Posted by 5cc
March 4th, 2009
I’m 5cc. Well, that’s not my real name, but I blog over at Five Chinese Crackers, and that’s the name I blog under.
I started Five Chinese Crackers to examine some of the really poor thinking that seemed to be behind a lot of media comment. I waded in expecting to be dealing with stuff that was badly argued or badly thought out, but what I ended up knee deep in wasn’t so much ridiculously spun as, well, made up.
I expected to encounter bad hatchet jobs where newspapers trashed reports they didn’t like, but found that they just pretended the reports said something else instead. I expected to find bad analysis of statistics, but found ones that had been dishonestly added together and played about with. I expected to find events reported in a biased way, but found them being made up. I expected to find spin, but I actually found lies.
So the blog morphed into a place to look at tabloid excesses. The Mail gets pretty heavily featured, which is why I’ve pitched up here.
Here’s an example – when Romania and Bulgaria entered the EU, the Mail trailed the release of official figures for how many would be coming to the UK with stories that told us that either 60,000 or 150,000 had arrived in the first couple of months. When the real stats were published, a headline shouted that 120 people per day had come from the two countries to be circus stars in three months. That’s over 10,000 circus stars.
The real figures? 120 a day was a slight exaggeration of the total number of people from both countries that had applied to come to the UK, from all professions combined. Even people who had their applications turned down. The total number of people who had actually been given a work permit was around 8,000. That’s a bit less than the 150,000 the paper mentioned earlier.
The total number of people who had applied to come as circus artises? 55. Not 55 per day, 55 in total. The paper exaggerated the number by nearly two thousand times.
Immigration and race are pretty closely intertwined, especially in the Mail. Sometimes the paper can let things slip, like recently stating that ’second and third generation immigrants’ shouldn’t be counted as British nationals in immigration figures. This is a little uncomfortable.
Away from immmigration stories, the paper’s other coverage of race issues can be just as lacking in comfort. Recently, the BBC broadcast one of the many episodes of Eastenders that featured only a small group of the cast, like they often used to with those episodes that featured Dot and Ethel, or the Fowlers. This time, the family was black, which meant that the first episode of Eastenders featuring an all black cast was screened. The Mail didn’t approve.
The paper often trumpets its coverage of the Stephen Lawrence case as evidence of its anti-racism, but most of its reporting of race issues falls far short of the standard it set more than a decade ago. This coverage deserves looking at.
For a democracy to work properly, people need to have an accurate picture of what is happening in the world around them. If everybody thinks that an invasion of horrible green men from Mars with veiny heads is imminent, people will vote for parties that have the best policy for fighting horrible green veiny-headed men from Mars. But what if they’re wrong, and there is no invasion coming?
The Mail routinely exaggerates and misrepresents the news in a way that can lead people to have an incredibly inaccurate and distorted view of the world, which effects the way people vote, not to mention the way people treat each other.
Why have I chosen my specific beat and/or what skills and expertise can I bring to it?
Immigration and race can be incredibly divisive issues, and pushing people too far in one direction can have incredibly nasty results, whether that means a rise in racial tension and violence or a rise in the number of people voting for extremist parties. The BNP has seen a steady rise in support in recent years as each of the main parties try to paint themselves as having the hardest line on immigration to try to capture the votes of people who see it as the most important issue there is. The Daily Mail plays a part in this, with its distortions and half truths. It’s important to show exactly how the paper misrepresents the world.
Plus, of course, these were the areas that seemed to crop up most while I was trawling for material for Five Chinese Crackers. You can set your watch by some of them.