Archive for category Hate our competitors!

Definitely not an advert

Let’s suppose you were putting together the most stereotypical Daily Mail health story (that wasn’t about cancer). What would you include?

Well, obviously first of all, you need your patients. They should be someone Mail readers can sympathise with – white, straight, middle-class, happy and utterly conventional.

When Charlotte Davies met her future husband there was an instant attraction […]

The university administrator met [accountant] Dean three years ago in a bar in Colchester, Essex, and the pair quickly became inseparable.

Secondly, we need a disease. That can either be something rare and terrible – a unique form of cancer, for instance, or a disease like meningitis that often affects the young – or it can be something everyday, like sore joints or high blood pressure… or eczema.

Unfortunately for her, there was also an instant reaction – on her skin. Within weeks of meeting her soulmate, her eyelids erupted with eczema and her eyes had swelled to the size of golf balls.

Third, doctors have to be baffled. If your patient just stumbled to the GP and got a diagnosis, that’s no good. They have to have to been bounced from hospital to hospital until some maverick doctor (who may be played by Hugh Laurie) works out what the true problem was. Better yet, medical science should fail all together, and “alternative medicine” has to provide the “answers”.

Doctors struggled to explain the sudden reaction and it was a homeopath who eventually diagnosed the cause…

Fourth, you need a hook. Something that makes this case of eczema different from the millions of others out there.

as love.

Sigh. Yes.

‘He told me that it was common for eczema to be effected by emotions, but typically due to stress, trauma or unhappiness. This was the first time they had ever heard of someone being allergic to love’, she said.

‘I felt like my body was putting Dean to the test, because even though my heart told me he was The One, it was as if my body wanted to see if he really was a good as he seemed.

‘If he loved me after my eyes had turned into a bright red tomatoes literally within days of meeting him, then I’d know his love was true.’


Fifth, you need a moral. Something to appeal to the Daily Mail‘s sensibilities. One common one is the story of the mother who goes against medical advice to abort a foetus, and is then lucky enough to bring it to term safely – women who aren’t so lucky don’t seem to make the papers in quite the same way, of course. In this case, the moral is…

She said: ‘In December we got married and the eczema started to get a lot better. Perhaps my hormones calmed down and I just felt more relaxed once we were married, but it certainly seems to have cured me.’

The headline goes even further: “Allergic to love: Meeting my soulmate brought me out in itchy eczema… until he proposed”.* You heard it here first – living in sin causes eczema!

Oh, and sixth, you need to blatantly plug a product, of course!

Charlotte tried a concoction of steroids, creams, and alternative medicines, to no avail. Eventually she chanced upon Skin Shop’s Dry Eye Gel, a product she describes as ‘miraculous’ at treating the symptoms. […]

Dry Eye Gel costs £8.99 for 30ml and is available from [ADDRESS REDACTED]

Incidentally, the Dry Eye Gel website promotes their product “As seen in the Daily Mail“, while every photo in the article – including the couples wedding pictures – are credited to “Eastnews Press Agency”, a PR photography company which claims on its site thatWe know exactly the style of images National and Regional newspapers demand. With this knowledge we can give you and your clients the best opportunity to gain maximum press exposure. We can offer everything from straight forward picture coverage to an all-in-one package. This would include a full “news write through” of press releases and picture distribution service direct to National and Regional Press.

Come to think of it, it sure was convenient for everyone involved that a woman decided to tell a national newspaper about her relatively minor skin condition, wasn’t it?

(Thanks to Tabloid Watch for pointing out the Dry Eye Gel website)

* There’s a joke about loveless marriage in there somewhere, but I’m not cruel enough to make it.



Channel 5 and the Express – some unsurprising statistics

Inspired by my last post, I’ve decided to have a quick look at the Express‘s TV review archive.

Channel 5 was bought by Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers, on 23 July 2010.

So far this year, a Channel 5 show has been a “Pick of the Day” 38 times (warning: all links are direct to the Express site)

  1. Law and Order, 18th Feb
  2. OK! TV, 17th Feb
  3. Starlight: For the Children, 16th Feb
  4. Stansted: The Inside Story, 15th Feb
  5. OK! TV, 14th Feb
  6. Law and Order, 11th Feb
  7. Julius Caesar: Rome Unwrapped, 10th Feb
  8. NCIS, 9th Feb
  9. Stansted: The Inside Story, 8th Feb
  10. The Vanessa Show, 7th Feb
  11. Royal Navy Caribbean Patrol, 7th Feb
  12. Ice Road Truckers, 4th Feb
  13. Secrets of the Vanishing Sphinx, 3rd Feb
  14. The Punisher, 3rd Feb
  15. NCIS, 2nd Feb
  16. CSI, 1st Feb
  17. Home and Away, 31st Jan
  18. Britain’s Secret Schindler: Revealed, 27th Jan
  19. Justin Lee Collins: Turning Japanese, 27th Jan
  20. Cowboy Builders, 26th Jan
  21. CSI, 25th Jan
  22. Neighbours, 24th Jan
  23. Secrets of the Blitz: Revealed, 20th Jan
  24. Cowboy Builders, 19th Jan
  25. CSI, 18th Jan
  26. The Wright Stuff/The Vanessa Show, 17th Jan (two separate shows both on Channel 5)
  27. Pirates of the Caribbean: The True Story, 14th Jan
  28. Ripped from the Cockpit: BA Flight of Terror, 13th Jan
  29. Neighbours, 12th Jan
  30. Jack the Ripper: The Definitive Story, 11th Jan
  31. CSI/Taggart, 11th Jan (CSI is on Channel 5, Taggart is on ITV)
  32. The Vanessa Show, 10th Jan
  33. How Do They Do It?, 10th Jan
  34. Titanic: The True Story, 7th Jan
  35. Highland Emergency, 5th Jan
  36. Rhino In My House, 5th Jan
  37. How Do They Do It?, 4th Jan
  38. Goering’s Last Secret Revealed, 4th Jan

There have been 35 weekdays so far this year. On average, that means a Channel 5 show is a pick of the day slightly more than once a day – 1.09 times per day to be precise.

Over this time last year, a Channel 5 show (back then, the channel was called “FIVE”) was a pick of the day 3 times:

  1. Paul Merton in Europe, 15th Feb
  2. The Gadget Show, 8th Feb
  3. The Gadget Show, 1st Feb

That works out at roughly one pick every twelve days, or 0.085 picks per day.

CSI and Law and Order were both on FIVE at the time, but funnily enough, neither of them were mentioned at all over this period. CSI was hardly ever an Express pick of the day before the takeover – from the looks of it, it got four mentions between 2007 and 2009, or about twice a year. Since October 2010, however, it’s been pick of the day 10 times in just 16 weeks.

I know it’s hardly surprising that the Express and Channel 5 are a bit chummy, but that doesn’t make it any less of a shock when you see it in terms of raw numbers.

Edit: Thanks to Lazer Guided Melody in the comments for pointing out that the statistics need more context. Here’s a very quick count of the number of recommendations over the same period for each of the major channels:

BBC1: This year, 25. Last year, 48
BBC2: This year, 21. Last year, 13
ITV1: This year, 31. Last year, 42
Channel 4: This year, 8. Last year, 37
Channel 5: This year, 38. Last year, 3


Express says dealing with complaints “a waste of money”

The Daily Express finds it risible that the BBC  has a guide telling staff how to deal with complaints. Actually, it’s not the BBC at all, but an entirely independent company subcontracted to run a call centre for TV Licensing, but apparently they’re basically the same thing so whatever. It’s not really a guide to dealing with complaints either, but a general guide for call centre staff, which mentions complaints among the many things they may have to deal with.

Anyway, a guide for dealing with complaints! How bizarre! Of course, we all know the Daily Express never has to deal with complaints ever, so they’re entirely justified attacking the BBC about this.

The Daily Express claims that “Much of the advice in the 964-page book appears to state the blindingly obvious – including warning staff that the words “idiots”, “shambles” or “useless” may mean people are unhappy.”

Well, you can read the book online (warning, massive page) at What Do They Know? (a site which collects Freedom of Information requests) and in fact, much of the advice in the book explains the finer legal points of TV licences – how diplomatic immunity affects TV licensing, for instance* – and a good chunk more of it explains the codes used on the call centre’s various computer systems. Only two pages – 238 and 239 – explain how to recognise a complaint, and do so only for the sake of bookkeeping , so the call centre staff know whether or not they should log a call as a complaint or just a combatively worded question.

The Express also claims “It also includes prepared answers to regular objections to programmes considered offensive“, which since this is a TV Licensing call centre guide, not the BBC complaints department one, seems a bit odd. In fact, there is only a single mention in the whole book of offensive programming: the hypothetical complaint “The BBC is producing poor programmes, some are offensive. I am only going to pay a proportion of the fee“**. Still, never content with attacking the BBC on one front, the Express can’t resist going for the old “The BBC is offensive and out of touch” comment too.

The closest article comes to actual analysis is another churned out comment from Martin Sinclair of the TaxPayers’ Alliance (of course the TaxPayers’ Alliance commented):

There probably are lots of complaints about the unfair and expensive licence fee but ordinary families would expect that staff can identify an obvious complaint without lengthy guidance and training, at more cost. There might be fewer complaints if the BBC kept costs under control.

I wonder if the TaxPayers’ Alliance was aware that the Daily Express had completely misrepresented the nature of the guide when they churned out that comment? Or that the advice, covering a single sheet of paper in a very large typeface, was hardly lengthy nor costly? Or that the document was actually produced by the outsourcing company Capita, not the BBC itself? Perhaps the TaxPayers’ Alliance has found the key to “keeping costs under control” – don’t waste money looking into a story before shooting your mouth off about it.

* Diplomats are expected to pay the TV licence but if they refuse, or an embassy has unlicensed televisions on its premises, TV Licensing are powerless to do anything about it.

** The suggested reply by the way is masterfully tactful:

The licence fee is not payment for BBC services, it is payment for a legal permission to install and use a television receiver. The full fee prescribed in law is payable regardless of which channels are viewed. We (and the BBC) are not allowed by law to accept any payment other than the prescribed fee for a licence. The BBC do wish to know the views of the public and these can be made to BBC Information, PO Box 1922, Glasgow, G2 3WT.



Daily Mail fails to tell difference between fact and fiction

Daily Mail caption reading "Gun pointed at royal"

Totally not a misleading caption

Today, as every day, the Mail is outraged*, this time about a drama about Prince Harry being taken hostage while serving in Afghanistan. While the recent spate of fictional docudramas based on tragic events happening to real people are often not in the best taste – Channel 4 dramatising of the hypothetical execution of Gary Glitter accompanied by a remix of “Monster Mash” was possibly a bit of a low – that’s not the argument that the Mail uses against the show. Instead, the article takes a turn for the bizarre:


Channel 4 is to show a ‘dramatised documentary’ based on what would happen if Prince Harry were taken prisoner serving in Afghanistan.

The 90-minute film includes scenes showing the prince, played by actor Sebastian Reid, being held behind enemy lines while negotiations are carried out to free him.

The Taking Of Prince Harry shows the prince at one point with an unloaded gun pointed at his face before one of his captors pulls the trigger.

Although Clarence House has not responded to the documentary makers, royalists will be outraged by the programme and the potential risk to the throne.*

“Potential risk to the throne”? I do hope the Daily Mail realises this is a fictional drama; Channel 4 did not actually put a gun to Prince Harry’s face and pull the trigger. In fact, since Prince Harry returned from Afghanistan in February 2008, it’s hard to see what the “potential risk to the throne” may be. The article certainly never tells us.

The best the Mail can come up with is that “it has already prompted concern that extremists may take ideas from the programme” – though who had these concerns is never mentioned, nor why extremists would have to watch the show to have the idea, especially when there are already “reports and stories of jihadi websites saying he should be the number one target“.

According to the article, Prince Harry is not outraged, Clarence House is not outraged, Buckingham Palace is not outraged, the security forces are not outraged – the only people who are outraged appear to be the Daily Mail.

* “Royalists will be outraged” after we tell them a bunch of reasons to be outraged might be more accurate.

Edit! The Mail has altered the article. Now we’re no longer to be worried about Channel 4 shooting fictional Prince Harry. Instead, it now says “Members of the military will be appalled at the sense of defeatism the show is likely to sew [sic] in viewers back home already questioning the value of the war in Afghanistan”, while the headline now reads “Army outraged as ‘distasteful’ Channel Four drama shows Prince Harry taken hostage by Taliban in Afghanistan” (though the article itself still doesn’t back up the claim that anyone is actually outraged). Not much of an improvement, but at least they don’t claim that the show represents “a risk to the throne” (which is a good thing – if the claim was true, that would mean Channel 4 was committing the offence of treason felony).

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Telegraph columnists are from Mars, facts are from Venus

Yesterday, a couple of news outlets reported that a neuroscientist, Prof. Gina Rippon, claimed in an interview with The Sunday Times (annoyingly paywalled) that the differences between the brains of men and women are overstated, and that neuroscientists are often naive about the damaging effects their research can have when hyped up by newspapers – there’s a particularly interesting debate on the subject between her and Prof. Robert Winston from the Today Programme if you’re interested. So far, so reasonable. After all, she’s hardly the only person who’s made that claim lately.

Today however The Daily Telegraph carries not one but two attempted rebuttals of Rippon’s claims: “Why would society want men to be blind to their worn socks?” by Michael Deacon, and “Do men and women really think alike?” by Cristina Odone. Who are these people? Science journalists? Renowned neuroscientists? Leading psychologists?

Err, no. Odone writes on “families and faith”, while Deacon is The Telegraph‘s TV Features editor.

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Antisocial Networking

The latest Daily Mail Facebook Scare TM claims that “Using Facebook ‘can lower exam results by up to 20%’“.

In fact, a study found a correlation between Facebook use and lower grade-point average. This doesn’t mean that using Facebook lowers your exam results. As the article itself later admits:

Those who did not use the site also said they devoted more time to studying, spending an average of 88 per cent longer working outside class.

The correlation implies causation fallacy is one of the best known, and this article is a textbook example. The students who work hardest are less likely to have Facebook profiles, for any number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean Facebook played any role in actually lowering students’ scores.

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Biased about bias

Never let it be said the Mail won’t take any opportunity to attack the BBC. Yesterday it was over left-wing bias*, today it’s over right-wing bias.

The BBC was caught in a political row last night after its boss Mark Thompson was apparently attempting to cosy up to the Government following complaints over Left-wing bias.

The corporation’s director general was photographed arriving at No 10 clutching a memo insisting the BBC is ready to put its coverage of public spending cuts into ‘context’.

The move will prompt claims that the broadcaster is trying to curry favour with an increasingly hostile Coalition Government to preserve its generous licence fee funding.

So wait, has it been caught in a row yet, or not? There’s no mention in the article of anyone objecting to the memo, and the only verification is from an anonymous BBC source.

The claims in this article come from a single partially obscured telephoto shot of Thompson carrying a document written by the head of news Helen Boaden describing a meeting with the coalition’s Director of Communications Andy Coulson (who is incidentally involved in a much larger scandal that the Daily Mail have curiously forgotten to report on). Does the document support the Mail’s claims? Let’s see. Here’s a transcription of the relevant parts of the memo:

For background which may help…. I had lunch with Andy Coulson […]

concerned that we give context to the Spending Review Season (I[…]

Birt…). I said that’s what we always try to do and part of the reason […]

inform the public about the whys and wherefores… though I did exp[…]

a range of voices on all the issues.

Over the summer, we have mostly been driven by news lines and […]

leaked letter from the Justice dept. Phillip Green being brought in, […]

milk being axed and then restored, criticism of the OBR and the […]

the poorest would be hardest hit by the Spending Review implic[…]

tried to put in a broader context.

Does that sound like the BBC trying to “curry favour” with the coalition, or does that sound like the BBC trying to defend their position? They aren’t offering to put its coverage in context, they’re saying “We already do.”

* Despite how the papers tried to spin it, Thompson was only talking about left-wing bias in the 1970s.



Abortion providers provide abortions? Whatever next!

Does anyone at the Daily Mail understand how employment works? I ask because of this article: Anger as abortion provider Marie Stopes offers staff free terminations as ‘job perk’. Ignoring the fact that nowadays 94% of abortions are NHS funded – and therefore free anyway – this is some really pathetic non-news.

According to their website, Marie Stopes offers employees free access to “male/female sterilisation, STI, HIV testing, ultrasound, family planning and abortion”. In other words, every service the company provides to customers, including, but in no way limited to, abortion. Besides which, the employees who get these benefits are ones who work for Marie Stopes. If these benefits were not available, they would simply have to fund them out of their salary – which Marie Stopes also provided.

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1 person = 2.5 million people. 6 fans = 1.6 million fans.

One quick post before I go to London for the weekend.

Today’s Daily Mail carries the story “More than 2.5m Muslims threaten to leave Facebook after four Islamic pages are taken down“. Really? 2.5 million Facebook users all co-ordinated as one? Bearing in mind how long it took for the Guinness World Record group to reach 1,000,000 users, 2.5 million users all coming together in a few days to demand anything seems a bit unlikely.

So have 2.5 million Muslims demanded anything? Well, no. Four pages were closed for spamming. Then someone – presumably an admin of one of the groups – sent another spam message across Facebook claiming to represent 2.5 million Muslims, all of whom were so incensed by the deletion that have threatened to move to (a fundamentist Muslim social networking site). Quite where this figure comes from isn’t clear in the Daily Mail report. There aren’t 2.5 million Muslims threatening to leave Facebook, there is one. Fox News claims that this is the sum of the number of fans the pages had… except that that’s just as big a lie. For instance, they take at face value the claim the deleted page (now deleted, obviously) had 1.6 million fans, making up the bulk of this 2.5 million. In fact a quick peek into Google’s cache shows it had 6 fans. Glad to see hard-hitting investigative journalism isn’t dead.

Basic maths: 6 < 1,600,000

So the net result of all this is that an obscure social networking site got some free advertising, Facebook got a chance to act tough (this story comes the day after they announced the Paedophile Panic Button, after all), and the Daily Mail and Fox News get yet another chance to portray social networks as an ill thought out flash in the pan, and all Muslims as an unthinking hivemind who complain whenever they don’t get their way (the right wing press’s favourite representation of any oppressed minority). Good job.

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