Truth and lies

Interesting article by Richard Peppiatt over at the Huffington Post today about the difference between 'legal truth' and 'moral truth' in newspaper reporting. Have a look, go on.

I'll have to agree that Fleet Street Fox set the goalposts a little narrow in this post about how difficult it is to get a lie published in a national newspaper. Sure, an entirely made up from nothing story about a celebrity rich enough to sue won't make the papers, but there are other kinds of story you can lie in, and a whole slew of levels of lie below 'make the whole story up from scratch' you can use if you like.*

Richard Peppiatt talks about 'moral lying' in his piece, covering lies of omission and cherrypicking what details of a story get reported, which goes on all the damn time as far as I can see.  It's a good post.

But tabloids do also lie by, well, the old fashioned business of just saying stuff that isn't true, morally or otherwise sometimes.

One of the stories that moved Peppiatt to quit the Daily Star was the now infamous 'Muslim-only public loos' front page splash in the Star. Now, while the whole story wasn't made up from scratch, it wasn't true either. The toilets in the story were not Muslim-only. They were not paid for by the council as the story claimed. It made the paper.

Fair enough, it's gone from the website now and apologies were published. But here are a couple of my favourite stories I've looked at before here that are still available online.

The first is this story in the Express - 'Muslims: 'Ban non-Islamic schools', which made the front page of the print version under the headline, 'Now Muslims tell us how to run our schools'.  It's supposed to be about this report from the Muslim Council of Britain (PDF) that, while it says a lot of things I find unpalatable, doesn't say some of the things the Express says it does.

The story includes a number of flat out falsehoods. The online version headline claims the report called for the banning of non-Islamic schools. It didn't. The article said the report said swimming should be banned during Ramadan. It hadn't. The article said the report states children should always be covered from navel to neck while swimming. It doesn't. It says navel to knee. The article said the report called for all school trips to be made single-sex. It didn't. It just suggested that overnight trips should be single-sex.

The MCB complained to the PCC. The PCC found in favour of the MCB on a number of points, particularly the claim about swimming, and ruled that the MCB should have a letter published that pointed out these falsehoods. The Express agreed to remove other claims like the one about boys being covered from navel to neck, which it claimed were mistakes.

The MCB declined to write a letter, so the article is still up on the website with absolutely no changes.  Not even to remove the 'mistakes'.  There's even a pull-out quote box that says:

Swimming lessons should be banned during Ramadan
Muslim Council of Britain

Those words do not appear in the report, and that was one of the particular claims the PCC ruled were misleading.

But at least the PCC ruled against those falsehoods, right? It's the MCB's fault these are still here, right? Surely you'd never get lies in an article and totally get away with it.

Here's an article in the Mail from when Romania And Bulgaria had only been in the EU for a few months: '120 immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria arrive in Britain every day to be circus stars'.  It covers figures from the first three months of the two new eastern European countries being part of the EU.

The article says over 10,000 had arrived from the two countries. In fact, only just under 8,000 had been given permits to come.  If you count everyone who ever applied, that makes over 10,000. The Mail claimed the total would make 'over 120 a day'. Even if we counted everyone who applied like the Mail does, the total would have been less than 120 a day over three months.  The article says the figures cover five months.  They don't. They cover three.  The paper says the most common profession declared by Romanians was 'circus artiste'.  It wasn't.  The top profession of a certain subset of Romanians was 'circus artiste'.

Here's the kicker: 120 didn't come to the UK every day to be circus stars - that would have made over 10,000 circus artistes in the figures. There were actually 55. In total, not per day.  The subset of Romanians and Bulgarians these were taken from amounted to just 410. Nowhere in the article does it make it clear that the total is 55. Nowhere does it make it clear that the most popular profession only comes from a small subset.

As far as I know, nobody's ever complained about the article.  It's still there. It's still full of rubbish.  It was co-written by the paper's Home Affairs Editor.  Of course, he might just be a bumbling oaf rather than a liar, but this is the sort of stuff that you'd hope checks like the ones Fleet Street Fox suggested were the norm would catch in a heartbeat.

So - there's more to lying than making an entire article up about someone who can probably afford to sue.  there's also more than moral lying.

*Even so, here's TabloidWatch's list of apologies for false stories taken from the papers.  Oh, and here's Starsuckers, in which Chris Atkins managed to get a number of fake stories in the tabloids


Tom A said...

A friend of mine did some work on the showbiz desk of one of the tabloids a few years ago. When a story of his - about some Eastenders actor - was a bit short, they asked him to make up a quote from an "Eastenders source" (he obliged). Is this not lying?

Robbert said...

Whoever changed 'navel to knee' to 'navel to neck' evidently didn't stop to think that'd mean that Muslim boys would have to cover up their torso but are allowed to have their willies out.

Fred in the Green said...

Fleet Street Fox says, with emphasis, that she NEVER lies. You have to take that with a pinch of salt, and maybe bicarbonate of soda.