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A study in distortion - how The Sun twists the figures

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Posted on June 01st 2011

 A particularly inflammatory article appeared in yesterday’s edition of The Sun. They don’t deserve the internet traffic, but here’s a link. “Third of rapists and killers ‘are foreign’” claims the headline. There follows a short article which is so full of contradiction that there might be some world record threatened. The article reads: “Immigrants make up a THIRD of murder suspects and alleged rapists in a string of areas, shock new figures reveal.”  Here the article introduces words such as “suspects” and “alleged” in the very first sentence which changes the inference within the headline to something quite different. “A string of areas” is different to the general non-specific geography of the headline, but we’ll come back to the areas involved. Misleading“And one in seven of all people accused of these crimes in the UK as a whole is a foreign national” reads the second sentence. It begs the question why did the writer of the article use  the words “Third” instead of “Seventh” in the headline? The fourth sentence gets onto the murder stats. “Four forces each had 33 per cent of non-UK murder suspects – Kent, Lincolnshire and Tayside and Fife in Scotland”. The article begins to refer to figures and facts. A helpful table on the website tells us how many foreign murder suspects there are in Kent - two. Lincolnshire has more - five suspects. It must be noted that the area of Tayside & Fife has been inconveniently left out of the table, but I suspect there’s not a lot more on the suspects list than in Kent. The string of areas, therefore, consists of the three counties listed above, and are joined by another crime hotspot: Cambridgeshire. “Cambridgeshire had an astonishing 57 per cent of murder suspects of foreign origin” the article continues. Well yes, 4 is indeed 57% of 7. But to extrapolate a headline figure out of samples so small would make any self-respecting statistician shudder. The figures on rape are even further from the headline’s inference than those of murder. The highest single area of non-UK rape suspects is Metropolitan (London) with 32% of rape suspects being from overseas - meaning that nowhere in the UK is there a police region with a third of rape suspects being non-UK. Tricks Two journalistic tricks then ensue. Firstly, a UKIP MEP is invited to comment. Gerard Batten steps up with “The figures demonstrate the high proportion of crime that is the result of uncontrolled immigration.” No they don’t, Gerard, these figures demonstrate the journalist’s lack of understanding of statistics and eagerness to turn out a sensationalist and inflammatory headline. The second trick is to tack on a link to a bad example of an immigrant who murdered someone “Dwayne Cupidon, 35, is one of the most vicious illegal immigrant murderers” - maybe he is, but he’s been in prison for more than a year and will not be released for another twenty six. Its quite clear that The Sun use his example to scare the populace over immigration, It also allows a chance for a surly looking black face to be printed besides a misleading headline on crime and immigration. The article spectacularly misses the chance to look the statistical breakdown of the origins of the victims of such crimes, but that would only serve to engender sympathy for migrants. Racism Cue the comments. They include everything from calls to bring back the death penalty to vote for the BNP, denouncements of Labour’s immigration policies and withdrawal from the EU. You almost get the feeling of acceptance of UK born murderers and rapists (85.7% of the total), but rejection of the foreign ones (14.3%). But journalist David Lowe has achieved his objective, racist emotions of some parts of  The Sun's readership have been provoked once more. The words ‘murder’ and ‘rape’ have been heavily associated with ‘immigration’, and the comments reflect the healthy state of xenophobia and racism amongst parts of the readership. Perhaps the classiest comment comes from a migrant “I'm so glad I don't live in the UK any more. […] It had been my intention to retire back in the UK but stories like this just make me want to stay here.” writes blaster4, the irony seemingly absent from his comment. There are a few progressive comments which concur with parts of what is contained in this article. There’s the hope - people who read through some of this bile can still think clearly.

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