This is a guest post by Alex Jackson, who is a writer from Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. He mainly writes unsuccessful novels but takes an interest in editorial pieces on politics, the media and local news. If you'd like to write a guest post for Enemies of Reason, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Think of the North East and what do you visualise? Football? Unemployment? Violence? As a Northerner I wish to wipe these stereotypes from the Southern agenda, yet every now and again someone takes a stab at us Tynesiders (or Wearsiders or whatever), the most recent example being a Tory saying Northerners should be used to pick berries in the Summer. Yes, I am often upset by the Southern attitude to the North, partially due to the belief that we're all thick as bricks. Really? My sister recently left school and got a place at Newcastle University: one of the most prestigious schools in the UK, but I need to get to the point of this editorial: The Tyne-Wear derby.
There were some ugly scenes at the Stadium of Light on Sunday as Asamoah Gyan scored a late equaliser: A fan ran onto the pitch and pushed Steve Harper over, the fans got fighting as per usual and chairs were torn from their moorings and thrown around like deformed beach balls. Ugly indeed, but there were also some dodgy scenes in Birmingham during the Blues-Villa game (albeit not as bad as Newcastle-Sunderland, but you catch my drift), but who gets the most coverage in the Daily Mail? Of course, it's the poor, Labour voting thugs on Tyne and Wearside:
The title of the article is magnificent:
Sunderland vow to boot out thugs after crowd violence erupts in derby showdown with Newcastle
because you can't cram too much provocative language into one sentence.
Of course, the Mail need a nice big picture of the thugs fighting one another, and an equally big picture further down the page showing a big, tattooed man scuffling with Police, just to drill home the 'Ooh! Look at those horrible Northerners fighting at a football match!' effect. Yet what about Villa-Birmingham? Ah yes, further down the page are the pictures with the trails of smoke from a smoke bomb (with a Police officer handily caught up in the midst to get the Mail going about the lower classes) and a line of Police trying to paint the football fans in a bad light despite the fact there wasn't much fighting. Of course, they are two small pictures because they don't want to draw the attention away from the scummy Northerners. They also seem to think the idea of banning hooligans from grounds is a new concept, but then again, it's the Daily Mail, they probably think they're too upper class to go to football matches.
I'm not going to lie: the violence was unacceptable, as was throwing a smoke bomb onto a pitch, yet the pictures in the Mail make it look like everyone at the Tyne-Wear game was fighting. Think about it: the Stadium of Light holds around 49,000, at the most there would have been 100 people fighting, so that leaves 48,900 law abiding fans. Of course, the Mail doesn't furnish us with the fact that only 24 (or 33, depending on your source) arrests were made because they want it to look like all the Northerners were scrapping, then again, the other papers were no better. The Sun, The Mirror, The Times and another paper Mr Vowl loves with a passion: The Express
The picture pushes all of their buttons: a Northern thug of student age wearing a hoodie, it couldn't have been better for them unless Diana had rolled in to calm the violence. For some reason they appear to have put the word attack in speech marks. What was attacking Steve Harper if it wasn't an attack? 'A Northern scuffle' probably.
If you take a look at the BBC's article it seems quite fair despite the jab at European fans at the bottom of the page, but compared to The Star's it is slim pickings. The Star's article is perfectly summed up in the title: Steve Bruce's Fan Fury, basically an Orwellian Two Minutes Hate for the football world. Was Bruce furious about the fans? erm...no, he spent the majority of his interview praising the fans who handed the Harper attacker over to the Police.
Taken in isolation the violence itself is bad enough, but today every paper had either the back page or a double spread painted with pictures of Geordies and Mackems fighting it out to try and paint us in the worst image possible (not surprisingly, there were no pictures of the smoke bombs at St. Andrews). The Tory-orientated papers were the worst culprits, the Mail being the worst example and The Star the worst for vocabulary (article and spelling wise). Of course this sort of thing will sell their glorified bundles of dead tree, but as proved in the past it will only succeed in stoking the fires of hatred. First it was Labour, then the Muslims and then the Poles. This time it's Northerners, football fans or both.
P.S. I apologise for the blatant plagiarism of Mr Vowl's other post title: Chris Jeffries and his Trial by Media
After the irresponsible reporting of Chris Jefferies, the arrested suspect in the Joanna Yeates murder case, the story is still at the top of the news. It is a perfect storm for the media: a middle-class photogenic victim; a mystery over the disappearance; a murder; the opportunity to tap into fear - in this case, fear of women being attacked and, as we'll see, Facebook.
Natalie Dzerins has a good summary of today's Mail front page, in which Facebook is fingered as a possible suspect:
- A woman was murdered
- The woman had a profile on Facebook
- The woman might have been killed by someone she knew
- The woman might have been killed by someone she didn't know
Well. I, for one, am enlightened by this stellar piece of journalism.
And that is indeed about it. What a casual observer might wonder - although this of course might be seen as naive and irresponsible by the thin-skinned Avon & Somerset Police - is why, according to the Mail, Facebook is only being looked at now as a possible source of information, so many days later. However, the answer is probably that it has been looked at from the beginning, but is only being reported now, to find a fresh angle to keep the story going. Which is fine, of course, if it gets the investigation somewhere and is genuinely in the public interest - but perhaps it should be asked what is gained, other than more speculation, at a time when a family is still grieving.
Newspapers like the Daily Mail enjoy linking Facebook and crime, whether they're really linked or not. There's a 'scared of technology' aspect to it, and the idea that people aren't safe; there's a tapping in to fear among their readership of what's new and what the young people are doing. It runs a number of articles about bad experiences on the social networking site, which could lead some readers to suspect there is an anti-Facebook or anti social networking agenda at work. You could say that's because the target Mail newspaper demographic is people who wouldn't go on Facebook and who therefore might be fearful or suspicious of what's there; regardless, the coverage often focuses on the fear aspect, rather than the reality of millions of social networking transactions carried out without murder, assault or any negative consequences.
And then we come to the Daily Star. The Mail is really quite a mild treatment of this murder story compared to the Star's effort today. As Exclarotive says:
I can’t imagine how this must make Joanna Yeates’ family feel. To have a national newspaper exploiting her death by printing pathetic, desperate, unfounded claims from a publicity-seeking fraud under a headline promising some sort of hope.
The Daily Star. Because sometimes losing your daughter just doesn’t hurt enough.
Yes, it is truly appalling. It is that bad.
New evidence emerges? Really?
A PSYCHIC has told police she sketched Jo Yeates’s killers only days before the murder.
Carol Everett says she saw the pair in a premonition she had about the landscape architect’s death.
The psychic investigator insists she “saw” Jo being attacked by two of a group of five men after she rejected their offer of a lift.
I wrote a post yesterday explaining why the overuse of the term 'woo' by sceptics can be undermining, and here's a perfect example of why it's important to keep the powder dry for occasions when there are false claims and a horribly unpleasant exploitation of grief. This is simply disgusting. I don't care whether this 'psychic investigator' is deluded or deliberately misleading; it's disgraceful that a national newspaper should give credibility to totally unproven and unfounded claims in relation to a real-life tragedy. The paper even gives descriptions of the people 'seen' by the psychic, as if they're genuine sightings and not some made-up fantasy.
Don't blame the psychic; blame the newspaper that gave them the front page. And I don't care if it is 'just the Daily Star' and 'no-one will believe it'; that is simply not good enough. This is a human being's life, being belittled and cheapened and demeaned by this artifice, this pretence of insight, this nonsense.
So now we appear to have entered the realm of speculation in this murder case - bereft of leads, copy still needs to be filed and fresh angles found. And it is leading to some miserably bad journalism, exploitative, unpleasant and distasteful.
The Daily Star reports today
1 IN 3 KIDS ‘TO KILL FOR ISLAM’
and goes on to say
ONE in three British Muslim students supports the idea of killing in the name of Islam.
The figures were uncovered by Wikileaks’ publication of a secret US diplomatic message.
The memo quotes a poll carried out by the Centre For Social Cohesion, which quizzed 600 Muslim students at 30 UK universities.
I looked at the Centre For social Cohesion report back in 2008, when it came out and was reported by the Daily Mail and other newspapers, so this is hardly a revelation that Wikileaks uncovered. What the Mail failed to report then, and what the Star fails to report now, is that 28% of those students, interviewed at UK universities selected because they had the most active Islamic Student Organisations, said it was acceptable to kill in the name of Islam if that religion or way of life was under attack, while 53% of Muslim students said it was never acceptable. Which puts the data into a slightly different context. Is it acceptable to kill if your religion is under attack, or if your 'way of life' is under attack? That's a slightly different question. And slightly different from the "It found 32% of them supported killing for religion" claimed by the Daily Star.
But what does that matter? What does it matter at all? The survey has done its job; the think-tank has done its job; the tabloids have done their job - and the result is a misleading picture of what young Muslim students think. Not only that, but the misleading picture appears to have been bought by diplomats, too. Mission well and truly accomplished.
Hope Not Hate are sending a polite letter to the Daily Star telling them to be not quite so aggressive in their coverage of Muslims as they have been recently. It's a fine initiative and we'll wait and see what comes from it. I am guessing the answer is 'nothing', but you never know. This is the paper, after all, that very nearly once had a "Daily Fatwa" edition published.
But there seems to be a pattern emerging with the Daily Star. The tone is getting more and more shrill as time goes on. Last week, there was an article using the tried-and-tested 'us and them tactic' which we've seen so many times before with Richard Desmond publications. And then, on Friday, the front page headline said that Christmas had been 'nicked' by Muslims. Nicked by Muslims? No, not really; a council has left up Eid and Diwali lights alongside Christmas ones. Big bloody deal.
But it adds to the narrative. Today the Star carries a story that a lot of the screamsheets are wailing about, with KIDS AS YOUNG AS SIX TAUGHT TO HATE. As ever it's important to look at the language and the tone:
THOUSANDS of Muslim children are being brainwashed against Brits at weekend schools run by extremists.
Pupils as young as six are taught that all “non- believers” will face the fires of hell.
And they are instructed in the best way to hack off the hands and feet of thieves.
Now I'm no fan of teaching kids to hack off people's hands, but as ever it's Muslims being brainwashed against Brits, as if the two things are incompatible. It's us and them; it's them and us. They are being brainwashed against us; they are being taught to hate us.
You'll remember, also, the delight with which the Stormfront regulars greeted the Daily Star's coverage of the EDL threatening to 'close down towns' that weren't Christian enough. They were amazed that a mainstream paper should have treated them so well. Sadly, I'm not amazed; this is just the way the Star is going. The Daily Fatwa doesn't seem far away now; if they did go and print it tomorrow, it wouldn't really be that much out of step with the rest of their output.
What's the reason for the anti-Muslim agenda, and racism? Well, as Tabloid Watch reported the other day, the PCC couldn't even give the Mail and Telegraph a slapped wrist, even though they'd told a story that was complete rubbish, and which happened to blame Muslims for something which wasn't Muslims' fault. And of course there are plenty of appalling things done across the world and up and down this country in the name of Islam, which deserve to be exposed - but the agenda-driven rubbish you see in a lot of papers should disturb anyone who cares about freedom and not demonising people from one particular group.
I hope that Hope Not Hate do get a good response from the Star, but I'm not holding my breath. You can co-sign the letter and see if it makes a difference. The more people who do, the more impact it may have. But I rather fear that someone, somewhere has decided that pandering to racism and fear of minorities is something that's selling papers; if that is to be believed then I don't think that things are going to stop. All the rest of us can do is expose it and challenge it; they are the ones with a national newspaper to spread their message, after all, and we're not as powerful. But we are many, and they are few. It's the only thing we've got.
According to the Daily Star, those cuddly not-at-all-racists at the English Defence League are planning to 'close towns' which aren't Christian enough. How very Christian, you might think.
Mind you, this is the same Daily Star whose readers seem to comprise 98 per cent morons, if their own poll is to be believed.
[The EDL nut's] declaration comes after yesterday’s Daily Star poll found 98% of readers fear that Britain is becoming a Muslim state.
98 per cent. Ninety-eight per cent of Star readers fear that Britain is becoming a Muslim state. Now, it's easy to point to the publications of Richard Desmond - the Daily Express and Daily Star - and wonder why exactly that kind of fear might be occurring at such an alarming rate
But then again, you have to wonder. Are these publications merely reflecting their readers' views, or are they creating them? Or do they create a self-perpetuating confirmation bias in the readers? When it comes to things like online polls, are they too easily rigged?
One thing is for sure, though. The Star and Express don't take the EDL to task when it comes to perpetuating the same old "Christmas is banned" stories - because that would dismantle a whole cheery industry that pops up every year to give lazy hacks something to write about, with bonus anti-'them' points. Stories like this Christmas cracker from 2008:
CHRISTMAS and Easter have been scrubbed from a college’s calendars in case they offend non-Christians.
Last night Ms Kitching said pupils would still be celebrating Christmas. She insisted: “There has been no big plan to ban the word Christmas.”
CHRISTMAS IS BANNED (except it isn't, but shhhhhhhhh). With stories like that knocking about every time the leaves start to fall, it's no wonder that the good folk of the EDL really believe - and I'm pretty sure they really do believe - that the evil PC Brigade has indeed gone mad once again and will be BANNING CHRISTMAS for fear of upsetting THAT LOT.
Do you know, I almost feel sorry for the EDL types who hoover up that kind of crap from the likes of the Star and Express. They're looking for it, so they see it everywhere. And when they're not challenged, it creates a snowball effect, leading to stuff like this:
A FAR-RIGHT group has vowed to “close down” any town that ditches British traditions and shows favouritism to Muslims.
Well, that'll be none, then. Same as every year, ever. We all know about the Winterval myths that get recycled and embellished every year. But what if a misleading, deliberately skewed story misrepresented a town, and it suffered an 'invasion' from the EDL? Would that be all right? Would the people who wrote the rubbish walk off whistling, pleased with a good day's work?
*update* The EDL are, as you'd imagine, delighted with the coverage from the Daily Star. As one EDL blogger puts it (I won't link): "This is the first article I have read, from both the national and regional media, that hasn't been critical of the EDL." And also:
Perhaps we can expect more objective, or unbiased, articles on the EDL from the Daily Star. And if that becomes the case, I would advise EDL members to stop reading the Sun, the Mirror, the Daily Mail, etc. and start reading the Daily Star - after all, there are not many tabloids which are fair to the EDL.
Job done, Daily Star. Hold your heads high, you must be terrifically proud of yourselves. (Thanks to Press_Not_Sorry for the link)
I've written before about the way in which the tabloids have acted with all the subtlety of a tonne of ants at a particularly sugary picnic with regard to the latest Wayne Rooney stories. And I've tried to argue that these stories don't come about because of any hypocrisy on his part, or because of his endorsements or picture spreads in glossy mags talking about family values, or any particular moral outrage - they are published purely and simply because a lot of people get a buzz out of reading about other people's sex lives.
Earlier on today, I looked at the way in which a 'pal' of one of the women involved in this story said that she was 'not a nice person' and enjoyed drink and drugs. The 'pal' may not of course really exist, or may be someone who only vaguely knows the woman concerned; whatever the truth, they don't sound like much of a 'pal'. They may not be telling the truth but it's a pretty good gamble that once someone is outed as a sex worker their reputation could be said to be pretty low anyway, and that you can get away with saying what you like about them, accurate or not. That's how it is, unpleasant as it is; I'm not saying it's right, but it's the way this kind of thing is viewed.
You might remember from the Tiger Woods saga that the women involved with him were reduced to mere numbers, like holes on a golf course:
And I think there's a similar dehumanising process going on with the women involved in the Rooney story. They aren't people in their own right, but hookers and tarts:
The Sun refers to the 'tarty twosome who gave soccer rat Wayne Rooney a threesome'. And then there's some intrusion (or it may be speculation) into the life of Coleen Rooney:
Rooney's shattered wife Coleen will go against her family's wishes today by seeing the Man United striker for crisis talks.
It's not as if the Sun has ever been caught telling porkies about something like that, is it? Oh, hang on:
As part of our coverage of the break-up of Cheryl and Ashley Cole's marriage we reported on March 4 the singer would fly to France to meet her estranged husband who was texting her lines from her songs. We accept Cheryl did not fly to France, no such texts were sent and she denies saying she was scared of life as a single girl as we reported on March 1. We are happy to set the record straight and apologise to Cheryl.
Well, who knows whether it's true or not? It is intrusive, whatever it is. This is part two of these stories - the pictures you'll see on the Sun website and elsewhere are a bit poor quality, like they've been blown up too much; they've almost certainly been harvested from Facebook-type sites or other websites. In the battle to scrabble around for a fresh angle, it doesn't matter who gets hurt, has their privacy ruined or gets dehumanised - we need a new story, we need to dig some new dirt, while it's still fresh. And that's what we get. We learn nothing, really, from all of this; we just get treated to more and more of the same.
This week we've seen the words zany, weird, wacky, outrageous and troubled used to describe someone who apparently has mental health problems and who wanted to be on the X-Factor TV show. As I said the other day, the one word avoided by the Sun was 'bonkers', which may have been in the wake of their previous atrocity regarding BONKERS BRUNO, bi-polar former heavyweight boxing champion Frank Bruno.
Today's Star doesn't worry about such problems though:
Ah, there we are. Someone's 'bonkers' because they 'cracked up'. In a way, I suppose, you can link it with the discussion of the cat/bin lady: if someone behaves in any way other than an orthodox one, they must be classified as somehow pertaining to mental illness, insanity, madness - whatever you want to call it.
Of course you could look at it another way - anyone who would willingly be slung into a house broadcast live on television 24 hours a day in which their every cough, grunt, fart and poo is available for scrutiny by the general public could be argued to have a degree more strange behaviour about them than someone who, when put in that situation for 70-plus days and has £100,000 waiting in their bank account as well as the person they're in a fledgling relationship with, decides to get the hell out of there and return to "real life" through the fire exit.
Oh, I don't know. Maybe it's a bit oversensitive of me, I don't know. There's nothing really inherently wrong with calling people 'loons' or 'nuts' or whatever; but the point is, I think, not to focus on language, but the tone of what's being put across. Saying someone's 'bonkers' for walking out of a TV show is probably quite wrong; saying someone's 'cracked up' because they've decided to get the hell out of reality TV isn't right either.
I wish it could be possible to imagine that outlandish, unusual or unorthodox behaviour isn't just the sole preserve of people with mental health problems - we're all quite capable of needing a break the ordinary madness from time to time.
(I'd already done Halal, is it meat you're looking for?)
There's a debate to be had about a secular institution like a state school providing food that conforms to certain religious standards. There's also a debate to be had about the animal welfare standards of halal (and kosher) food, and whether it inflicts undue suffering on the animals that are being slaughtered. But this story in yesterday's Daily Star isn't that debate:
Let's get the 'exclusive' out of the way first. This isn't a new thing. Halal-only meat in schools has been around for ages - I managed to find this story from 2006, and I'm sure there are plenty more from down the years. Actually if you compare that story
Halal meat is being served to pupils in state schools without their knowledge, even if they believe the religious slaughter is cruel.
Parents have reacted furiously after being sent letters telling them their children's school dinners have been all-halal for 'some time'.
To conform with Jewish and Muslim religious tradition, animals are prepared for halal products by having their throats slit while conscious - a method many people believe is inhumane and which the RSPCA has condemned.
with the Star's story of yesterday:
PARENTS are reacting with fury as children across Britain are served halal dinners even if they do not want them.
Schools are not offering youngsters any alternatives to the Islamic-prepared meat.
Fuming parents hit out after the Daily Star revealed plans to force halal-only lunch on children of all faiths in London borough Harrow, to avoid offending Muslims.
You can see the similarities. Parents reacting with anger/fury at the decision. All parents? Well I dare say some parents might be pleased that halal meat is being served in schools as the standard rather than an option; others might not be fussed either way; some might think that all animal slaughter is equally cruel, and not be bothered; others might give their children a vegetarian diet anyway, and so on. But the focus is on the ones who are shocked, annoyed, angry, and so on.
The main difference is the 'to avoid offending Muslims' bit of the Star story. It's a common phrase from 'PCgawnmad' stories wherever you might see them. Even Baroness Warsi, as we saw this week, had bought in to some of these myths. It's always 'to avoid offending Muslims', which was what the Mail said with its KFC Halal story back in March. I bet 'to avoid offending Muslims' has bugger all to do with it.
Actually it's a pretty good rule of thumb when reading the papers: when you see the phrase 'to avoid offending Muslims', you can be pretty sure that's not why something's been done. With KFC it was a matter of simple market forces; with these schools I imagine it's to do with there being such a significant proportion of pupils being from a Muslim background that it's more straightforward and cost-effective to offer halal-only meat.
But this isn't an argument about parents demanding RSPCA-certified freedom food in their children's school meals because of concerns about animal welfare. No. It's about 'BRIT KIDS' being 'FORCED' to eat 'MUSLIM MEALS'. You could make the point, and I wouldn't entirely disagree, that it's almost as if the Star are suggesting that children from a Muslim family are not 'Brits'. It's not as if the Daily Star and their stablemates the Daily Express have been shy about doing that before:
It's all about 'us' and 'them'. I think the image that's meant to be conjured up with the latest story is of some bearded fanatic forcing a chicken dinner down a poor seven-year-old's throat from an animal that was possibly slightly more unpleasantly treated than most other factory-farmed meat.
The thing I find interesting is the idea of 'offence'. As I've said earlier, the idea of 'to avoid offending Muslims' isn't quite the right way of putting it. But then again, if non-Muslims are a minority in an area with a large Muslim population, do they then become the 'offended' minority who should be catered for? Are people offended by a chicken that's bled out from a knife wound, for example? Or are people just offended that the majority's needs or wants should trample all over their freedom to eat what they want? Which makes you wonder: would the offended minority be such a concern for our newspapers if they were Muslims, as opposed to non-Muslims?
It's an interesting situation, and like I said at the beginning of this, there's a debate to be had about secularism, education, religion and so on, as well as the animal welfare aspects. It's just that our newspapers choose not to have that debate. They choose to have the one in which PCgawnmad Britain bends over backwards to those pesky Muslims.
PS You'll be pleased to hear that this story has already been picked up by our friends in the ultra-nationalist and anti-Muslim community and used as an example of why there's a 'jihad' against the 'indigenous' population. Well done, Daily Star!
PPS See Tabloid Watch's post.