Many of you will have had your attention drawn to this distasteful piece of racist journalism in the Mail : Migrant found dead in the back of a lorry as it prepares to enter Channel Tunnel .
What was shocking about this was that the comments on this article are quite clearly moderated, and yet there were (as of yesterday teatime) just 13 comments, each of which was to a greater or lesser degree filled with hate and xenophobia.
These have been dissected at some length by a variety of bloggers – notably by the wonderful Tabloid Watch yesterday : Mail readers think death of illegal immigrant is ‘good news’
I found the “One down millions to go” comment particularly obnoxious – it is tantamount to encouraging the killing of illegal immigrants.
It was strange that as the day wore on, and even this morning when I looked at the site again in order to bookmark the link ahead of writing this blog entry, the number of comments still stood at 13 – so clearly these comments were moderated – and although the Mail is at pains to say these comments do not “necessarily” reflect their opinions, they have clearly modded out a great many more comments and just chosen these hateful few to display as representative of public opinion.
Well there’s such a thing as free speech I guess – and I also guess that the Mail would defend that right quite vigorously.
There’s also such a thing as incitement to racial hatred as well though. I feel quite strongly that publication of these comments – as “moderated in advance” clearly crosses that line.
Perhaps the Mail have been quietly convinced of that as well – because if you check out the link at the top of the article, you’ll find that there are now only two of the comments left – at least there were at 9.00 on Monday the 2nd of November 2009.
I’m glad that they’ve removed the majority of the comments – so credit to them where it’s belatedly due – but the people at the mail seriously have to think about the hatred they are spreading – if they don’t it will one day blow up in their faces – and quite probably all of ours as well.
Just got back from a week in Cornwall.
I had a very weak mobile signal. I could occasionally tweet. Could not get mobile internet on my laptop – so didn’t see any websites. Didn’t have a telly, didn’t pick up a newspaper.
So from being a news addicted politically aware blogster, I turned very quickly into someone who didn’t have much of a clue what was going on.
Even having been back for nearly 24 hours now, I’m still not up to speed – which sort of puts me on a par with the rest of the country – you know, the type that doesn’t do blogs, the type that uses Facebook to share family snaps rather than run political campaigns, the kind that follows celebrities on Twitter, rather than politicians. The kind that goes to make the coffee when the news comes on, and if they ever read a newspaper, it tends to be from the back to the front, or maybe just the back.
So what’s going on in the world – well it seems some bloke who advises the Government on drugs has advised them to reverse the recent reversal of cannabis’s grading as a Class B drug, and to reduce its classification. As a result he’s apparently been sacked. According to the BBC news on 5 Live, this has been done “On a whim” of the prime minister. Now the media are up in arms about the Government being dismissive of scientific evidence, and it would seem are presenting the Prime Minister in a negative light for his actions.
And with my very scant knowledge of what’s going on – I’ve barely any reason to challenge that perception – so it sort of becomes my own perception by default.
Except I’m not so sure (well you knew I’d be cynical didn’t you !). First of all it strikes me that if the Government had followed the advice, we’d effectively have a U-turn on a U-turn – and remember the last U-turn wasn’t in response to any great pressure, it was in response to the difficulties experienced in practice to the partial decriminalisation of cannabis – an admission that the new policy was not working. I can’t imagine many Governments being keen on a 360 degree turn.
Next it strikes me that an advisor should be doing his advising in private, not in the national press. I work with advisors/consultants as part of my local authority’s work for Building Schools for the Future – No one in the authority would take kindly to those advisors bleating the advice which we pay them for, to the general public. Neither would we feel bound by their advice – advisors provide a particular perspective on an issue – part of the picture. Not the full picture. If any of them sought to publicise their advice, and criticise the authorities actions in the light of it, then I suspect that the likely outcome would be that the authority would dispense with their services.
I also know that research evidence rarely proves or disproves anything – rather it tends to support particular hypotheses. So what ever evidence the advisor has or has not, it’s unlikely to prove conclusive (and I don’t know what the evidence is remember). It’s also likely to be part of a whole range of other indicators.
Governments don’t take decisions based on just one factor. They have to consider things like how popular a decision is likely to be for instance – and if that sounds cynical then just remember that no Government can do anything if they lose power – so popularity HAS to be a consideration. They also have to consider not just realities but also perceptions – because we need have no doubts that had the Government followed the advisors advice, they’d have been perceived (with assistance from the press) as being ‘soft’ on drugs, and as woolly liberals (not to mention dithering and U-turning).
If anyone thinks that scientific evidence is the only basis for legislation then simply consider the case for an outright ban on tobacco. The evidence is overwhelming – it IS a major cause of ill health and death in the general community. But whatever your position on a tobacco ban, I think most people would agree that there are a myriad of complicating factors that enter into the thinking that would lead to a ban. Tax income, freedom of expression, Nanny states, relationships with trading partners, employment, consequences of criminalisation – I could go on – but won’t – you get the picture, it’s not just about scientific evidence.
Everything I’ve said here though is without any knowledge of the facts of this case – I can’t even remember the bloke in question’s name. Which as I said previously, puts me on a par with large numbers of the population, people who don’t share my interest in politics and current affairs – but who have a vote just as I do.
What seems likely to me is that far from the sacking of this being on “a whim”, it’s more probably that it’s been thought out very carefully. I’d also suggest that the ‘advice’ that’s been made so public has not been done as an off the cuff throwaway thing either – it’s been planned with some expectation of the consequences.
The Government it seems have acted swiftly and firmly to defend their position and to sack the advisor in question. Whatever you think of the action, it is hardly that of a dithering administration. It’s pretty authoritative I’d say.
So who decides which way to sell this to the public ? Who decides how to take a story and turn it into a way to present the Govenrment in negative tones again ? More importantly – Why do they decide this ?
The news outlets in this country have a massive impact on public opinion – to the extent that for many people their opinion is effectively decided for them. It worries me, that most of this opinion forming is done simply by rubbishing everything the Government does – and I’m sure it would be the same for a Conservative Government.
This saddens me. They need to take more responsibility, make proper analysis of the news, give both credit and criticism where it’s due – and most importantly, to give some respect to the public and the enormous power which they wield over them.
[The picture by the way is actor Milton Johns who has nothing at all to do with with this blog other than that I thought he looked suitably creepy ! Can anyone remember the name of the 1973 children’s drama series he was in alongside David Bradley (of ‘Kes’ fame) ? – Try to remember ! Try to remember Terry ! ]
(publishing this in a bit of a hurry – I’ll tidy up links & references later)
On Monday night I chanced across an article on the BBC website (Cancer jab alert after girl dies
– Note the date and time – it’s saying Tuesday at 3.30PM – but was definitely published the night before – I’d say around 10.45 PM) regarding the sad death of a 13 (Now updated to 14 on the BBC site) year old girl Natalie Morton. It said that this was ‘after’ her cervical cancer jab.
It didn’t imply directly that the cancer jab had caused her death – but left the inference hanging for all who cared to make it.
Reading a little deeper, I gleaned that this girl had died only the same day – it was likely that there were friends members of her extended family that were not yet aware of her death, and yet already the story was headline news. Clearly not because of her death per se, but because of a perceived link with the cervical cancer jab.
It struck me immediately as a somewhat irresponsible piece of reporting. Clearly there was as yet no evidence of causation or correlation between this girls death and the cancer jab, and clearly this story would send panic through many thousands of young girls and their families as they await their turn for the injection.
It struck me also that any risk to the public – even if there was a direct causal link between the jab and the girls untimely death – was still so slight as to make any wait until after the post morten was complete before reporting a prudent and sensible decision. Given also that the logic of probability would suggest that it was more likely than not, at that stage that the girl’s death had been due to causes other than the cancer jab.
The story went out though, and by morning was receiving saturation coverage – on the front page of The Times for instance. ( This story was by no means exclusive to the Times & the Beeb).
At around 8.15 in the morning, my wife ( a nurse by profession) received a call from a very anxious friend asking her advice as to whether to allow her daughter to have the injection that day. “Go ahead !” was her advice. However I strongly suspect that the advice was not followed.
In due course we’re told that the girl’s death was probably due to an underlying serious medical condition, and that the vaccination programme can go ahead regardless. The damage is done though. the drug is tarnished, and will be for the foreseable future, and it’s likely that several thousand young girls who would have had this injection, will now not do.
This incensed me. Partly because of the general public’s failure to grasp simple scientific logic. To understand that a death which happens after an injection, does not mean that the death was caused by the injection; but more seriously I was incensed by the way in which the press appear to deliberately exploit this ignorance – to promote mass panic and fear, and ultimately to discourage people from protecting themselves against the HPV virus. I have no doubt at all that as an indirect result of the sloppy reporting of this incident, some girls who are now 13, will at some time in the future suffer from cervical cancer.
What possible motive could any reporter, any journalist, have for reporting in this way ?
Why would they want to do this ?
It took a while before the penny dropped.
They did it because the story dropped into their lap on the eve of Gordon Brown’s speech at the Labour Party conference. They did it beacuse they couldn’t believe their luck that a human interest story which would discredit a Government initiative had come their way the night before Gordon’s fight back speech.
They ran the story with the simple aim of discrediting the prime minster.
They didn’t care that a young girl had died. They didn’t care that young girls now will die as a partial result of their actions in years to come. They didn’t care that the report suggested a link that was unlikely to be verified.
They just did it to try and get their man elected.
Well I am disgusted at this tactic.
If there are people who want Labour to be defeated so much that they have to resort to odious tactics such as this. to distorting and misrepresenting the truth with no concern for the public interest, or the private interests of a grieving family, then it suggests to me that there must be some very good reasons for keeping Labour in power.
The election campaign has barely started, but already the ‘forces of conservatism’ in seeking to smear Gordon Brown’s government have convinced me absolutely of my intention to Vote Labour at the General Election.