Why the Daily Mail is bad for the newspaper industry

Someone wrote in a while back asking if — and why — we (ie me) had it in for the Daily Mail. Lacking evidence, I backtracked a little; I don’t want to be upsetting the customers after all.

But now some facts have appeared, confirming my prejudice, which demonstrate that my opinions are, in fact, rational. It’s like reputable garages trying to distance themselves from their peers who invent work that needs to be done, and then overcharge.

Brian Cathcart, a professor of journalism and founder of the Hacked Off campaign, recently unearthed the numbers of breaches of the Press Complaints Commission code, and which companies were the most frequent offenders.

Heading the list at 1,214 complaints was the Daily Mail, with almost double the complaints made against the Sun (638), which attracted twice as many complaints as the paper at number three, the  Daily Telegraph (300).

If you read the Daily Mail, you are perhaps not sure of how it goes about things. So here is an example.

On 31st December last year it carried a story claiming that buses and planes to the UK from Bulgaria and Romania were sold out as, it implied, Johnny Foreigner flocked over to claim benefits.

Its headline was “Sold out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK”.

But when Jon Danzig, formerly an investigative journalist at the BBC, looked into this, he found out that it was, more or less, made up.

For example, the Daily Mail claimed that Wizz Air had doubled flights from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK — but the airline said this was not true. Moreover, seats were available every day from Sofia and Bucharest to London. British Airways made the point that the festive period is naturally busy anyway.

In its response to Mr Danzig, the Daily Mail hinted that it took the truth as a variable, saying: “The article did not suggest that easyJet traffic had increased, only that airlines were almost booked out, which easyJet is.”

So it has told the truth – that easyJet was booked out – but implied that this was because of a sudden influx of Romanians and Bulgarians, rather than just that easyJet was always booked up.

The Daily Mail also “spoke” to a manager at a Bulgarian bus company, Balkan Horn, who “said” that “many people wanted to travel to England . . . everything is booked up”.

But when contacted by Mr Danzig, Balkan Horn denied a reporter had spoken to the company. And even if this had been the case, it would not have said everything was booked up — because it was not.

All this may seem petty complaining from a small weekly paper that is of little relevance. But it is not petty complaining.

First, the editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, was influential in the Press Complaints Commission. One of the three directors of the company that owns the PCC’s planned successor, IPSO, is Peter Wright, of the Daily Mail

Thus far the Chronicle has not signed up to the new Press regulation body, IPSO, because I figure that it is being run by the same people who ran the old PCC, and they have a vested interest in nothing changing. For example, it is unlikely to ban paparazzi photos because they are a staple of the Daily Mail website. It seems to me that, after all the argy-bargy and Leveson, everything will go back to being just as it was. But I can’t be unreasonable in expecting newspapers to be discouraged from making stuff up, and when they do make it up, being forced to run a prominent apology, can I?

And secondly, the made-up, right-wing stories of the Daily Mail, are, thanks to its website, a constant source of material for racists on Facebook and other social media. Barely an hour goes by without some Daily Mail story or another, which knocks foreigners, appearing on the Chronicle Facebook page, all seized upon by racists. Yet there is a good chance that these stories are either made up, or, at best, not very accurate.

The funny thing is that a lot of the time, the right wingers are lamenting the loss of British “culture”, usually laying the blame at the door of Muslims. But the right wingers must have a pretty poor view of Britishness if they assume that it is so wishy washy it can disappear so quickly.

Other nations will proclaim, proudly, that their nationhood runs indelibly through their hearts, like writing in sticks of rock. Right wingers over here seem to think Britishness is no more sturdy than a child’s stick-on tattoo.

As for blaming Muslims: Not so long ago I went to the excellent food store, Pak, in Stoke, to stock up. Rashly, I collected only a hand basket, ending up in a long queue, sweating profusely with a toddler on one arm and a heavy basket on the other.

Seeing my plight, as if by magic, the lines to the checkout disappeared as people beckoned me to the front of the queue, and helped with the heavy load. They were lovely.

If courteousness, politeness, helpfulness and friendliness are part of Britishness, the Muslim customers of Pak have a lot to teach some of our home-grown right wingers.

** John Danzig’s article is here: http://eu-rope.ideasoneurope.eu/2014/01/09/buses-planes-bulgarians-romanians-and-the-daily-mail-an-update/

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