Tag Archives: bbc

Jo Swinson and The Telegraph: complaints, complaints, complaints

Thanks a lot to everyone for all the positive feedback I’ve had about my article this morning. By happenstance, Alix Mortimer has just asked:

Fucking disgusting. Can we get them on article 1 (accuracy) of the PCC code?

The answer, at least in my view, is yes, which is why I’ve just spent the last couple of hours writing letters of complaint to the Telegraph, the Guardian and the BBC. And I would ask you to do the same.

First off, the Telegraph. You can contact them via this page (under “What does your enquiry relate to?” select “Editorial”). My letter reads as follows:

Dear Mr Lewis,

With regards to your article “Tooth flosser, eyeliner and 29p dusters for the makeover queen” (page 6 of Daily Telegraph #47,888, Thursday 21 May 2009):

First of all, I would like to remind you of the Press Complaints Commission’s Code of Practice – of which the Daily Telegraph professes to follow:


“i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

“ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.”

The aforementioned article contains a number of misleading statements. A superficial reading of the article would lead the casual reader to assume that the record of Jo Swinson MP’s expenses claims demonstrate that she had claimed for makeup and dusters. However, a more careful reading reveals the following information:

1 – that although receipts containing those items had been submitted, there is no actual evidence that these specific items had been claimed for. Indeed, this claim is explicitly denied by Jo Swinson herself and no evidence has been brought forward to give us cause to doubt this whatsoever.

2 – furthermore, that in at least one case the items which had been claimed for were clearly marked by an asterisk. In the case of the eyeliner and dusters this was not the case.

3 – the claim that Jo Swinson is “known in Westminster for the attention she pays to her appearance” is entirely unsubstantiated and innuendo-laden. There is nothing remarkable about a Member of Parliament not wishing to look unkempt; indeed they would be open to criticism if they did so.

4 – the headline epithet “makeover queen” is equally unsubstantiated. No-one appears to have called Jo Swinson this apart from the article’s author, Rosa Prince, herself.

5 – the page design is clearly intended to convey the idea that Jo Swinson has had numerous “makeovers” – yet the photographs provided are merely pictures of her looking slightly different over a period of eight years.

The article, ostensibly about MPs’ expenses, is clearly intended to convey the impression that Jo Swinson has been buying makeup and charging taxpayers. Given that the article itself contains no evidence whatsover to indicate that this might be the case, the article is certainly misleading. Including a denial by Jo Swinson does not go anywhere near to correcting this as it works on the “no smoke without fire principle.” Furthermore, nowhere in the article do you state Jo Swinson’s impeccable record in calling for MPs’ expenses to be published and for the system to be reformed.

The ultimate effect of this article is to smear an MP with a strong track record of reform with the same brush as some of the worst offenders. This is a complete distortion.

I must ask you to publish a retraction of the article, making it clear that there is no evidence that Jo Swinson MP has claimed the cost of her makeup on expenses. If I do not receive a response from you within seven days I will take the matter further with the Press Complaints Commission.

Yours sincerely,

James Graham

The BBC’s contact page is slightly harder to find, but can be accessed here. I wrote them the following:

jo090520bbcI am writing with regard to your section on MPs expenses, and specifically your coverage of Jo Swinson MP’s alleged claims (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8047390.stm#swinson_jo).

I have already written to the Telegraph about this story (see below). Your article goes significantly further than the Telegraph article. The Telegraph at all times are careful not to actually claim that Jo Swinson MP claimed cosmetics on expenses, merely that cosmetics had appeared on receipts that had been submitted to the Fees Office (nonetheless, I would still contest that this is highly misleading – and almost certainly mislead you).

By contrast, the BBC article baldly asserts – without any substantiation whatsoever – “The Dumbartonshire [sic] East MP, the youngest in the Commons, put a series of small claims on expenses, including eyeliner, a £19.10 “tooth flosser” and 29p dusters.”

It is wholly unacceptable of the BBC to republish – and indeed embellish – claims made by a commercial newspaper without seeking to substantiate them first. This isn’t journalism, this is engaging in a game of Chinese whispers. I would therefore ask that you publish a retraction to this story, together with an apology to Jo Swinson.

If I do not hear from you within seven days, I will take this matter further with the BBC Trust.

Yours faithfully,

James Graham

PS As an aside, I should point out that Jo Swinson’s constituency is called East Dunbartonshire and that photograph you are illustrating this story with is of Alan Beith and Diane Maddock.

Finally, the Guardian are the easiest to contact of all. The Reader’s Editor page is here. I wrote them the following:

Dear Ms Butterworth,

I am writing with regard to your table on page 6 of the Guardian dated 23 May 2009. On this you include a section “cheapest claims – claims that Britain mocked”. The first item you list is “Jo Swinson: Cosmetics included in her receipts. Because she’s worth it.”

In doing so, the Guardian repeats a misleading slur that was published in the Telegraph on Thursday 21 May. On careful reading, the Telegraph article does not accuse Jo Swinson MP of claiming cosmetics on expenses, provides no evidence whatsoever to indicate that she had and the fact that she might have done has been explicitly denied by Jo Swinson herself (link). It is therefore a non-story and I have written to the editor of the Telegraph calling for him to retract it (see below).

I note that the Guardian has chosen its words in an equally selective manner, merely saying that the cosmetics were ‘included in her receipts’ not that they were actually claimed for. Unlike the Telegraph however, you do not even allow Jo Swinson a right to reply.

That the Guardian should choose to pilliory a female MP for the crime of purchasing cosmetics is particularly galling. I was under the impression that the Guardian regarded itself as a champion of feminist causes. It is certainly tempting to join in with the anti-politics throng at the moment, but that does not mean accepting every article published by the Telegraph is accurate or free of pursuing a regressive political agenda; it certainly does not mean you have to uncritically go along with explicit misogyny.

I am writing to request that you issue a retraction of this report and an apology to Jo Swinson. If I do not get a response within the next seven days, I will take this matter up with the Press Complaints Commission.

Yours sincerely,

James Graham

While I hope reprinting these letters here will be useful, if you complain please do so in your own words – it will be much more effective that way.

As an aside, the Telegraph appear to have completely lost the plot. Dizzy reports:

Nadine Dorries has seen the blog part of her website instantly taken down after she made allegations against the owners of the Telegraph Group, Sir David Barclay and Sir Frederick Barclay.

Lawyers acting for the Barclay brothers, Withers, instructed the takedown to Acidity via mail last night, citing the Acceptable User Policy. The takedown will be bolstered by the Godfrey vs Demon precendent, where an order can be made and it will be done instantly.

This is quite remarkable behaviour. It is one of the few things they could have done to make me feel even a twinge of sympathy for Nadine Dorries. Furthermore, this isn’t just a nasty bit of bullying by a precious publisher to a blogger, but to a high profile (some would argue over-exposed) MP. This is going to be big news tomorrow.

What an utterly stupid act of fuckwittery.

Nichola Fisher and the Max Clifford sausage factory

Unlike my distinctly unesteemed Assembly Member Brian Coleman, I am not in the business of claiming that a defenceless woman can somehow be in any way responsible for getting whacked round the legs by an armed policeman, and I can understand why Nichola Fisher may have felt the need to hire a publicist. But I can’t help but feel uncomfortable having watched her interview on BBC News.

It is clear that Clifford has decided to process her through his sausage factory, inside of which all his clients get a makeover so that the unaccountably all end up looking and speaking in exactly the same way. A pretty dress; hair tied back neatly; lip gloss that only seems to serve the purpose exposing her rather ragged teeth. She has been transformed from barbarian at the gates to English Rose. I think I understand the logic behind this rebranding exercise, but I surely can’t be the only one who questions whether presenting her as something she surely is not is either honest or particularly effective.

And then there is what she says. In the interview she presents herself as a total innocent. “If he had wanted me to move on, he could have asked politely” she says at one point. I’m sorry, but bollocks. She was at a protest and the film quite clearly shows her effing and blinding. I’m not for a second going to claim that she deserved getting punched and batoned to the floor, but it is quite clear she was there to cause a stink and to give the police a hard time.

Let’s not mount the victims of police violence on a pedestal. Ian Tomlinson was quite clearly not a living saint. And far from the dainty, shrinking wallflower she is currently presenting herself as, Fisher clearly knows how to look after herself. Presenting them in an idealised way is ultimately counter-productive and entirely plays to the prejudices of no marks like Letters from a Tory: specifically, that you can only be a victim of police violence if you live an entirely blameless life, dress neatly, go to bed early and behave like a model citizen (and ideally vote Conservative). Fisher doesn’t need to wash her hair to elicit my sympathy and I don’t like the implication that anyone who isn’t willing to play this media game somehow deserves what they get.

For an anti-globalisation protestor to so happily accept the services of spin in this way (regardless of whether she is making any money out of the deal or not), seems to betray a certain lack of awareness. Surely this sort of blatant media manipulation is the sort of thing she was protesting against?

A final word on Carol Thatcher

I haven’t been able to avoid this story in the way that I would have wished. One thing that I’ve been wondering about this whole debacle is: why didn’t the BBC insist on Thatcher doing race sensitivity training?

It’s a serious question. It is now clear that she was referring to a black man and not Andy Murray and that being the case, there is no question whatsoever that it was a racist and unacceptable remark. That is not the same thing however as saying that Thatcher herself is racist. Meral Ece, herself justifiably rather intolerant of the special pleading brigade, makes the following point which I think is crucial:

What may have been acceptable 40 years ago, is not anymore. As the ‘Paki-gate, and Sooty-gate’ episodes, and now this, demonstrate that some sections of the privileged classes in British society seem to be living in the era of the Black & White Minstrel Show – hugely popular in its time.

Taking no action whatsoever would have been clearly unacceptable, but I remain unconvinced that simply sacking her was the answer. The resultant row hasn’t changed a single mind about racism and it has degenerated into a partisan spat. The only tangible effect has been to bring back a term that I for one hadn’t heard for years – and you can bet it is now doing the rounds on the school playgrounds. What has burning the witch actually achieved?

By contrast, forcing her to go on a course – possibly at her own expense (or rather, taken out of her own pay) – would have been far more difficult a prospect for those who rushed to Thatcher’s defence to object to. She might well have learned something. And if she had refused to go on the course, she’d have looked very silly indeed. Wouldn’t it have been a more proportionate, and ultimately productive, response?

Finally, let me give the last word to Iain Dale. I try not to make a habit of being nice about Iain, but Derek Draper’s hounding of him over the past few days verged on the bullying, and he makes an extremely astute point here:

Draper’s crowd should be proud of themselves. They rail against imagined racism, yet introduce laws which allow muslim women to be traduced like this.

That Thatchgate, names-for-tennis-players scandal

This week, Charlie Brooker gave the world the New Media Dictionary. For me, the most memorable term described in this list is this:

nowtrage (nowt-rage) n. Lame and unconvincing tabloid outrage designed to create a self-perpetuating storm of controversy. Also, nowtrageous (adj); eg: “This Jonathan Ross pensioner sex-joke story in the News of the World is embarrassingly nowtrageous.”

Two days later and we are in the grip of “Thatchgate” – yet another example of the collective nervous breakdown that is currently going on inside Auntie Beeb.

My first reaction to this story was “ooh, doesn’t Mark Stephens’ hair make him look like a…” (one of the things that bugs me the most about this story is that people are now running around using the offending word as if there was no tomorrow, just as the Prince Harry incident a few weeks ago suddenly made it okay to mention the word “Paki” every thirty seconds). In fact, I nearly blogged to this effect last night. I have since learned that even having that casual thought, let alone blogging about it, is enough to render me an unforgiveable racist, even though it doesn’t involve holding any view about any black people at all. Merely having seen a jar of marmalade in my youth is enough. Bring on the scarlet letter.

This morning Iain Dale made a perfectly valid defence of Carole Thatcher on the Today programme. At the heart of his argument was that she was referring to Andy Murray’s hair. It turns out that was not the case, which is clearly a problem for him. Yet for even attempting to defend her, LabourList has branded him “racist” and declared that “it is up to him to clear his name.” Thoughtcrime is not enough – now we are in the territory of presumed guilt until proven innocent.

I’m not in the business of defending Thatcher or denouncing the BBC. To do that would involve researching this story in a lot more detail than I consider to be sane. I am a little concerned however that the only meaningful contribution Derek Draper seems to want to add to public political discourse is to import the lowliest of gutter journalist values into the blogosphere. And it was pretty near the bottom to start with.

The problem is, I get the impression that he loves it. My first encounter of him was back in 1997. At the height of his glories as a Mandelson staffer and before “Drapergate” he came to address the Manchester Student Labour Club (I seem to recall him having a book out at the time). His single most wistful anecdote that he recalled of his student days was being dangled out of a second storey window by a bunch of Socialist Worker types, having enraged them to such an extent that they were willing to contemplate actual murder. I got the impression then that those were the moments he lives for. Twelve years later and I suspect I was right.

People like that are bad news for politics, whichever side of the fence you are sitting. The sad thing is that a lot of relatively respectable Labour people seem to have thrown their lot in with him with this LabourList adventure – the exact sort of people who like to whinge endlessly about how awful Mandelson and Ali Campbell were (but did nothing about it then).

If this sort of thing is really what it takes for Labour to win a fourth term then on no account should they be permitted to do so. My suspicion though is that it will backfire spectacularly before the election is called.

Those of you currently on LabourList might want to consider jumping ship before the captain decides to play chicken with an iceberg. Feel free to ignore me.

Heretical Thinking

Sue Blackmore reports on a pledge which I hadn’t heard of but certainly will comply with, undertaking to write to the BBC and request that they allow atheists, humanists and “brights” (sorry, cannot bring myself to use that term unironically) to speak on Thought for the Day.

The difference between Blackmore’s sensible approach, and the rather more incendiary wording of the pledge itself, is what I’m getting at when I express my wariness about “new” atheism. I’m all for forthright views, but not angry ones. The Atheist Bus Campaign is great because, fundamentally, it is a lighthearted response to something quite genuinely offensive. Blackmore’s emphasis is not on banning Thought for the Day but expanding it – and in the process appraising what it is there to do.

Torchwood and the Gay Agenda

Never mind Iain Dale’s Gaygate, I spotted an article about the latest series of Torchwood in which the author, John Scott Lewinski (any relation?), has this spot of wisdom:

And, in case fans weren’t aware, Torchwood boss Captain Jack Harkness (pictured) evidently has occasional homosexual tendencies — as does actor John Barrowman. This reporter wasn’t sure if folks had picked up on that subtle plot point communicated in the show’s whispered subtext during the two previous seasons. That fact seems to eclipse what has become a very good sci-fi show.

Assuming this is sarcasm, WTF? The “gayness” has always been an integral part of Torchwood. If sex has, on occasion, got in the way of good plotting, it hasn’t actually been Captain Jack’s “gayness” – indeed he is the only character whose sexuality hasn’t been annoying in the show.

How on Earth can someone tut about the occasional angst-free gay snog, while ignoring the fact that the series was almost destroyed by Gwen and Owen’s disastrous (and conveniently forgotten about) fling in the first season? Indeed, the ugly sex that has marred the series on occasion has almost entirely been heterosexual. You could make the claim that it is heterophobic (I think it was more a case of trying too hard), you could even make the claim that Barrowman’s scenery chewing has got in the way. But Captain Jack’s omnisexuality is one of the few things the series has got right.

Incidentally, you can still support John Barrowman’s penis on Facebook. Stick it to the Daily Mail!

Strictly correct

This article is entirely uninteresting. I only stumbled across it by chance. But one thing about it did excite me: at the bottom there is the following statement:

An earlier version of this story mistakenly suggested that British programmes were responsible for 53% of global television output. The figure actually relates to the increase in sales of British format ideas.

So what you might say. The BBC made a mistake, happens every day. So what? The BBC made a mistake and acknowledged it, instead of simply changing it and airbrushing the mistake out of history.

Is this a one-off or a change in policy? I’ve not noticed any other acknowledgements like this.

It may be sad to get excited by this, but the BBC’s practice of maintaining they are always right, at all times, even when they are totally wrong, is one of the main things that enrages me about it. I’m delighted that after all the Stalinist airbrushings, we are finally starting to see a chink of glastnost.

See also Mark Pack’s take on bloggers’ reporting standards versus traditional media.

Charlie Brooker says it for me.

If I had had an opportunity over the weekend, I was planning to write an essay on my view of the whole Russell Brand / Jonathan Ross episode. Having read Charlie Brooker this morning however, I now realise I don’t need to:

The sad, likely outcome of this pitiful gitstorm is an increase in BBC jumpiness. I have a vested interest in this, of course, because I’ve just started work on the next series of my BBC4 show Screen Wipe, on which we sometimes sail close to the wind. In the past, the BBC has occasionally stepped in to nix the odd line that oversteps the mark – as it should do, when parameters aren’t out of whack.

But when the Beeb’s under fire, those parameters can change. Last year, following the “fakery” scandals, we recorded a trailer for the series in which I mocked a BBC4 ident featuring footage of seagulls, by fooling around with a plastic seagull on a stick and muttering about how you couldn’t trust anything on TV any more. Pure Crackerjack. But suddenly it couldn’t be transmitted, due to “the current climate”. So God knows how restrictive things might get over the coming months.

Read it all here.

Jewel of Medina pledge update: should trash be burnt?

My pledge to buy the Jewel of Medina is just one signatory away from being fulfilled, so if you haven’t already signed up, please do.

Since I launched the pledge, the publishers Gibson Square have postponed the publication of the book indefinitely, which means that the firebombers may have won. Shelina Zahra Janmohamed has also written a review of the book on the BBC Magazine.

In Shelina’s view, the book is a bodice-ripping yawn. Having read the book, I will defer to her judgement. But trash deserves the right to be published as much as quality literature. Get the trash taken off the shelves and the quality will follow. And is Islam really so fragile to be vulnerable to shallow nonsense? To be fair on Shelina, she doesn’t suggest otherwise and doesn’t call for the book for be banned. She is right to say that “If our society upholds the right to offend, then the right to be offended goes with it.” The problem is, too many people want a right not to be offended.

In my view, if you value freedom of speech and have enough spare income to afford it, you have a moral duty to buy any book under threat, no matter how dreadful it may or may not be. The book itself is meaningless, it is the precedent that is important. Can I get one more person who feels the same way before the end of the month? More to the point, can I get anyone else to set up more pledges like it?

Finally, note how spineless the BBC are – the picture of a woman reading the book accompanying Shelina’s article carries the disclaimer “Picture posed by a model” as if it would be uneccessarily inflammatory to have a picture of an actual person actually reading. Yet of course, Shelina herself has read the book, so it is completely nonsensical anyway.