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Spanners in the media's misinformation works

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Posted on September 07th 2011

We managed to get a correction, on an important detail, made by The Daily Mail to a piece they published earlier this year. They’d run an article bemoaning the case of a family of refugees living in a large house (there were ten in the family) paid for by housing benefit. Crucially, they referred to the family as asylum seekers, in the headline and in the body of the article, and thus contributed to the on-going demonization of asylum seekers – being a drain on public resources. It might seem a small correction to make – changing the words “asylum seekers” to “refugees” - but its important to make the distinction between people asking for asylum and those who have been through the exacting legal process to gain refugee status, where there is no doubting the merits of their claim. Certain newspapers have so frequently used the word “bogus” as a prefix to “asylum seeker(s)” so much there is an instant association in many people’s minds. As our friends at the Refugee Council have pointed out, there is no such thing as a bogus asylum seeker. Weaponry The use of language, previously examined elsewhere on this site, is one of the main weapons in the anti-immigration camp. The other is simple misinformation and the wilful misinterpretation of data (often statistics) to bolster their case. Take the recent article on employment figures in the Mail, eloquently answered by Matt Cavanagh in The Spectator. Many, if not most, of these transgressions of journalistic integrity go unchallenged. We’ve grown used to them, it seems like too much hassle to kick up about them, that complaining won’t make any difference... The excuses for not taking a stand are numerous. It is high time, however, that these excuses are put to one side and challenges are made to this comfortable and easily won hegemony enjoyed by the Government and a large part of the media. Perhaps this may help:


The first thing you should do is contact the paper / media outlet that you feel has offended. By all means write something in the comments thread relating to the offending article, but despite the appearance of wanting to hear what readers think in moderated comments threads, newspaper websites are designed for one way traffic, from the editorial team to your brain, and not vice versa. Best, then, to pop a letter in the post or send an email: • Daily Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT • Daily Express / Daily Star, Northern & Shell Building, 10 Lower Thames Street, London EC3R 6EN. Online editor: Sun / The Times, 3 Thomas Moore Square, London E98 1XY • The Telegraph welcome phone calls of complaint. Ring their customer services on 0800 316 6977. • The Guardian / Observer both have readers’ editors for dealing with complaints and corrections: Chris Elliott -, Stephen Pritchard • The Independent Print Edition: 2 Derry Street London W8 5HF or Online editor: Local papers are very well worth complaining to, should the need arise, contact details are usually more readily available from their website. Your complaint Refer to the article, the date of it, whether the article was in the print edition or online and detail your complaint as concisely as possible. Keep political comment out, sarcasm is similarly out of place, be sure to be polite. State that if you do not hear back from them in (say) 14 days, you will be complaining to the Press Complaints Commission. If they do not respond – or their response is unsatisfactory – it’s time to turn to the next level… Much has been written about the toothlessness of the PCC, but it’s all we’ve got. Making a complaint to them is not difficult, and they are very good at communicating, and being seen to be acting on your concerns. There’s a pretty straight forward form on their website to fill in, refer to the part of the Editors’ Code of Practice that the article has broken, and make sure you give as much information as possible. Be thorough, be politically neutral, be polite. To their shame, the Express and Star newspapers have opted out of the PCC, which really does bring their status as 'newspapers' in to doubt, so there's no point in taking complaints against them  to the PCC.   Corresponding They do like to correspond (with both complainer and transgressor) – be on the ball about getting back to them promptly, it will help to mount he pressure and workload on the editor you’re complaining to. One complaint, even a successful one does not change the environment we are working in. Indeed, the Daily Mail and other newspapers have repeated the mistake since the original article (but corrected it before we got a complaint in – see, there is an effect!). Just yesterday, the Mail referred to asylum seekers in the title of this piece, but not in the article for reasons similar to previous instances. The hope When journalists and editors realise there are people scrutinising their work and are ready to make a fuss, creating more work and bureaucracy for them, maybe - just maybe - we will see a time when the newspapers do not show such a disrespectful and dangerous attitude to some of the people in this country that least deserve it. Let us know if you put a complaint in - and what happens subsequently. And finally, it's worth having a look at the website of the Media Standards Trust for more info on this kind of thing.

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