Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ah, the Tabloids, bless them!

Some weeks ago I tried to explain to an American blogger the hierarchy of the British press in terms of political leaning, bias and reliability. I don't particularly have a problem with political bias, after all there is more than one perspective on party politics and so, armed with the knowledge of the editorial stance of these papers, I would have no problem reading The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian or the Independent and their Sunday editions. I would join many people in describing these papers as the "quality" press.

It is below these - often well below these - that the problems start and I often berate my students for their lamentable knowledge of current affairs.

Do you read a newspaper?

All too often the answer is in the negative. Those whose parents do regularly buy a national daily or Sunday edition tend to go largely, it seems, for the tabloids. They express amazement when I tell them that I can predict what party their parents vote for and what stance they will take on a variety of current issues based on their newspaper of choice. I have always been right. Too often in the classroom I can hear their parents talking and talking through the headlines and editorial position of their newspapers.

My response to my American friend arose out of trying to make a comparison between British and American news outlets. The same rule that I apply to my pupils can be applied to American bloggers in their choice of which British papers they cite in support of their position. If I see a Daily Mail article used as evidence against global warming, for instance, or The Star cited in a diatribe against Islam as another example I can safely assume I am dealing with a Republican.

At risk of upsetting many British newspaper readers (including my mother who reads the Daily Mail - for the crossword allegedly) I try to point out that these and the Sun, The News of the World, the People and the Daily Express are not good or credible sources of objective information. The comparison to Fox News springs to mind. Objectivity is not the primary objective and, after all, why let factual inaccuracy and downright misinformation get in the way of a good journalistic rant?

I have become increasingly aware of the liberties some of our media outlets take with the truth of late, particularly following one episode of Radio 4's The Now Show. See this recent post

This morning on the Sunday Programme (thank you God for BBC Radio 4) there was an interesting article on a youth camp for British Muslim teenagers which has the aim of turning Muslim youth from Islamist extremism. The camp is run by Dr Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, who has written a 600 page Fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombing. Sadly none of the usual suspects feels that this is a story worthy of publishing.

What we have had recently are headlines like This Note the phrase The Muslim Council of Britain confirmed that music lessons are likely to be “unacceptable” to 10% of Muslims. Now not only does the Star not specify that the Muslim Council of Great Britain does not support the view, but it pointedly says nothing about the 90% of Muslims who have no problem with it. Good grief, if only 10% of Christians I have met belonged to the lunatic fringe I'd think the rapture was due.

And then you get the story at the top of the post - no not Naomi (don't get me started on that empty headed princess!). This is the story where British children are being forced to eat Halal meat. Where to start? All meat is slaughtered. If you don't like this fact you are probably already a vegetarian. If you eat meat you probably couldn't tell whether meat was slaughtered according to Halal, Kosher or other means. If you're a meat eater you're a meat eater. What on earth do people think Halal meat is, something sacrificed to Satan and dipped in the blood of Christian virgins?

But look at the wider implication: Muslims aren't British, not properly. This will come as a surprise to my Muslim friends. (Actually, it won't, more's the pity.) It is also supposed to be clear that there is an Islamisation of Britain because of those uppity Muslims. The problem with this story is that it is simply not true. According to The BBC Harrow Council is giving the choice to serve Halal meat to its primary schools. See also The Harrow Observer. The Star however asserts that all High Schools have been told to provide only Halal meat.

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Then we get organisations like Islamisationwatch which exist because of the sorts of things the tabloid press write. One feeds off the other in a cycle of suspicion and fear. It should make us angry and it should make us campaign for an honest press.