Tuesday 31 March 2009

Deliberate liars or compulsive liars?

Gordon Smart:
...I was disappointed when I heard that Mr PETER DOHERTY, a fine upstanding member of his local community, was meeting BBC bosses on Tuesday for a job interview.

And that job is as a writer, apparently. According to Gordon's source at the BBC, they (BBC) want a pilot episode of a Skins type drama, and if it's a good 'un, they'll commission a whole series. Very nice, Mr Doherty. Best get cracking.

Only Pete isn't going to be writing a series, or even a pilot show for the BBC.

The Quietus [my emphasis]:
...the Beeb has rubbished the rumours as “completely false”, telling The Quietus that The Sun knew there was “no truth whatsoever” in the story – published in Gordon Smart’s ‘Bizarre’ column today – before they went to print.

I don't know The Quietus too well and I am very good at making an idiot of myself, so I thought I would confirm what the Corporation had been quoted as saying, by going to the Corporation.

I asked for the the BBC to confirm or deny if i) Pete Doherty is or isn't going to be writing/co-writing, or in negotiations with regards to writing a drama for the BBC and if ii) The Sun or Gordon Smart of the The Sun knew the story to be untrue before publishing it (if the story is untrue, obviously).

And a spokesman for the BBC confirmed that i) Pete Doherty isn't going to be writing a drama for them and ii)
They [The Sun] had our response in advance but didn't put it in.

Gordon Smart/The Sun knew the was story untrue, but still ran with it. Which means they are either compulsive liars and couldn't help themselves or they ran with it, looking at the language used, just to have a dig at the BBC to keep things ticking over until the Beeb give them a bigger target.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Sun in disgraceful journalism shocker.

There was a major story today which highlighted some truly reprehensible journalism by the Sun which I was intending to post on, but which has since been removed from the newspaper site on which it was posted, not I presume because it was inaccurate but because of a court order which had previously been granted that had brought the initial coverage to an end. I'm not going to repeat it because I think the story, broken in the Sun, should never have been published in the first place, but if you're so inclined you'll undoubtedly be able to find it. I do however hope that the Press Complaints Commission, which was already investigating the initial story, now throws the book at the Sun.

Wednesday 25 March 2009

Demanding the immediate arrest of the helpful Islamic nutter.

One of the great things about the Sun is that every so often it gets enough of a bee in its bonnet, or rather sees a passing bandwagon, and it can't help but leap upon it. On occasion it starts the ball rolling; at other times it just enjoys the ride. These campaigns, if they can even be termed such, rarely last long; long-term attention span, except when it comes to something like the Human Rights Act, is not the Sun's strong point. Sometimes these campaigns will have a lasting and damaging effect, such as late last year's witch-hunt over the death of Baby P, and at other times they will have absolutely no impact at all, and end up being quietly dropped and forgotten. Their campaign against knife crime is one such example, although ostensibly it is still on-going. "Broken Britain", last year's big motif, has also not been so big this year, what with Jade Goody dying to instead concentrate on.

One of the previous campaigns which the Sun has not since stopped crowing about involved Abu Hamza. The Sun has since claimed that it was more or less thanks to them that he ended up behind bars, which was utter nonsense, as have other "internet investigators" that have since become rather discredited (see Bloggerheads RE: Glen Jenvey). Nonetheless, the Sun's continual emphasis on Hamza ended up turning him into a major villain and the archetypal spouting Islamic madman. How much influence he genuinely had on those who went on to take part in terrorist attacks is disputed; he certainly was involved in radicalisation, but the more lurid claims against him don't necessarily stand up to scrutiny. He was definitely on the periphery, and some who have gone on to become noted extremists certainly did go to the Finsbury Park mosque if not regularly then on more than one or two occasions to hear him speak, but also thanks to the portrayal of Hamza many now imagine that it's radical imams in mosques that do the radicalising when this is overwhelmingly, especially now, not the case. Hamza has if anything now become a cartoon, a puppet who can be brought out and used for almost any purpose.

Since Hamza's sad sojourn to Belmarsh, the Sun has been looking for someone to replace him. First they alighted upon Omar Bakri Muhammad, the then leader of al-Muhajiroun, since banned and now exiled in Lebanon, having been denied re-entry to the country. He even more than Hamza was a media whore, who loved the attention and had even less discernible links to those who have subsequently took part in, if we must call it that, the global jihad. He still regularly pops up, when the Sun can be bothered to phone him up and incur the international charges. Replacing him though has been the second in command of al-Muhajiroun, now supposedly the leader of one of its numerous successor organisations, Anjem Choudary. Choudary is interesting for two reasons: firstly because unlike either Hamza or Bakri he has no religious training whatsoever, and has not studied to be an imam, and is instead a lawyer by profession, albeit one that doesn't seem to practice; and secondly because Choudary used to be a "normal" person, i.e. got drunk, slept around and generally had something approaching fun. Hamza also didn't embrace radical Islam until he was in his late 20s, during the mid-80s, but was not as well-known for similar behaviour as Choudary was.

Choudary however is even more shameless when it comes to media attention than Bakri and Hamza combined. He appears to adore it, perhaps even crave it. He never seems happier than when appearing on Newsnight or some other news programme, moderating his rhetoric somewhat to not appear completely out there, addressing the anchor by name (he almost seemed to be flirting with Kirsty Wark on a recent NN appearance) and generally enjoying the attention. This is not to deny that Choudary holds undoubted extremist views which go against not just the vast vast majority of people in this country but also the vast vast majority of Muslims as well, but he is, not to put too fine a point on it, an idiot, a shill, a complete incompetent who almost seems like a plant by the security services to discredit radical Islam even further. He is leader of a tiny sect that has only gained attention because both of his own inflammatory views, their skills at exploiting the outrage of the gullible, and because the media itself adores him, because he makes either their programme or their newspaper seem exciting, even vaguely dangerous. It's quite accurate to lump Choudary in with the British National Party, except that it's acceptable to use Choudary where it isn't to use the BNP. If anything, the roles should be reversed: the BNP is far more influential than Choudary and deserves challenging in the media spotlight, unlike the clownish Choudary.

Choudary is a distraction. His group may well contain some individuals who might go on to put their words into action, although not necessarily in this country, hence why it should be carefully monitored. Choudary though is just a windbag, someone who can be relied upon for a quote but who can equally be turned on when the press feels like it. Which is what the Sun has done today.

Coinciding with the release of the CONTEST anti-terrorism strategy, the Sun has unilaterally decided that Choudary is such a danger and has got away with his "incitement" for so long that he must be immediately arrested, charged, and locked away. Quite why it's decided now is anyone's guess, although it might be connected with the fact that the terrorist threat from jihadists in general seems to be receding somewhat, as the strategy set out, meaning the Sun might not be able to scaremonger relentlessly for much longer, as it also does today, as we shall come to. Other papers would suggest that the police might well want to look at the "evidence" they've gathered and go from there; not the Sun. No, the paper "DEMANDS" on the front page that the police take action. And inside it does much the same:

So today The Sun calls on police chiefs to stop dithering and charge former lawyer Choudary, 41, before he poisons more young minds.

There isn't of course the slightest evidence that Choudary has "poisoned" any young minds; those he appeals to have probably already gone through their "radicalisation" process.

Needless to say, the Sun's evidence is predictably weak and contentious, with context being everything. In his latest rant, the paper breathlessly informs us:

In his new outburst — a recording posted on a password-protected Al-Qaeda website — he said: “You do not neglect any of our duties...

“If many of our Muslim lands are under occupation then of course jihad — you are going to be talking about jihad. You are going to be recruiting for the Mujahideen.

“You’re going to be working to overthrow, sorry, liberate, Muslim lands. Because you’re living in a situation where there’s lots of Muslim lands under occupation.”

Quoting from Islamic text, Choudary added: “ ‘You cannot accomplish this until you train... train for jihad.’ What kind of training is he talking about? He’s talking about military training.”

Choudary is quite clearly not directly inciting those listening to go abroad and start overthrowing "Muslim lands". He's talking rhetorically, for a start. Britain has also never been considered a "Muslim land"; the caliphate which many radical Muslims wish to re-establish only ever reached as far as Spain. Choudary's group and Choudary himself talk rather hilariously about instituting Sharia law here and flying the "flag of Islam" from Downing Street, but it's for the birds. Not even they really believe it. The Sun doesn't try and suggest he's broken any laws here, but it's painstakingly analysed his other utterances for the slightest suggestion that he may have done:

Last September Choudary claimed the publisher of a novel about the prophet Mohammed should face the death penalty.

Martin Rynja — who put out fictional tale The Jewel Of Medina about the Prophet’s child bride — was placed under armed guard after petrol was poured through his letter box.

At the time Choudary appeared to be condoning the attacks, saying: “It is clearly stipulated in Muslim law that any kind of attack on his honour carries the death penalty.

“People should be aware of the consequences they might face when producing material like this.”

Our legal experts say this breaks section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which states racially or religiously aggravated disorderly behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress, is a crime punishable by up to two years in jail.

If it could be proved Choudary’s comments were directly linked to an attack on the publisher’s life, he could be prosecuted for conspiracy to murder — which carries a LIFE term.

Again here, it's quite apparent that Choudary is not directly inciting violence against the book's publisher. Choudary had made similar remarks to prior to this, including at a demonstration against the speech by the Pope which referred to Muhammad's work as "evil", where he said that under Islamic law the Pope could be executed for his slur on the prophet. He was careful during the actual protest to make clear the inference that it had to be under an Islamic system; with reporters he was not so careful, apparently telling one:

"Whoever insults the message of Muhammad is going to be subject to capital punishment. I am here have a peaceful demonstration. But there may be people in Italy or other parts of the world who would carry that out. I think that warning needs to be understood by all people who want to insult Islam and want to insult the prophet of Islam."

Now that is potentially incitement, but the Met had already investigated and decided not to press charges, as the remarks were apparently made in private. It's unlikely that they'd be able to prosecute or make the case stand up were they to attempt to do so over what the Sun highlights.

The paper isn't beat yet though:

Recently Choudary threatened that Lord Mandelson would be stoned to death under Sharia law and declared: “He would not be able to speak openly about homosexuality.”

Our experts said his comments broke the Public Order Act 1986, section 4A. It outlaws behaviour with intent to cause harassment, alarm or distress. Breaking this law carries a heavy fine and/or six months in jail.

They might have a case here, but it would be a piss weak one and not get rid of Choudary for long. And err, that's it. That's all the Sun's evidence. To call this an investigation is itself rather pretentious, considering the amount of work that must have gone into it.

It's the Sun's leader though that is bordering on hysterical (url will change):

GORDON Brown warns of unprecedented terror threats as he prepares to host next week’s G20 summit.

Err, no he hasn't. He hasn't used any such terminology, either in his pronouncements on the anti-terrorist document, or in his Observer article at the weekend, "unprecedented" being entirely absent.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith raises fears further, predicting extremists will stop at nothing, including a nuclear “dirty bomb”, to inflict mass murder.

Again, no she hasn't. The most the document goes is to suggest that the "aspirations" of terrorists to use such materials has risen. My aspiration has risen to not get so worked up about a tabloid newspaper, but it doesn't mean it's going to happen.

So why hasn’t she rounded up dangerous loudmouth Anjem Choudary whose rants are most likely to provoke such an atrocity?

Probably because he is just what the Sun calls him, a loudmouth, just not dangerous. His rants are irrelevant except to his tiny band of followers and to the tabloid newspapers that love reporting them.

Ministers would ban harmless jokes about gays — even by gay comics — yet they allow Choudary to demand homosexuals’ execution.

Only neither is happening, or happened. Choudary was again talking about under Sharia law, while the government is not banning jokes about gays, despite the more ridiculous interpretation of potential laws again by the likes of the Sun.

This rabble-rouser pays lip service to peaceful action, yet is free to stir the hatred of gullible Muslims who might blow themselves and us to smithereens.

The key word here is "might". No Muslim listening to Choudary is suddenly going to decide to blow themselves and us to smithereens; to pretend radicalisation is that simple is more than daft, it's ignorant.

Despite his past as a cider-swigging, dope-smoking womaniser, Choudary demands death for anyone who drinks, takes drugs or fornicates.

He was behind the vile Luton demos against our brave soldiers. And he wants to sack our elected Parliament and raise the flag of revolutionary Islam over the House of Commons.

So? Is the Sun really so frightened of a thing called freedom of speech? He can call for whatever he likes or fantasise about whatever he likes as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, and so far there is nothing to suggest that it has.

This is worryingly like a re-run of the Abu Hamza saga.

“Hooky” spent years fomenting terror right under the noses of our security services before he was finally put away. And that was only to stop America getting their hands on him.

This is simply bollocks. The security services were well aware of Hamza, it's true, probably because like with the other radicals they believed that had a "covenant of security", where they were more or less free to do what they wanted as long as they didn't target this country itself, as well as quite possibly informing the security services of those who wanted to. There are still accusations that Abu Qatada, for example, is a double agent. The others also had regular contact with MI5. How deep the links go we simply don't know. The American part is double bollocks: the Americans still want to extradite him.

If the PM is right, another 7/7-style massacre is looming.

Again, Brown has said absolutely nothing like this. The head of MI5 back in January said the threat level was if anything decreasing, and that al-Qaida had no semi-autonomous structure in this country at present. He could of course be completely wrong, as you can't really trust a single thing a spook says, but considering how they've scaremongered in the past it seems doubtful whether they would suddenly decide the threat level was decreasing unless it actually was.

One day our hand-wringing police will have to take action against Choudary. What are they waiting for?

They should slam this nasty piece of work behind bars NOW — before our emergency services have to count the corpses.

Again, like with yesterday the paper almost seems to be willing such an attack to happen, almost say it can say it told you so. If the paper really cared about the terrorist threat to this country it would completely ignore Choudary and go after the really dangerous people - the ones who don't become media whores who can be contacted by phone for an instant quote, the Mohammad Siddique Khans that stay under the radar until it's too late. That though is far too difficult and costs too much. Far simpler to demand that Choudary be thrown behind bars, no matter how weak or dismal the actual evidence to do so is.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

Bombs over London.

Here's the by no means hysterical and scaremongering image used by the Sun to illustrate their reporting of the government's new anti-terrorist strategy document:

This is of course the same newspaper that has supported to the hilt every liberty diluting anti-terror measure since 9/11, going so far as to call those who opposed 90 days detention without charge for "terrorist suspects" traitors. That is it so willing to imagine such horrors perhaps suggests that it almost has a desire for them to happen.

Update: added link, which I rather foolishly had forgot.

Thursday 19 March 2009

London invaded by the Saucer People!

In today's Sun we have proof of aliens invading London!

The Sun claims that some guy was taking photographs in Covent Garden and after getting the pictures developed one of them showed "flying saucers".

Oddly the guy didn't notice them at the time, they only appear in one picture and were not spotted unti after he had them developed by Boots and he showed them to his wife.

The most likely reason is that something went wrong in the development process.

Of course, as the numerous comments on the Sun say, it could be a reflection if they were taken behind glass.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Sick filmmakers and paying for sex.

Not an entirely serious post today, but it's still a rather curious case of the Sun getting its knickers in a twist:

A SICK filmmaker is urging students to auction their VIRGINITY online and catch their intimate moment on camera.

Cops were called in after complaints about posters around a university trying to recruit an inexperienced couple.

Cameraman Justin Sisely is promising $20,000 AU (£9,380) each to a male and female virgin to appear in his documentary.

And he says he will give the successful couple 90 per cent of any cash they make from their auctions.

Ah yes, a sick filmmaker, taking advantage of virgins by promising them cash for popping their cherries on camera. That reminds of an equally sick moneymaking scheme from 6 years ago:

TODAY The Sun throws down a challenge to the new Big Brother contestants – bonk on telly and win £50,000.

The fourth series of the red-hot reality show starts on Friday and pundits have already predicted it will be the raunchiest so far.

It certainly will be now as the 12 mystery contestants hear about our amazing offer.

The rules are simple — we will give £50,000 to the first Big Brother boy-girl bonk.

We don't care where — in the house, in the garden, in the pool — as long as they get it together.

The judges will be our readers, who will vote in a You The Jury phone poll on whether the couple were making it or faking it.

Both winners will have to get the yes vote in the survey and agree to tell their exclusive story in The Sun when they are evicted.

The Sun then didn't demand that the participants had to be virgins, but apart from that their conditions were rather more onerous than Sisley's. Sadly, no one claimed the cash, and the offer was not as far as I'm aware repeated, just as Sisley's also seems likely to remain unfulfilled, although with the Sun's help in bringing it to greater attention, who knows.

Monday 16 March 2009

Trevor Kavanagh on Muslims and confusion over crime.

Almost a week on from the protests in Luton by around 15 Islamists, those out to milk it for all its worth still haven't let go. Today Trevor Kavanagh in the Sun, having previously treated us to Islamophobia in response to accusations of Islamophobia instead introduces us to his amazing knowledge of both the terrorist threat and the Muslim community:

IF you thought public fury over the latest ‘IRA’ atrocities was impressive, wait for the uproar over the next 7/7.

For the jihadists haven’t gone away, either.

They are just furious that a few flint-eyed extremists from the Real IRA and Continuity IRA have beaten them to it.

How does Kavanagh know this? Simple: he doesn't. The jihadists haven't gone away, it's true, and undoubtedly the threat from them is worse than it is from Republican dissidents, but it's also worth bearing in mind that there now hasn't been a major attack foiled since the liquid bomb raids, over two and a half years ago, not counting the dismal failure of the Tiger Tiger and Glasgow airport patio gas canister attacks.

Last week’s Belfast demos involved peace-loving citizens from both sides of the community.

The question is, will we see peace-loving Muslims, preferably some in hijabs, filling the streets of Bradford after the next Islamist outrage?

Most British Muslims are as appalled by violence as the people of Northern Ireland.

Some bravely condemned the Luton fanatics who spat bile at our soldiers as they marched home last week.

But would they turn out in their thousands to denounce another massacre like the London Tube murders?

Unlikely. Yet, if they fail to join other British citizens in publicly expressing disgust, they risk being seen as silent sympathisers.

Kavanagh here doesn't see the flaw in his own argument. He is suggesting that Muslims would be the only ones that wouldn't turn up to denounce a second 7/7 attack, yet there was no response after 7/7 akin to that which we saw last week in Northern Ireland, also unlike the response in Spain to the Madrid attacks there. And why preferably some in hijabs? Because Kavanagh assumes that women wearing them must be more extreme, or more devout? This mirrors Kavanagh's previous comments regarding hijabs, which he described as "provocative", when they are nothing of the sort. Niqabs maybe, hijabs from this secularist's view unpleasant and unnecessary but not "provocative". Kavanagh's remarks that if they fail to live up to what he demands of them they "risk" being seen as "silent sympathisers" could not be more clear: he views them as outsiders unless they distinguish themselves by denouncing something that was not done in their name but by those who claim to share their religion. He wouldn't subject any other group in this country to this sort of treatment; what makes it's acceptable to do it to Muslims?

Not satisfied with this, he then, like the Sun has repeatedly, questions the allegations made by Binyam Mohamed regarding his rendition and torture:

But lying is the default position for Islamists. Which is why we should question Guantanamo inmate Binyam Mohamed’s claim he was tortured by America and hung out to dry by the British.

On balance, I prefer the word of our security services.

The Ethiopian asylum seeker is another ex-druggie convert, deluded by fantasies of Islamic purity in hellholes such as Chechnya and Afghanistan.

Yet we are giving him sanctuary, at huge cost and potential risk.

He is not British. He should be sent home, along with ALL foreign terror advocates who trade off the freedoms they are so determined to destroy.

Except he doesn't claim that it was only Americans that tortured him. His main mistreatment occurred in Morocco, where he was rendered by the Americans (undisputed, as we have the flight logs which showed a trip on the correct date on a plane associated with the rendition programme) and where, as the Intelligence and Security Committee has already said, MI5/6 provided his interrogators with questions which were used while he was tortured. How much evidence does Kavanagh actually want? Does he want to see Mohamed's penis, which was sliced with a razor and still bears the scars? That he has lived here since he was a teenager has no real links to any country other than here is irrelevant to Kavanagh; he should just be thrown out because of his own ideological bias.

Much of the rest is the same old spouting that the Sun has cranked out for years, all without anything approaching proof or anything approaching insight, bringing up the old already disproved idea that it's foreign imams that are brainwashing the youth when in fact the radicalisation process is far more complicated and more to do with groups of like-minded individuals and the internet than simply listening to the sermons of the Qatadas and Hamzas. The new tactic is to quote at length those who have turned their back on radical Islam, even when they themselves are discredited. Shiraz Maher, who produced a report which had the most ridiculous and rigid recommendations for the government when tackling extremism for the think-tank Policy Exchange, discredited over Islam after Newsnight exposed that it had fabricated parts of a previous report is given space, while Ed Husain, more reliable but also unwieldy in what he thinks should be done, unlike his more amenable colleague Majjid Nawaz, also of the Quilliam Foundation, is also given room to voice concern over how Luton didn't turn out to denounce 15 people who weren't even all from the town, despite pictures from mosques on Friday which featured many worshippers condemning the protests.

All of this covers up the fact that the very thing Kavanagh seems to want is in fact just as likely to alienate as it is to unite. Demanding that Muslims as a block denounce something that doesn't in any way represent them is the exact sort of thing that is guaranteed to cause resentment towards a society which is already fearful and sceptical, and in some cases even prejudiced against them. The Sun's entire coverage of terrorism and the war on terror has been conducted in an "us and them" style, completely wedded to the Bush administration's policies on it, and scornful of the alternatives. That this has been counter-productive could not be more plain, yet the paper continues to defend it, ridiculing those tortured and demanding that terror laws be ever further tightened.

Elsewhere, the Sun's leader is typically confused (url will change as usual):

CRIME statistics alone cannot reveal the truth about Broken Britain.

They can be twisted any way the Government likes.

The Tories point to Justice Ministry figures showing convictions for teenage violence and theft doubling since Labour took office.

True, says the Government — but only because we’re bringing more yobs to book.

In fact crime is DOWN by a massive 39 per cent.

Does someone really need to explain to the Sun that just because crime is down that doesn't mean that convictions must also be down? It seems like it. As with Kavanagh, the Sun has already decided what's actually happened: Britain is broken and the government twists the statistics. True, it doesn't help when the government is caught doing just that, such as over the knife crime statistics released late last year, but the Sun itself fell for that and then claimed that no one had believed them anyway. The Sun then launches its own survey:

Crazy, isn’t it? So we must all decide for ourselves.

Today, we report four teenage murders in three days.

Do you think crime levels are lower than in 1997?

Do you feel there are enough police to keep order? That sentences are sufficient deterrent?

Do you think Labour really has been “tough on crime”? Do you feel safer than when they came to power?

We’ll bet the answer, every time, is No.

And the Sun is determined that the answer remains no, as its hysteria over "Broken Britain" and demands for ever more police and prison places continue unabated.

Friday 13 March 2009

"Satan's footprints"

A few weeks ago I showed that the Sun isn't a reliable source for science.

It now has another article in which it can be seen that its standards for science can be classed as lacking: Satan's footprints spotted in Devon.

The Sun has a photograph that was taken by an old lady in Devon of some footprints in snow. Naturally the Sun goes for the most obvious explation - that they are the marks of Lucifer himself - and states that "scientists" from the Centre for Fortean Zoology are investigating. Unfortunately, the Centre deals in cryptozoology, which is a psuedo-science which completely destroys the credibility of the article.

The Sun also states that the lady claims she "discovered the Devil’s footprints". However, the quote from her merely shows that she doesn't know it is and would like to know.

The Sun admits that it is a coven hoof, and so most likely explanation is that it is an animal of some sort.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Hypocrisy amongst a defense of Maddie-balls.

You'd really think that the Sun would have just said nothing about Gerry McCann's evidence to the culture, media and sport select committee's investigation into press standards and left it at that. Every line and word would have the potential to be gloriously hypocritical and also highlight their own role in the smearing, not perhaps of the McCanns themselves, where they acted for the most part with relative restraint compared to their rivals, but certainly in their far less balanced coverage dedicated to Robert Murat, who the Sun along with the rest of the tabloid media paid damages to.

Instead, it's dedicated a leader to somewhat defending itself, although the real point behind it becomes evident with its conclusion. Still, let's delve in (url subject to change):

KATE and Gerry McCann suffered the double agony of losing a precious daughter — and media lies about their role in her disappearance.

Dignified Gerry says Madeleine’s nightmare abduction plunged them into an agonising “media storm”.

Distraught with shock and guilt, they faced vile claims they murdered their own child and dumped the body.

Trashy “exclusives” added to the grief of this tragically unlucky couple.

Trashy "exclusives" like splashing on the front page with a picture of a random little blonde girl who looked slightly like Madeleine, for example? Or running a completely bogus story about Murat that couldn't possibly have been true because the McCanns themselves told the paper that their daughter hadn't gone missing at the time the witness claimed to have driven them in his cab? Or a 12-page super special on the anniversary of Madeleine going missing that plumbed new depths of even tabloid journalism?

Much blame lies with Portuguese police who made up for their incompetence by smearing the McCanns as suspects, leaving them defenceless against poisonous rumour.

Ah yes, the blame the ignorant, incompetent foreigners defence. I'm pretty sure they didn't force the Sun to print what it did.

Some newspapers greedily pounced on any dodgy rubbish to increase sales.

The Sun’s own coverage was sometimes less than perfect.

But we are proud to have been praised by the McCanns for our steadfast support.

And the tabloids were not alone in this media frenzy.

The BBC’s Huw Edwards fronted the news standing outside alleged suspect Robert Murat’s front door.

Quite true, the BBC hardly helped matters by flying anchors over to Portugal, which was completely over the top. I seem to remember Sky News (majority shareholder R. Murdoch) however had an entire dedicated section to Madeleine, and when the McCanns returned from Portugal followed them for their entire journey from the airport to where they were staying by helicopter, in the world's slowest and most boring car chase. The BBC merely joined in the race to the bottom, and would use the exact same defence as the tabloids would: that they were giving the public what they wanted.

And, it has to be said, the McCanns themselves fed the headlines.

They hired spokesmen, courted the cameras and at one stage flew to Rome to meet the Pope.

Who can blame them? They were desperate to keep the world focused on the search for their little girl.

Again, quite true: from the moment the McCanns went all out with the media hunt the chances of finding their daughter seemed to decline immeasurably. Making your missing child the most famous face in Europe, if not the best part of the world, is not necessarily the best way to find her. They however did this for the best possible reasons: the media regardless chewed them up and spat them out.

Despite all this, Gerry McCann still believes in freedom of speech.

Which is more than can be said for Max Mosley who wants EU-style privacy laws.

Britain already has draconian libel laws and self-regulation. It also has the Press Complaints Commission where issues are resolved swiftly and cheaply, without £500-an-hour lawyers.

The last thing we need is unelected judges censoring the truth about scandalous conduct among the Great and the Good.

And so we get to the real reason for this tortuous leader. McCann incidentally said much the same as Mosley, with he too wanting far tighter regulation. Mosley's demands also fall short of a fully-fledged privacy law: fundamentally he wants those who are going to be featured in exposes like the one he found himself at the centre of to be informed before they go to publication, which is simply common courtesy, so they can then challenge that publication in the courts. In Mosley's case this would have meant that the NotW would not have been published the story in the form it was; it still probably could have splashed on his antics, just not with the fabricated Nazi angle, although again he still could have challenged it on invasion of privacy grounds. It's also true we have draconian libel laws, but as has been argued repeatedly by myself, the PCC is for the most part toothless. To pretend that it's a completely competent and strong regulator is a nonsense, as the McCann case comprehensively proved. Those who respected and feared it would never have published the articles they did in the first place, and the fact that those who subsequently sued firmly rejected going to it with their complaints, and that the McCanns themselves were apparently advised by Christopher Meyer to launch legal action is hardly a vote of confidence in its abilities. Fundamentally, the Sun realises that Mosley threatens their business model: they rely on the scandals and the sex concerning the dregs of the celebrity world which has no real public interest. Exposing the real great and good often is in the public interest.

The chances in any event of any change to the law, which is what it will require rather than rulings by judges, are incredibly slim. That the Sun felt the need to defend itself in print, something it very rarely does, suggests that perhaps it isn't that unthinkable after all.

Thursday 5 March 2009

Bigger and Better: Mail Watch

In a break from convention, this post has nothing to do with the Sun. I doubt this will happen very often, but if you're a regular reader of this blog, then you will probably be interested in another blog that does for the Daily Mail what we do here for the Sun.

The site is called Mail Watch and was started by BigDaddyMerk over four years ago, but has recently had a big shake up and has now been relaunched, in a similar style to The Sun Lies. As Tim explains:
The purpose of the site is simple; editors will be quietly documenting outright lies peddled by the Daily Mail, and seeking to bring this culture of fear and falsehood to the attention of those Mail readers curious enough to use a search engine or browse the evil underground world of weblogs.

Mail Watch has a fearsome array of editors and the extra dimension of a forum so should prove to be a valuable tool and resource as well as an entertaining read.

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Quiz Time!

From Private Eye (issue 1231)...

Tuesday 3 March 2009

The usual nonsense about "soft" sentences.

One of the main ways in which newspapers don't directly lie to their readers is by omitting key facts, especially when it comes to reporting, err, reports. For instance, while they were quick to draw attention to how low trust was in ministers and MPs according to a survey, they didn't bother to report that their own ratings in the same poll were even lower.

There's an even more crude example of something highly similar in today's editorial (url likely to change):

CRIMINALS are laughing at the soft punishments dished out to them, an official report concludes.

This really ought to win an award: there is not just one deception in this short sentence but two. The report, which can hardly be described as official when it was not conducted by the government or one of it's arms-length bodies, but instead by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, one of the liberal think-tanks the Sun would usually sneer at, didn't conclude anything of the sort. The Sun is referring to the views of just one of the twenty-five probation officers interviewed for the report. Here's the paragraph it's taken from:

More than half of our respondents thought that enforcement of Community Orders was more effective and more robust than it had been in the past. But there remained a feeling that not only was this necessary, but that enforcement might have to become even more robust because offenders were ‘coming out of magistrates’ court and they’re laughing their heads off and giving like two ļ¬ngers to the Probation Service and what does that do for us as a service?’ (17).

Even this has been taken out of context. The probation officer wasn't referring to the offenders laughing at the community sentence itself, but instead to not being sent to prison when they've breached the order.

Back to the Sun:

Community sentences are a national joke. They are in place only to keep yobs out of the jails that Labour filled up without thinking to build any more.

Why would crooks take them seriously when they can openly ignore them and still not get sent to prison?

Except the report demonstrates this isn't true either. It notes that not everyone who breaches their order immediately gets sent to prison, but that openly ignoring them repeatedly almost always does result in the offender being sent down. The report's actual conclusions are summarised in the press release:

1. There was a fifteen-fold increase in the use of the Suspended Sentence Order in its first year and a twenty four-fold increase in the three years to 2008. Half of all Suspended Sentence Orders handed out in the magistrates' courts are for the less serious `summary' offences, suggesting that the Orders are being used too often and inappropriately.

2. Both the Community Order and the Suspended Sentence Order appear to be getting tougher and more punitive. Use of unpaid work and curfews has been growing. Both unpaid work and curfew requirements share punishment as a main sentencing purpose, suggesting an increased resort to more punitive requirements.

3. There is no evidence that the Community Order or Suspended Sentence Order are reducing the use of short-term custodial sentences or tackling `uptariffing'. The prison population has continued to grow alongside the increasing use of the two Orders. There is evidence that the sentences are displacing fines, rather than prison.

The report's press release then systematically debunks all the Sun's arguments. Not only are the orders not "soft", there's also no evidence that they are being used as an alternative to prison, rather that through breaches they might well be contributing to the rise in prison population. Furthermore, the interviews which the report conducts with the offenders themselves shows that almost universally they felt that they had benefited from the orders and their contact with the probation teams, far more than they would have done from simply being banged up. With a slightly more rigorous crackdown on those breaching them, as well as ensuring that they are used as an alternative to prison, the orders could have a far greater beneficial effect. All of this is completely ignored by a newspaper diametrically opposed to anything other than jail terms, except of course when it comes to the likes of Jack Tweed, today found guilty of a second assault offence, who was given the front page treatment last week because of his marriage to Jade Goody.

Prisons themselves don't however escape ignorant criticism:

But then, increasingly, neither are our jails.

Many are drug-ridden holiday camps. Regimes are so lax that violent thugs communicate freely with the outside world via Facebook pages they have set up on smuggled mobiles.

As jailed brute Ross Ajilo points out: “Incarceration ain’t working.”

And nor will it when prison is seen as little more than an inconvenience.

Those given the orders in the report certainly didn't see prison as an inconvenience: they were "relieved" to be given community orders, not just because they were seen as a less harsh punishment but also because they themselves knew that prison doesn't work, and not because they're "drug-ridden holiday camps" but because being banged up in a cell for up to 23 hours a day with other criminals doesn't even begin to help to rehabilitate them. As for the other points raised, the Sun could of course solve the problems of drugs in prisons and smuggled mobiles instantly. Incarceration ain't working because it has never worked, except for those who are such a danger to others and themselves that they need to be locked away both for their own and others' safety.

To add further insult to injury, it then makes a comparison:

WHILE we’re on the subject, here’s a REAL crime deterrent:

A long stay at any of Britain’s worst ten hotels.

Vile smells, mould, stagnant puddles in the shower, stains on the carpet, vomit in the sinks.

Just add padlocks to the doors — and judges will reduce hardened thugs to blubbing babies in the dock . . .

“You will spend 25 years at the Cromwell Crown hotel in Earls Court.”

This obviously isn't meant completely seriously, but if the Sun really thinks that there aren't all of those things and a lot lot worse in prisons then they must be living on another planet. It's probably not even worth stating actual examples, but the latest annual report by the prisons inspectorate found that one of the main concerns was "[U]nsuitable, cramped or unhygienic accommodation in some prisons". Anne Owers summed it up well in her report on Brixton:

“Brixton prison exemplifies all the problems of our overcrowded prison system. It has old, cramped and vermin-infested buildings, no workshops to provide skills training, and two prisoners eating and living in a cell with an unscreened toilet no more than an arm’s length away.”

The Sun would doubtless think this was a good thing.

P.S. Some exemplary hypocrisy from the Sun's deputy editor, Fergus Shanahan in his column today:

GOD help us if Harriet Harman ever gets her hands on power.

She wants the rule of law replaced by “a court of public opinion”.

That’s a polite way of saying mob rule.

This being the same newspaper which thinks that mob rule on matters such as social workers and paedophiles is a damn good idea. Shanahan also calls Harman, hilariously, "Harridan Harman"; as often seems to be the case when criticising female politicians, general misogyny seems to quickly enter the terminology.

Monday 2 March 2009

Google Earth in showing things on the ground shock.

At times there are articles in the Sun of such bilious nonsense that it's difficult to know where to begin. So it is with today's "exclusive" regarding the amazing abilities of Google Earth:

BRITAIN’S nuclear defence HQ could be under threat from terrorists using Google Earth.

Close-up aerial views of the top-secret Naval base are on the computer program — available for free over the internet.

It even reveals the longitude and latitude of the facility in Faslane, Scotland — home to the UK’s Trident-armed nuclear submarine force.

Golly gosh, really? The longitude and latitude? Next you'll be telling us that it isn't a secret that the base is on the A814! You mean it isn't?!

Military experts warn that would make it easy for terrorists to launch accurate mortar or rocket attacks.

One told The Sun: “A strike on our nuclear capability would cause untold devastation. Terrorists could have a field day, knowing exactly where to aim strikes to cause the maximum devastation.”

To call this scaremongering crap of the highest order would be putting it too mildly. Quite apart from the fact that this base has been in the public eye for decades and that all it has attracted in that time has been peace protesters, as well as that the jihadists we have in this country have never shown any propensity for being interested in anything other than bombings or kidnappings, mortars and rockets being difficult to come by, the idea that someone lobbing a couple of mortars at a naval base will succeed in causing "devastation" is about as realistic as the majority of the films which the Sun's proprietor funds.

And it can be used to pinpoint Britain’s nuclear crisis HQ in Northwood, North London, MI6’s London offices and the SAS training facility in Hereford.

MI6's London offices? Could they possibly mean the SIS building, which sticks out like a sore thumb and which could only be missed by a Sun journalist, which is also about as secret as Rebekah Wade and the smacking Ross Kemp incident?

Satellite pictures show the exact location of SAS sleeping quarters, office blocks, bunkers and parade grounds.

Our source said: “We should be censoring sensitive military sites, not only for the protection of the servicemen and women, but also for the protection of the country.”

Military top brass are said to be furious that such sites can be viewed by anyone.

Really? Well, that's strange, because the exact opposite has been said to the reasonably well-known Alan Turnbull, who runs secret-bases.co.uk and who has in the past been subjected to articles in newspapers highly similar to this one. He was told by Rear Admiral Nick Wilkinson, then on the D-Notice committee, that any journalist suggesting his site, which contains the same aerial photographs referred to by the Sun and much more besides, should be censored ought to be put in contact with him so that he could put them straight. He also said of Turnbull's site:

A very interesting and useful compilation ... ... it does not add to the danger to national security

You are republishing open source material already widely in the public domain and not therefore increasing the danger to sensitive sites. These sites should already not only be aware of what is public, but also have taken security measures accordingly

Furthermore, in 2006 the government ended the previous censoring of Ordnance Survey maps, where bases and sensitive government sites were left blank as if there was nothing there, a more sure sign than anything else that security concerns were no longer being used as a fig leaf to hide what was right in front of anyone's eyes.

It's hard to disagree with Turnbull's own description of his own brush with the press and their sensationalism machine: that media hysteria will always win through, as will invented quotes, a complete lack of general awareness and a failure to present the opposite side of an argument. All are in abundance in today's Sun article, along with the last refuge of today's media scoundrels, the bogeyman of the terrorist.

Sunday 1 March 2009

Skeptics vs The Sun

You may or may not be aware of the weekly science Podcast "The Skeptics Guide to the Universe".

In this week's episode (#188) (mp3 link, starting at 21:32) amongst the usual stories, the commentators have a go at the Sun's coverage of scientific issues, specifically its recent articles about "Atlantis" appearing on Google Earth and Cat-Boy.

The Sun doesn't get favourable coverage. Its Atlantis coverage is accused of faking a quote from an expert (Dr Charles Orser) and due to the Cat-Boy report the Sun gets labelled as being the UK's version of the Weekly World News, i.e. it has no credibility what so ever regarding science.