Sunday, July 11, 2010

Why you should not cite British Tabloids as a sound source of news.

Every once in a while I see the British Tabloids cited on a blog as a source of information. This usually makes me wince, particularly if the blog is hosted by an American. It also makes me resolve to be very careful about the sources I, in my turn, find on google. It is a timely reminder, as if one were needed, that just because something is on the INTERNET, does not mean that it is either true or accurate. What, for instance would one make of this?

For those who did not know before, the Daily Mail is not known for either its objectivity or its commitment to accurate reporting. It is Britain’s version of Fox News but with a higher reading age.

I offer you the following salutary tale with grateful thanks to those wonderful folk on BBC Radio 4’s The Now Show.

Now there was fury in the tabloids this week and for once it seemed like maybe they had a point. The Sun’s headline was “Pool Blacked out for Muslim swim” The Express had “Swimming pool blacked out to appease Muslims” The Mail led with: “Swimmers plunged into dark after council covers swimming pool windows”

Now I like to think of myself as fairly inclusive and tolerant but I agree that does sound a bit much. I mean it is slightly surprising that apparently there aren’t any electric lights at the pool, but even if there are and “plunged into darkness” is a tiny, forgivable exaggeration, it is genuinely bad enough that all that natural light has been blocked out as we can be sure that it has because the Mail and the Mirror both said

“All 250 windows had been blacked out.”

In which case I can only agree with John Ewart, 63, who, when interviewed in The Mail said “The whole thing smacks of political correctness gone stark raving mad.” and who, when interviewed in The Sun said, “The whole thing smacks of political correctness gone stark raving mad.” and who, when interviewed in the Express said “The whole thing…”
Well let’s just say he remained consistent.

As did Pauline Pool when she told all the papers in identical words how much she had been: “Looking forward to watching the lovely trees while swimming.” Fair enough. Who doesn’t go swimming to look at the lovely trees?

It is a bit funny that all the reporters got exactly the same quotes. It’s almost as if they just blindly reprinted the story that appeared in the local paper the day before. I can’t believe that, at least not of the Express given that they made this story their front page headline:

Muslims force pool cover up

Those pesky Muslims; that lunatic council making old ladies swim in the dark and taking away Pauline’s lovely trees.

The Daily Express went on to write about how the council “covered ground level windows with opaque film.”

Honestly these councils, they just … sorry? Hold on: ground floor windows? Opaque film? Is that the same as blacked out? Hold on Daily Express. Can you clarify?

“Regular users of the pool are furious that the tinted windows ….”

Tinted? The ground floor windows had been tinted? Isn’t that what all swimming pools with ground floor windows do? It doesn’t sound quite the same as Muslims forcing grannies to swim in the dark. I mean, I’m assuming that it was at least those uppity Muslims that made it happen right?

“The complaints had come mostly from the Muslim community … but non-Muslim women had also objected.”

Right, so this fiendish and indefensible window tinting was done after complaints from Muslims and non-Muslims – or to put it another way: people.

And if, like the excellent Tabloid-Watch website you then find a statement from Walsall Council, you discover that what actually happened is that 58 of the 250 window panels on the pool’s floor to ceiling glass wall have been covered with a translucent film that allows in natural light and this was done “for all members of the community and not for any specific group”, because as Chris Holliday, Head of Leisure and Culture, rather poignantly pointed out “Not everyone is confident in their speedos.” Don’t worry Chris, no ones looking. And indeed no one has ever been looking because “a previous modesty barrier made of fabric within the original design had suffered damage and in places had been pulled down." So this story, which you will remember started out as “Swimming pool blacked out to appease Muslims” actually boils down to “Council replace fabric screen with transparent film” Or in other words “Nothing happened.” And then the Daily Express, seeing the opportunity for a headline that would particularly incense its readers, ran it on the front page and deliberately misled their readers into picturing Abu Hamza strolling into Walsall with 5 gallons of black paint swinging from his belt. And true enough the comments pages are now full of outrage and resentment at this fictional event. From Miss Culture from Belfast who suggests

“Local Men should turn up with ladders, stand at the windows and make a point of staring at these women.”

Yes they should definitely do that. That would make everything better. You’re like a latter day Solomon.

And then there’s M. Davies of Wales who said: “I would suggest the local electorate protest wildly.”

Yes, definitely. Sometimes you just have to take a stand. Rage, rage against the tinting of the light.”