Monday 1 October 2012

New Ombudsman for The Sun

Call it the latest step towards circumventing Leveson, or a sincere attempt to improve standards, but either way The Sun has a new complaints ombudsman.

The role will be filled by Philippa Kennedy, formerly of The Express, The Sun and Press Gazette.

This follows the role of 'readers champion' introduced when The Sun began its Sunday edition.

Ms Kennedy says that she wants to "play a part in restoring people's faith in British journalism."

According to Press Gazette, she said: "Reporters strive for accuracy but things can go wrong. What's important is how they're put right".

Of course any step based on the genuine intent to improve standards should be welcomed. But the proof will of course be in the pudding - or presumably in this case a currant bun.

I was among those who were cautiously hopeful when Associated Newspapers, publishers of the Mail and Mail on Sunday, introduced a corrections column and a dedicated corrections email address this time last year.

As this blog has shown, both titles ultimately treated the column like so many New Year fitness regimes - with superficial enthusiasm soon waning to obsolescence.

It is natural that as the day of regulator reckoning nears that newspapers take steps to get their house in order, to strengthen their hand against Lord Justice Leveson's eventual recommendations.

Which is why it won't be these words on which Ms Kennedy is judged, but the ones that appear in future correction columns.

Friday 24 August 2012

Naked Harry pics: What would Michael Gove say?

With The Sun publishing those Prince Harry snaps and allegedly striking a blow for press freedom in the process, we might wonder what Education Secretary Michael Gove thinks on the matter.

After all, Mr Gove's defiant Leveson appearance was well received by the newspapers whose rights he purported to champion.

So what are we to make of his comments from 2008, regarding a different set of publications?

"We should ask those who make profits out of revelling in, or encouraging, selfish irresponsibility among young men what they think they're doing.

"The relationship between these titles and their readers is a relationship in which the rest of us have an interest."

He was of course talking about lads' mags such as Nuts. But his words have some resonance in today's context.

Reading back over Gove's comments years later it seems odd that he has gone from criticising one set of publishers for the negative social effects of their work, to championing the right to offend.

The two are of course not incompatible. He may dislike Nuts, Zoo and wish their content was otherwise, but he  did not call for them to be regulated.

It just seems that he can bewail the moral impact on society of one set of publishers yet refuse to pass judgement on the behaviour of another set.

Wonder when he will next return to this theme?

Thursday 23 August 2012

You know when you've been quango'd...

What's a quick and easy way to look efficient at reining in Government spending? Scrap quangos, of course.

Everyone knows how much taxpayers money they waste, so the more scrapped the better, surely?

Well here's a great little wheeze: How about scrapping ones that don't actually cost much, or indeed anything, then citing these bureaucratic bargains as prime examples of past largesse?

Well, I hear you say, that would be a bit disingenuous to say the very least. Quite so, reader, but could this be what our Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has been up to?

Consider the following from his article yesterday.

"What we found were hundreds of quangos that should have been abolished or merged together. It’s hard to imagine why Ministers didn’t do this before. The more bizarre sounding bodies included the Darwin Advisory Committee, the Advisory Committee on Packaging, the Government Hospitality Advisory Committee on the Purchase of Wines, and the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Advisory Body – or WAB for short. All of those have gone."

Of course in time an FOI will find all we need to know about how much we save by scrapping said quangos. But for the time being, consider the following.

According to figures given in a written PQ, in the year 2010/11 both the Darwin Advisory Committee (scrapped Jan 2011) and the Advisory Committee on Packaging (Scrapped April 2011) had neither and employee nor a penny in funding between them. (Apparently they are listed as having no staff because they "utilise a minimal secretariat function provided by staff employed within the core Department.")

As for the Advisory Committee on the Purchase of Wines a PQ from 2007 explains that its chairman is unpaid, claiming only expenses for the four meetings a year. The Committee itself at the time of the PQ had no budget, although what costs there were were met out of the budget of Government Hospitality.

Which leaves the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Advisory Body according to Government estimates, they will save about £40,000 over the entire spending review period.

While I would like to know what gets claimed in the way of expenses on the Wine Advisory Committee, we may be looking here at a chunk of money that would barely pay a Cabinet Office Minister's salary for a year.

So just how many of the numbers being cut, are in fact cut price quangos? Here's a list of ones that I have found so far which ministers indicate will be 'cost neutral' (ie save nothing). There may be more, I just won't have time to cross reference the full list for a few days.

From Defra

  • Advisory Committee on Organic Standards
  • Advisory Committee on Hazardous Substances
  • Zoos Forum
  • Veterinary Residues Committee
  • Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee
  • Pesticides Residues Committee
  • National Standing Committee on Farm Animal Genetic Resources
  • Farm Animal Welfare Council
  • Darwin Advisory Committee
  • Air Quality Expert Group

Here's a list of those that DCMS said had 'little or no cost'
  • Advisory Committee on National Historic Ships
  • Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites:
  • Legal Deposit Advisory Panel:

From BIS
  • Abolition of the Union Modernisation Fund Supervisory Board
  • Abolition of the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property
  • Hearing Aid Council
This is not to say the savings claimed are wrong. It's just when there is talk of losing 100 organisations in a 'Bonfire of the Quangos', it seems fair to say that in some cases we don't actually have that much money to burn.

Monday 13 August 2012

Which newspapers most shape Today's headlines?

Now and then you hear talk of the BBC/Guardian agenda, how the news priority of the BBC and the Guardian are pretty much interchangeable.

This got me thinking. Has anyone measured this? Granted there are times, such as the Jeremy Hunt furore earlier in the year when it felt like there could some truth to this.. But do people who level this charge only notice when both go big on say, phone hacking revelations, but ignore the other more divergent days?

To try to find out, I devised a small, and probably pretty flawed experiment.

In short I kept tabs of what were the top stories on BBC, represented by the Today programme's top story and it's 8:10 interview slot, and compared this to the front pages of The Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Indy and Mail.

I chose not to include The Express, for had I done so comparing weather reports would probably have been more appropriate.

When the front page lead matched either of the items on Today it got two points, if it was anything else on the front page it got one point. This ran between the 6th and 25th of July.

I had planned to do this over a couple of months, but the Olympics has simply crapped it all up, so rather than letting my limited, limited data got to waste here it is.

As you see it is the Dailies Telegraph and Mail who come top, with the Guardian only taking the bronze medal.

What does this prove? Probably not a lot on its own, due to short time frame. Also as the Telegraph puts more stories on its front page, it probably has more chance of having a match up with Today.

The Mail however only tend to run one front page lead, so in theory would have less chance of scoring big, so this is perhaps the most intriguing result.

So does this mean that accusations BBC-Guardian news empathy are baloney? Of course not, not on this data anyway.

But what we can say is that in terms of news priority, for three weeks in July, the BBC's flagship current affairs radio show echoed the priorities of right of centre newspapers at least as much as it did those leftie outfits.

I plant to run this again when silly season is well and truly over, so if you have any suggestions about how the methodology could be improved, do let me know.


Since that graph doesn't explain very much on it's own here is the working out. For brevity I have only listed secondary front page stories when they matched. A secondary any of the other reports which begin on the front page.

If you spot any errors, please let me know

6th July 2012

Today Top Story: Lords Reform
Today 8:10 GSK

Guardian:  1. PFI (0 Points)
Times:  Adoption (0 points)
Telegraph: Tests for 11 year olds (0 points)
Independent: Lords reform (2 points)
Mail: Megabus bombscare (0 points)

7th July 2012

Today top story: Social Care
Today 8:10 Megabus Bombscare

Guardian:  Lords reform
Times  Andy Murray/Wimbldeon
Telegraph: Social Care (2 points)
Independent: Libor
Mail: Andy Murray

9th Jul 2012

Today Top Story: Lords reform
Today 8:10 Andy Murray

Guardian: 1. Hacking 2. Murray (1 point) 
Times: 1. 2. Murray (1 point)
Telegraph 1. Pensioners 2. Murray (1 point)
Independent 1. Libor 2/ Murray (1 point)
Mail 1. Murray (2 points)

10th July 2012

Today Top Story: Shooting of policeman
Today 8:10: Lords Reform

Guardian: 1. City Lobbying 2. Lords reform (1 point)
Times Lord Reform (2 points)
Telegraph 1. Strokes 2. Murdered Policeman (1 point)
Independent Pensioners benefits to be cut (0 points)
Mail Police Officer shot (2 points)

11th July 2012
Today Top Story: Social Care
Today 8.10: Social Care

Guardian: Lords Reform (0 points)
Times Lords Reform (0 points)
Telegraph Social Care(4 points)
Independent Lords Reform (0 points)
Daily Mail Social Care (4 Points)

12 July 2012
Today Top Story Olympic Security/Troops
Today 8.10 Olympic Security/Troops

Guardian Olympic Security Troops (4 points)
Times Traveller 'slavery' family (0 points)
Telegraph  1. Flooding 2. Olympic Troops (1 point)
Independent Elderly care (0 points)
Daily Mail: MPs' free olympic tickets (0 points)

13 July 2012
Today Top Story Syria
Today 8.10 Death from thirst in Hospital

Guardian: Bahrai Arms Sales (0 points)
Times: Olympic Security (0 points)
Telegraph Iran Nukes intelligence (0 points) 2, Death from thirst in hospital (1 point)
Independent: OBR on migrants (0 points)
Daily Mail: Olympic Security (0 points)

14th July 2012

Today Top Story: G4S
Today 8.10 Road Death Figures

Guardian John Terry case (0 points)
Times Syria (0 points)
Telegraph 40mph limits on rural roads (linked to road death stats so 1 point)
Independent: Libor (0 points)
Daily Mail: Olympic Security (2 points)

16th July 2012

Today Top Story £9bn rail plan
Today 8.10 £9bn rail plan

Guardian Free Scientific research (0 points)
Times Olympic Security (0 points)
Telegraph : Was petrol price rigged? (0 points)
Independent: Olympic Brand Police (0 points)
Daily Mail: Sex convicts freed (0 points)

17 July 2012

Today Top Story G4s/Olympic Security
Today 8.10 Olympic sponsorship

Guardian: Olympic Security (2 points)
Times: 1. Poll 2. Olympics (1 points)
Telegraph: Population surge 2. Olympic Security (1 point)
Independent Olympics Security (2 points)
Daily Mail: BBC tax dodging

18 July 2012

Today Top Story Troubled families
Today 8.10 Troubled families

Guardian HSBC
Times HSBC
Telegraph Pension
Independent Ministers lobby for olympic cash
Daily Mail HSBC

19 July 2012

Today Top Story Co-op buys lloyds
Today 8.10: Syria

Guardian: Syria (2 points)
Times  Syria (2 points)
Telegraph: 1. Austerity to continue 
Independent Syria (2 points)
Daily Mail UK Flagship

20 July 2012

Today Top Story: Syria
Today 8.10: Olympics (Lord Coe interview)

Guardian Simon Harwood 2. Syria (1 point)
Times IMF House Price Warning
Telegraph Border Strike 2. Olympics (1 point)
Independent Harwood 2. Olympics (1 point)
Daily Mail Simon Harwood

21 July 2012

Today Top Story Milk prices
Today 8.10 Syria

Guardian: China nuclear plant bid
Times Batman killer 
Telegraph  Problem families
Independent: Olympic branding
Daily Mail Batman killer

23 July 2012

Today Top Story UKBA backlog
Today 8.10 Violence against women

Guardian: Yeo attack on Osborne
Times: Tax avoiders to be named and shamed
Telegraph Call to reform pensions charges
Independent: Tax avoiders name and shame
Daily Mail: BBC tells stars to dodge tax

24 July

Today Top Story: Eurozone crisis
Today 8.10 Eurozone crisis

Guardian: G4S
Times: Syria 
Telegraph Cash in hand row 2. Eurozone (1 point)
Independent 1. Syria 2. Eurozone (1 point)
Daily Mail: Cash in hand row

25 July 

Today Top Story: First Day of Olympic Events
Today 8:10 Olympic Strike/Security

Guardian: Brooks/Coulson Charges
Times: Hacking charges/ Cash in hand row
Telegraph: Cash in hand 2/ Olympics starts (1 point)
Independent: 1. Hacking Charges 2. Olympics (1 point)
Daily Mail:  Olympics Strike (2 points)

Wednesday 1 August 2012

DLA Dallying in The Sun

There was an unusual piece in Tuesday's Sun sticking up for those on a Disability Benefits. Well, sort of.

The author, Julie Thomas, a woman who lost her sight and also suffers from epilepsy, hit out at the small minority of people making bogus benefit claims.

She argued that those claiming Disability Living Allowance, a payment to help disabled people go about their lives whether in work or not, were being unfairly lumped in with those on Employment Support Allowance, the payment for those unable to work.

Incapacity Benefit, which was succeded by ESA, was open to abuse she argued, but it was wrong to tar those on DLA with the same brush.

In her article, Ms Thomas who claims both DLA and ESA stated: "Figures show that around 95 per cent of claimants for DLA are genuine. Part of that must be because it takes such a lot of effort to apply for it.

"Government ministers seem to want to lump DLA in with incapacity benefit, which is paid to those who are unable to work, and it seems the percentage of genuine claimants here is not so high.

"It’s important that these two benefits are not seen together. Disabled people must not be thought of as scroungers."

What was unusual is that the tone of the piece could scarcely be more different from a Sun piece from two days earlier.

Rather than a benefit requiring "a lot of effort" to receive, DLA was doled out to anyone "by simply filling in a form and there are virtually no checks to see if existing claimants are still eligible."

They mentioned that the DLA system costs £13 billion a year, they mentioned that £630 million is spent on people on the mend, they mentioned 21,000 claimants who have alcohol or drug and alcohol problems, and that claimants have trebled in the pas 20 years.

They also found room for a few paragraphs from Iain Duncan Smith branding the system "chaos".

Strangely, they didn't mention the fact that, to quote Ms Thomas DLA constitutes "financial support given to disabled people to assist them with their lives, including paying for technology to allow them to work."

In fact, they didn't mention at all that you could claim DLA while being in work at all.

Could the two pieces be related?

DWP feigning injury over benefits reporting

Simply incredible. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is reportedly* considering a complaint to Ofcom against Channel 4' Dispatches for unfair coverage of disability benefits issues.

Yes, the Department that for two years have been the source for so many misinformed newspaper articles about the issue are now complaining about bias.

Yes, the Department that have been warned by the UK Statistics Authority on several occasions about feeding figures that were "highly vulnerable to misinterpretation" or "not as clear as [they] should be."

Yes, the Department that was urged by the Work and Pensions Select Committee to do work harder to ensure "that unhelpful and inaccurate stories can be shown to have no basis.”

You get the impression that those who follow what the DWP does feel it has been at best negligent in ensuring fair coverage of people claiming benefits, which as it happens, the Government want to spend less on.

It is a situation that has led to regulator intervention against the newspapers that have passed on the information from DWP, in the form of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

So for the Department to play the victim of biased coverage is as devoid of credibility as some of the reports they have encouraged.

Of course the issue with this Ofcom debate will be one of political partiality rather than accuracy, given that the under cover Doctor in Channel 4's Dispatches was the Labour candidate for West Dorset in 2010.

Which will make it all the more galling if a complaint it made and upheld by Ofcom. Not that Ofcom should waive its rules just because of DWP's track record. Far from it, but it would be like Richard Littlejohn making a successful complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.

If the rules were broken, so be it - you can't have rules that only apply when people we disagree with break them - even if it is hard to see that the DWP agenda is hardly more sinned against than sinned when it comes to unfair media coverage.

* Albeit in the Daily Mail

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Booze Britain statistics: Staggering, unsteady or falling?

Reports about us boozey Brits once again made the news yesterday.

But rather than dwelling again on the fascination such stories hold for the press, it is worth looking at the source of these reports.

Yes, the Department of Health (DoH) report cited by Dailies Mail and Telegraph does say that our 15-16 year olds are either close to or top of the alcohol 'league of shame' in Europe. That is that more than fifteen percent of 15 year old girls admitted to having had five or more drinks on one occasion in the preceding month. Or at least they were five years ago.

As Full Fact have already said. The figures themselves are more are less legit.

But what it also says, further into the document, and to less fanfare is the following:

"Survey data on drinking by 11-15 year olds suggests some reasons for encouragement, but with continuing concerns. While fewer young people are drinking, those who drink do have not reduced how much they drink."

Going back to the source they reference, namely the 2010 Survey of Smoking, Drinking and Drug Use Among Young People in England, the news sounds even more positive.

"In 2010, 13% of pupils said they had drunk alcohol in the last week. This is lower than in 2009 when it was 18%, and continues the downward trend seen from 2001."

The Office for National Statistics takes it even further back saying the 2010 figure was the lowest since 1996.

However they stress that the 2010 figure may turn out to be an anomaly, but nevertheless the trend is still there. Due to a change in methodology there is no trend data available for actual amounts drunk.

This is not to suggest these figures debunk those from the report. We have no way of knowing how much our alcohol-inclined adolescents are drinking compared with ten years ago, but we do no that we apparently have more tee-totaling teens.

And of course the papers were well within their rights report one set of figures and not the other.

But rather than whining at this juncture, a special mention should be given instead a Times piece from last month.

It stated that although no one was really sure why, the nation overall "may actually be winning the battle against booze."