Daily Mail, Leveson, & Ms Jack Monroe

Richard Littlejohn's column in the Daily MailJack Monroe got monstered by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail. This is of course something Richard Littlejohn does on a regular basis.

Jack Monroe reacted by pointing out the multiple things that Littlejohn had got wrong:

I’ve read your trash non-journalism ‘comment’ piece about me in the Daily Mail this morning – not because it is a newspaper I read, but because a friend forwarded it to me.

Firstly, I have to commend you for managing to get 20 facts completely wrong in a comparatively short article. But that’s your style isn’t it – never let the truth get in the way of a good smear campaign, or something like that.

This morning, if you search Twitter for “Richard Littlejohn”, @MsJackMonroe is the first listing – Richard Littlejohn himself comes in third. But the Daily Mail and Richard Littlejohn will doubtless see traffic go up from all the people linking to his column: and they don’t care whether it’s negative or positive linkage, because the profits for the MailOnline website are the same in either case.

Here is a little list of reasons not to link to the Daily Mail:

  • If it a real fact-based news story, it will be available elsewhere on the Internet. No need to link to the Daily Mail.
  • If it is only available in the Daily Mail, it is probably not true. No need to link to it at all.
  • If it is a column that makes you angry just to hear about it and on reading it makes you want to spit bile and share the agony of having read something so hateful and so wrong, yes, that’s a strong part of the MailOnline’s business model, and if you link it to it, you are doing exactly what they hope you will do, providing traffic to their website and therefore revenue from their advertisers. Why do that for them?

The key recommendation Leveson made in his report on press regulation was that all newspapers that agreed to be regulated by an external body, should agree to publish, clearly and promptly, retractions or corrections when they lied about someone. If a newspaper did not agree to be regulated by the external body, anyone who sued the newspaper for libel – win or lose – would have their legal costs paid for by the newspaper.

This is what Ian Hislop repeatedly complains about on Have I Got News For You, and presumably in Private Eye as well, not that I read it: that if Leveson’s recommendations were accepted, there would be consequences for the media industry if they printed a libellous story about someone and then were unwilling then to print any retraction or apology.

What the very, very rich who can afford the best libel lawyers can have today, whether what is printed about them is true or false, anyone who’s libelled could have under Leveson.

But, according to Ian Hislop, that kind of thing would be horrifyingly destructive of the British free press of which we are all so, so proud.

A comment by John Bradley on Jack of Kent’s blog in response to his post on the monstering of Lucy Meadows:

For all the Journalists bluster about the need for a free press, you are in the end talking about corporations who reason for existing is to make money by selling papers and advertising space within them. They will do whatever it takes provided they think they will not get sent to jail and any court costs/fines incurred are less than the revenue generated.

The key thing about Leveson was that, implemented as recommended, it should have ensured that it would become very, very expensive for corporations to publish vile lies about people and then refuse to print any retraction or apology. That huge cost of refusing to correct their own lies is what the corporations owning the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, Daily Mirror, the Sun and the Times were desperately trying to avoid.

Brian Cathcart at Hacked Off:

“The press should seize the chance to show the public they do not fear being held to decent ethical standards, and that they are proud to be accountable to the people they write for and about.”

13 Comments

Filed under About Food, In The Media, Poverty

13 responses to “Daily Mail, Leveson, & Ms Jack Monroe

  1. But surely it is deeply naive to expect a regulator to judge impartially about who should apologise? In the past, the establishment cheerly brushed everything from Jimmy Saville to Hillsborough under the carpet. Now, people like you are looking to the same class of people to provide impartial regulation when complaints are made against newspapers which ask difficult questions.

    As you allude to, Private Eye and the Spectator both refuse to be regulated, and they will have to pay the prosecutor’s costs EVEN IF they win a libel case. Oh, well, why don’t they just join the regulator then? Because in a democracy, you tend to trust the people – not some unelected, unaccountable regulator – to decide which political parties are in power and which newspapers remain solvent.

    Perhaps you don’t trust ordinary people to work out for themselves that Richard Littlejohn is wrong and so their social betters have to intervene? That’s pretty dodgy (and also unfamiliar) road for the Left to be going down.

    • The very rich/powerful – men like Jimmy Saville and Cyril Smith – have always been able to buy silence, and I don’t see any way of changing that without reforming the libel laws.

      No newspaper ever dared in Saville’s lifetime to note that he was a child rapist, because they knew he would sue them for libel and – as he would have had the money to pay the best libel lawyers – he would have won. Cyril Smith was – by a small and unnoticeable paper – accused of being a child rapist – and Smith did sue. No newspaper took up the case. No newspaper asks these “difficult questions” when the person concerned is wealthy enough to force them to retract/apologise.

      Whereas for someone who is neither rich nor powerful – the woman in this story, for example – the Mail knows it can print what it likes. And your belief that somehow magically people know it’s bollocks is not borne out by the first-hand evidence in that and in other accounts from people monstered by the national press.

      A gay man I very much respected was monstered for years by the Mail as a paedophile. Not being Jimmy Saville, he had no recourse. The lie stuck to him for decades. Your notion that’s just a “difficult question”? No, it’s not.

      You mentioned Hillsborough. What if the Sun had been required by law to print a followup headline “we lied”? What if they had known that publishing a story about football fans stealing from corpses and urinating on emergency workers would have led to their public humiliation unless they were sure they had the facts right (which a mere viewing of the “Match of the Day” video record would have told them, they didn’t).

      The instance that everyone harks back to in justifying the Mail’s licence to print lies is the “Murderers” headline in the Stephen Lawrence case. In that instance, the Mail was printing the truth. But it was the same tactic they routinely use: the young men they accused so publicly were young men who could not have afforded to sue the Mail for libel.

      • But you cannot have it both ways. Supposing that a regulator had existed around the time of the “Murderers” headline: since Lawrence’s murderers had been cleared by the courts, the regulator would have most likely decided in their favour. Cue the front page apology and the end of any further press investigation into the murderers.

        You are right to complain about access to the courts/legal aid… but only up to a point. Libel laws have tended to suppress journalism and free speech in this country – rolling them out to the middle class could have terrible consequences. By the end of the Fringe, a theatre reviewer like myself could be facing dozens of lawsuits from disgruntled playwrights and actors. I might have to flee the country.

        Btw I’m pretty sure that implementing the Leveson Report is a devolved issue in Scotland.

        • I don’t want it both ways.

          I admire Doreen Lawrence enormously, and I appreciate she has reason to appreciate what the Daily Mail did for the murder investigation of her son.

          But no: I don’t think it’s right for a national newspaper to print headlined lies about people. Do you know how many unsolved homicides there are each year? Why should any national newspaper be encouraged to print headlines about the person or people they think committed the crime?

          You are right to complain about access to the courts/legal aid… but only up to a point. Libel laws have tended to suppress journalism and free speech in this country – rolling them out to the middle class could have terrible consequences.

          It doesn;t even occur to you – not for a moment – that tabloid newspapers also print lies and ridicule about working class people too? They do. And someone in a working-class-type job is even more vulnerable to losing their job and potentially their home – all because a national newspaper decided a distortion was more “newsy” than the actual facts.

          The point of reforming the libel laws isn’t to protect newspapers’ right to lie, as “free press” seems to mean these days: it’s to protect anybody from vicious lies told about them. To defend themselves, the publisher should have to show evidence that what they printed was factual – and, to a certain extent, that it is “in the public interest”. Winning the case should not depend on who has the money/power to bring the best lawyer, but who has the facts on their side – and “public interest” should have a narrower definition than “it’s juicy news, the public will be interested”.

          By the end of the Fringe, a theatre reviewer like myself could be facing dozens of lawsuits from disgruntled playwrights and actors. I might have to flee the country.

          Are you in the habit of publishing untruthful juicy details about playwrights and actors that you think will make your reviews more “newsy”? You’re a very bad reviewer, then….

          (And yes, implementing the Leveson report is a devolved matter, and there seems little doubt that Alex Salmond will not want to offend the rich men on whom he depends for press support.)

          • Why should any national newspaper be encouraged to print headlines about the person or people they think committed the crime? Good news for Tony Blair – headlines about him being a mass-murderer or a war criminal could soon be followed by speedy apologies.

            You’re on such dodgy ground but unless you the “facts” always get increasingly slippery. Supposing that I review a play about rape in Congo, and claim that the playwright is a racist – in presenting a Victorian view of sexually-insatiable African men. If the playwright sues me for defamation (to call somebody a racist is a pretty serious allegation), they would claim that I had got the facts wrong. The play was never intended to be racist. I would claim that they were subconsciously racist, they would counter that this has no basis in fact…

            In a normal democratic society, the readers would decide what the facts are – not a court, or a regulator, or some unelected figure.

          • Good news for Tony Blair – headlines about him being a mass-murderer or a war criminal could soon be followed by speedy apologies.

            Interesting. Can you cite me – screen grab if possible, date and name of publication if not – where you have seen, headlined in a national UK newspaper, naming Tony Blair as mass murderer and war criminal?

            The reason I ask is that I’m not aware that any national publication has done so – not even Private Eye. Which one do you say has done this?

            Supposing that I review a play about rape in Congo, and claim that the playwright is a racist – in presenting a Victorian view of sexually-insatiable African men. If the playwright sues me for defamation (to call somebody a racist is a pretty serious allegation), they would claim that I had got the facts wrong. The play was never intended to be racist

            Well, that’s an interesting way to look at it. You’re afraid that press regulation would be used to silence unwelcome opinions, and you are unconcerned that unregulated press already silences unwelcome opinions: you are also unconcerned with people getting monstered by the tabloid press, presumably because you have never personally known anyone who was so monstered, and I have.

    • Because in a democracy, you tend to trust the people – not some unelected, unaccountable regulator – to decide which political parties are in power and which newspapers remain solvent.

      Your notion is that Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere, the Barclay Brothers, Richard Desmond, are “the people” whom we should trust? No one elected them: they are accountable to no one. Why should I trust this handful of hugely rich men to decide which political parties are in power or which newspapers remain solvent?

      • Um, their readers decide whether they remain solvent, when deciding whether to buy them. This is why I dislike attacks on “press barons” so much: its attacking ordinary people by proxy. There’s an implied picture of ordinary people slavishly reading their newspapers, believing everything that’s written in them, and then being brainwashed into voting for who Rupert Murdoch wants. This is an anti-democratic fantasy. Life just simply isn’t like that.

        • Actually, it’s the advertisers – especially at the low-priced end of the newspaper market – who decide whether the papers remain solvent. True, advertisers look at circulation figures, but circulation figures get bumped up by all sorts of tricks, including just flat giving the paper away for free.

          Part of the Ruthermore press empire is the Metro, which is quite literally given away for free. Another large part is the Mail Online website, which brings in advertising revenue with every click, and it’s quite clear that they operate at least partly by wanting to cause mass outrage: it is a matter of indifference whether click-revenue is brought in by people who like the story or who loathe it.

          This is an anti-democratic fantasy. Life just simply isn’t like that

          Everyone reads some news stories with critical attention and will have a good idea of their truth value. Everyone takes in some news stories in passing without any critical attention and will tend to assume there’s a basis of fact on which the news outlet has put its spin. That’s just how it is. I’m conscious of this myself – there are areas of the news which I don’t pay critical attention to and won’t have the least idea of the truth value of any individual story that I look at in passing. (Example on this blog: I asked a friend to write up a blog post about the Rangers thing, because he’d followed the news on that with critical attention, and I hadn’t.)

          Which stories a reader pays critical attention to depends on their area of interest. The notion that everyone reads every story with the exact same critical attention is not “democratic”: it’s just false.

          For well over seventy years – George Orwell wrote an essay about this sometime in the early 1940s, Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote an uncomfortable short story about it in a feminist journal thirty years earlier – the habit of many daily newspapers of dropping in untruthful stories or uncomfirmable rumour as if factual, just because they’re “newsy”, and they fill a column: This habit makes a lot of money for a very few people. Those who defend this system on the grounds of this being what the “ordinary reader” wants to read, are really being far more insulting to the “ordinary reader” than any supporter of Hacked Off.

          And again: the less power you have, the less money, the less “voice”, the less ability you ever have to make your voice heard to correct lies told about you in the national press. The families and friends and survivors of Hillsborough had no power to correct the Sun’s lies: they too were once “ordinary readers” until they discovered in what contempt the press barons held them.

          • Well, in the case of Hillsborough the people of Liverpool did have the power: they ran the Sun out of the city, and Murdoch’s empire was made somewhat smaller. This is also a bad example because I doubt that between us we have ever met anybody who blamed the fans for what happened. It was self-evident that the police were to blame before, during, and after the disaster (it was self-evident to me and I was a child at the time). To anybody with any common sense, the Sun’s lies were self-evidently propaganda – insulting, but not believable.

            I cannot imagine George Orwell agreeing to press regulation even under torture. Oh but doesn’t Napoleon introduce press regulation amongst the hens in Animal Farm?

          • Well, in the case of Hillsborough the people of Liverpool did have the power: they ran the Sun out of the city, and Murdoch’s empire was made somewhat smaller.

            Oh well, so your view is that the Hillsborough survivors, family, and friends just shouldn’t have cared that the Sun published lies about them? Because in your view they had the power?

            This is also a bad example because I doubt that between us we have ever met anybody who blamed the fans for what happened.

            Well, you may have led that kind of sheltered life, but yeah, of course I have. Most people outside Liverpool have. If you’d read any personal accounts by survivors, you’d know that they have, too.

            To anybody with any common sense, the Sun’s lies were self-evidently propaganda – insulting, but not believable.

            Sounds like you have extreme contempt for “ordinary readers”, if you assume that none of them have any common sense.

            I cannot imagine George Orwell agreeing to press regulation even under torture.

            George Orwell does seem to have become a flat icon of the left, cited to prove their beliefs without concern for what a real, upper-class white male socialist born in 1903 actually thought. Orwell’s writings on the issue of press freedom and government controls during wartime are complex, interesting, and thoughtful. I have no idea how he would have reacted to Leveson, though I would have been fascinated to read whatever he wrote, but I can say that I’m pretty sure he’d not have had much time for your naive presentation of press barons as men for the “ordinary reader”.

            I have, incidentally, read every single word of non-fiction that George Orwell wrote that was ever published. Animal Farm and the other novels too, obviously, but Orwell was a lot more than Animal Farm…

  2. Sorry to keep coming back – I shall give up after this and leave you with the last word.

    I don’t assume that ordinary readers have no common sense – you’re supposed to be arguing this, and indeed your side of the argument has invested everything in this idea. Re my naive representation of press barons as men for the ordinary people, you can’t get around the fact that millions of ordinary people have made Murdoch etc press barons by giving them their money (mostly as you say through attracting advertising revenue). It is a very inconvenient fact for the Left that we have never achieved our own socialist alternative to the Sun, but at least I recognise that this is our failure (ie. us on the Left) and not the fault of ordinary people who are largely turned off by our ideas (so far).

    As for providing an example of a headline which calls Tony Blair a war criminal, I have not memorised every single headline published since the Iraq war. I wish I had now.

    If you have read every non-fiction word that George Orwell ever wrote, I am green with envy.

    The difference between us is this: you think that ordiinary people cannot be trusted with a free press. They cannot be trusted to interpret their newspapers and work out what is true. If newspapers “monster” somebody then ordinary people have been unleashed as well, presumably following in the monstrous footsteps. Hence, some benign, paternalistic regulator – naturally unelected – has to intervene to establish the facts.

    For somebody who is so prolifically devoted to feminism, you’re not supposed to be a paternalist. The clue is in the title.

    • I don’t assume that ordinary readers have no common sense

      You asserted that no one with “common sense” would believe the Sun’s story of football fans urinating on rescue workers, etc. Yet, if you’d bothered to read the personal accounts of Hillsborough survivors, you’d know that many ordinary readers of the Sun did believe it. You evidently don’t regard the testimony of Hillsborough survivors as worth reading, and you dismiss the ordinary readers of the Sun who believed the story as lacking common sense. I’d say your arrogance is astonishing, but anyone who thinks press barons are representative of ordinary people is either naive or wants a job.

      As for providing an example of a headline which calls Tony Blair a war criminal, I have not memorised every single headline published since the Iraq war. I wish I had now.

      I do not recall a single headline, in any national paper, which did so. And nor, apparently, do you.

      Re my naive representation of press barons as men for the ordinary people, you can’t get around the fact that millions of ordinary people have made Murdoch etc press barons by giving them their money

      Indeed. By that standard, we should all support the Sun over the BBC.

      The difference between us is this: you think that ordiinary people cannot be trusted with a free press.

      Nope. I also believe in a free press. I just don’t define “free press” as “a handful of very rich men”. The real difference between us is this: You think press barons can be trusted, and it doesn’t matter if they print damaging lies about ordinary people. I think that belief is exactly what the press barons want you to think, and you’ve absorbed it from what they’ve published telling you so. Yes, I think you lack common sense – and empathy.

      If you have read every non-fiction word that George Orwell ever wrote, I am green with envy.

      My dad owns the six-volume set of his non-fiction writing. I’ve actually read my way through it more than once.

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