Saturday, March 06, 2010 

Venables, anonymity and tabloid retribution part 3.

We know now then that contrary to earlier claims by the Daily Mirror, Venables has most likely been returned to prison after allegations were made that he has committed some sort of sexual offence. It doesn't yet seem that he has been charged with any offence, although the Sun suggests that he shortly will be.

This changes absolutely nothing, and in fact if anything further undermines the calls from various newspapers, individuals and politicians for them to be told what Venables has done to be recalled on licence. In no other circumstances are those that have only been alleged to have committed an offence named; only after they have been charged are the details made public. Even then the reasons for why Venables wouldn't necessarily be named are obvious: the fact that his past notoriety might influence a jury and make any trial potentially unfair would be uppermost in the minds of the Crown Prosecution Service. While the past record of the offender can now be cited in certain cases on the judge's approval, it would be certainly doubtful whether this would happen in the eventuality of Venables going before a jury on any charge. It appears that many seem to have decided that when it comes to notorious past offenders, guilt is presumed rather than innocence, regardless of how far away any actual charges are.

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Friday, March 05, 2010 

Venables, anonymity and tabloid retribution part 2.

This blog doesn't often focus on the journalistic deficiencies of the Daily Mirror, which is somewhat unfair on the other tabloid purveyors of much the same material, especially considering the way in which the paper often reports on David Cameron with just as much subtlety and fair play as the Sun does on Gordon Brown. Its latest report on the alleged activities of Jon Venables is though, as the Heresiarch points out, just as bad as the very worst Sun equivalent:

Skulking into Liverpool under his new identity, James Bulgers killer Jon Venables cynically flouted his strict parole rules to go on wild benders with mates.

In a cruel snub to the memory of the innocent toddler he and Robert Thompson battered to death, the 27-year-old hit the nightclubs to get smashed on cider and cocktails while snorting cocaine and popping ecstasy pills.

Sources revealed Venables has also slipped into Goodison Park to watch Everton play football in the nine years since he was freed from jail, despite being banned from Merseyside.

The barbaric thug even clumsily chatted up women in clubs not too far away from where he and Thompson killed two-year-old James in 1993. During his sessions he would down Cheeky Vimtos, a lethal cocktail made up of two shots of port and a bottle of blue WKD.

Yes, how dare Venables act in the same way as the vast majority of his peers do? Clearly this sets him out as fundamentally unreformed, causing only further anguish and heartache to the relatives of the boy he killed. It doesn't matter that going by their description of his apparent brazenness that he didn't "skulk" anywhere, nor that the paper has provided no evidence whatsoever that any of this actually happened, apart from the word of their "well-placed sources", being conveniently prevented from doing so by the injunction that also blocks the revealing of his new identity. It is though instructive that the passing of 17 years hasn't diminished even slightly the casual demonisation of someone who committed a crime, albeit a truly terrible one, as a child, and one which he will be paying for the rest of his life as this latest episode more than illustrates.

It was always going to be next to impossible for Venables' new identity to stay hidden once he'd been recalled to prison, and the Sun reports that it has been compromised, while the Mail adds that officials are already resigned to having to give him a new one. How long it will be before the former identity begins to circle on the net, as it almost certainly will, is anyone's guess.

The Sun, like the Mirror, is making the most of his recall. According to them, he's been "gorging [on] burgers and chips in his cell", as only the truly evil and most loathed individuals in the prison estate do. To add to it, it provides the fantastically enlightened views of Anthony Daniels, a former prison doctor, who at least has some credentials with which to comment, and Tom Crone, the Sun and News of the World's execrable chief lawyer, who has absolutely none. According to Daniels a Martian might imagine that we reward a child for killing a toddler, and that "he lived a life of luxury". Venables may well have had it easier than someone put in a young offenders' institution, but I'm not exactly sure that you can call 8 years of imprisonment, regardless of where it was and under what conditions, as a life of luxury or as anything even approaching a normal upbringing.

It's Crone however who really extracts the Michael. Crone you might remember was one of the News International higher-ups who appeared before the culture, media and sport committee's investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World, where like his colleagues, he failed to recall absolutely anything about absolutely anyone. He had never heard of Glenn Mulcaire, never heard of phones being hacked, and had never heard of payments for illegal activity. It's difficult not to imagine that the committee was referring to some of his deeply unconvincing evidence when they concluded that the NotW was suffering from "collective amnesia" and that they had indulged in "deliberate obfuscation". For this same man to then declare that "Jon Venables owes us big time" and that his "crime redefined the extremes of evil" is the utter height of cant. He claims that Venables has "breached the bond of trust" by not living a crime-free life, even when it seems that Venables has not been charged with any crime, and that all the allegations made about his life are just that, allegations. He concludes by claiming that he's "forfeited any right to protection". Crone felt the same way about Max Mosley when he endorsed the publication of the NotW report which led to his action on privacy, just as he endorsed the NotW going to trial rather than settling, which led to the paper's utter humiliation. Mosley was described by the NotW as a "vain deviant with no sense of truth or honour." As someone else recently said in response to a hypocrite, those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

As for the Sun's editorial, it seems to deliberately misunderstand the nature of what a life sentence entails, with the life licence which hangs over someone after they've been given parole:

And we cannot secretly throw people in prison as if we were some medieval tyranny. If someone is jailed, there must be transparency.

Well, err, yes we can, and since when has that bothered the Sun in the past? As the ministers have pointed out, there will be transparency once the proceedings have reached a conclusion and when Venables' identity is presumably no longer in jeopardy. The tabloid media almost as a whole are pretending that the former doesn't matter when it involves someone as notorious as Venables and only regarding the fact that he has anonymity as a historical outrage, hence why they're pretending that it has nothing to do with why the information hasn't already been given. Venables might well be all the things that the tabloids are alleging and more besides, but to pretend that this to do with transparency in the criminal justice system, let alone to do with Labour's record on law and order is absurd. The Sun will undoubtedly use it to give Labour an extra kicking, but this remains all about a press that hasn't forgiven the government for not allowing it to hound the two young men from the moment they were released.

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Friday, December 05, 2008 

Mother of all moronic headlines.

Prize for the worst headline of the year must undoubtedly go to the Mirror, via 5cc:

How in fuck's name did no one on the paper manage not to notice that rather than describing Karen Matthews as "pure evil", their sentence actually suggests that it's her offspring that are?

Then again, considering the humbug that's descended from today's papers, especially from the Sun, the Mirror's crimes against the English language are probably the least of it. As a correspondent to the Guardian's letters pages noted, the same journalists that failed to see through Karen Matthews' lies and deceptions are the same ones that have been leading the witch-hunt against the Haringey social workers. The Sun even has the audacity to blame social services in this case, even when it was their £50,000 reward that Matthews was after, having succeeded in manipulating them more than any other media outlet. As Polly Toynbee notes:

Interestingly, the Sun accuses social workers of failing to detect the elaborate lies of Baby P's mother or the men living in the house, who hid in a trench in the garden when officials called. Yet in the Matthews case, Sun reporters were even more gullible. They put up the £50,000 reward money to find Karen Matthews' "little princess". They noted a message scrawled on Shannon's wall that she wanted to go and live with her real father, without unearthing the true story of her home life. Lousy social workers they would make - and lousy reporters too.

Quite. As said yesterday, no one emerges from this well, and Mr Eugenides has a decent post up critical of the hacks on all papers. Rather than introspection, the blame game has started up all over again.

Update: the Heresiarch in the comments disagrees:

Nice try. But "of" here is not indicating a possessive genitive, but rather appositional, qualifying the noun "mother". Thus, KM is also a mother "of 33 years", and a mother "of low moral character", without either of those being her offspring.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007 

There be gold in them thar canoes...

I might just be the only person on the planet not to give two shits about the vanishing canoeist and his subsequent reappearance while his wife went to live in Panama, but what is intriguing is just what sort of deal the Daily Mirror and Mail have done in order to get Anne Darwin's exclusive story.

The toothless Press Complaints Commission has been so concerned that it apparently sought meetings with both the Mail and Mirror in order to ascertain whether Darwin has been paid - something that may potentially breach the PCC's code if Darwin is subsequently charged, as her husband now has been. The PCC seems to have been satisfied that no money has changed hands between the two papers and Darwin, but the Grauniad reported this morning that the legwork in tracking down Darwin was by the Splash news agency, with the Mail and Mirror just behind, subsequently doing a deal to share the scoop. Whether Splash, not bound by the PCC's code, has paid Darwin is another matter entirely, and as the Mail and Mirror have relied on Splash one is entitled to wonder whether the cash has been funneled through.

In any case, the Mirror and Mail's scoop has already led its first inevitable conclusion: the Scum running a less than flattering front page "story" describing Darwin as a witch. The Sun's failure to get the story has also likely enraged Rebekah Wade, who earlier in the year went on the warpath after Pete Doherty gave an exclusive interview to the Mirror following his split from Kate Moss, lambasting her hacks as "having all lost any journalistic ability you ever had". With Les Hinton gone to the Wall Street Journal, having previously acted as her shield from unpleasantness over her own split from Ross Kemp, Wade herself is looking increasingly isolated.

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Monday, December 03, 2007 

Tabloid-watch: Intruding on distress and failing to own up to their own role in the lack of self-esteem.

I'm of the opinion that most celebrities and the press attitude towards them is usually reciprocal - they sell their souls, the media has the power to either crush them or beatify them, and decides on which according to their whims - and although the tabloids often overstep the mark, they usually don't do so in such a manner as to become a matter of open concern. It's only in the rare cases, such of that of Heather Mills, who has certainly brought some of it upon herself but certainly doesn't deserve the vitriol heaped upon her daily, not to mention the numerous lies told about her, even if she has ideas that make Melanie Phillips look sane by comparison. Being called "Mucca" for doing glamour modeling 20 years ago, especially by the Scum, currently encouraging women across the nation to "whip 'em out" for a cash prize of £5,000 is clearly vile. Also completely unacceptable is the similarly disgusting Heat magazine printing stickers making fun of a disabled child - even if that child was unfortunate enough to be born to Jordan.

Today's front pages of both the Mirror and the Scum featuring a photograph of Amy Winehouse in a obvious state of both distress and undress are, by the same yardstick, intrusive, voyeuristic, demeaning and motivated by a state of clear faux-concern, as shown by the Sun's article on the matter. It also raises questions - just what is an apparent paparazzi photographer doing in a street in London at 5:40 except stalking a woman in the hope of getting such a shot which he/she will able to sell for more than most of us will likely make in a year? I'm no fan of Winehouse and the spawn which she and Lily Allen have given succour to over the last year, but to put such photographs on the front page of a newspaper must rank as far lower behaviour than that which she recently displayed at a gig where she was booed for her poor peformance. If the editors of the respective newspapers were photographed in a similar tearful, upset state, they would move heaven and earth to ensure that such pictures were not replicated in rival publications. In fact, the no-aggression pact between most editors in Fleet Street would mean that most newspapers would never even dream of printing them at all, let alone on the front page. Rebekah Wade for instance, had her divorce from Ross Kemp almost entirely concealed from view due to frantic ringing-round by Les Hinton. Amy Winehouse, to whom being described as "troubled" has almost become a reflex reaction, has no such protection.

There are also no protections in the Press Complaints Commission code against such invasive photographers, and that's for the reason that editors are rightly expected to exercise discretion over what they publish. In a world in which the newspapers are now competing with online gossip columns and celebrity magazines which clearly have almost no qualms about what they print, however, to miss such an opportunity is now seen as to pass it on to your rivals. As always, journalists ought to put themselves into the position of the person they're covering: how would they feel to see themselves on the front page of the two biggest selling red top tabloids in such a state? Is the use of the photographs more likely to cause the person to seek help if they need it, or cause them further unnecessary distress? In this case, it seems more likely to me to be the latter. If Winehouse was now to be found dead, or to be admitted to hospital after an act of self-harm or attempted suicide, the media would rightly stand accused of documenting a descent while only profiting from it. It's something that will eventually happen, but until it does newspapers will continue to push the boundaries of what is seen as fair game.

Elsewhere in the Scum, the leader is concerned about a poll showing that girls as young as 6 are worried about their appearance, yet as usual identifies every other suspect for why that is except for themselves:

GIRLS are dangerously obsessed with their image.

A survey says nearly half of girls aged between six and 12 hate the way they look.

It’s shocking — and wrong — that girls as young as six care so much.

They should be enjoying themselves in innocent play at that age.


Parents, teachers and the fashion industry all have a role to play.

Easily-manipulated kids must not be targeted by advertisers.

It’s dangerously simple to hook a girl for life with worries about her looks.

It’s their health and happiness that counts.

Unlike most Sun editorials, there's little there to disagree with. The media itself, however, rather than just advertisers, has just as big a role to play. As alluded to above, the Sun is currently running page 3 idol, the very sort of competition where the "male fantasy" image of a woman as being something to aspire to is inherently promoted. It's run endless articles on cosmetic surgery, especially breast augmentations, and is as mired in the celebrity culture, where looks are everything, as any of the weeklies. This is partly the reason the paper targets the working class male above everyone else, but when you're the biggest selling newspaper other responsibilities undoubtedly come with that.

Another worry is surely the lack of role models, especially for young girls - am I the only one depressed by the survey's findings that only one percent less than those who aspire to becoming a teacher are satisfied in the hope of becoming a hairdresser or a beautician? Some might say that's being realistic, but it's also aiming incredibly low. The paucity of young female role models who aren't either Big Brother contestants or soap stars that after leaving their respective original role spend the rest of their days in the little boy wank mags with their plastic breasts on display, at least when not showcasing their lack of intelligence on other reality shows, is shocking. Radical feminism is rightly dead, but the more moderate variety is also gasping for breath in an age where the unchallenged cynicism of men's magazines and sexism is still rife. The marketisation of life itself though certainly has the most to answer for, and even fewer are willing to stand up to that. Only when true individuality is encouraged, rather than adopting a phony version to be sold, will self-esteem and happiness with and within the own body start to become something natural.

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Monday, August 20, 2007 

Anarchy in the UK?

How then was your weekend? Did you go anywhere, or just stay in and reminisce on how your life's slowly slipping away while watching box sets of the X-Files like I did? If you went out, was anything unusual, out of place or just seem different? Was there more vomit than usual in the gutter, had the police been strung up from the nearest lamppost, were gangs of marauding youngsters engaged in bloody battles for survival and who had control of the conch? Or was everything pretty much as well, normal?

For satire and parody to work best, there has to be an incredibly fine line between the truth and the embellishment of it. Sometimes, even the best of us slip into self-parody, often without realising it. Does this occur because we're dubious of our own pretensions and doubtful about what it is we're talking about? Or is it completely subconscious, happening for reasons beyond our own control that we might not recognise for a time to come?

I ask all of this because of today's Sun front page, which claims that Britain is now a country under siege, anarchy finally emerging in the UK, as yobs rule the streets and knife crime soars. The Mirror also joins in, with its own survey which finds that 42% don't feel safe in the streets of their neighbourhood at night. Is it true? Has the inevitable really happened?

Rather, Britain seems to have had a pretty typical weekend. The Sun bases its anarchy claim on the fact that a police station was besieged by a mob, that a man and a teenage boy were murdered in separate incidents, and that paramedics were attacked while providing aid to a man and a boy. Actually, the Sun didn't put it anywhere near as calmly as that. Here, dear reader, is a trip in to the world of Sun journalism, which even by its standards seems to have descended into the realms of unreasonable hysteria or even self-parody:

BRITAIN is on the brink of ANARCHY after a weekend of yob violence, campaigners said last night.

As figures revealed knife crime had DOUBLED in two years, a string of incidents left law-abiding citizens living in terror.

A mob BESIEGED a police station.

A man and a teenage boy were MURDERED in separate incidents and paramedics were ATTACKED as they tended a father and son.

In one county, 999 callers were told there were only THREE police on duty in a town of 22,000 people.

If we first consider the murders from a statistical basis, 2 in a weekend is actually lower than the average. The official police figures recorded 755 homicides last year. Do the math: that's 14 a week and 2 every day, which when you consider there's a population of around 60 million is low, and is by the standards of most other countries.

The knife crime statistics, produced by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies do on the face of it look rather shocking. The figures both Sun and Guardian articles refer to aren't available online yet, so I can't see how they were reached (I've emailed them asking for a copy), but is it really possible there are 175 robberies every day involving a knife, meaning that the number of muggings involving a blade have doubled from 25,500 to 64,000 within 2 years? According to the British Crime Survey
(PDF), the risk of being a victim of violent crime is 3.6%, although this rises to 13.8% if you're male and between the age of 16 and 24. The police recorded robbery statistics increased by three percent over the last year, but this was still 16% down on the last real peak in robbery which was in 2001/02. The Mirror article also dabbles in suggesting its YouGuv poll says something it doesn't: the opening paragraph says 42% are too scared to leave their homes at night, but the poll only suggests 42% don't feel safe in their neighbourhood at night, not that they don't leave their house because of it. How many people honestly do feel safe walking around anywhere on their own at night? I sure I'm not alone in suggesting it makes me apprehensive at the very least.

Naturally, spouting statistics does nothing to bring back those who have died or others who have had their mobile phones or mp3 players unceremoniously stolen, and it's certainly no match to such articles which attempt to set out what some do indeed see as the reality on the streets. The question has to be though on just how much influence such constant scaremongering, both in the press and on the TV has on the public mood and perception of how safe they feel and how safe their town or local area is.

Perhaps it just happens to be a coincidence that this latest crisis of lawlessness has apparently happened during the silly season, where over the weekend news was increasingly difficult to come by, what with the Heathrow protesters deciding not to storm the runways after all, after the press informing everyone they were going to be leaving hoax suspect packages everywhere. As the old maxim goes, no news is a great excuse to make it up. This isn't to deny that these are indeed genuine fears felt by a large number of people, especially in the inner cities, but is this really anywhere near anarchy?

Even if we accept the scale of the problem is near what the tabloids are suggesting, what's the solution? Ever since the murder of James Bulger the rhetoric has gotten tougher, the punishments harsher and according to both the police and the BCS the chance of being a victim of crime is at its lowest in a generation, but still we have the same never relenting demands for even more draconian action. Peter Fahy, after making some daft comments about taking children into care for being drunk at the weekend, was more thoughtful in comments recorded by the Grauniad: suggesting a rebalancing of the criminal justice system, not in favour of the victim as Blair and co preached, but in favour of rehabilitation and then sanctions rather than punishment. The most obvious problem with this though is manifest: despite the early release scheme, which the Sun and the Tories predicted would result in 25,000 prisoners getting out early, the prison population is actually back at the 80,000 level, meaning police cells are having to be used yet again. Rehabilitation in overcrowded jails is made much more difficult, if not nigh on impossible. The Sun's simplistic solution, to put ever more police officers on the streets, even though we have the highest number of police ever, can also have the opposite effect: it increases the fear that crime is more rampant than it actually is, and the actual deterrent effect it's meant to have has never actually been demonstrated.

Whether this latest panic dies down again once some other news comes along or not, the resulting underlying mood doesn't go away. Some are scared, and the news they read and see only increases their worries. Perhaps the best way to illustrate how some of this journalism influences the public is in one of the comments on the Sun's website itself:

this is how dirty,disgusting Britain is nowadays, i absolutely hate the country with all its yobs,paedophiles,rapists,murderers,criminals, WAGS, cheap girls,shallow girls. there is absolutely NOTHING good about this country...even the food chain is contaminated on every advice is to get out of this disgusting low level country with its politicians with mental issues and the so called "Lords" who makes the most outrageous laws in the world.

Either that, or even online newspapers continue to attract those who used to write in green ink.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007 

Sickening stunts from the paper that brought you Hillsborough, Gotcha!, etc...

According to the Scum, it was a "sickening stunt", "a cheap stunt to boost her career", and "it beggars belief that anyone could suspect Kate and Gerry McCann of complicity in the disappearance of their beloved daughter". It does however seem to believe that its readers could; the article on Sabina Mueller's question to the McCanns oddly has comments turned off. The only other articles on the Scum's whole "For Maddie" index which have comments turned off are those on Robert Murat, on the McCanns visiting the pope, and on the revelation that the McCanns in fact didn't check on their children for 50 minutes the night that Madeleine disappeared. They didn't take the same precaution on the leader page, and what do you know, both of the readers who responded think it was perfectly legitimate for Mueller to ask the question.

The Mirror, as well as additionally splashing on Mueller's "disgraceful" question, ramped up the hyperbole as much as the Scum decided to. It was a cruel slur, unforgivably callous, sickening and unwarranted and insensitive to the point of disbelief. The Express also splashed, but seeing as there were no "ethnics" involved, it kept the insults to a minimum.

Only the Mirror gave Sabina Mueller the space to give her full justification for the question:

"I knew it was a difficult question but I felt it had to be asked. I didn't think it improper.

"I didn't want to hurt and I don't suspect the McCanns of being involved.

"Gerry McCann was very calm and I was completely convinced by his reply. Either they're very good actors or they're telling the truth.

"They're putting themselves out there a lot. They've got to expect uncomfortable questions. I was doing my job."

Something that the tabloid journalists seem to have forgotten to do properly in their rush to over-emote with banner coverage of no developments.

One has to wonder if they're angrier more because none of them had the guts to ask such an obvious question than over the perceived slight to the dignity of the McCanns. As far as I'm aware, despite some whispering and criticism directed at the couple, more over their decision to visit the Pope and their apparent coolness at becoming the centre of attention, no one has suggested that their continuous campaign of publicity will have driven any abductor with an ounce of sense to lock her away and never let her out again, making it ever more likely that they'll never discover what has happened to their beloved daughter. It's obviously an incredibly difficult choice to make, one where you either let the police do their work or go all out with a media blitz in the hope that someone somewhere will either know or have seen something, but it seems after a month that their decision may well have been the wrong one. This don't seem to be worrying them though, or even raising the slightest amount of inner doubt: their latest plan is to launch wristbands that will, I quote, raise cash and awareness, as if they need more of either.

Interestingly, what made the front page of three newspapers only made page 18 of the Guardian. You have to think that once again, what Kelvin McKenzie calls the "unpopular" press have got it far more right than their mass-selling rivals.

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