poor sod gets to hear how his granddaughter rates one of her former lovers in bed!!! He'll love that!! It's given her the publicity she wants anyway.... How much did she get for telling her side of the story???"

"Methinks someone might be smelling an opportunity to become famous..."

Meanwhile, the Sun was demanding this morning that more heads roll. Nausea prevents me from pasting parts of it, such is the cant of demanding that such filth be prevented from reaching us, but the accountability part is worth linking in:

"This week the BBC has looked leaderless. Bosses froze in the face of national outrage.

The BBC has huge power. It receives vast sums of our money.

In return it has huge responsibilities.

Yet the BBC’s lack of accountability means it too often shows contempt for public opinion.

At a time of crisis its top managers have been exposed as weak and indecisive."

Yes, all this over two presenters who went a bit too far in phoning up a guest who was meant to be on their show but couldn't make it, who even authorised the broadcast as long as it was toned down a bit. The Sun meanwhile back in July was part of the troika of newspapers which paid Robert Murat libel damages for printing numerous reports alleging that he had abducted and/or killed Madeleine McCann. What's worse? An old actor being somewhat humiliated by a granddaughter he must have had an inkling was hardly a shrinking violet or a man having his life ruined at the hands of the gutter press? We all know now.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Target audience

Phil Woolas, the minister against for immigration reckons Sun readers hold all the power.

The government calls the new points based immigration system "Australian-style" to get its message across to Sun readers, Phil Woolas has said.

The immigration minister said it was "not a direct comparison" but he believed it was a fair one.

He challenged a CBI immigration conference audience to come up with a better description for a Sun headline.

"If you ignore the Sun reader in this debate you are not going to move it forward," he added.


Explaining his latest comments to journalists after the CBI meeting, he said Sun readers knew as much about the realities of immigration as many "so-called experts".

Monday 27 October 2008

"Victim's Rights"

The Sun today has an article about Jack Straw's plans to, as the Sun puts it, "put the victims first".

It mentions the usual suspects - the Human Rights Act, political correctness and Labour being "soft on crime". The only scrapegoat it misses out is the Data Protection Act, presumably because it doesn't naturally fall within this particular group.

It quotes a victim of crime, who, while I am sympathetic to them, doesn't seem to be basing her views on any rational or half-way intelligent position. She seem to completely ignore or be oblivious to the fact that the Human Rights Act applies to everyone - that why it's called the "Human Rights Act" not the "Human Privileges Act" - not just people with an unblemished record. She must be completely unaware of the good that the HRA has done to the UK (a pdf from 2006 is available).

What the Sun doesn't seem to realise is that - as bad as it sounds - victims are probably the last people you should think of when designing laws. What counts is that there is a fair trial in which the Defendant is able to give his case - not what makes you seem hard in front of the tabloids or to try and out-do your opponents.

Thursday 23 October 2008

Feel my Mercedes pain.

Sometimes the contrast between articles tell their own story. The Sun reports:

"THE number of unpaid energy bills has increased nearly 50 per cent due to price rises, a study found.

Homes skipping electricity bills jumped from 1.31million to 1.96million in the past six months.

And 1.61million Brits missed paying their gas bill, compared to 1.16million in the last six months of 2007, the YouGov poll of 2,157 people found.

Website said: “Households are feeling the strain.”

Meanwhile, the Sun's star columnist and ex-editor Kelvin MacKenzie has other things on his mind:

"A MONTH ago I was critical of Mercedes-Benz who gave me a £1,500 estimate to repair a two-centimetre square scratch, which in the end I had fixed at my local body shop for £350."

For a paper that so pretends to understand and fight for its readers, who are rather more likely to be in the former category rather than in MacKenzie's shoes, his woes over his Merc are hardly likely to inspire much sympathy.


The Sun's smear of Katy Perry has fallen even further apart.

A knife for the girls.

Another teenager dies as a result of a stabbing, which means the Sun just has to find someone or something to blame, and in this instance it happens to be Katy Perry. Yes, her of the kissing girls and liking it song.

The Sun has decreed that she must apologise for this heinous insult to all the families grieving as a result of knife crime. Perhaps if the photograph was recent, or as they describe it, from a recent shoot, she would have done: instead, the Katy Perry forum suggests that the photograph is two years old, and was residing until a Sun journalist spotted it, on, you guessed it, Perry's MySpace gallery. This friends is how you invent a scandal and make money out of it.

Much longer post on this over at mine.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

George of the Bungle urged to watch out for that treeeeeeeee

See if you can spot the two lies of omission in today's editorial penned by Rebekah Wade, self-crowned champion of the poor and working classes...

"Top Tory George Osborne denies soliciting cash from a Russian tycoon for party funds during a holiday in the Med.

But this Corfu caper raises a question about judgment.

Fundraising is a murky business which is why serious statesmen stay well clear — for their own protection.

Yet Mr Osborne was present when a middleman discussed a possible donation from the Russian billionaire.

Mr Osborne also leaked details of a private chat with Peter Mandelson which both parties were entitled to consider confidential.

If the Shadow Chancellor betrays other people’s secrets, he can hardly expect them to keep his.

Mr Osborne aspires one day to run Britain’s economy.

In this time of economic crisis, he should be concentrating on his proper job — fighting for hard-pressed taxpayers, not the small beer of petty politics."

OK, here's the one that most people will spot immediately:

Apparently George Osborne should keep his trap shut about what did and didn't happen when he met a Russian billionaire and get on with helping Britain's struggling workers. There's no mention of Mandelson's role in the "petty politics" in this editorial, just praise for his perceived support of the new Battle for British Business campaign in a preceding editorial... though it's possible that this is merely a case of Rebekah being quietly confident about Mandy's multi-tasking skills.

And here's the one that most people will miss:

Apparently George Osborne should keep his trap shut about what did and didn't happen when he met a Russian billionaire and get on with helping Britain's struggling workers. There's no mention that one of the people present during one of those encounters was.... Rebekah Wade's boss, Rupert Murdoch.

Rupert Murdoch owns one of the yachts that was in the flotilla where the meeting took place, his son-in-law owns another (more), and his daughter's 40th birthday was, apparently, the focus of this gathering.

So it's fair to conclude that, while George was innocently rubbing elbows and not soliciting donations, Rupert was wandering from table to table, offering out party bags and slices of birthday cake, or whatever it is that rich people do at these events.

Now read this sentence again:

"If the Shadow Chancellor betrays other people’s secrets, he can hardly expect them to keep his."

Yes indeedy, George Osborne should keep his trap shut about what did and didn't happen when he met a Russian billionaire... and he'll also keep his trap shut about what did and didn't happen when he met a certain Australian-American billionaire if he knows what's good for him.

Rebekah Wade may not know how to declare an interest, but she sure knows how to veil a threat.

septicisle adds:

The Guardian has some additional info on how Murdoch sees Osborne's indiscretion:

"A friend of Rothschild said: "Nat feels George Osborne has behaved disloyally, improperly and has conducted himself in a shabby and dishonest manner."

This view is shared by Rupert Murdoch who is wary of the young turks running the Conservative party. The media mogul was present at a 40th birthday dinner in Corfu for his daughter Elisabeth, attended by Mandelson, Osborne and Rothschild. His displeasure at Osborne's indiscretion has been passed on; Rebekah Wade, the editor of the Sun, was unimpressed by Osborne's Tory conference speech."

So whilst it seems doubtful that the Sun would have gone so big on Cameron's speech if Murdoch himself or his son James hadn't given it the OK, Osborne is most certainly out of favour currently in Wapping, or is at least in the Sun's offices.


UPDATE (24 Oct) - Tut. They might've kept this quiet if George had kept his damn fool mouth shut:

Independent - Cameron, Murdoch and a Greek island freebie: Media tycoon's son-in-law paid for Conservative leader's flights for meeting on yacht in Santorini. The Tory leader has not revealed his talks with Mr Murdoch. In the Commons register of interests, he discloses that on 16 August, a private plane provided by the public relations guru Matthew Freud took his wife, Samantha, and two of their children from Farnborough to Istanbul. Mr Freud is married to Elisabeth Murdoch. A source in the private jet industry estimated the Camerons' flights would have cost around £34,300 in total. One witness said that the dozen or so guests at Mr Freud's party gathered on Mr Murdoch's yacht for drinks before moving on to Mr Freud's for dinner. They included the singer Billy Joel, Rebekah Wade, editor of the Murdoch-owned newspaper The Sun, and Ben Silverman, co-chairman of the American television network NBC Universal.

Now all we need is for some to blab about *those* conversations, but don't count on it being Billy Joel; his views on such behaviour are clear.

Friday 17 October 2008

The waiting game

Just a quickie from teh Eye, issue 1221.
It is just a small example of sticking to the letter of the PCC code rather than the spirit.

And if you fancy more adventures of the Sun with the PCC, then Septicisle, our politics and ethics editor, has a post on his own blog involving the Sun, homosexuals, a paratrooper and the Telegraph, although not all in the same complaint.

Monday 13 October 2008

A few nice words

I have just found someone with a good word to say about the Sun and it's writers
The journalism of the Sun is often sneered at by the literati. It shouldn’t be. If anything, the Sun’s writers, in many ways, display the highest standards of journalism in what used to be Fleet Street, distilling often complex propositions into a few punchy, well-crafted sentences.

Although reading through again, I'm not so sure.

Courtesy of David Jones MP

Your names not down. You're not coming in

The Sun. Highly inflential in past general elections.
Is it losing its influence, though? Or are the Tories beginning to think they are, to paraphrase some famous bloke, bigger than god?

Recess Monkey - Tory conference roundup:
The hall was so overcrowded for the Osborne speech that many of the great and good were turned away, not least Rebekah Wade - which won’t help when seeking Murdoch’s backing in an election.

Pandora of the Independent:
On Saturday afternoon, the Parliamentary Golf Society held its annual 10-a-side match against Huntercombe golf club in Henley-On-Thames.

The side, which was made up of the likes of Tim Yeo and The Sun's political editor George Pascoe-Watson, was this year captained by one of Cameron's senior advisors, Andrew Mackay, pictured.

Mackay, however, made a schoolboy error of captaincy by inviting 11 players, meaning they were one man too many. To remedy the situation, he made a bold decision by ruthlessly giving The Sun's political guru Trevor Kavanagh – and arguably Fleet Street's most influential commentator – the axe.

"Poor old Trevor was very honoured to have got the call-up this year, only to be told by Mackay on arrival that the parliamentarians were a man over, and he'd been getting the boot," I'm told.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

42 days detention

The Sun today mentions the current difficulties with Brown's plans to lock up innocent people for 42 days before the police decide to charge them with something or letting them go.

The Sun says it is likely that Brown will have to shelve this plan - for which we have to celebrate - and the Sun blames the current economic problems as being more pressing - which is correct - as the reason for doing so. You could say that every cloud has a silver lining...

Judging from the Sun's tone, it is obviously disappointed with this turn of events (this should be apparent from how it covered the debate in the Commons, which I mentioned in my initial post).

The only down side to this article is that the Sun suggests that Brown could use the Parliament Act to force it through. This would have to be passed by the Commons again and would almost certainly require a General Election as there is no manifesto commitment for the government to lock people up for this amount of time. Not to mention there's the minor fact that Brown would have to actually win an election...

Thursday 2 October 2008

The day the Sun went back to the Tories?

Incredibly positive coverage of Cameron's speech, not just on the front page, but also in the paper. Perhaps this, from the report on the speech, was key:

"Everything in Mr Cameron’s 64-minute speech smacked of a Thatcherite agenda, from strong defence to an end to the PC culture."

About the only note of criticism is from "5 Daves" which the paper called upon to comment on the speech.

Key though, as always, is the Sun's leader (url may well change):

"DAVID Cameron finally stood up yesterday and showed what he is made of.

Gone was the show pony politician. In his place emerged a tough leader, a young but credible statesman with potent ideas for rebuilding our nation.

Mr Cameron said the words his party wanted to hear. He echoed their hero, Margaret Thatcher, calling for “strong defence, sound money and the rule of law”.


But it will be the reaction of Sun readers that counts in the end.

This speech could have been lifted straight from a Sun editorial — from backing Our Boys on the front-line to mending Britain’s broken society.

Our readers want more classroom discipline, support for families and tax help for married couples. "

The perfect example of the Sun telling its readers what they want, when in fact, as the preceding sentence so vividly illustrates, this in what the Sun wants.

"A Tory government will call a referendum on the hated EU Constitution. It will end the abuse of the EU Human Rights Act and replace it with a sensible bill of rights."

How many times has the Sun repeatedly told this bare-faced lie? The Human Rights Act and the European Convention of Human Rights, on which it is based, have nothing to do with the European Union, and pre-dates our joining of the EEC, the fore-runner of the EU, by 23 years. One cannot wait to see what a "sensible" bill of rights will contain that the "abusive" HRA with its quaint rights to life, a fair trial, liberty and security, expression and marriage doesn't.

In conclusion:

"This was a powerful, coherent speech, addressing hard economic questions with sensible solutions.

Far from looking like a “novice”, Mr Cameron delivered the most confident and compelling speech of the political season.

“You can’t PROVE you are ready to be Prime Minister — it would be arrogant to pretend you can,” said Mr Cameron.

And he’s right. The Tory Party has come a long way under his leadership. There is much still to be done.

But with this nail-hammering performance, he showed he is more than qualified to give it a try."

Cameron has then passed the Sun, or rather, the Murdoch test: by so adopting their own editorial line, it's clear that he poses no threat to them or to Murdoch's business interests, hence he is now qualified to potentially be our prime minister. Those who object that one person, indeed, an Australian American, has such power to decide who is and isn't fit for government in the United Kingdom, ought to be worried: the last time this happened we were lumbered with Tony Blair for 10 years.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

The Sun at the fringe.

Being one of the supposed politics editors on the Sun Lies blog is difficult for one short reason: the paper very rarely actually "does" politics. This doesn't mean that the Sun doesn't feature political stories; that it does. Rather, the Sun presumes that its readers aren't interested in politics as reported by say, any of the ex-broadsheets, but they are interested in policies, albeit ones which the Sun pre-decides they should be interested in and that have already been defined by the editorial team themselves. Hence the Liberal Democrats hardly receive any coverage at all, except when they're mocked or insulted; they are an irrelevance. When it comes to crime and law and order however, that's something the Sun knows its readers deeply care about. They deeply care so much about what their readers think about law and order that they provide the exact remedy which they themselves think would solve all our problems in a flash. Whether the readers actually agree or not is something entirely different.

It's therefore well worth pointing out that this year, for the first time ever, the Sun newspaper has been holding fringe events at the Labour and Conservative party conferences. These have long been dominated by the broads, holding stiflingly boring meetings with stiflingly boring politicians, never meeting a real actual person except the delegates themselves who turn up and become stiflingly bored as a result. They deserve something approaching credit for this, because the Guardian for example has been holding truly dismal sideshows where politicians make the case for their greatest ever respective member. No surprises to learn that Labour voted for Keir Hardie while the Tories chose Margaret Thatcher.

The theme of the events, in case you couldn't guess, is "Broken Britain", the Sun's now long-running theme on how the country bends over backwards to allow every armed chav to knife crime your son/daughter/husband in the face while the police and judiciary doing everything in their power to instead persecute the victims. I exaggerate slightly, but only slightly. There's no dispute that we have endemic, deep problems, especially in some of our inner cities, with gangs, crime, drugs and poverty, both of aspiration and wealth. The toll of teenage lives in London is undoubtedly sickening. There are however no quick solutions to any of these things, and the constant demands for immediate action, of which the paper never supplies any real point plan except to rip up the Human Rights Act and install zero tolerance only increases the chances of bad policy being made on the hoof. Politicians shouldn't give in to such demands, it's true, but the relationship between the media and the government has become so essential to the management of every day life that now those in powers have little choice but to take heed.

The first of these meetings, at Labour's conference last week, did not actually go especially smoothly from the Sun's point of view. Only one member of the actual panel - Michael Gove of the Conservatives - unsurprisingly considering the party's own views, agreed with the Sun that the country is "broken". Just so that the argument was not completely lost, the newspaper took the precaution of arranging for the relatives of those recently involved in some of the most notorious murder cases to be in attendance. Perfectly acceptable, of course, but what is not is the idea that this was their first opportunity to speak out or speak to politicians, nor was it all thanks to the Sun. It also distorts the true picture of crime, which almost everyone agrees has now fallen for the past decade, with rises in certain offences, but with the chances of becoming a victim of crime actually the lowest since the early 80s. The Sun never though has any intentions of being representative.

I've written previously about the tyranny of grief, the power of emotion and how it is almost unanswerable without coming across as ill-feeling or not grasping the full scale of what has happened to the individual - and the Sun knows this perfectly well. Politicians can do nothing but spout platitudes, pretend to feel their pain, and all it does is come across as false, which is because it is. It is impossible to know how they feel without having experienced a similar tragedy. Overwhelmingly though, emotion and anger are not good starting points to make policy from. This is obvious when you read what some of these traumatised individuals want to be done:

"In an impassioned plea she called for tougher sentencing, more police patrols and earlier action to identify potential yobs.

Brooke [Kinsella, whose brother Ben was stabbed to death], who later met Prime Minister Gordon Brown, added: “We need to get through at the grassroots. We need to get these kids before they even think about committing a crime.”

And just how exactly do you do that? Without exactly the kind of nanny statism and surveillance which is so decried, especially by the Sun, how are you meant to identify those likely to commit crime before they even think of doing it?

Apart from back-slapping, about the only real controversy at the Labour meeting was that Cherie Blair and Jack Straw clashed over why George Michael had only received a caution for possessing crack cocaine.

More stormy was yesterday's at the Conservative party conference. Like at the first, there was the outpourings which if anything suggest that some of those still involved ought to be attempting to move on:

"Marcia Shakespeare – whose daughter Letisha, 17, died in Birmingham gang gunfire – said: “The police try their best but what about the rights of victims? I don’t get answers to my job applications because I am stigmatised as the mother of a murder victim.”

I'm not sure that the government can be blamed for someone continuing to in effect stigmatise themselves.

The headline though was the merely inscrutable:

"VIOLENT thugs who kill and maim should forfeit their human rights, The Sun’s crime summit was told yesterday.

Grieving Paul Bowman – dad of murdered model Sally Anne Bowman – called for a shake-up of Broken Britain’s liberty laws at the Tory Party conference in Birmingham.

Paul, joined by Sally’s mum Linda, told the meeting: “In this country animals have animal rights and a dog has every right to be treated well and kept healthy. If that dog decides to act outside what we regard as acceptable – for instance bites a child – its rights are taken away and it is destroyed.

“When somebody decides, like the perpetrator of the crime against Sally, to go out armed with a knife to murder, leave it till the coast is clear and then rape, bite and desecrate the body of an 18-year-old girl, I believe that man’s human rights should be waived to a degree."

“I think there should be an amendment to the Human Rights Act where someone, if they step outside being a human being and commit an inhuman act, then the Human Rights Act does not apply.”

When then should someone lose their human rights? When they're accused of the crime? After they've been convicted? After a number of appeals? And what exactly is an inhuman act? How will we define it? The Human Rights Act has never affected the Sally Anne Bowman case in any shape or form: Mark Dixie is appealing against his conviction, but considering that the case against him was almost as straight-forward as they come, he's hardly likely to succeed. With a minimum sentence of 34 years passed, he'll be 70 before he can apply for parole. It sometimes has to be asked: how much more do they honestly expect the state to do? Bowman supports the death penalty, but you only have to look to America to see that it is no deterrent, especially against crimes such as those committed by Dixie, and it simply is not going to be brought back, however much a minority would like it to be.

There also seems to be a complete lack of perspective of what prison life is actually like, especially for those who commit crimes like Dixie:

"Paul blasted the “worry-free” life brutal offenders can lead in jails."

If worry-free is getting beaten up, excrement and spit put in your food and being in constant fear, then you have to wonder what sort of regime would be preferred. It hardly seems like Dixie will flourish in prison - the police officers who arrested him after an altercation in a bar were surprised he was crying over such a minor incident, until the DNA results came back.

It was again though the involvement of Blair which made headlines outside the Sun, with Cherie quite rightly calling the Tory MP Chris Grayling "specious" for offering the ripping up of the HRA as some sort of solution. The Tory pledge to bring in a British bill of rights has always been a joke, as all repealing the HRA would do is mean that applicants would have to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights rather than a British court, as the Tories would hardly be likely to withdraw from that institution also.

The Sun's job though had been done. It's presented, via those who have suffered the most from indiscriminate violence which can almost never be wholly prevented, the same simplistic solutions which it has been pushing from the very beginning. It points to Bill Bratton and his success in bringing down violent crime in New York and Los Angeles without mentioning that the number of murders in both those cities is far higher than the toll in London. It doesn't mention that part of what helped bring down crime in those cities, apart from zero tolerance, was the crime mapping that has just been recently introduced in London. He's quite right about the targets which do burden the police, and possibly about local accountability, but that also raises the spectre especially over here of the BNP effectively seizing control of neighbourhood policing. It also completely ignored the aspects of the debate which it rather wouldn't present to its readers, such as Blair's strong defence of the HRA, and Jonathan Aitken, along with Charles Clarke, robustly denouncing the Titan prisons plan which the Sun supports, as it does any prison enlargement. This is how the Sun's politics works: it comes to a predefined conclusion and sells at as if that was the one that was came to naturally. And that's partly why the newspaper has such control over politicians as a whole.