The Mail? Balance?

The anti-immigrant influx continues in the Mail, with 14 articles specifically about immigration appearing as search results for 'immigration' in the past week, including one story that made a screaming headline and another perfect illustration of the paper's attitude to the BNP in 'Some BNP voters have 'legitimate views' on immigration, says Tory peer'.

In among those stories is an attempt to inject balance into the paper's coverage of the pipe attack of a 10 year old, which I blogged about in 'Who always starts the race row?'.

This is the third story about the event in the paper, although in the online version the spurious 'Boy 'who was attacked' may face racism charge' is clumsily tacked on to the beginning of 'Immigrant mother 'battered boy, 10, with a pipe' after he 'told her to go back to her own country' to create the Frankenstein's monster that is 'Boy 'who was attacked' by Slovakian woman may face racism charge', which manages to claim that the woman involved is both 35 and in her twenties.

Still, the new story, 'Revealed: the racial tensions behind Slovak mother's pipe attack on boy' does actually manage to insert a little bit of clarity into the subject. For example, although the paper originally claimed:
About a third of around 400 pupils at the school are believed to be Slovakian-born.
the new article explains:
It [the local council] has also revealed that Luton Junior has 372 pupils, of whom 32 - or 8.6 per cent - are Slovakian.
Which reveals that the original article exaggerated the actual number of Slovakian pupils by three or four times. It would be nice if this new honesty continued and the story didn't use the figures to exaggerate problems further, but that would be too much to ask. More on that later.

First though, the main attempt at balance comes from the actual inclusion of some quotes from Eastern Europeans in the area. This is nice, but as you would expect, more weight is given to those from white-British parents at the school. For instance, the introduction of the situation is given over to a parent saying:
Consider, for starters, the words of British parents like mother-of-three Carla Spanton: "Our kids are being threatened with having their throats slit.

"It's happening every day but no one is taking any notice. This used to be a good school but it's not any more."
Another parent is then quoted saying her boy had been beaten up, an account we are supposed to examine uncritically although she defends her son by saying he'd tried to teach the new kids British Bulldog. Since that's a game that almost inevitably ends up with one group of kids throwing another to the floor and pummelling the crap out of them, maybe a bit of scepticism is in order.

The apparent other side to the story is given to us this way:
The Slovak parents, meanwhile, paint a very different picture. It's not we who are the problem, they say, but the British.
Who said that? We never find out. The one named Slovak parent is then given an extended quote, which is followed by tit-for-tat quoting from unnamed British and Slovakian parents, with the final exchange going:
Another Brit says: "They come over here and get everything before our people - it's only a matter of time before it kicks off."

To which another Slovak says: "They tell us: 'Go back to your own country.' I get very angry. If someone is saying these things to me, I will go over and slap them."
Which of these two looks aggrieved and which looks aggressive?

This exchange of quotes follows the repetition of a detail that appeared in earlier articles on the subject:
The Mail has discovered that in the past six months the area has seen 13 race-related incidents, and on Saturday two unemployed teenage girls, of 16 and 18, were arrested for throwing stones at and abusing a Slovakian man just yards from the school.
Who were the victims in these attacks? Which area are we talking about? How big is it? What's the average number you'd expect in 'the area', wherever that is? This is an incredibly vague figure that is supposed to give the impression that the area has become a powderkeg in the last six months, but lack of context makes that claim very difficult to gauge. The tit-for-tat style of quoting that follows the statistic gives the impression that the race-related incidents are tit-for-tat too, but since the paper doesn't tell us who the victims were, we have no way of knowing if that's the case. If the paper knew it were, somehow I doubt it'd neglect to tell us.

It must be said that these additions are welcome though. This story is head and shoulders above the others in terms of balance. Maybe the white-British parents' word deserves more weight, even though the Eastern European kids are outnumbered by around nine to one. Without investigating ourselves, we can't know. This is why we have to rely on the media for our information and why papers like this should aim for balance rather than distortion.

It would be nice if the hack had refrained from using figures to exaggerate problems though, which comes later in the article.

What we're treated to further down is a perfect example of the paper's overall attitude towards immigration. The article first tells us what the council and the school say and says itself about immigration's impact on the schools in the area:
In other words, we are being told, it isn't that bad.

A closer look at the statistics suggests otherwise.
Ooh, the authorities are pretending problems are minor. Where have I read that before? But as we would expect from the Mail, one vital figure is left out of its look at the statistics. One that make the problems it says the stats show look actually, well, not that bad.

Here's what the paper says:
According to the school's Ofsted report of 2004, just eight per cent of the school was drawn from all ethnic minorities, with no single group predominating.

Three years on, and more than 8 per cent are Slovakian alone - with a further four Polish children, one Lithuanian child, one Russian and one Bulgarian. Given maximum class sizes of 30, that's quite a change.

And the impact of that influx is potentially all the more difficult for the school to cope with, given the circumstances in which it is already operating.
See what that implies? 39 new kids to insert into a school with an average class size of 30. How ever will the school cope?

The detail the story leaves out is that the school had a total of 365 pupils in 2004, and has 372 now, so in fact the total has risen by only 7. This perfectly mirrors the way the paper only ever counts new incomers and not those who leave.

Another perfect mirror of the paper's general approach to Eastern European immigration is the implication that there was no immigration from Eastern Europe prior to 2004. How many of the original 30 ethnic minority pupils were Eastern European? Sure, we'd expect the number of Eastern Europeans to be less in 2004, but not to go from 0-39 in three years, as the article implies. One of the Eastern European pupils is Russian. Since Russia isn't part of the EU, this pupil's presence has nothing to do with EU expansion. What about the others? As immigrants tend to settle in areas where there are already groups of people from their country of origin, surely the fact that the biggest group here is Slovakian suggests that there may already have been a small Slovakian community in the area prior to 2004. The only Slovakian named in the article has lived in the UK for eleven years, after all. Surely in any balanced article about the tensions in an area this should be properly examined?

We also have the familiar implication that pupils from ethnic minorities create problems for schools, without explaining why. There's usually a spurious link between speaking English as a second language and not speaking English at all, although that's not explicitly made here. There's just a vague:
Put simply, because of the link between house prices and schooling, it is those schools already dealing with the most challenging circumstances that will have to cope with the greatest impact of Eastern European migration.
What impact? Seven extra kids over three years? Plus, the only Eastern European kid with a named parent quoted in the article was born here and has an English first name.

There's more in the article, but that's all I can be bothered with for now. So, signs of improvement but could do better. See me.

1 comment:

eric the fish said...

Insightful as ever. I try to go back to some stories to see the subtle changes that occur sometimes. The problem is that they do not alays start a new story but tack on extra bits without proof-reading. This makes for some out of context comments once the additions are made.