The Obscurer

Category: Media

Wound Up The Usual Suspects

Other than that fact that they both have something of a speech impediment, I think that Jonathan Ross and Carol Thatcher seem to be quite different people. The circumstances surrounding their respective media controversies are also quite different. So it comes as no surprise to me that the response of their employers and the sanctions meted out in each instance are again quite different. But then I also feel that people are reacting quite differently to each case depending upon how tolerant they are. In saying “how tolerant” I am talking qualitatively, not quantitatively, by which I mean that our reaction depends not so much upon whether we are tolerant or intolerant, rather that in our responses we can clearly see what it is that we can more happily accommodate and tolerate; on the one hand there are those who don’t mind hearing naughty words, and on the other are those who feel quite comfortable with racism.

This plain fact – that there are many and obvious differences between Thatcher’s golliwog moment and the Ross / Sachs affair – has apparently eluded many of Carol Thatcher’s supporters, hence the stream of references to “but look at what happened to Jonathan Ross” in the media and elsewhere when complaining about her treatment. Clearly the BBC has erred in handling each matter on its merits, and it is wrong to deal on a case-by-case basis depending on the very different facts in every incident. Perhaps in future, to ensure fairness, a blanket response it required whenever a media storm blows up over nothing, just so we know where we stand and so we are aware beforehand exactly what the outcome of any investigation will be.

In that case, based upon the way the BBC has dealt with Ross and Thatcher, which precedent should they follow? There are two courses of action to pick from, and whichever is chosen we can subsequently see that in retrospect the BBC should have acted differently in dealing with the other miscreant. In other words

  1. Rather than just dropping Carol Thatcher from The One Show, following an apology Thatcher should have been suspended without pay from all of her BBC work for a period of three months, issued with a final warning, and advised to keep her head down completely until the time of the suspension was over. Or…
  2. Jonathan Ross should have been axed from appearing as a guest on the Russell Brand radio show, but would still be free to work elsewhere for the BBC, on his TV chat show, his Radio 2 show and on Film 2009. There would be no need for him to step down from presenting the British Comedy Awards on ITV.

We all pay for the BBC, and so it is important that we know exactly how they will deal with future situations; only then can we be confident in saying whether Jonathan Ross was dealt with harshly, or if Carol Thatcher’s treatment has been too lenient.

Kinder Murder

The Obscurer can today exclusively reveal yet another appalling case of a child who has been cruelly killed at the hands of their parents. Of the parents themselves, found guilty of manslaughter in court yesterday, there is little that need detain us, so in covering this story our focus will shift immediately to search for someone else to be implicated in the blame for the tragedy. According to a family friend, once more it appears that concerns were repeatedly raised about the care the deceased child had been receiving, and that perhaps, if action had been taken earlier, the terrible events could have been avoided.

Speaking anonymously to The Obscurer, one of the child’s former babysitters told us: “It was an awful situation, an accident waiting to happen. I couldn’t just stand by and let things go on as they were, I had to do something, but when I tried to raise the alarm no one would listen to me. I was interviewed several times, once at length, but nothing happened. I was fobbed off. No one seemed to care…I used to have a lot of time for the media but not anymore. I must have gone to the newspapers, what, twenty, thirty times, but they weren’t interested and the stories got spiked. Those journalists have blood on their hands.”

We put this to the head of social services for the borough concerned who responded angrily: “Yet again the newspapers have failed our children. Unfortunately this matter was never referred to my department, and so we were unable to take any action to save this child’s life. How many more children are going to have to die unnecessarily before the press sorts out how to communicate efficiently and effectively and shares such vital information with the authorities? After a recent Law Lords’ inquiry the media promised it had put its house in order and vowed to assist local authorities in their work, but cases like this show that to be a lie. In my opinion heads should roll, immediately, starting with the editors and working downwards taking in all the hacks who were involved in this horror story. Otherwise this kind of thing will keep happening, again and again.”

Speaking on behalf of all newspapers, the Society of Editors refused to take questions but did put out a statement: “Everyone who was involved in covering this case has been shocked by these events, but it is important to put into perspective what has happened here. Journalists did not murder this innocent child, the parents did. That may be the easy, simple answer, but it also happens to be true. While it is understandable that people want to look for someone else to blame, it should be remembered that the people truly responsible are the ones who were found guilty in a court of law. Our internal investigation shows that all journalistic procedures were followed correctly, and despite some misleading statements now being made by various social workers there is in fact no compulsion in law for the media to inform the authorities of any welfare concerns. There is probably also something about the Data Protection Act, I think, and confidentiality. With hindsight it is easy to see that more could have been done, but the journalists who interviewed the whistleblower at the time did not have that luxury, they had to cover the story with the facts at hand, and there was simply no way they could have known how big this story would become. In addition, it is important to remember that at the time of the tragedy, resources were being concentrated on whipping up a storm over something and nothing a BBC presenter had said, and the whole profession was stretched.”

However, a self-styled Media Expert explained that in the current climate such situations are inevitable, and bound to reoccur: “The problem stems in part from cost savings that are being made at almost all media outlets, where experienced journalists have been made redundant and replaced with underpaid, overworked and poorly trained newcomers. Few of these people actually practice “reporting” in the traditional sense, and they are often employed to do little more than regurgitate press releases and think-tank reports in the house style. When faced with a real person telling a real story they barely have a clue what to do, and looking beyond the headlines and past the lazy assumptions of their target readership is actively discouraged. Preconceptions also play a part; in this case the mother was on benefits and the father an asylum seeker, groups that journalists have been inculcated to demonise daily, so there was little sympathy with the situation from the start. Add in that many journalists have been trained to view social workers as little more than nannying, town hall snoopers who take too many children into care and are an unnecessary drain on local authorities’ – and by extension, Middle England taxpayers’ – budgets, and it is easy to see why the case was not referred on. Sadly, once the journalists involved had made their judgement on the story they did not question it until it was too late.”

The Last Noël

We’re sunk. The liberal elite has won. According to Private Eye

It’s official – Christmas is cancelled at the Daily and Sunday Express. Chairman Richard “Dirty” Desmond, worried about a verbal or physical backlash from the swathes of journos he is throwing out into the snow as the global recession bites, has announced there will be no staff knees-up this year.

At previous Christmas parties Dirty Des has bored the balloons from the ceiling with speeches about circulation figures and ad revenue of each and every title in the Northern and Shell stable while his minions take rapturous advantage of the free booze on offer. But the thought of being drowned out by well-watered hacks bemoaning the loss of their jobs and pension rights has proved too big a worry or Des.

So that’s that then; Christmas had finally and conclusively been banned, and after I’ve already wasted good money – £9.99 – on a pink DS Lite carrying-case for my niece. Will Toys’R’Us issue a refund? Perhaps I’ll save it for her birthday, so long as that hasn’t been similarly proscribed.

But I suppose it was always going to end this way: that after fighting a valiant rearguard action battling the assorted forces of those politically correct councils, right-on quangos and other propagandists of multiculturalism, after making up uncovering countless examples of the authorities’ relentless “War On Xmas”, it would be the Express that remained the last man standing; but it would still ultimately be forced to cave in in the end, to abandon Christmas, and so hammer the final nail into the festival’s coffin.

At least it didn’t go down without a fight.

Bin And Gone

Well you’re due a short post after my recent extended blatherings, so here it is. And I guess I can’t really complain, viewing pay-TV for free via the internet, piggy-backing parasitically on someone else’s football feed. But still and all, it’s a bit annoying while watching a match to find a bit of editorialising suddenly popping up, obliterating a half of the screen.

It could be worse, though. A previous interruption, that I was too slow to catch, declared, “Bin Laden is a Gooner”. Also, I never actually missed a goal because of such anti-Arsenal interventions, although then again I was eating my tea while listening to GMR at those specific times.

It’s still better than paying for Sky, mind.

Lawn Sausage

Someone kindly left Tuesday’s copy of the Daily Express lying around at work, and I present the front-page story to you now as a kind of public service; for in these uncertain economic times, who knows? Should we find ourselves having been made redundant we may have to consider applying for all sorts of jobs that we wouldn’t otherwise look twice at; and if the job centre advertises a vacancy for an Express hack then we may have to swallow our pride in the pursuit of being able to put bread on the table. Tuesday’s paper, then, could prove invaluable, providing for the uninitiated a perfect template for creating an Express lead story, and if you stick to this script then you could get a head start in the interview and selection process. Now, I must point out that I am well aware that the tabloids engage in far more disgraceful behaviour that that featured in this story – see Anton Vowl, for example, on the handling of the recent terror trial – but Tuesday’s paper was a more typical example of what you would be expected to write if employed by the paper, and so is the perfect beginners’ guide. And anyway, it was the only paper I found discarded by an obliging colleague this week.

First the headline: “NOW THEY WANT TO BAN YOUR LAWN”. No they don’t, reply the sane; but remember we’re dealing with Express readers here, so this headline is perfect. At this point a normal person would probably want to skip to the end of the article, to find out the truth in the story which is no doubt completely at odds with the headline; but where’s the fun in that?

The story itself concerns the idea that

An army of town hall snoopers could soon be telling people what they can and cannot grow in their gardens. Fast-growing plants and even lawns could be banned, under Labour’s latest environmental blitz. People would be forced to get planning permission to make changes in their gardens in order to help the Government hit its targets for reducing waste.

Town hall snoopers, of course, are just the latest group to join Muslims and asylum seekers in drawing the Express’s ire, usually for invoking the RIPA to engage in the sort of surveillance that private sector firms like insurance companies can conduct without any such regulation whatsoever. Foolishly, councils have been going around attempting to fulfil their remit and legal obligations by, say, trying to prosecute respectable middle-class people when they have commited a littering offence, whereas we all know that only feral youths should be punished and face the full force of the law.

At this point you may feel there is a need to flesh out this story with a fact or two, perhaps even present some evidence such as a quotation or excerpt from some document detailing any plans. Don’t. Get straight into the quotes from the usual suspects denouncing the proposals, no matter how flimsily you have presented the case. First up you’ll need a compliant Tory MP, in this case Bob Neill, the local government spokesman.

Are they really expecting hardworking people to go along to the council to get building regulation consent to plant their rhododendrons? This is another example of the heavy hand of Labour needlessly meddling in people’s lives.

So he asks a question, and then makes a judgement prior to getting the answer. Excellent. As a bonus, in our example we are then treated to a second Tory MP, backbencher Phillip Davies.

I am gobsmacked that this is something the Government thinks is worth wasting their time with. They should be concerned with saving gardens by stopping developments being built on them, not intruding further into people’s private lives. If this is what Gordon Brown’s latest relaunch amounts to, then God help us all.

This is great, as it ties this story into Gordon Brown’s alleged relaunch, which the media have already judged a failure regardless of whether or not it exists. By now, however, we have learned a little more about these “astonishing measures”, which

are put forward in a policy document commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Some lawns could be banned because eco-experts claim that “mulched gardens” are better for the environment. They say that lawns need extensive watering and people toss cut grass in with normal household waste. Gardeners would also be told to avoid plants that need a lot of water.

The eagle-eyed will spot an interesting choice of words there; “commissioned”, “could”, “avoid”. That covers the author’s back, and Express readers will not pick up on such subtleties, they’ll be too busy raging that they want to be allowed to engage in idiotic activities like stuffing compostable materials into plastic bags before burying in a landfill.

Now we need a comment from a think tank or pressure group. In this case the person who has too much time on her hands is the unlikely sounding Doretta Cocks from the equally unlikely sounding Campaign for Weekly Waste Collection.

It is dreadful to think that they are going to start spying on gardens as well.

And I guess it would be, if it were true, we just don’t know yet. Finally, always but always get the TaxPayers’ Alliance to round off your list of reactions to vague speculation by cutting and pasting their usual response. Actually, they probably have a tacit agreement with the Express to allow journalists to attribute whatever words they fancy to the TPA in any article as long as it rails against the public sector, so you can write what you like here. In our example “Mark Wallace” is the name randomly generated as the supposed TPA spokesman.

The Government and town hall officials should realise by now that they are not doing their basic jobs properly, so there is no way they should poke their nose into [insert specific here]. The last thing people need is more busybodies bossing people about.

We should all be interested in how our taxes are spent, but I’m not sure who died and made the TPA our proxy, and on what grounds they can justify their role. I’ve long thought it ironic that they can complain about government waste; yet just what is their contribution to society? If it didn’t exist newspapers could easily come up with such rent-a-quotes another way. How can TPA employees find the nerve to accuse others of having “non-jobs”; how do they fill up their hours? Whatever, free thinking certainly doesn’t seem to enter into it.

We now get a few more vague points where the emphasis is mine: “the report also suggests swingeing taxes on items such as single-use barbecues”, “The moves could raise the price of a pack of disposable razors to £5”, “Bans on junk mail and free newspapers are also suggested”, “Hilary Benn is understood to be among those pressing for councils to have control over residents’ gardens”. They are somewhat bolder in proclaiming “the report backs moves to introduce crippling “bin tax” charges”, although of course we get no specifics, and I have to doubt whether the word “crippling” or anything like it features in the report itself.

So to the very final line of the article, and it is now, and only now, that you should actually reveal the truth and offer the target of your criticisms a right of reply, but you must do so in as throwaway a manner as possible.

But a Defra spokeswoman said yesterday the report was a discussion document and “does not necessarily reflect Government policy”.

So that’s that, this is a non-story, just some ideas being kicked around in a consultation document that Defra has commissioned. But don’t worry; you’re writing for the Express remember, and such nothingness is still eminently qualified to be a front-page splash about banning lawns.

That is the end of the road for this specific article and it is perfect primer on how to write for the Express, but with a few more pointers there is always room for extra credit. In this featured story, for example, there is at least evidence of a real discussion document, albeit not one that justifies the Express’s headline; but there needn’t be anything of the sort, you can get away with pure make believe. When reporting on the trial of Kamel Bourgass, the person found guilty of murdering police officer Stephen Oake during an anti-terror raid, one Express headline read something like “Police so scared of upsetting Muslims they did not cuff suspect…and he stabbed DC Oake to death”. Not only was there no evidence presented to support this allegation, but the claim itself was not even referred to anywhere in the accompanying story or elsewhere. Subsequently referred to the PCC the Express’s job had already been done, however, neatly ticking the “Islamophobia” and “political correctness gone mad” boxes at the same time.

Also, it is essential that you ensure you are up to date on the latest twists and turns in the Madeleine McCann story for which the papers have faced every way possible. It would be terribly embarrassing if you were to now invent something about how an anonymous witness had seen Kate and Gerry McCann acting suspiciously on the night of Madeleine’s disappearance when the press are once again convinced that they had nothing to do with her going missing. For the avoidance of doubt, then, the current position is that Kate and Gerry, as well as Robert Murat, are wholly innocent; Maddie is in Holland or maybe Belgium based upon grainy CCTV footage that could be of anybody; the Portuguese police are at fault for not following up every false lead, red herring and bogus sighting reported by the papers; and we have reverted to the original theory that there is nothing at all wrong in leaving a nearly-four-year-old in a hotel room with just her two younger siblings, indeed to even hint at the contrary is preposerous, and we apologise if we previously gave the impression that this was irresponsible and tantamount to neglect. Remember, however, to check the up-to-date situation just prior to the job interview, because things may have changed between then and now.

Follow these rules and that Express job could be yours. Just don’t make the schoolboy error that journalist Macer Hall commits right at the start of our featured article, including a line that he would have been better to have excised immediately as it very nearly gives the game away. When initially quoted on his response to this plan to outlaw the lawn, Tory MP Bob Neill lets (Freudian?) slip the comment

This is utter nonsense.

Indeed it is. That Defra spokeswoman couldn’t possibly have put it any better if she’d tried.

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