I rarely get to read a newspaper nowadays. There have been times in my life when I have travelled to work by public transport and have bought a newspaper to read (and usually therefore a crossword to do too) every working day. For some reason that in turn encouraged me to buy the same paper at weekends. Currently I drive to work and although I usually pass a newsagent on my way to the office, I don’t stop to buy a paper. Reading it at one’s desk, even if it is during a meal break, somehow just doesn’t seem right. Invariably I do get to glance at the odd on-line article that catches my eye as I drink my first beverage of the day but for the most part I rely on Radio Four’s Today programme and miscellaneous television news bulletins to feed my current affairs addiction. The last few days however have been different: I have been at my in-laws’ and have had the time to read selected articles from two newspapers for two days in a row.
Now I expected, given the entirely different readership of the two publications, that there would be a huge variation in what the editors chose to include. I even anticipated finding that the same stories might be reported with an editorial bias in an attempt to please the perceived political leanings of their readers. What I didn’t expect to find, promoted to the front pages of both papers, were two stories that had been hugely inflated in some sort of attempt to brainwash their readers into thinking they were worthy of such prominence.
Let me deal first with my in-laws’ newspaper:
You could be forgiven for thinking, if you didn’t read the article, that this view (i.e. that migrant numbers were at crisis point) had been derived from some in-depth study of the ethnicity of the unemployed, the homeless figures, benefit claims, etc. You would be wrong! The headline that dominates the Daily Express front page of 27th December is based on something said by just one councillor from North West London. It is hard to tell exactly how the Express got the quote but you can infer from the article that they called her up and asked her opinions on research they had done on how many Romanians may be planning to head for the UK after January 1st.
Given the fact that I believe there are over 20,000 councillors in Great Britain is it really a proportionate response to elevate the opinions of just one (even if she is a council leader) to the front page of a national newspaper? Of course it isn’t but if the headline had reflected what the story was really about, it wouldn’t sell newspapers would it? Equally it wouldn’t stir up the jingoistic attitudes of those that read it.
If you need any proof of the fact that the headline was partly a shock tactic to sell the paper have a look here at the on-line version of the article:
Mysteriously, perhaps because nobody pays to view on-line material, the piece has been retitled “Council leader’s fear over ‘crisis’ migrant numbers”. A somewhat more honest summary of what it actually contains.
Some may remember ‘Monty Python’s Big Red Book’ published in 1971. There was a page left blank in it and at the very bottom, if memory serves me correctly, it had in small print “This page has been left blank for the benefit of Daily Express Readers”. I was too young in 1971 to understand the joke – I do now.
So accepting, in the view of the Month Python team at least, that the validity of Daily Express reporting has been dubious for over 40 years what did the Daily Telegraph promote as a front page story on 27th December?
I appreciate it is hard to see the article under the photograph from such a small image but the full version can be found here:
and if you don’t have time or the inclination to read it the first paragraph reads:
“More than a quarter of a million people turned out to take part in and support Boxing Day hunts on Thursday, despite an animal charity’s claims that 80 per cent of people oppose hunting with dogs for sport.”
A quarter of a million? Is that all? The population of the UK is estimated to be 67.3 million so 250,000 people is fewer than 0.4% or about 1 in 270! Does that merit front page news? Of course it doesn’t but the Daily Telegraph and some of its readers just can’t bring themselves to accept that 80 percent of the UK (that’s 53,840,000 by the way) apparently don’t want fox-hunting brought back. The article prompted this response from the RSPCA who commissioned the survey.
Whatever your views on fox-hunting, surely you can’t believe that the ‘approximate’ attendance of 250,000 people at at an ‘estimated’ 250 hunts merits the front page of a national newspaper. For goodness sake, on Christmas Day 10.2 million watched a science fiction programme where the actor that plays the lead role changed (sorry kids that’s all it was!) That’s 40 times more than went to support hunting. QED.
Has journalism in this country really sunk so low that such blatant attempted brain-washing of readers can take place ? I suspect it has.