Tuesday, March 02, 2010 

Putting quality last.

There really is no institution quite like the British Broadcasting Corporation. Here is, as polls attest, one of the most trusted and liked large organisations in the country, which you would imagine should exude confidence as a result; instead, it presents itself as troubled and insecure, prone to self-flagellation at the slightest criticism, and unable to defend itself anywhere near adequately when attacked. It should be able to approach its strategy review, which has been effectively forced upon it both by the Conservatives, who have made no secret of their plans should they be elected to cut the corporation, and by the "opposition" as it were, led by the egregious James Murdoch, from a position of strength; instead it seems almost panicked, clutching at what it thinks it can throw to the pack of dogs pursuing it without causing a backlash amongst its supporters.

When I suggested that the recent report by Policy Exchange was a step by step guide on how to emasculate the BBC without mentioning the dreaded M name, I wasn't expecting that the BBC themselves would take a look at it and decide that much of it was worth stealing. In reality, the two reviews have likely ran side by side, but it's still difficult not to think there might have been some last minute changes after the PE report came out, such is the similarity in some of what they propose. While PE didn't recommend the most eye-catching cuts which the BBC's strategy review has outlined, the closure of the 6 Music and Asian Network radio stations, much of the rest is almost a carbon copy. The strategy review intends to cap spending on sport rights, slash it on foreign imports, close Switch and Blast! and cut back extremely heavily on web content, all recommended by Mark Oliver.

All of this is quite clearly, as alluded to above, a pre-emptive attempt at out manoeuvring the BBC's enemies before they have a chance of actually suggesting, let alone implementing their own ideas on how the corporation should be cut. Yet while it's a half-hearted effort, it's also one which suggests the BBC simply doesn't understand why the likes of 6 Music and Asian Network have found their own niche and why their closure is likely to be so vigorously opposed: it's because they offer something so radically different and which no commercial rival has the resources or nous to deliver. On the face of it 6 Music is ostensibly an indie music station, but it goes far beyond that through the relationship it cultivates with its listeners, and through the genuine love of music which the vast majority of the presenters on it have and want to share. Asian Network, even if its audience has been declining, offers a voice to those who otherwise find it difficult to make themselves heard, even if it can be seen as self-defeating through the ghettoising of the content. Plainly, the BBC thinks it can do away with both mainly because middle Britain is interested in neither, and only cares about Radio 2 and Radio 4, a sacrifice which it can justify to itself easily. Some cynics are suggesting that it's chosen 6 Music and Asian Network specifically because it knows that they have such a dedicated following that the uproar at their disappearance will ensure the BBC Trust intervenes, and while it's difficult to dismiss entirely, the other parts of the report are just as apparently ignorant of why it remains popular.

Why else would the BBC so bizarrely ignore BBC3 when it was considering what could be cut? Here's a station that costs a staggering £115m a year and which has in its years of broadcast created at best 5 programmes which have been either critical or commercial successes, the latest of which is Being Human. The BBC openly admits that Channel 4 has been better than them at reaching the 16-25 market, hence the closure of Switch and Blast, so why not chuck the execrable BBC3 on the bonfire as well? It does nothing which BBC2 or BBC4 couldn't commission instead, and would be a statement of intent which would reverberate far beyond the shutting of 6 Music and the Asian Network. Extend it further and you could also justify the privatising of Radio 1 or/and the closure of 1Xtra. 1Xtra looks an especially expensive and slow to react indulgence when compared to say, the vibrancy with which the pirate stations in London, Rinse FM especially, have all while under the threat of raids and imminent closure. This would still leave the BBC able to target the 16-35 demographic which the PE report wanted the BBC to leave to others, but with a respectable budget and without patronising them on their "own" stations, as it has done for years with the utterly crass comedies BBC3 has mostly offered.

Along with the emasculation of BBC4, with the removal of "entertainment" and comedy, which presumably means Charlie Brooker is out of a job unless a home is found for him on BBC2, the whole report is the BBC retreating to what it thinks it's good at it and what it thinks others think it's good at. It seems to be a report which falls directly into how the BBC is stereotyped abroad: all those worthy costume dramas and as bias free journalism as it's possible to produce without realising that as admired the corporation is for those things, it's also liked because the licence fee means it can do things that others would never imagine doing or could never justify. As much as we love the HD nature documentaries, we'd like some bite and the unusual along with it. This report is likely to be the first step in a retrenchment strategy which leads to the Kelvin MacKenzie and Murdoch-approved final solution of a BBC consisting of BBC1, BBC2 and Radio 4, all thoroughly non-threatening and all as dull as dishwater. Why else, after all, unless you were seeking Murdoch approval, would you leak a draft of the report to the Times, which then savaged it as not going anywhere near far enough? When the BBC stops caring what rivals think about it and becomes comfortable and confident enough to defend itself on its own terms, then the programmes might also reflect that strength and purpose. Until then it seems that death by a thousands cuts is the way of the future.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010 

How to destroy the BBC without mentioning Murdoch.

It's been obvious for some time now that the BBC under a Conservative government is going to be facing a vastly different climate to the one that it currently enjoys under a somewhat supportive Labour party. Facing not just the accusations from the usual suspects of an innate liberal bias, but also now the outright fury of the Murdochs for daring to provide a free to use news website, with many certain that the deal between Cameron and Murdoch for his support must involve some kind of emasculation of the BBC once the new Tories gain power, there still hasn't been a set-out policy from how this is going to be achieved. Thankfully, Policy Exchange, the right-wing think-tank with notable links to the few within the Cameron set with an ideological bent has come up with a step-by-step guide on how destroy the BBC by a thousand cuts which doesn't so much as mention Murdoch.

Not that Policy Exchange itself is completely free from Murdoch devotees or those who call him their boss. The trustees of the think-tank include Camilla Cavendish and Alice Thomson, both Times hacks, while Charles Moore, former editor of the Daily Telegraph and who refused to pay the licence fee until Jonathan Ross left the corporation is the chairman of the board. Also a trustee is Rachel Whetstone, whose partner is Steve Hilton, Cameron's director of strategy. Whetstone was also a godparent to the late Ivan Cameron. The report itself is by Mark Oliver, who was director of strategy at the Beeb between 1989 and 1995, during John Birt's much-loved tenure as director-general. Oliver it seems isn't a blue-sky thinker to rival Birt however; his plans are much simpler.

His chief recommendation (PDF) is that the BBC should focus on quality first and reach second. On paper this is a reasonable proposal: the BBC has for too long tried to be all things to all people, although its reason for doing so is that all of the people are of course forced to pay a regressive tax to fund it. Oliver's pointed recommendations on what it shouldn't be doing though give the game away: it shouldn't be spending money on sports rights when the commercial channels do the job just as well when they win the bids. Has Oliver seen ITV's football coverage, one wonders? About the only sport ITV has covered well in recent years was F1, and they decided to not bid for the rights the last time they came up because of the money they'd spent on the FA Cup. The other thing the BBC should stop trying to do is 16-35 coverage, which really drives the point home. The real proposal here is that by stopping catering for the youth audience, the hope is that the young lose the reverence for the BBC which the older demographic continues to have, even if if that has been diluted in recent years. There is a case, as I've argued in the past, for shutting down BBC3 and privatising Radio 1, not to stop catering for the young but because the money spent on both could be better distributed and spent elsewhere. BBC3 in nearly 7 years of broadcasting has produced at most 5 programmes of actual worth, and all of them could have been easily made for and accommodated on BBC2. Radio 1 is just shit, end of story.

Along with Oliver's proposal to end the spending on talent and on overseas programmes which the other channels would bid for, this removes the justification for the keeping of the licence fee right down to the public service credentials - in short, the BBC should do the bare minimum, stay purely highbrow and in doing so, would lose the support which it currently still has across the ages and classes. The first step in this process was clearly the Sachsgate affair, resulting in the stifling layer of compliance which producers now have to go through, and which is discouraging even the slightest amount of risk-taking or programmes which might cause anything approaching offence. If, after Sachsgate, the BBC was allowed to keep its bollocks, just not allowed to use them, then Oliver's proposals would complete the castration.

Oliver's other key recommendations involving the BBC include the abolition of the BBC Trust, which hasn't held the corporation to sufficient account even though it has put its foot down on a number of occasions, while also recommending the "bottom-slicing" of the licence fee, which as the BBC has repeatedly rightly argued, would end the special relationship it has with licence-fee payers, leaving it no longer able to justify itself fully to the public. Finally, a Public Service Content Trust would be set up, another quango to which the BBC would have to justify itself to.

The other two eye-catching proposals which don't involve the BBC are that Channel 4 should be privatised - after all, ITV is a shining example of the benefits of such a move, or the Simon Cowell channel as it is shortly to be renamed. Lastly, ownership and competition constraints should be relaxed in exchange for programme investment commitments, or as it may as well be called, the Murdoch clause. The vision which this report set outs is a media environment in which Murdoch's every wish comes true - allowed to buy ITV and Channel 5, those pesky rules on impartiality dropped, and a BBC reduced to a husk. Whether we should go the whole way and rename the country Murdochland is probably the subject of Policy Exchange's next report.

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Friday, July 18, 2008 

Investigative blogging, the Tories and watching the ministerial written statements.

A whole load of investigative blogging has been going on of late, especially over at the Ministry. Unity first uncovered that one of the individuals who officiated on the employment tribunal in the case of Ladele vs Islington shares a name with a person who was previously the chairman of governors at an independent Catholic girls' school, quite obviously a potential conflict of interest when ruling on matters of discrimination involving a registrar refusing to officiate on civil partnerships.

Next, in response to the Charity Commission report on the Smith Institute, which although critical did not find the smoking gun that Guido amongst others hoped it would over its connections to Gordon Brown, Unity raises the question of Policy Exchange and its extreme closeness to Cameron and co, which bears much of a resemblance to that which the Smith Institute has been criticised over. While trying to gain full advantage from the report, Guido happens to link to the Centre for Open Politics, which models itself on the American Sunlight Foundation. Their gambit is:

Our work is inspired by and based on the work of the Sunlight Foundation in Washington D.C. We are committed to helping voters, bloggers and journalists be their own watchdogs, by improving access to existing information and digitising new information, and by creating new tools and websites to enable all of us to collaborate in fostering greater transparency.

Underlying all of Sunlight’s efforts is a fundamental belief that increased transparency will improve the conduct of politics itself and the public’s confidence in the political process.

All well and good, you might think; more transparency in politics is exactly what we need. You would expect however that those who have set-up this Centre for Open Politics would be, well open about their politics and transparent in their reasons for setting it up. The slightest Googling by Unity, and amazing as it may seem, it turns out that COP's founders, Harry Cole and Amanda O'Brien are respectively formerly Vice Chairman/Treasurer of the Edinburgh University Conservative Association, as well as running some of the recruitment drive for the youth Tory organisation Conservative Future, while O'Brien is likely to be the same Amanda O'Brien who's currently the deputy chairman of Essex Conservative Future. What's more, the domain name for COP's is registered at the self-same building out of which MessageSpace operates, which just so also happens to be associated with Guido.

Elsewhere meanwhile Cameron's decision to publish the expenses of the vast majority of his MPs might well backfire after it was noted that 78 of them are using their allowances to pay for the party's "Parliamentary Resources Unit", the Labour equivalent of which MPs have to pay for out of their own pockets. The Tories are on the defensive and confident they'll be found not to be breaching any rules, but John Mann has asked the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to investigate.

Even more interesting for those of us keeping an eye on the habitual liar and fantasist which is Nadine Dorries is that her expenses show that she spent £2,938 on the services of Media Intelligence Partners. As Tim on Bloggerheads notes, the services provided by MIP are Media strategy', 'Media relations', 'Crisis management', 'Media Training', 'Public relations and political consultancy', 'Identity management' and 'Analysis and research'. According to the Green Book rules on what can and cannot be charged to the taxpayer, expenditure under the Incidental Expenses Provision is not permitted for "Advice for individual Members on self promotion, or PR for individuals or political parties." Dorries used taxpayer cash on MIP during her campaign for the abortion limit to be cut to 20 weeks. Could it be that she's been caught bang to rights yet again misusing her expenses, after previously using Commons notepaper inappropriately and funding her website also from the IEP?

Finally, Matt Wardman brings our attention to the government's usual habit of flooding out written ministerial statements just before parliament goes into recess and the silly season begins in earnest. Well worth watching.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008 

Biting Newsnight in Private Eye.

Private Eye is generally one of the few remaining shining beacons of investigative and fearless journalism in this country. It can also however be pompous, smug and on occasion, downright wrong.

In this case, it isn't quite the latter, but it's almost as close to it as it could possibly be. Despite nearly a month of no new dispatches from either Newsnight or Policy Exchange, who've had a considerable amount of time to conduct their own investigations, which they said they were going to, or to launch a legal action, as they implied they might do, "Ratbiter" is today given nearly half a page in the Eye (1203, page 8) on the fracas between the two over Policy Exchange's "Hijacking of British Islam report".

Ratbiter brings only one new thing to the table, and more on that at the end. Apart from that, it's as if he'd been hired by Policy Exchange themselves to defend their report. According to his piece, which implies that because Newsnight sat on the report and that rather than reporting its findings it doesn't believe there's any problems with Islam in this country, something hardly borne out by Richard Watson's repeated investigations over the past year into Hizb-ut-Tahrir, other Islamist organisations and similar allegations to PE's in Tower Hamlets' libraries, "the evidence that Policy Exchange was basically right about the extremist literature available is overwhelming". Indeed it is, as long as you as selectively decide which "evidence" to include in your piece as Ratbiter has.

The only two mosques which Ratbiter mentions are the Muslim Education Centre in High Wycombe, where Newsnight openly broadcast that it had one of the books bought from it on the shelves, but that the shop had a completely different invoice to the one which backed up PE's research, one that Newsnight alleged was a forgery, and the Al-Muntada mosque in west London, where again the invoice was considered dodgy, but also never convincingly claimed that the books didn't come from there. As Ratbiter points out, one of the books apparently bought from there is still available on its website. Well, according to when the Eye went to press it was, but looking at their website now the shop link only provides a phone number and a couple of paragraphs on what's available there.

If Newsnight's evidence had relied on just those two mosques, then it would indeed have been ridiculous for it to have broadcast its lengthy report on the PE publication. Instead, as Ratbiter doesn't acknowledge at any point, the programme featured another four mosques, as my post giving a comprehensive run-down of all the accusations makes clear, one of which looks like a prima facie case of forgery that libels the mosque accused of selling the literature. Since then, allegations about material found at the Edinburgh mosque featured in the report and at a least a couple of others has been called into question.

As with the other PE operatives who defended the report at the time, rather than being angry about the allegations made by Newsnight, Ratbiter appears to be most miffed that Newsnight bothered to double-check the information in the report, and also the invoices which PE supplied to back it up. I'm currently reading Nick Davies' Flat Earth News (expect a review once I'm done), serialised in the Eye in the last issue, and one of the main points he makes in it when defining "churnalism" is that most journalists now, whether working for the Press Association, local newspapers, the big national players or indeed the BBC, simply don't have adequate time to check the sources of their material to ensure that what they're writing and providing as fact is actually true, which ought after all to be the number one service that a journalist should provide. As Ratbiter himself acknowledges, most of the rest of the media ran with it, without even bothering one would assume to so much as check that what the PE report said was accurate. That, after all, was their job, and would have prevented the journos involved from bashing out the other stories they're expected to. In other words, Newsnight provided the very base service that journalists ought to, which is to check for bullshit, and because it did, it's been hammered for it. What a sad state of affairs British journalism really is in for this to be more important than accuracy itself.

Ratbiter's main rhetorical flourish is that the researchers themselves fear for their lives as a result of threats from the extremists that Newsnight pretended didn't exist. Ratbiter's main backing for this is that the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, whose site comes off as almost a Muslim Daily Mail, but who can be hardly described as extremists, allegations about anti-semitism and funding of David Irving by one of its founders aside, put on its website while describing the researchers as "zio-con frauds", that "if you know who they are - please write in and we will expose these men and women for all the Muslim community to see." Thing is, those extremists within the community have now been enormously helped by, err, Ratbiter. Before his piece, we neither knew where the researchers currently were, or how many of them there were, with Newsnight told they were on a jaunt in Mauritania. He/she informs us that there are 8 of them, and that they are currently "somewhere in London". Doubtless those self-same researchers that have been put in danger by Newsnight's refusal to cooperate with the slide to "churnalism" will greatly thank their latest defender for narrowing the search down that little bit more.

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Monday, December 17, 2007 

Charles Moore enters the Policy Exchange/Newsnight fray.

Firstly, apologies for not updating on Saturday. My phone line had until around 2 hours ago been borked since 2am on Friday night/Saturday morning. Thanks, Tiscali.

Secondly, this will hopefully be the last piece on the Policy Exchange/Newsnight confrontation unless something new comes up. Charles Moore, ex-editor of the Daily Telegraph, and Chairman of Policy Exchange just had to stick his nose in though and therefore deserves to be thoroughly fisked.

Skipping Moore's trite intro about Newsnight:

On a day when the world's central banks were combining to rescue the global banking system, and when Gordon Brown was trying to think of a way of signing away Britain's independence in Lisbon without cameras, there were big things for the programme to lead on.

Instead, it presented a huge, 17-minute package about Policy Exchange.

Seeing as the signing away didn't occur until Friday, there was little point going on about it until Thursday night, surely? Let's not even bother getting into the giving away of our birthrights that the Eurosceptics and tabloids have blustered over when they've preached bullshit and lies about Europe for so long. The 17-minute package was a thorough, intelligent and lucid piece of investigative journalism. It was something that doesn't grace our screens much anymore, and it was far better than a tedious report on the central banks having to bail out the other banks because of their economic ineptitude, unless the report went into how the free market had failed due to the greed of the City on both sides of the Atlantic.

Although Newsnight's portentousness was unjustified, the allegations did look serious. It should be said at once that they need proper investigation. But when you know the background, you come to see how very different this story is from the way Newsnight told it.

And does Charles Moore anywhere in this actual piece refute any of Newsnight's allegations and accusations? Of course he doesn't. This is the start of the obfuscation. The allegations need proper investigation, but in the mean time we're going to attack Newsnight for daring to investigate our potentially shoddy report.

This is what happened.

Over the summer, Policy Exchange produced the most comprehensive report so far on the extent to which extremist literature is available in British mosques and Islamic institutions. It is called The Hijacking of British Islam.

Muslim undercover researchers visited nearly 100 mosques. In 26 of them, they found extremist material - titles such as Women Who Deserve to Go to Hell (for answering their husbands back), virulent insults of Jews and homosexuals, puritanical attacks on moderate Muslims, calls for the complete rejection of Western society etc.

It was a big story, and as I shall make clear, none of Newsnight's claims this week has diminished its dimensions.

In 6 of those there are now, thanks to Newsnight, doubts about whether they did supply the material, meaning that extremist material was found in a fifth of such institutions, not a quarter. That's still unacceptable, but because of those doubts it also brings the entire report into disrepute. To continue to claim that Newsnight "hasn't diminished its dimensions" is to give in to a desire for personal myopia.

The report made the front page of many newspapers, including this one. It was extensively covered everywhere - everywhere except for the entire national output of the BBC.

This was because of Newsnight. Thinking that such a report was a serious public issue that could advance well under the "flagship's" full mast and sail, Policy Exchange had originally offered it to Newsnight exclusively.

Newsnight's people were enthusiastic, but on the late afternoon of the intended broadcast, they suddenly changed their tune.

Policy Exchange had offered them many of the receipts it had collected from mosques as evidence of purchase; now they said that they had shown the receipts to mosques and that there were doubts about the authenticity of one or two of them.

Given that the report was being published that night, the obvious thing for Newsnight to do was to broadcast Policy Exchange's findings at once, allowing the mosques to have their say about the receipts.

There was no need for Newsnight to claim "ownership" of the report. Instead, the editor, Peter Barron, decided to run nothing. His decision meant the Policy Exchange report was not touched by the BBC at all.

I'm sorry, is Moore meant to be getting at something here? Newsnight decides to actually check up on the veracity of PE's report, and when it discovers there are doubts, it decides to investigate more thoroughly, and this is something Newsnight is worthy of criticism over? One of the things modern day journalism suffers from in the 24-hour news climate is the desire to get the story out and for the facts, such as they are, to be established later. We've seen that happen this year with Madeleine McCann and in numerous other cases. They could have broadcast the report and said that the mosques disputed the findings and even the authenticity of the receipts, but would have been left with eggs on their faces and facing criticism if someone else had then done the investigation they decided to do themselves. Newsnight finds itself being damned if it does and damned if it doesn't. Moore is also wrong to say that the BBC didn't touch the report at all; as Osama Saeed has already explained, the Islamic Centre of Edinburgh had its "naming and shaming" in the report heavily covered on the BBC north of the border, and where again the findings have been disputed.

Mr Barron had already been in trouble for his editorial judgment.

In the summer, the BBC apologised for a Newsnight programme in which a reporter's encounters with Gordon Brown's press officer had been presented in reverse sequence, in order to make Mr Brown's team look intolerant.

Moore, like with Godson, has decide to turn on Peter Barron rather than reporting itself. It's true that Newsnight did apologise for that fortuitous editing, but it was the independent filmmaker's own work. Barron should have checked. Anyway, if we're to adopt the PE defense, the filmmaker can more than claim that despite his editing his report was still accurate, just not altogether the truth.

Mr Barron's judgment of the Policy Exchange report came under attack from colleagues: his flawed methodology - the original decision not to broadcast - had lost the entire corporation an important story.

Ah, failed methodology. Is this the new "flawed prospectus"?

Mr Barron decided to try to prove himself right. In the private sector, there is something called "vanity publishing", where people pay for their own works to be published.

Mr Barron's vanity broadcasting was, of course, at the expense of the licence-fee payer. He put the crew of the flagship on to investigating Policy Exchange's receipts. For six weeks, they turned on the staff of Policy Exchange, who had come to them in good faith in the first place, and treated them like criminals.

And, err, he rather has, hasn't he? Even if Moore's allegations are true, the licence-fee payer and the public interest have been served by Barron's decision to investigate. Apparently being asked some searching questions is now the equivalent of being banged up in police cells and raided at 6am in the morning.

The receipts that Policy Exchange had lent to them were impounded, and copies were distributed to others without permission.

They were subjected to complicated forensic tests. One of these, allegedly the most damning, was completed over a week before Wednesday's broadcast, but withheld from Policy Exchange.

Although there was no screaming news urgency about the item, a courier carrying the test results sat outside the offices of Policy Exchange's lawyers on Wednesday evening with the message that the think-tank could see the results only if it agreed, before seeing them, that it would go on air that night to answer Newsnight's charges.

Outside the lawyers' offices rather than Policy Exchange's? Could this possibly be because PE had already threatened legal action in the most alarming terms? Surely PE were going to appear on Newsnight anyway? Or were they going to, like the government, be unable to find anyone to appear despite a request? Newsnight presumably didn't hand back the originals because they rightly feared that PE wouldn't be gladly giving them back.

On the programme, Jeremy Paxman, who admitted off-air that he had not seen the film before it was broadcast, attacked Policy Exchange's research director, Dean Godson, for refusing to let Newsnight speak to the researchers who had collected the receipts. This was not so: Mr Barron himself had spoken to two of them.

This was dealt with in the previous posts: Barron only says he spoke to one and that was on the day when the original broadcast was meant to be in "an inconclusive conference call".

Poor Paxo, who these days has the air of a once-marvellous old Grand National horse who should no longer be entered for the race, had not been properly briefed.

He accused Policy Exchange itself, which the Newsnight report had not done, of fabricating receipts. Strange the mixture of fierce accusation and casual sloppiness.

Now we're down to the personal insults and more obfuscation. Pray tell, if PE or the researchers employed by PE didn't fabricate the receipts, who did?

Newsnight was very excited about the results of a study of receipts by a forensic document analyst that seemed to suggest forgery.

It did not tell viewers that its expert wrote: "The relatively limited amount of writing available for comparison has prevented me from expressing any definite opinion." She did not study any of the writing in Arabic, though it appeared on two of the three receipts she investigated.

Strange then that she was apparently convinced in Newsnight's actual report. Newsnight was hardly able to ask the researchers to provide some longhand to compare with the receipts, was it?

Of course, any allegations about receipts are, in principle, a serious matter for a think-tank.

Policy Exchange bases its work on evidence, and so its evidence must be sound. The BBC did not give the think-tank the chance to investigate its complicated allegations properly. Policy Exchange will now do so.

Oh, for Christ's sake. Only now are the allegations to be investigated properly. Had PE been suitably rigourous in the first place it would have found the mistakes and discrepancies that Newsnight did before the report had got anywhere near publication. It had six weeks during the BBC's own investigation to do its own digging. Froth and chaff.

But the real oddity of all this is that the actual contents of the report have been validated.

Extremist literature was available in the mosques, and in some cases still is. The mosques could not dissociate themselves from the literature and, in most cases, did not even try to: they jumped on the receipts instead.

Well, a few of them did, and justifiably so one would imagine when in one case it seems to have been fabricated with the office round the corner being wrongly identified as a mosque. The Newsnight investigation found two of the books mentioned in the report in two of the mosques; hardly validating it when its complete findings have been put into doubt due to the apparent making up of the receipts.

One mosque insisted that the next-door bookshop selling extreme stuff had nothing to do with it, yet the extremist books in question which the shop sells are by a former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia (author of a famous essay in which he literally asserted that the Earth is flat) who was a founding sponsor of the mosque!

And one would expect, with the writer being a former Grand Mufti of Saudi that his books would be reasonably widespread.

I don't blame Newsnight for reporting questions about receipts, though I deplore their methods. I do blame them for trying to kill the much, much bigger story about the hate that is being preached in our country.

Moore than seems to deplore the methods of investigative journalism. Not surprising seeing that the stitching up of Galloway from the "documents" in Iraq took place under his watch. If the BBC was trying to kill the "bigger story", it's done a poor job of it, considering how it's contributed to that story itself considerably over the last year.

Policy Exchange researches all sorts of public policy - police reform, school choice, housing, as well as on Islamist extremism. Next week comes its big report on improving philanthropy. I find it repellent that the might of the BBC is deployed to threaten and bully a charity in this way.

Most of which is complete bollocks. The latest publication on prison reform recommends selling off some of the prison estate that is dilapidated, pocketing the money and then spending it on building new prisons. Nowhere is it explained just where the prisoners currently occupying the prisons to be sold off would be housed in the meantime. To claim that the BBC is "threatening and bullying" Policy Exchange is absurd: PE, with its legal threats before the BBC investigation had even been shown, was the one which was bullying while the BBC was daring to look behind the facade. Policy Exchange seems to have two obsessions: the police and Islam. Since July 2006, when it published Martin Bright's series of articles on the relationship between the government and "Islamist reactionaries" abroad in a pamphlet, it's published three other studies on Islam, including the one now under suspicion. Seeing as it was co-founded by the ghastly Michael Gove, a noted devotee to neo-conservatism who had his tome "Celsius 7/7" described by William a confused epic of simplistic incomprehension, riddled with more factual errors and misconceptions than any other text I have come across in two decades of reviewing books on this subject", it's not much of a surprise.

More important, however, is the fate of Muslims in this country.

It is not often realised that the British citizens most persecuted by Islamist extremism are Muslims themselves.

The researchers that Policy Exchange used to find the extreme literature were all Muslims - no one else could pass unnoticed in a potentially hostile environment.

Because their safety was and is threatened, the think-tank protects their anonymity. On air, Newsnight revealed where some of them were.

Yesterday an Islamist website repeated this and called for supporters to help hunt them down. The BBC has unintentionally exposed them to the risk of harm.

Oh yes, they're currently in Mauritania, a country the size of Egypt. Seeing as no one knows who or where they are, those Islamists might just have a considerable task on their hands in tracking them down. Moore would of course know about the pitfalls of offending some Muslims: he wrote a reasonably infamous article prior to the religious hatred law going through which opened with "Was the prophet Mohammed a paedophile?" He continued:

To me, it seems anachronistic to describe Mohammed as a child-molester. The marriage rules of his age and society were much more tribal and dynastic than our own, and women were treated more as property and less as autonomous beings. Aisha was the daughter of Mohammed's right-hand man, and eventual successor (caliph), Abu Bakr. No doubt he and his family were very proud of the match. I raise the question, though, because it seems to me that people are perfectly entitled - rude and mistaken though they may be - to say that Mohammed was a paedophile, but if David Blunkett gets his way, they may not be able to.

Some pointed out that not every source agrees that one of Mohammad's wives was 9 when he married her; others pointed out that she was also described as 19. Calling Mohammad a paedophile is a common insult when mocking Islam, but Moore, a notable believer, would be outraged if Jesus was described in similar terms, as he goes on to relate when describing Paul Abbott's attitudes towards Christmas. After all, there is no account of what he spent his time doing between his teenage years and when he was baptised, aged 30: he could have conceivably spent it banging every goat in sight, although it's unlikely. Thing is, I agree with Moore over his wider point; I just wouldn't have decided to be needlessly inflammatory to make it. To digress, Policy Exchange could have refused to tell Newsnight where they were at all; provided with the information, what did they expect Newsnight to do with it?

What these brave Muslims undeniably found was evidence of widespread, obnoxious material that is a risk to decent Muslims and to British social order.

Really? The written word in the form of impenetrable, archaic religious texts and books by reactionary gobshites is now so dangerous as to threaten the mores of "decent Muslims" and risk British social order itself? If so, then reports which are based upon fabricated evidence must also conceivably threaten, in that horrible new phrase, "community cohesion".

The BBC chose, in effect, to side with their extreme opponents and to cover up the report, because of an obsession about a few pieces of paper.

The few pieces of paper which just happened to underlie the entire report. Congratulations Charles Moore, your attempt at "moving the debate on" has succeeded admirably.

Update: Brilliant wider look at the entire report by Abdurahman Jafar on CiF.

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Friday, December 14, 2007 

Policy Exchange vs Newsnight: Ding ding, round two!

Policy Exchange have issued a second press release on the Newsnight investigation into their report:

Policy Exchange regards the allegations made in BBC Newsnight’s programme of 12th December as libellous and perverse. We stand by our report The Hijacking of British Islam. Policy Exchange investigated nearly 100 mosques and other Islamic institutions of which 26 were found to harbour extremist literature. Of these, Newsnight alleges discrepancies in respect of the receipts obtained for the literature in 6 cases. In 5 of those 6 cases, irrespective of the allegations about receipts, a clear connection to extremism has been identified. In the sixth case, the mosque has publicly admitted it has a problem with rogue traders operating on its premises.

OK then, let's have a closer look at both the Newsnight allegations (video) and the description of the mosques in question in the Policy Exchange report (PDF).

The first mosque featured in Newsnight's investigation was the London Cultural Heritage Centre. The only link to extremism which the Policy Exchange report mentions (page 31) is that Ramzi Mohamed, one of the failed 21/7 bombers, was alleged by the Evening Standard and Sunday Times to have worshipped at the mosque, something the mosque itself denied. The report also doesn't mention that the books featured in the report were allegedly purchased from a stall in the mosque during a book fair, which is certainly different than them being provided by the mosque itself. Secondly, the date on the invoice allegedly provided by the seller is on a Friday during Ramadan, when there most certainly wasn't according to the mosque's spokesman even enough room for such a fair to have taken place. PE retorts that the mosque has had by its own admission problems with rogue sellers but again that hardly warrants the report "naming and shaming" the mosque as selling/providing extremist literature. If the LCHC was suitably inclined it could probably consult lawyers about its own possibilities for action over the inaccurate allegations.

The second mosque featured by Newsnight was the North London Central Mosque, or, aka, Abu Hamza's former haunt, usually known as the Finsbury Park Mosque. Policy Exchange explains in its report that it was taken over in 2005 by the Muslim Association of Britain, with five members of MAB made the trustees of the institution. One of these men is Azzam Tamimi, who is noted for his relationship with Hamas, and has in the past made inflammatory remarks about martyrdom. The mosque is also sympathetic towards the Islamist philosopher Mawdudi, who formed the Jamaat-e-Islami Islamic political party. Despite this, the mosque itself has denied supplying the books featured in the PE report, on page 77.

The third and potentially most serious allegations against Policy Exchange concern the "Euston Mosque". Policy Exchange's report claims that the mosque is headquarters of the United Kingdom Islamic Mission, an organisation linked by Martin Bright in the New Statesman to the aforementioned Jamaat-e-Islami party, something which JEI collaborates on its website. The UKIM was also featured in the Undercover Mosque programme.

All of which would be well and good, but for one small detail. The actual Euston Mosque, as the Newsnight investigation found, is around the corner at 204a North Gower Street, rather than 202 as PE states. The mosque and UKIM have no relationship with each other, and the receipt provided for the books is completely different to the ones which the mosque issues. Policy Exchange claims that the UKIM must have a prayer room that is used and subsequently known as the Euston Mosque, but the outside of the building certainly doesn't make any claims for what seems like the headquarters of UKIM to be anything other than an office. UKIM also completely denies issuing the books featured in the report on page 68 and giving the receipt supplied to Newsnight by PE. The Euston Mosque would it seem on this evidence to have a good case for suing Policy Exchange for libel.

The fourth featured mosque is the Tauheed Mosque and Islamic Centre in Leyton in London. The Newsnight report describes it as a "Salafi" mosque, and according to PE it was founded with a donation by Abdul ‘Aziz ‘Abdullah bin Baz, whose writings are featured in the PE report as extremist literature, and has maintained close links with Saudi Arabia ever since. The address given by PE is again wrong, as it actually corresponds to the Islamic bookshop next door. The mosque and the bookshop deny any connection with each other, and the spokesman for the mosque in the report says that they have considered legal action as a result. Policy Exchange says that their researcher was taken from the mosque into the bookshop and told that the books they purchased and used in the report were sanctioned by the mosque.

It again doesn't end there. Newsnight itself noticed similarities between the handwriting on the receipt for the books with the handwriting on the receipt from the London Cultural Heritage Centre. Karen Barr, the expert enlisted by the programme to look into the authenticity of the invoices said that in her opinion there was strong evidence that they were written by the same person.

The final mosques featured, the Al-Muntada in Parsons Green in London (page 59), and the Muslim Education Centre in High Wycombe (page 145) don't appear to have denied as such that the books featured in the report didn't come from them, with Newsnight's reporter finding one of the books on the shelves in the MEC shop. What is denied is that the receipt from the MEC is genuine; the spokesman for the MEC mosque showed the completely different invoices they use in Newsnight's report. Karen Barr performed the "Esta/Esther(sp)" test on the two invoices, and found that one was resting on top of the other when it had been written. This could of course be entirely innocent: the researcher might have took invoices out of his pocket looking for money when he was purchasing the books and the seller ended up writing the invoice on top of it, for instance. It could also be more sinister, suggesting that the invoices were fabricated at the same time at a later date.

There is then some persuasive evidence then that at least some of the invoices for the purchases were fabricated at a later date. Policy Exchange has however not gone with the explanation that the books were purchased and the invoices made up later after the researchers didn't get such prima facie evidence at the time, which, however devious, would at least be somewhat acceptable. Instead, it's not directly rebutted the claim that the invoices were fabricated, instead pointing out that the mosques have been linked in their report to extremism. Being linked with extremism and providing extremist literature is hardly the same thing, and in the "Euston Mosque" case at least their evidence is directly misleading and false. The mosques in question are always likely to, in an echo of Mandy Rice-Davies, say that as in deny it, but PE itself has provided no real explanation for the discrepancies between the receipts.

The statement goes on to continue to attack Newsnight:

At all times, Policy Exchange acted in good faith, voluntarily providing to Newsnight’s team a number of the receipts obtained in the course of our research. Newsnight commissioned a forensic investigation of around 20 receipts; in 6 cases concerns have been raised. Prior to 12th December, having been made aware of some of Newsnight’s allegations, Policy Exchange conducted its own investigation into the research methodology and found no evidence to back up Newsnight’s claims. Only on 12th December, in spite of repeated requests, did Newsnight return the receipts to us. Furthermore, they only supplied us with the reports of their forensic expert two hours before broadcast. At that stage, a new allegation was raised in respect of one of the mosques and we have not had time to investigate this allegation.

Policy Exchange's real complaint seems to have been that Newsnight even bothered to look into the authenticity of the receipts instead of just blindly reporting what the report itself stated like everyone else did. PE's statement that it conducted an investigation into the report's methodology is also misleading: Newsnight has never questioned the actual methodology, what it has questioned is the veracity of the evidence to back up its findings. It all seems to be a bit of sour grapes: why didn't PE make carbon copies of the receipts, and in any case, hadn't it already checked them as Dean Godson claimed they had? How come Newsnight saw through the discrepancies and PE didn't? As for the time given to respond, Godson mentioned the leaks about the Newsnight investigation in his confrontation with Paxman; they well knew something was coming and had plenty of time to organise a convincing defense. They simply haven't done so. The time given to respond is also broadly in line with that which newspapers give to those they're investigating: many of the PE "experts" are former hacks, including Godson himself and PE's director, Anthony Browne.

This is just one example of a catalogue of bad faith on the part of Newsnight’s editor, Peter Barron. Contrary to what was alleged by Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight’s programme (having admitted he had not seen Newsnight’s own film before transmission) Policy Exchange has facilitated interviews between our Muslim researchers and the Newsnight team, including one with the programme’s editor. Mr Barron must explain why he chose to make a 17-minute lead package about receipts, not about the abundant evidence of the availability of extremist literature within a minority of Islamic places of worship in the UK.

Why then did Richard Watson deny that any had been made available to him? Barron has already stated that he had a conversation with one during a conference call, which was in his words "inconclusive". When else were the researchers provided to Newsnight? It's quite obvious why, as Paxman stated to Godson that Barron chose to make a "17-minute lead package about the receipts" instead of a film on the report; because the receipts' lack of authenticity undermines the entire report's conclusions and asks questions about the ethics of the researchers themselves.

Policy Exchange gave the receipts to Newsnight merely to emphasise the thoroughness of our methodology. The receipts are not, however, mentioned in the report and the substance of the report is unaffected by Newsnight’s allegations about a small minority of the receipts. The report is about extremist literature and all the literature obtained in the course of our research is in Policy Exchange’s possession. As a respected evidence-based thinktank, Policy Exchange takes the integrity and authority of our research very seriously. Accordingly, we shall investigate any outstanding allegations very carefully. It is a pity that Newsnight did not approach this matter with the professionalism one would expect from the BBC.

That the receipts are not mentioned is neither here nor there. Without their existence there would be no report because there would be no evidence to back up the books had ever been supplied by whom PE have said they were. The substance of the report may not be affected, but the report in its entirety has been brought into repute because of Newsnight's allegations. Anyone would expect PE to be defending their report, but their threats of legal action when they don't seem to have properly checked the receipts in the first place suggests that it's PE's professionalism which is in question, not the BBC's, which went through that tiresome journalistic process of checking the evidence.

Policy Exchange is in legal consultations about action in this matter.

And so too might be the mosques slandered in the report on the basis of apparently fabricated sources.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007 

Policy Exchange rumbled by Newsnight.

Last night's Newsnight was one of those increasingly rare TV events that are genuinely unmissable - except that hardly anyone other than the usual obsessives would have been watching or even known about it. (You can watch the report by Richard Watson here and the confrontation between Jeremy Paxman and Policy Exchange's Dean Godson here.)

The story began with Newsnight and the right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange doing a deal that would have seen the programme have exclusive access to their latest report - the hijacking of British Islam (PDF), an alleged expose which claimed that out of 100 mosques visited across the country, in a quarter literature judged to be extremist was found - and ended with Policy Exchange threatening legal action while not really rebutting the central allegations made by Newsnight against the source of 5 of those books.

Instead of simply repeating what the Policy Exchange report had found and debating it, Newsnight requested the receipts from PE to check that everything was in order, perhaps considering the fallout from the then unresolved police complaints over Channel 4's Undercover Mosque. According to Peter Barron, Newsnight's editor, who was ferociously denounced by PE's Dean Godson, everything was set to go ahead as scheduled until the reporter Richard Watson raised his concerns over discrepancies he'd found in one of the invoices. Further investigation found another 4 irregularities with the receipts; one had the wrong address, one was from a mosque which didn't have a bookshop, one had the date on it from a day during Ramadan on a Friday when there most certainly wouldn't have been a book fair at the mosque in question, although it admitted it had a problem with rogue sellers; then there was the evidence from a forensic specialist, who found that one of the invoices had been written on top of the other, while the handwriting on two was in her opinion the same person's.

Faced with this evidence, Godson, instead of holding his hands up and admitting that his researchers might have well have purchased the books but then later embellished the receipts, or even attempting to come up with any real explanation, decided to take on Jeremy Paxman at his own game, out shouting, out gesticulating and out foaming at the mouth with indignation. It almost paid off, with Paxman at times looking distinctly uncomfortable at being assailed when that's his job, and especially when Godson claimed that they had in fact provided the researchers to talk to Barron despite Paxman's denial. (Barron contends that he only ever talked to one of them as he had claimed in an inconclusive conference phone conversation on the day the original report was meant to be broadcast.) His attacks on Barron if anything let him down the most, when the editor had no one way of defending himself. Then when questioned about why the researchers themselves hadn't been provided and were apparently all away on a jolly holiday in, err, Mauritania, he said the name "Salman Rushdie", as though what they had done were the equivalent of insulting the prophet Muhammad as Rushdie was accused of doing, and most perplexingly, claimed that even if the receipts were inaccurate it didn't affect the report.

Policy Exchange is still saying the exactly the same thing today, forced to issue a statement which again offers no real explanation for the doubts raised over the receipts:

The receipts are not, however, mentioned in the report and the report’s findings do not rely upon their existence.

That they are not mentioned in the report is neither here nor there, nor does it matter that the findings do not rely on their existence: their existence undermines the conclusions because it brings those conclusions into major doubt. If we can't trust the researchers to have properly sourced the material upon which the report is based, then the entire thing is worthless, something which even the notably sceptical Harry's Place has described as gilding the lily.

Even before the Newsnight report, Osama Saeed and a blogger called Dr Marranci had called into question some parts of it and its methodology. Osama questioned just where the material alleged to have originated from Edinburgh Central Mosque had actually came from, as they denied that it was anything they had ever stocked, while the mosque itself has a reputation for its moderation. A couple of weeks later the exact extremist literature featured in the report was apparently dumped in the doorway. The questions from Dr Marranci were met by Denis MacEoin, the report's main author, with little more than contempt. This sentence was the most revealing:

The point is that telling Muslims to hate all non-Muslims, to avoid contact with them as far as possible, tobelieve (sic) Jews are the cause of all the world’s degradation, and so on and on — this is deeply offensive to the host society

In other words, MacEoin considers that at the moment Muslims are just guests in "our" society, and not citizens just as much as we are. I don't wish to turn this into an ad hominem attack on MacEoin or Policy Exchange as a whole, but MacEoin is notable for his pro-Israeli views, also writing this passage previously:

I don’t like to speak in terms of historic moments or symbolic conflicts, but I’m afraid that, as this struggle intensifies, I am bound to do so.

Civilization itself is at stake. The values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and the open society are as much or more at risk today than in the decades when we confronted, first German fascism and then Soviet communism.

He's also not immune from irrational belief himself, as he recently wrote on CiF defending homeopathy, accusing Ben Goldacre of being ignorant and unscientific, without deeming to mention that his wife, is err, a homeopath.

As for Policy Exchange's accusations that Newsnight's behaviour shows an "agenda" at work, nothing could be more laughable. Newsnight had already given top-billing to a similar report on the extremist Islamist literature available in Tower Hamlets' libraries by a rival thinktank, the Centre of Social Cohesion, and has throughout the year run a series of reports on Hizb-ut-Tahrir, also by the reporter Richard Watson, not to mention the numerous times it's featured Ed Husain, and a couple of other defectors from HuT. As Osama Saeed also mentions, Newsnight Scotland featured the accusations the report made against the Edinburgh mosque, not showing the same scrutiny as the below the border version did. The programme itself could doubtless come up with other examples of its focus on Islam in Britain.

MacEoin is certainly right in one thing - we should and must condemn those mosques that did have such extremist literature for sale on their shelves. They can't use the defence that shops and libraries stock the same stuff, or that evangelical Christian groups have some rather unpleasant ideas which they express through pamphlets too; if such material as "women who deserve to go to hell" is on sale inside mosques, it's quite clearly unacceptable, even on debate within the faith grounds. We should however also though denounce thinktanks or media organisations which broadcast or release such information without properly checking, as Policy Exchange apparently didn't, that everything was in order. Their report and reputation has been tarnished by the Newsnight accusations, and resorting to legal action when it appears that unlike Channel 4, they've been found bang to rights, will only make matters even worse for them.

Related posts:
Osama Saeed - Newsnight rips apart mosque extremism report
Ministry of Truth - Can I get a receipt for that?
Sticks and Carrots - Predetermined Outcomes Part 2

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007 

Scum-watch: Two faces, one day.

What then, to make of today's Sun front-page? On one level, it deserves to be welcomed and applauded. Any message which points out the values and life that we share, that prejudice based both on background and on the colour of our skin is completely unacceptable, and that children especially are often the ones that suffer the most from the unkindness and closed-minds of their peers ought to be celebrated, especially coming from a paper with such a poor history both of promoting forgiveness and tolerance. It's just that I don't believe the Sun means it, and there are also far more sinister undertones beneath its apparent road to Damascus-type conversion.

More to the point, the very reason for the Sun running this on their front page has to be related in no small measure to the decision of Shilpa Shetty to sell her story to the Mirror. Normally, the tabloids that can't afford/don't want to stump up the cash for the stories of the latest 15-minute wonder to emerge from the reality shows/royal family flunky/mistress of someone vaguely famous is to attack them, rubbish their views and point out all their various flaws. Unfortunately for the Sun, the decision to turn on Jade Goody and the others involved in the bullying of Shetty has meant that with Shetty going to the Mirror and Danielle Lloyd going to the Star, they were left without any of their own exclusives.

Cue some bright spark who came up with an idea to save everything: turn on prejudice day! What better way to make up for the dearth of stories which their rivals have? Hell, they even got the Commission for Equality and Human Rights to OK their use of various racial epithets, just to make sure all was, err, kosher. Graham Dudman, the managing editor and public face of the paper, as Rebekah Wade tends to get into trouble whenever she appears in public,
even went to CiF with his feel-good aren't we doing something good line, trying to rouse interest in something which otherwise seems to have been ignored.

One thing you have to wonder about is just how much the kids which the Sun has pictured know about the newspaper's own recent history in being far from tolerant of their own backgrounds. For instance:

MUSTAFA MIYASAR, ten, from Scotland, has been called “terrorist”, an insult which began after 9/11.

This wouldn't have anything to do with the far from restrained at times coverage from the Sun of the actual terrorist threat. Front pages such as "PLOT TO KILL YOU", editorials warning the public to more or less stay scared, and this from after the conviction of Kamel Bourgass, who neither had ricin nor could have produced it with the phony recipe he had (not to mention he had no links with al-Qaida) don't exactly reassure the public that Muslims in general are not responsible for the actions of a tiny, tiny minority who share their religious faith.

JOYTI PANESAR, 11, of Leeds, held a sign saying “Paki”, an insult towards immigrant workers who arrived from Asia in the ’60s.

Different decades bring different workers. Today it's the East Europeans, and the Sun naturally would never dream of insulting them, casting them as invading hordes or as potentially bringing disease. Oh, wait:

Ms Deborah Jack, the Chief Executive of the National Aids Trust, complained that the newspaper had inaccurately described HIV rates in Eastern Europe. She also raised concerns that the article had confused HIV and AIDS.


The complaint was resolved when the newspaper published the following correction:

“On 16 November we reported fears immigrants from Eastern Europe made up a large proportion of new UK HIV cases. We have been asked to make clear Eastern Europe is not a significant source of new HIV diagnoses and Romania and Bulgaria do not have high HIV rates. They rank 39 and 44 respectively in the European league table of 52 countries.” In addition, the PCC asked the newspaper to mark its records in order to help avoid confusion between HIV and AIDS in future."

And here's that very day's editorial on the subject:

BRITAIN once wiped out TB and was gaining ground against AIDS.

Today we risk an explosion in both these killer diseases, thanks to infected immigrants.

Virulent new strains of tuberculosis are virtually incurable and easily spread.

Many have arrived from Africa, but startling new figures show a sharp rise in cases from new EU states Bulgaria and Romania which have the highest rates in Europe.

The irony is that the latest increase comes as health chiefs launch an awareness campaign against sexually transmitted diseases.

Understandably, those facing death will do anything to seek health care — especially if it is free.

But we will soon have to choose between acting as Good Samaritan to the world’s sick.

And protecting our own citizens against a deadly epidemic.

The article itself seems to have gone missing, so it looks as if it takes a PCC intervention for such woefully wrong stories to be removed from the archive. (See Muslim yobs passim ad nauseum and Rochelle Holness.) Still, when it comes to protecting "our own citizens" from the sexually infected hordes who are about to invade us, who could fault the Sun for being vigilant?

MARY RYE, 16, from Bromley, South London, has been called “Pikey”, a term said to come from an old English word meaning to travel or from turnpike.

Gypsy groups report the Sun to the police

Patrick Barkham
Thursday March 10, 2005
The Guardian

Gypsy groups reported the Sun to the police and the Press Complaints Commission yesterday, claiming that its new campaign against Traveller camps was an incitement to racial hatred.

Their leaders made formal complaints to the Hampshire and Sussex police, and communities spoke of the fear and intimidation caused by the tabloid declaring "war on gipsy [sic] free-for-all", under the headline "Stamp on the camps".

A woman living on a site in Kent was so worried by the Sun's attitude that she contacted the police yesterday and asked for their protection. Other Gypsies said their children were frightened when they read headlines apparently declaring "war" on them.

Here's some edited highlights from March the 9th 2005's Sun editorial:

Illegal sites are a symptom of the PC-driven victim culture in which even wrongdoers — such as gipsies who ride roughshod over the planning laws — are granted immunity and even given privileges.

The villain of the piece is the Human Rights Act, which our judges have limply interpreted to mean that these wandering tribes have a right to family life and respect for their homes which outweighs any harm they might do to the environment or rural communities.

What a difference nearly two years makes! Also note how the Sun uses gipsy rather than gypsies, purely so it can avoid potentially being racist, as gypsies are defined as a ethnic group. Smart, eh?

ZHAO PENG, 15, from Bristol, has been called “Chinky” a racial slur to describe Chinese people.

The Sun would never be so crude. That's why they referred to Ding Junhui, the Chinese snooker player who recently reached the Masters final as "Pot Noodle".

ZAYNAB AHMED, 16, from London, held the sign saying “Raghead”, a variation on the “Towelhead” insult. She says:
The most terrifying experience I had was when my cousin and I were going home after prayers at a mosque during Ramadan.

There was a massive group of football fans and they started making comments about our headscarves. It was really intimidating. They were laughing and shouting abuse. We were really scared.

Frightening indeed. Is it possible that some of them could have been Sun readers?

FIFTEEN women suicide bombers have been sent to murder British troops in Afghanistan.

Taliban chiefs have ordered them to dress as beggars or teachers and hide devices under burkas, a secret intelligence report has warned.

THE Sun today launches a campaign to close the veil loophole making a mockery of Britain’s airport security.

We told yesterday how a member of the gang which killed WPC Sharon Beshenivsky sneaked out of Heathrow by donning a Muslim niqab, with just a slit for eyes.

Now we are calling on Home Secretary John Reid to turn passport control at every airport in the country into a veil-free zone.

Nevermind that there has been no evidence presented whatsoever to prove that Mustaf Jama actually fled the country wearing a niqab, the Sun still felt the need to start up a pointless campaign. The coverage among the tabloids since Jack Straw's original speech has to been to point out that women wearing the headscarf, especially the full veil, aren't to be trusted; they either aren't willing to integrate, as their choice of religious dress is a wall of separation, or they're someone in disguise.

SEAN CALLEN, 12, of Southampton, hates the insult “chav scum” — a jibe at white working class people who wear brash designer clothes. It shows white people can be victims of bigots, too.

A search of the Sun's archive gives 201 results for chav, among them are such delights as the following:

A DIZZY blonde caught using both hands to doll herself up while DRIVING was heading to meet her secret lover, she revealed last night.

Chav calendar girl Donna Maddock said she wanted to look good for her date with her two-timing fella, who lives with a girlfriend and their child.

And speaking after she was done for careless driving by a court, the defiant 22-year-old said: “I must have looked like Penelope Pitstop driving along slapping the make-up on. But it’s something all women do. I can’t see what the big fuss is about.”

A WOMAN suspected of murdering her own mother was urged to turn herself in last night — by a sister who called her a “chav”.

Chav out first in eviction

TEARFUL Bonnie Holt was boiling mad last night as she became the first housemate to be evicted from Big Brother 7.

The Vicky Pollard-style chav told how she was “bored out of her brains”, sobbing to the others: “It was my time.”

It's the Chavtas, innit

THE SUN is proud to announce a new award for givin' it large – the Chavtas.

Our gongs will go to the champions of chav, the yoof culture phenomenon that is sweeping the nation.

Do you have a blindin' collection of bling?

Do you know somebody who dresses their dog in Burberry to match their own gear?

Write, with a picture if possible, to The Chavtas, The Sun, 1 Virginia St, London E98 1SN.

Then there's today's Sun leader on the subject, coupled with Dudman's own references to yesterday's survey about young Muslims:

Britain’s overwhelming vote to make Shilpa Shetty Celebrity Big Brother winner shows, thank goodness, we are a nation that hates racism.

But the show also proved how name-calling can become racist viciousness. The impact on society of offensive labels can be dangerous.

Shunned minorities retreat into ghettos and nurse their grievances.

At a more sinister level, as new polls show, it splits society and turns thousands of young Muslims into al-Qaeda sympathisers.

This is more worrying now than at any time in recent memory.

Tory leader David Cameron rightly blames multiculturalism and unchecked immigration for stoking the flames. But he puts his finger on another key factor — education. Ignorance breeds prejudice.

Right, so the Sun goes to the trouble of taking a picture of children who have suffered racism, all from different backgrounds, and then it still blames multiculturalism, despite all the evidence that living together fosters togetherness. The problem isn't multiculturalism, if anything it's because we've not become multicultural enough. Ignorance is indeed the problem, but you're highly unlikely to be enlightened from reading the Sun, let's face it. As for shunned minorities retreating into ghettos and potentially becoming radicalised, yesterday's study additionally pointed out how those who have been convicted of terrorism offences or who have killed themselves for their own perverted cause were almost universally better off than average, and had relatively few family problems. Racism might be to do with ignorance, but non-integration and poverty appear to be relatively low indicators for potential jihadis, at least from this country.

To be fair to the Sun, if its front page today does make someone who is prejudiced or racist think twice, and with its circulation reach it will hit a lot more homes than any other paper, then my cynicism can be dismissed. It's now up to the Sun to practice what it preaches - and by the above evidence, it's not hard to see how quickly this will be forgotten along with all the other short-lived outbreaks of moral superiority.

How quickly the Sun can change from attempting to be inclusive and all-embracing back to its hate-filled and downright nasty more familiar guise could not be better illustrated than its coverage today of their victory over Patricia Tierney:
Unhappy slapper loses

THE Sun won an historic legal victory yesterday after exposing the prostitute in the Wayne Rooney brothel libel case as a LIAR.

Gran Patricia Tierney, 52, tried to swindle hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages from us, claiming she was just an innocent receptionist.

She claimed her life had been ruined by a series of articles identifying her as a hooker known as The Auld Slapper in a Liverpool brothel Rooney used as a teenager.

But the court heard The Sun uncovered dramatic evidence last week that proved Tierney HAD been a prostitute at Diva’s brothel in Aigburth.

The mum of seven was caught out because of a damning statement she gave to Merseyside Police in May 2002 in which she admitted offering sex for £45 a go.

She stated: “My role was dual. On some days I would work as a receptionist.On other days I would act as a sex worker. My role would be to provide sexual services for clients.”

Historic my foot. Tierney was a liar, it's quite true, but all of this would never have happened if the Sun, instead of naming the woman and exposing her had simply covered her face and not revealed her identity, simply referring to as an older prostitute, which is what she was. There was no need to humiliate her; Rooney was the one who paid for the sex. As Michael White argues:

It seems that Mrs Tierney did do some sex work when she needed the cash and gave details - in confidence - to the Merseyside police when they investigated another case. Naive as well as greedy perhaps, to think it wouldn't come out. But you can't help feeling sorry for someone - not a rich footballer, but a working-class mother and grandmother of 16 - who finds herself on the receiving end of the tabloid treatment for not doing anything illegal.

"It has destroyed my children, my grandchildren, my husband and myself. What I have done, I had my reasons, but I did not deserve this. If it had not been for Rooney, I would not be here," Mrs T said, in applying for an adjournment.

Prostitution in this country is not illegal, but soliciting is. Tierney was not soliciting, and was not breaking the law. There's some additional information in the Grauniad's report:

Ms Tierney said she was "begging for her life". Mr Riley said the alleged libel and what had followed was "destroying us, slaughtering us".

The Sun had offered the family cash for "a dirty story, the dirtier the better" about Mr Rooney. "We never took any money. It's about getting her name cleared ... We are just low-life to the Sun."

After the judge delivered his judgment, Mr Riley was asked if he wanted to comment. "We never had a chance," he said.

How things change. While the Sun went all out for Rooney then, it later dropped its claim that Rooney himself had hit his girlfriend and told her to "fuck off home", paying him £100,000 in damages. Around the same time, Rooney signed his mega-deal with HarperCollins (proprietor: R. Murdoch) to publish his autobiography in installments.

The Sun's leader is even nastier:

GREEDY tart Patricia Tierney pleasured Wayne Rooney for a few quid in a seedy Liverpool brothel.

Then she tried to screw The Sun for £750,000, claiming we damaged her reputation by naming her.

She insisted she was just a granny helping out at the desk. The case was thrown out because she confessed to police two years earlier that she was a whore.

Now she risks jail for contempt of court.

Serves her right.

One day the Sun might get a taste of its own medicine when it comes to ruining lives. Until then, it'll continue to act almost with complete impunity, smearing anyone and anything that gets in its way, however much it pretends to hate prejudice.

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