Tag Archives: daily mail

When is an online comment defamatory?

Rob Minto looks at two recent cases that leave the field of libel online as confusing as ever.

For several years, newspapers, bloggers and other online publishers have been waiting for a landmark case to clarify defamation online.

The unanswered questions have been along the lines of: who’s responsible – the author or publisher (or even ISP)? What jurisdiction will it fall in? What kind of audience is required (if at all?)

In the UK, in quick succession, there have been two cases which have, if anything, muddied the waters. Continue reading

How private is a tweet?

The PCC has made its first rulings on a complaint over newspapers republishing a person’s tweets. The background to this is the publication in The Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday of tweets by civil servant Sarah Baskerville. Adrian Short sums up the stories pretty nicely: “We could be forgiven for thinking you’re trying to make the news rather than report it.”

The complaint came under the headings of privacy and accuracy. In a nutshell, the PCC have not upheld the complaints and, in the process, decided that a public Twitter account is not private. That seems fair enough. However, it is noted that “her Twitter account and her blog [which the Independent quoted from, along with her Flickr account] both included clear disclaimers that the views expressed were personal opinions and were not representative of her employer.”

The wider issue is of course about privacy as a whole, and about the relationship between our professional and private lives. The stories – as Adrian Short outlines so well – are strangely self-contained. ‘It is terrible that this civil servant has opinions and drinks occasionally, because someone like me might say that is it terrible…’

Next they’ll be saying that journalists have opinions and drink too…

Sources fight back: fabrication, complaints, and the Daily Mail

Juliet Shaw writes in a guest post on No Sleep ‘Til Brooklands about her experience of fighting The Daily Mail through the courts after they published an apparently fabricated article (her dissection of the article and its fictions is both painstaking and painful).

There is no happy ending, but there are almost 100 comments. And once again you are struck by the power of sources to tell their side of the story. For Juliet Shaw you could just as well read Melanie Schregardus, or the Dunblane Facebook Group.

Among the comments is Mail reader Elaine, who says

“I have always taken their stance and opinions with a large doze of salt. It will be even larger now. Thank goodness for the internet – as a balance to the Mail I can access the Guardian and the Independent to see their take on a particular world/UK event.”

But also in the comments are others who say they have suffered from being the subject of fabricated articles in the Mail – first Catherine Hughes:

“The article was so damaging to my freelance career that editors I was working with now no longer answer my emails. ‘Heartbroken, devastated and gutted’ doesn’t even come close to how I feel. It happened in September and I am still distraught.”

Then Pomona:

“[I have] been a victim of the Daily Fail’s “journalism” on two occasions: once when my first marriage broke up and they printed a lurid and utterly innaccurate story about me (I’m no celeb, just Jo Public), and more recently when one of their journalists lifted and printed a Facebook reply to their request for information (leaving out the bit where I told them I did not permit them to use or reprint any part of my post)”

And Anonymous:

“The Daily Mail said they were looking for a real life example of a similar case of teachers exploiting trust to complement a news story. They promised to protect my anonymity, use only a very small picture and as one of a number of case studies. A week later a double page spread – taken up mostly with a picture of me – bore the headline ‘Dear Sir, I think I Love you’. The quotes bore no resemblance to what I said and made it sound like I liked the teacher?! Instead of what really happened – a drunken shuffle in the back of a car and a feeling of abuse of trust and sadness the next day.”

Jon Morgan:

“When the article was published, my role as welfare officer was never mentioned, the average overdraft had become *my* overdraft, and I was apparently on the verge of jacking in my studies in despair.”

Anonymous:

“I applied as a case study, the photoshoot, the invasive questions. Took months to get my expenses after dozens of ignored emails. Thankfully the article never went to print. At the time I was annoyed but now I am thankful. I also work in PR and would feel extremely uncomfortable offering anyone as a case study for a client. No matter how large the exposure.”

Dirtypj:

“I complained to the editor. He insisted that all journalists identify themselves as such every time. And that his employee had done no wrong. In short, he was calling ME a liar. And as all interviews are recorded he could prove it. I said, Okay, listen to the recording then! He replied, No, I don’t need to. I stand by my writers.”

Other comments mention similar experiences, some with other newspapers. It’s a small point, driven home over and over again: power has shifted.

Plagiarists should at least be *competent* plagiarists – Media Ooops 002

This is a shorter version of an article appearing on the Wardman Wire.

Plagiarism is an interesting game.

You can either rewrite the piece, find a bit more information, leave other bits out, and – if you’re the Daily Mail – reduce the reading age by a year or three.

Or you can acknowledge that the story came from somewhere else, and give a hat-tip for a nugget, or a small fee for an article.

Or you can try and ride both horses and end up sitting on your backside in the middle.

So, we have Exhibit A, from Dizzy Thinks:

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has a dedicated civil servant working on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012? Not particular shocking really, but there is an oddity.

According to an FoI release, one of the roles of this civil servant is the development of equalities impact assessment for the Queen’s celebratory bash. Why does a celebration for one person need an equalities impact assessment?

Mind you, as an eagle-eyed reader put to to me. Perhaps it’s because she’s (a) a woman, (b) a pensioner, (c) dependent on state benefits, and (d) married to an immigrant?

and Exhibit B, from the Daily Mail:

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has a dedicated civil servant working on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. One of the roles of the civil servant is the development of an ‘equalities impact assessment’. Why does a ­celebration for one person need an equalities impact assessment? Is it because she’s a woman, a pensioner, relies on the state for handouts — and is married to a foreigner?

The two are nearly the same, and it’s only an item in a Diary column, for heaven’s sake. A tip would cost about twenty pounds or a gift voucher, and an acknowledgement would cost nothing.

(Hat-tip: Dizzy).
[Update: re-edited]

CCTV spending by councils/how many police officers would that pay? – statistics in context

News organisations across the country will today be running stories based on a report by Big Brother Watch into the amount spent on CCTV surveillance by local authorities (PDF). The treatment of this report is a lesson in how journalists approach figures, and why context is more important than raw figures.

BBC Radio WM, for example, led this morning on the fact that Birmingham topped the table of spending on CCTV. But Birmingham is the biggest local authority in the UK by some distance, so this fact alone is not particularly newsworthy – unless, of course, you omit this fact or allow anyone from the council to point it out (ahem).

Much more interesting was the fact that the second biggest spender was Sandwell – also in the Radio WM region. Sandwell spent half as much as Birmingham – but its population is less than a third the size of its neighbour. Put another way, Sandwell spent 80% more per head of population than Birmingham on CCTV (£18 compared to Birmingham’s £10 per head).

Being on a deadline wasn’t an issue here: that information took me only a few minutes to find and work out.

The Press Association’s release on the story focused on the Birmingham angle too – taking the Big Brother Watch statements and fleshing them out with old quotes from those involved in the last big Birmingham surveillance story – the Project Champion scheme – before ending with a top ten list of CCTV spenders.

The Daily Mail, which followed a similar line, at least managed to mention that some smaller authorities (Woking and Breckland) had spent rather a lot of money considering their small populations.

There’s a spreadsheet of populations by local authority here.

How many police officers would that pay for?

A few outlets also repeated the assertions on how many nurses or police officers the money spent on surveillance would have paid for.

The Daily Mail quoted the report as saying that “The price of providing street CCTV since 2007 would have paid for more than 13,500 police constables on starting salaries of just over £23,000”. The Birmingham Mail, among others, noted that it would have paid the salaries of more than 15,000 nurses.

And here we hit a second problem.

The £314m spent on CCTV since 2007 would indeed pay for 13,500 police officers on £23,000 – but only for one year. On an ongoing basis, it would have paid the wages of 4,500 police officers (it should also be pointed out that the £314m figure only covered 336 local authorities – the CCTV spend of those who failed to respond would increase this number).

Secondly, wages are not the only cost of employment, just as installation is not the only cost of CCTV. The FOI request submitted by Big Brother Watch is a good example of this: not only do they ask for installation costs, but operation and maintenance costs, and staffing costs – including pension liabilities and benefits.

There’s a great ‘Employee True Cost Calculator‘ on the IT Centa website which illustrates this neatly: you have to factor in national insurance, pension contributions, overheads and other costs to get a truer picture.

Don’t blame Big Brother Watch

Big Brother Watch’s report is a much more illuminating, and statistically aware, read than the media coverage. Indeed, there’s a lot more information about Sandwell Council’s history in this area which would have made for a better lead story on Radio WM, juiced up the Birmingham Mail report, or just made for a decent story in the Express and Star (which instead simply ran the PA release UPDATE: they led the print edition with a more in-depth story, which was then published online later – see comments).

There’s also more about spending per head, comparisons between councils of different sizes, and between spending on other things*, and spending on maintenance, staffing (where Sandwell comes top) and new cameras – but it seems most reporters didn’t look beyond the first page, and the first name on the leaderboard.

It’s frustrating to see news organisations pass over important stories such as that in Sandwell for the sake of filling column inches and broadcast time with the easiest possible story to write. The result is a homogenous and superficial product: a perfect example of commodified news.

I bet the people at Big Brother Watch are banging their heads on their desks to see their digging reported with so little depth. And I think they could learn something from Wikileaks on why that might be: they gave it to all the media at the same time.

Wikileaks learned a year ago that this free-to-all approach reduced the value of the story, and consequently the depth with which it was reported. But by partnering with one news organisation in each country Wikileaks not only had stories treated more seriously, but other news organisations chasing new angles jealously.

*While we’re at it, the report also points out that the UK spends more on CCTV per head than 38 countries do on defence, and 5 times more in total than Uganda spends on health. “UK spends more on CCTV than Bangladesh does on defence” has a nice ring to me. That said, those defence spending figures turn out to be from 2004 and earlier, and so are not exactly ideal (Wolfram Alpha is a good place to get quick stats like this – and suggests a much higher per capita spend)

What does John Terry’s case mean for superinjuntions?

The superinjunction obtained by England Captain John Terry was overturned on Friday – and the case raises some interesting issues (cross posted from John Terry: another nail in the superinjunction coffin):

  • Ecen when the superinjunction was in force, you could find out about the story on Twitter and Google – both even promoted the fact of Terry’s affair – via the Twitter trends list and the real-time Google search box.
  • No one got the difference between an injunction and a superinjunction – the former banned reporting of Terry’s alleged affair, the latter banned revealing there was an injunction. They weren’t necessarily both overturned, but there was a widespread assumption you could say what you liked about Terry once the superinjunction was overturned. This wasn’t necessarily the case …
  • The Mail and Telegraph seemed to flout the superinjunction – as did the Press Gazette which decided if wasn’t bound as it hadn’t seen a copy. This seemed risky behaviour legally – which makes me wonder if the papers were looking for a weak case to try to discredit superinjunctions.
  • This superinjunction should never have been granted. What was the original judge thinking?

Google and Twitter ignored the superinjunction

Tweets from while the superinjunction was in force

Tweets from while the superinjunction was in force

The superinjunction was overturned at about 1pm or 2pm on Friday. Needless to say, the papers had a field day over the weekend. Continue reading

Sun misjudges readers’ mood over Gordon Brown letter

The Sun is running a despicable campaign against Gordon Brown. But I’ve analysed the comments on its website – and readers disagree with its stance by a ratio of more than 3 to 2 (on top of which, there are now accusations that the Sun is censoring pro-Brown comments).

The paper has exploited the grief of Jacqui Janes over her son Jamie’s death in Afghanistan to attack the PM – because his handwritten letter of condolence was supposedly disrespectful due to sloppy writing and (disputed) spelling errors.

It’s loathsome journalism that ignores the effect of his disability (the PM is blind in one eye).

And it seems Sun readers are mostly on the Prime Minister’s side.

Of the 100+ comments on the story (don’t worry, I’ve nofollowed those links) when I checked, 111 expressed a view for or against Jacqui Janes or Gordon Brown (the rest commented on other issues or corrected people’s spelling errors). Of these:

  • 42 were anti Gordon or pro the Sun’s stance.
  • 69 were pro Gordon or anti the Sun’s stance.

So that’s more than 60% who don’t agree with the Sun, and less than 40% who do.

Sample comments from those who agree with the Sun’s stanceanti-gordon-brown

Some comments from those opposing itpro-gordon-brown

Conclusion

The Sun is channeling this woman’s grief into a personal attack on the Prime Minister.

It’s refusing to make allowances for his disability (maybe we could next attack the war wounded for being workshy benefit scroungers?).

And it’s facilitating her breaking data protection laws by releasing a recording of a private phone call.

The whole thing is sickening – let’s hope that observing its readers’ reactions will lead to an end to this (not that this happened in the Jan Moir case) – and preferably prosecution of the Sun over the data protection offence. What’s more, Daily Mail readers are pro Brown, too. The Sun has got this badly wrong.