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Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Lies, damned lies, and British newspapers


Last month on my own blog I discussed an example of bone-idle British journalism at its worst - and its worst is very bad indeed. In this case, the newspaper in question had apparently got a school leaver to précis a piece from a rival paper, adding her own interpretation of the original article in between quoted extracts.

The original piece, which appeared in the Telegraph, was by Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal. The rip-off version, which appeared in the Daily Mail, managed to completely reverse the meaning of what he was saying. If the misinterpretation was wilful, then it was a disgrace; if it was the result of stupidity or carelessness then it was a shambles.

Well, Mr Bond, the first time is happenstance. But this week anybody unfortunate enough to look at the Daily Mail will have seen an even more odious example of its descent from journalism into propaganda, in the form of an attack on the BBC that is clearly designed to pave the way for the UK government to reduce or abolish the licence fee. Naturally the very thought of that has the Mail flapping its wings like an excited harpy, as (along with 90% of Britain's often foreign-owned and extremely partisan press) it hates the idea of an independent, publicly funded media entity with a remit to be unbiassed and informative in its reporting.

Here are the facts. The Mail article fails to mention that £270m of the licence fee was taken to support Welsh language channel S4C and a slate of government projects including broadband rollout and local television. By the Mail's calculations, programme costs don't included edit suites, newsrooms, and (especially dear to my heart) story development, and yet without those there would be no programmes. The Mail claims that the BBC "pumps money" into its commercial arm, BBC Worldwide. In fact the two are obliged by charter to conduct business at arm's length; BBC Worldwide receives no share of the licence fee and generates money (for instance by sale of BBC programmes to other countries) that feeds back into programme-making in the UK.

The bottom line is that, completely contrary to the Mail's assertions, 90% of BBC spending is on content, distribution and related support costs. And that figure is independently verified, as the Mail must surely be aware.

This is only the latest blast in a long propaganda campaign that the Mail has been running with the apparent aim of stirring its readership into a state of high dudgeon against the BBC. For example, there was this 2008 report about how BBC "wasted" £45,000 ($70,000) on a party to promote the TV show Merlin. Yet that's a perfectly reasonable cost of doing business, and it paid off. Merlin has now sold to over 180 countries, netting over £100 million in revenue for the BBC on an outlay from the licence fee of less than £40 million. Bearing in mind that the primary purpose of the BBC is to create programmes for the British public, and that turning a profit is a secondary concern, I'd say that was a pretty good return on investment. But not in the eyes of the Mail, whose proprietor has opted for non-domicile status and is a contributor to the Conservative Party, who for years have been trying to chip away at the BBC's popularity - which, I'd venture to say, is considerably higher among the general public than that of either Lord Rothermere or the Tories.

If the UK electorate is gulled by propaganda like this into allowing politicians to scrap the licence fee, the BBC will be severely weakened and we will have lost a vital source of objective reporting and high-quality programmes that are the envy of the world. All to make nasty little rags like the Mail better able to serve their paymasters. So wherever you live in the world, next time you come across a news piece that is striving so desperately to convince you of something, remember to ask yourself: cui bono?

15 comments:

  1. You may even be giving the Mail greater credit than they deserve Dave. While they're clearly promoting themselves as some sort of crusader for the public good, protector of your hard-earned tax dollars, in reality all they're doing is seeking easy targets for sensationalist headlines to sell newspapers and bolster their brand.

    Even though I've not lived in the UK for coming up 10 years now, this is a tired old argument that seems to be trotted out by lazy journalists whenever they need an attention-grabber. I'm sure in the Mail office somewhere there'll be a checklist of targets they can fall back on to attack on slow news days, with the BBC front and centre.

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    1. Having just lived through another UK election campaign, Mike, I can assure you that 90% of the British press are rabidly partisan and spare no effort to promote their cause. Most of these papers are run by non-doms (Rothermere, the Barclays, Murdoch) and have an unavoidable right-wing agenda in which the BBC is a socialist puppet, climate change is the delusion of a few hippies, the EU is an economic anchor on the United Kingdom, and crime is all committed by immigrants, preferably non-white. All in all, it's a pretty toxic "mean world" view, and it's impossible to avoid the conclusion that they promote it for political reasons and that the intention is to keep people uninformed and scared. If the BBC were removed, these papers' lies would be unchallenged - except by the Guardian and the Independent, and they have their knives out for them too. It's a pretty toxic stew of small-mindedness in most of Britain these days as a result, let me tell you, hence the rise of UKIP.

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    2. It's a shame that readers can't see through it all and read the agenda, but unfortunately many people simply don't dig any deeper into news stories than headlines on newspapers - either from lack of interest of lack of time. Which of course means that the 'facts' purported become the truth, in a perception = reality sort of way.

      If only the media simply reported the news rather than felt like they had to create it. They will claim their reports are all done in the name of investigative journalism, but I fear that's too grand a claim for what they actually print.

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  2. http://tktk.gawker.com/my-year-ripping-off-the-web-with-the-daily-mail-online-1689453286

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  3. Well. Yes. I've long thought that the reason the media openly deride the teaching of Media Studies in schools is that it tools up the youth to defend themselves against the onslaught of propaganda they produce. The Mail bashing Auntie Beeb is not all that new, and their constant shrieking about dole-scum is just there to get people into the idea that paying taxes is wrong (therefore excusing their leaders, and big business tax avoidance), rather than highlighting the real difficulties people face, not to mention the consistent focus on womens appearances.

    In a somewhat gaming related tangent, I blogged about how Operation Regenerate was reported in various news media - an obvious example of reposting with screeching headlines by the Mail - but at l

    Always worth mentioning The Republia Times...

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    1. shoot the sub-editor! "..but at least they managed to cite the BBC as the source".

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    2. Thanks for the links, Zhu. I'm not sure what society the Mail would like to create, but I imagine it bears a strong resemblance to the opening scenes of Terminator.

      On other, more pleasant matters, here's your write-up of The Excellent Travelling Volume #3:
      http://realmofzhu.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/the-excellent-travelling-volume-3.html
      (Now if only there was a digital version...)

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    3. Cheers Dave!

      I'm sure if the Daily Mail had made terminator the T800 would have looked like a celebrity Stepford Wife, and would have looked stunning and sexy with legs, whilst body-shaming the plebian remnants of humanity.

      Remnds me of the political drift in conversation about Chainsaw Warrior with Kelvin Green, perhaps there is something in the air (no, I don't just mean the Chemtrails of conspiracy ) - is politicised becoming more of a thing? Imperialism in Space is a project I've been following on and off....

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  4. Efrem Orizzonte18 June 2015 at 14:24

    Some years ago, in Italy, the main channel of State television (RAI 1) had effectively become a propaganda channel for the then-Prime Minister - who that was, you won't find hard to imagine; let's just say, he already had his own TV channels, but the high ranks of RAI were more than happy to offer him another platform.

    Things have improved since that person is no more involved in Italian politics as much as he was before, but the fact remains that the discerning citizen will never be able to consider RAI an independent channel again. It never fully was, Italy being the country it is, but it had never sunk to such low levels before.

    That said, RAI exacts a yearly television fee as well, which Italians pay begrudgingly even if it is much less than Britain's (circa 115 Eur/year). Then again, it would be too easy to say that even that is too much for what we get compared to what the BBC can offer.

    Never, never stop asking yourselves "cui bono?", mates. The moment you stop, you've already lost much more than you can imagine.

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    1. I feel I'm pretty well informed about the exploits of Silvio Berlusconi, even though the stories often seem hard to believe from this side of the continent. As yet we in the UK haven't had such an egregious abuse of the system by a senior politician, but give it time.

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  5. To conclude this little diversion away from the field of gamebooks and RPGs, I'll just say that the newspaper I personally recommend is The Economist. I don't happen to share their politics, which incline to right-wing and mildly libertarian, but their coverage is always sufficiently balanced that you are given the facts and figures in detail, and only in the leader articles are the editors' views overtly expressed - and even then with none of the infantile tribalism that threatens to derail modern democracy. You don't even need to subscribe to read it: http://www.economist.com/

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    1. I'd very much second this, getting the overwhelming majority of my news content from either the economist or the BBC. Now what's happening with FL 7?

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    2. Megara Entertainment are going to run a Kickstarter for it. I think that's in August. Paul Gresty is writing it, and I've seen the free demo of 128 sections that he's prepared already, and it's great.

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    3. Cannot wait. Is it as good as book 2?

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    4. Cannot wait. Is it as good as book 2?

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