Wednesday 31 March 2010


Today's Sun has an article scaremongering about a new drug called NRG-1.

It claims that it will be used as a substitute for mephedrone which will probably be declared illegal before the election.

The Sun has comments on the article, yet for some reason it has decided not to publish the following, which I submitted this morning (scroll down to the bottom):
I'm sure it's just an oversight... after all it's not like the Sun has actively campaigned in favour of mephedrone being banned, is it?

* I'm not going to comment on NRG-1, but may do so in a future article. However, a quick Google search brings up little of any relevance

Friday 26 March 2010

Sun, Scares and Surrealism

This post is by Bensix, originally posted at his blog Back Towards The Locus.


On 23rd of this month, England’s most Ballardian paper offered a psychosexual fantasy with a source as lurid as its claims. Yes, the Sun’s “news” section warned that “Al-Qaeda was last night claimed to be fitting women suicide bombers with fake breasts that explode“. Plopped alongside was a pair of swollen mammaries, thoughtfully noted to be “explosive“*.

I can find no evidence for this tale – just articles linking back to the Sun – so who’s the “terrorist expert” that they claimed “confirm[s]” their fears? Why, Joseph Farah: the fevered brain behind America’s World Net Daily. His report held that the MI5 have “hand-picked” a team to probe explosive breasts, but how, one wonders, could a spittle-soaked U.S. rag learn what no other outlets have? In short, there’s sod-all evidence for this claim, which hasn’t stopped Fox, the Telegraph and Jihad Watch lustily regurgitating it.

This is the paper that gave a boost to an “anti-terror expert” who created his own stories. This is the paper that screamed about the finding of a “bomb part“: sugar. This is the paper that claims upholding civil liberties makes one a “TRAITOR“. This is not a newspaper: this is the surrealist arm of the “War on Terror”.

(In the comments of Ben's original post, Richard Bartholomew notes that this, in fact, is an old Mail story that he debunked last month. One suspects that the Sun’s reporter went scavenging in LexisNexis; searching for “tits” and “bombs“.)


More about this from Richard Bartholomew here.

*Since Ben originally posted, the picture has been changed to show a pair of implants with badly photoshopped sticks of TNT and a clock inside. Presumably from Acme.

Saturday 20 March 2010

A great victory for the liars at the Sun!

How then do you respond when it turns out you've been telling ludicrous lies, claiming that teachers couldn't confiscate 4-MMC when any actual teacher would have told you the absolute opposite?

Easy. Claim that the rules have been changed because of your highlighting of the problem:

TEACHERS were given the power to confiscate killer drug meow meow yesterday - in a victory for The Sun.

After dithering for days, Mr Coaker wrote to every head in England, saying: "Schools do have the power to confiscate inappropriate items, including a substance they believe to be mephedrone (or any other drug whatever its legal status). They do not have to return such confiscated substances."

As is abundantly clear, this is Coaker just reiterating what the current rules are. Here's part of his letter to schools unedited:

Some questions have been raised as to whether teachers can confiscate such substances, given that they are not prohibited substances. As current guidance makes clear, schools do have the power to confiscate inappropriate items, including a substance they believe to be mephedrone (or any other drug whatever its legal status) in line with the schools behaviour policy. They do not have to return such confiscated substances. As School discipline and pupil behaviour policies: Guidance for schools makes clear, schools may choose not to return an item to the pupil, including

  • Items of value which the pupil should not have brought to school or has misused in some way might – if the school judges this appropriate and reasonable – be stored safely at the school until a responsible family adult can come and retrieve them.
  • Items which the pupil should not have had in their possession – particularly of an unlawful or hazardous nature – may be given by the school to an external agency for disposal or further action as necessary. This should always be followed by a letter to the parents confirming that this has taken place and the reasons for such an action.

The Sun's claims that teachers had to give back 4-MMC to students as it isn't yet illegal have thus been utter nonsense from the very beginning, and their editing of Coaker's letter is cynical and misleading in the extreme.

Nonetheless, the paper's leader continues to claim that it's all thanks to them:

IN a victory for The Sun, teachers are told they DON'T have to give back a deadly drug seized from pupils...What's surprising is that there was a millisecond's doubt.

Day was when school heads could dictate what their pupils wore, how they behaved and whether they could use mobile phones during class.

Never mind not handing back meow meow because it is technically legal.

Makes you wonder precisely what those who run our schools these days are taking.

Or rather, it makes you wonder what those who write the newspapers are taking these days. The idea that heads don't decide on what pupils wear, how they behave or whether they can use mobile phones isn't just beyond ignorant, it's an outright lie. It really is impossible not to absolutely hate the scaremongering liars who write for the Sun, and to be incredibly fearful of the power which they continue to wield, both over this government and the one likely to come.

Friday 19 March 2010

The anti-Conservative bias of Basil Brush.

Has the BBC done something I haven't noticed to upset the Murdoch stable? I know there doesn't generally need to be a reason for the Sun to attack the corporation, only it seems rather odd to suddenly decide to "investigate" the inherent "bias" that the Beeb has against the Tories, especially when the evidence produced is so completely laughable. In fact, laughable really doesn't do justice to the dossier they've produced to prove that the BBC favours Labour over the Tories: pathetic, hilarious and carpet-chewingly insane only begin to describe the scraping of barrels involved.

This apparently is the best that Tom Newton Dunn and Kevin Schofield could come up with:

BBC News gave disproportionate coverage to the row over Tory donor Lord Ashcroft's tax status;


The BBC's Lord Ashcroft coverage alone triggered 104 complaints.

When the row over his "non-dom" status broke three weeks ago it led the Beeb's TV and radio bulletins for up to six days - long after commercial broadcasters dropped it.

But controversy over the similar status of up to eight Labour donors got just a fraction of the coverage.

Taking the Sun's word for it that it did lead broadcasts for up to six days, that doesn't seem "disproportionate" when compared to the coverage not just on other "commercial broadcasters" but to that in newspapers, another prism through which it should be judged. It certainly is however disproportionate when compared to the Sun's coverage of the Ashcroft affair, which to judge by the reports on their website was a complete non-story. There are only three reports dedicated to the revelations concerning Ashcroft's non-dom status, all of which are either favourable or overwhelmingly favourable to the Tories: the first is headlined Tory Lord vows to pay full tax, the second is a report on the spat between Labour and the Tories over non-doms, and the third is on Ashcroft being cleared over the donations to the Tories through his Bearwood Corporate Services company.

Next, and we're already onto hardly the most convincing of evidence:

LABOUR panellists were given more time to speak on flagship political show Question Time;


The Sun's analysis showed Labour politicians on Question Time were allowed to speak for a full minute longer than Tory counterparts.

On March 11 ex-Labour minister Caroline Flint got SIX minutes more than Tory Justine Greenings.

And on February 18 Labour veteran Roy Hattersley spoke for nearly three minutes longer than Tory Rory Stewart.

This couldn't possibly be anything to do with the Tory politicians giving shorter answers rather than not being allowed to speak, could it? There's also the minor point that if you're not the first to be called on, the others can rather steal your thunder with their answers, hence there being no point going over the same ground. Also worth keeping in mind is that as Labour are in government the audience often directly ask questions of them, and are sometimes also given an opportunity to respond to a criticism of the government either from a member of the panel or the audience. None of this is evidence of bias, and if the politicians themselves are annoyed with how much time they've been given they can take it up with the producers afterwards, which there has been no indication of them doing, or even during the show if they so wish by complaining to David Dimbleby. Incidentally, there is no such politician as Justine Greenings; there is however a Justine Greening.

A POLL on The One Show ignored issues with Gordon Brown to ask only, Is David Cameron too much of a toff to be PM?


A total of 219 viewers complained about The One Show poll, which followed a five-minute piece about Mr Cameron's "posh" upbringing.

Dozens more wrote on the show's blog.

One said: "The BBC should be ashamed of its blatant electioneering."

That would be the One Show which is renowned for its high standard of investigative journalism, would it? For those imagining that this happened recently, it was in fact screened over two months ago, and the BBC said that the piece wasn't good enough at the time. They have since ran in-depth looks at all of the political parties. In any case, why isn't Cameron's background a reasonable topic for discussion? As the New Statesman points out, Cameron hasn't received anywhere near the same amount of scrutiny as Brown.

THE Tory leader was stitched up when footage of him adjusting his hair was sneakily fed to all broadcasters;


Last week bosses tried to make Mr Cameron look a laughing stock by putting out footage of him checking his hair in the wind before making a serious statement on Northern Ireland.

Party chiefs complained.

And who was it that initially shot this footage? Why, that would be Sky News, who may themselves have "sneakily fed" it to all broadcasters, or they could have picked it up from YouTube. Sky News we should point out, has absolutely no connection to the Sun whatsoever. They just provide the video on the Sun's website. Oh, and the ultimate parent company of the Sun controls a third of the shares in Sky. Apart from that they're completely separate entities.

Lastly, the real clincher:

THE Basil Brush Show featured a school election with a cheat called Dave wearing a blue rosette.


Then last Sunday BBC2's Basil Brush Show featured nasty "Dave" - complete with blue rosette.

He beat nice Rosie, with a purple rosette, by promising free ice cream but was arrested because it was out of date.

No, I'm not making this up. The Sun really is trying to suggest that Basil Brush is biased against the Conservatives. Then again, perhaps it isn't so ridiculous: after all, the Tories have promised to bring back fox hunting. To be serious when perhaps it doesn't deserve it, when you start seeing political bias in a children's programme featuring a puppet fox, it really might be time to start questioning your own sanity. In any case, and because I'm truly sad, I went and looked to see when this episode was made: surprise, surprise, it was first broadcast on the 22nd of October 2004, before the last election, let alone this one. Unless the Sun is suggesting that the writers of Basil Brush are so prescient that months before David Cameron became Conservative party leader they were already out to get him, this really can be dismissed as the mouth-frothing madness that it is. They also got the girl's name wrong: she's Molly, not Rosie.

Away from ludicrous accusations of bias, the paper is still trying to claim that teachers are having to give 4-MMC back to students they confiscate it from:

DEADLY drug meow meow is rife in prisons, warns the Justice Department.

An urgent memo urges governors to stop inmates getting hold of it.

Yet while the Government protects convicts, it won't save schoolchildren. Teachers must return confiscated meow meow to pupils even though it may kill them.

Just in case you didn't take my own word for it, some actual journalists as opposed to scaremongering tabloid hacks bothered to ask both teachers and police what their real approach to 4-MMC is:

Despite national reports claiming teachers would be forced to hand back seized packets of mephedrone at the final bell, Plymouth police and the vice-chair of the Association of Secondary Head Teachers in Plymouth, Andy Birkett, have insisted it will not happen here.

"We already have effective policies to deal with substances found in schools; if we're in any doubt we ask the expert's opinion," said Mr Birkett.

"The police have always advised us that if we don't know what we've seized, regardless of what the child tells us, then call the police. We seek to put the child's safety and the safety of the school first and will hand over such items to police.

"As far as we're concerned, nothing has changed. We'll deal with this drug in the same way we always have."

Drug liaison officer Det Con Stuart Payne said: "The advice we have given schools is if they seize a suspected item, then they can give it to us to deal with.

"The school may wish to deal with the matter in-house or they may wish to tell us who it came from. People should note that current force policy is that those found in possession of the suspect powder will be arrested.

"It should be remembered that samples of mephedrone we have already seized have been mixed with controlled drugs, including cocaine and amphetamine, or legal drugs such as benzocaine, which is used by dentists. It emphasises that you don't know what you're taking."

Thursday 18 March 2010

Moral panic time over Meow Meow.

This whole post comes with a very hefty hat-tip to Carl, a crime reporter on a local newspaper.

If yesterday's reporting on Mephedrone or 4-MMC was slightly hysterical, then we now seem to be moving into full moral panic territory. Moral panics are not just driven by exaggeration and overreaction through fear, but directly fuelled by downright lies, obfuscation and completely inaccurate media reporting, all of which has come together in today's Sun in a quite remarkable fashion.

Not content with just wanting 4-MMC to be banned, it seems determined to inflate the number of deaths associated with it, claiming that there have been 5 while only 1 has today been directly linked to the drug, but also spreading likely myths. The paper is suggesting that "dealers" are adding Crystal Meth to it, which seems highly unlikely on two grounds: firstly that Meth is not a popular drug in this country, especially when compared to the US; and secondly that the most popular methods of taking it are different. Meth is almost always either injected or smoked, whereas 4-MMC is mainly taken either by snorting it, by swallowing it in capsule form, "bombing it" or mixing it into a drink. Meth can be snorted, and it can potentially be mixed with 4-MMC, but if anyone is doing so, my bet would be only those who consider themselves truly "hardcore" are likely to chance it.

The paper's main claim today though is that teachers are having to hand 4-MMC back to pupils who have it in their possession, as it has no age restriction and isn't illegal. The paper here seems to be using a typical tabloid short cut: what it does definitively report is the comments made by Mike Stewart, head of Westlands School in Torquay:

Mr Stewart said: "Both teachers and police are powerless to do anything about it.

"Items can be confiscated, but because this drug is still legal it would have to be given back at the end of the day and that's disturbing.

"This drug is highly dangerous and must be banned."

Note that Stewart doesn't actually say that he has had to give 4-MMC back to a student after it's been confiscated, because in all likelihood he hasn't. He does though seem to be one of these teachers that love to talk to the media, as this video on the BBC shows. From this the paper has directly taken the line that teachers are having to give it back, which there is absolutely no evidence for whatsoever.

My school days aren't that long behind me, and teachers then were all too confiscate happy, and the time the item was kept was often far longer than just until the end of the day. The idea that a teacher would confiscate a white powder, even if told that it was 4-MMC and still hand it back to a student is ludicrous. The very first thing that would happen is that a higher authority (probably up to head of year, deputy head, even head level) would be brought in for something so potentially serious, and then almost certainly the police as well. After all, you can't take a student's word for it that the white powder they have in their possession isn't cocaine or speed. The Devon and Cornwall police themselves issued a press release today which ought to fully debunk this claim (Update: .doc, thanks again to Carl):

"If the seized drugs are found to be mephedrone no charges will follow under the Misuse of Drugs Act, but it is possible that other offences such as those under Intoxicating Substances Act 1985 could be brought. If, after testing, the seized substance is identified as mephedrone the Force will retain and destroy the product."

No chance whatsoever then that teachers or even police would have to give it back. The Sun could have checked this themselves, but instead thought that scaring people would be a better option.

Having then created a nightmarish picture of teachers having to give potentially deadly drugs back to their students, the paper moves on to lambasting the government, its other favourite popular past-time :

Home Secretary Alan Johnson was blasted as it emerged that a decision on a ban had been delayed SIX MONTHS.

An official review was launched last October, then postponed when the scientist in charge quit in protest at the sacking of chief drugs adviser Prof David Nutt.

The committee has still not reported, meaning any ban is still months away.

Not true - the ACMD is due to give advice to ministers at the end of the month, regardless of the problems caused by the sacking of Prof David Nutt, whom the Sun previously smeared by association, targeting his own children. The government has said it will take "immediate action" upon receiving that advice, although how much they can do considering parliament will have to rise on the 6th for an election on May 6th is difficult to see. The best plan to deal with it in a prohibitive fashion, as pointed out yesterday, was to stick it in a "Class D" classification, age-restricting and taking control of the supply until more research and studies had been carried out. This though simply isn't good enough for those who have already lost loved ones, even if they don't yet know whether it was 4-MMC itself that killed them, newspapers which are determined to use any stick to beat the government and other politicians who are equally set on proving their law and order credentials.

The paper's leader has all of this and more besides:

SCHOOL heads are furious at the Government shambles over killer party drug meow meow.

Teachers seize stashes but have to return them because there is no law against the lethal substance.

Nonsense, as we've established above.

Instead of acting, Labour cobble up plans to microchip puppies - in an attempt to divert attention from the Jon Venables scandal.

Yes, that policy was directly cooked up to distract everyone. Do they really expect anyone to believe such utter rot?

Lord Mandelson admits he's never HEARD of meow meow. Shouldn't a senior minister be better informed?

When it has absolutely nothing to do with his own ministerial duties, no, he doesn't necessarily have to be.

America can ban drugs instantly for a year pending investigation.

Why can't we? Labour mumble about a decision by the summer.

Even if 4-MMC was to be banned immediately, does the paper really think that'll either solve anything or decrease the dangers of taking it? Of course it won't, it's just the same old "sending a message" nonsense which has failed now for over half a century.

Tackling meow meow is urgent.

The Government must wake up or have more deaths on its conscience.

More deaths on their conscience? Is the paper really suggesting that the government bears some responsibility for those who die as a result of taking potentially dangerous substances? This is the equivalent of claiming that the government bears responsibility for everyone who dies as a result of alcohol poisoning because that's legal, or through lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking. For a newspaper that repeatedly stresses personal responsibility, this is the complete antitheses of that philosophy. By the same yardstick you could claim that the media could have deaths on their conscience through the hype and hysteria which they're spreading about 4-MMC; you can bet that there'll be more inquisitive and inclined to try it this weekend as a result of all the coverage, regardless of the panic associated with it. If the government has a responsibility, then so does the media. The Sun has resolutely failed that test.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Editorials filled with fantastical nonsense.

If this blog was to comment on every time a Sun editorial was layered with untruths, let alone half-truths or obfuscation, there'd be a post every single day. Today though the leader writer really seems to have gone out of his/her way to write fantastical nonsense:

THE Prime Minister's silence over the BA strike had become deafening.

So there was an element of damage limitation when Gordon Brown was finally cornered into speaking out against it yesterday.

Mr Brown called the strike unjustified and deplorable.

The Sun agrees. But the PM tried hard not to upset his Unite union paymasters.

Unite has more than 160 Labour MPs onside. Many would love to see the union smash BA.

The election choice could not be clearer.

Vote Labour for industrial anarchy.

This is of course the response from the Tories to the Ashcroft affair: trying to make everyone forget the fact that their chief paymaster over the last decade lied about his tax status and struck a secret deal which allowed him to remain a non-dom even after informing parliament and the then leader of his party that he would pay UK tax on all his earnings. Instead they're focusing on a trade union whose members freely decide to donate, work and support the Labour party as if this is some sort of comparable scandal. How dare a trade union defend and support its members against the working conditions being imposed on them by British Airways? The election campaign was always going to be dirty, but to suggest that a vote for Labour is a vote for industrial anarchy when both Lord Adonis and Gordon Brown have condemned the strike in the strongest possible terms is to treat the paper's readers as idiots. It's equally moronic as it implies that somehow the Conservatives could stop the strike from happening or prevent "industrial anarchy", neither of which there is any indication that they either could or would.


IF there was a World Cup for abusing public money, the BBC would win every time.

More than 80 Beeb executives and hangers-on will be luxuriating on OUR money in a sumptuous Cape Town hotel.

They are part of a 295-strong Beeb army milking the Cup for all it is worth.

The arrogance of the BBC is out of control.

Hard-up families scrimp to buy a licence so BBC spongers can sip cocktails by the pool of a £636-a-night palace.

The BBC gets away with this because it toadies to Labour.

It might not find the Tories such a soft touch.

Shock horror! National broadcaster in taking workers to World Cup to ensure that they can cover the matches in as much detail as the licence fee payers demand! The BBC of course should not being bidding for the World Cup at all; they ought to leave the rights to Sky so they can provide their award-winning coverage at half the price but at a premium cost to the subscriber. Naturally, it gets away with it because it toadies to Labour; yet another reason to vote Conservative!

And lastly:

THE Government can't stop insulting the memory of James Bulger.

Ed Balls, the Prime Minister's boot boy, says it is WRONG to call Jon Venables and Robert Thompson evil for murdering James.

They were victims of their upbringing, he whines.

It was Mr Balls who appointed Labour stooge Maggie Atkinson as his Children's Commissioner.

She has outraged Denise Fergus, James's mother, by downplaying the murder of her son as "unpleasant."

Was there ever a Government more out of touch with public opinion?

In fact, as the Sun's report makes clear, Balls said that Venables and Thompson were not "intrinsically evil", which is quite different to just describing them as "not evil". Does the Sun then believe that the two are "evil", and not that they just committed a crime that could be described as "evil"? As for Atkinson's comments, it's a case of disagreeing with someone else's opinion, which Fergus seemed to believe that Atkinson should be sacked for expressing, which rather than insulting the memory of the dead child instead seems to show Fergus up as small-minded and intolerant of any opinion different to her own. This is a leader writer pretending to be outraged by a government minister and commissioner not agreeing with them, hence they simply must be out of touch with public opinion, which is always, but always on the Sun's side.

Sunday 7 March 2010

I don't know your name, but I Recognizr your face...

Last Monday, the Sun had an article about a newly-demonstrated mobile phone app called "Recognizr" [link goes to the demo videos of the developers' website].

The idea is that people can use any compatible mobile to take a photo in an attempt to name them. It falls under the term "Augmented reality" and has been labelled "Augmented Identity".

As well as using boiler-plate Sun-speak like "perverts" and "horrified" it labels it a "stalker's dream"*.

It also quotes Privacy International who are against it. However, they are so concerned about it there are a total of 0 mentions on their website in relation to the app [unfortunately their website does not appear to let you link directly to search terms]. This leads to me to wonder what information their spokesperson had to hand when the Sun contacted them as well as the other people who are quoted.

What the Sun doesn't point out is that a not only is it only a prototype, and so will not be available for quite a while yet, but that a person's information can only be accessed if they are actually registered with Recognizr. There are also apparently different settings as to how much information a person can provide to others.

There's also the fact that it claims that the company behind it were unavailable for comment. However, one of the members left a comment on the article, stating the following:
Recognizr facial recognition cannot work for someone who isn't approved to receive the information, just like the privacy settings on FaceBook or LinkedIn. I agree with the posts here about privacy. [The developers] were very sensitive to offering certain safeguards with the tool to prevent privacy misuse. People have to opt-in to Recognizr, and have the choice of what information will be displayed, what social networks will be connected or not, and decide on their own profile groups.
Leaving aside the apparently completely-over-the-top tone of the article, how likely is it that the Swedish creators would go the the trouble of hunting down an article in a foreign newspaper to respond to its claims, instead of just giving a quote while the article was being written?
* Presumably, the antics of tabloid newspapers don't count...