Archive for the 'Media' Category

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The end of an era. Sir Paul Dacre is said to have edited his last Daily Mail

Monday, August 13th, 2018

We can expect fewer powerful pro-Brexit front pages like these?

The biggest political development over the weekend, I’d suggest, was the report in the Observer about the replacement of Paul Dacre as Daily Mail editor with the Geordie Gregg, of the Mail on Sunday, who has taken a totally different view of the referendum outcome.

Gregg will start in September a couple of months earlier than planned and it is hard to see, given his views, him carrying on with Dacre’s strident approach epitomised in a whole series of striking front pages. UK Press Gazette is reporting that “Dacre is understood to have edited his last Daily Mail

The Mail is enormously powerful both because it has the second largest UK circulation and by some margin the busiest online presence. There’s little doubt that it has a big influence on public opinion. The Observer report noted:

“The incoming editor of the Daily Mail has indicated that he will only gradually tone down the strident pro-Brexit agenda espoused by his predecessor when he takes the helm at the powerful rightwing tabloid at the beginning of next month.

Geordie Gregg has told staff not to expect an immediate change in political coverage when he takes the reins from Dacre who spent 26 years in charge, for fear of alienating readers and because the wider political situation is so uncertain. Instead the focus will be on ensuring that the country achieves the least damaging form of Brexit and developing a more nuanced editorial line by next spring, a shift in emphasis that will be welcomed in Downing Street, where Theresa May is battling to control a revolt from the right of her party.

The planned Greig approach of achieving the least damaging form of Brexit appears to chime with that which is being followed by TMay.

The changeover could also impact on whether there’s a CON leadership challenge and the position of the Etonian hard line Brexiter duo of Moggsy and BoJo. It is hard to see them getting the backing from Greig that you’d expect Dacre to have given?

This, of course, comes at a key time in the Brexit negotiations and in the run-up to the party conferences.

Mike Smithson




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The places where people would most like to live mostly voted Remain

Friday, July 20th, 2018

Away from Brexit for moment with some polling on what are seen as Britain’s desirable locations to live.

With Channel 4 going through a process of choosing a location outside London for a new creative hub YouGov have been carrying out the polling which no doubt will prove controversial.

On my Twitter feed it was observed that most of the top choices all voted remain at the referendum. You have to go down to 9th place, Nottingham to find a Leave location and even there the referendum was a very close thing.

Essentially what this assertion is showing is that demographic groups most likely to back Remain tend to favour what are perceived as the “nicest” locations.

I think this is a bit unfair on Hull which I very much like as a city and Peterborough which has a lovely cathedral and no longer has Stewart Jackson as its MP.

Mike Smithson




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Theresa May’s staunchest supporter in the media announces his departure but could it be good news for her?

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Picture: Depending on your view the (in)famous Daily Mail front page the day after Theresa May called a snap election.

Last night it was announced that the editor of The Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, would stand down from the role in November. Given how unlucky Mrs May has been it would be no surprise to see her staunchest supporter in the print media replaced by George Osborne, who as editor of The Mail might not be so supportive of Theresa May as Paul Dacre.

Ladbrokes have put up a market on who will be Dacre’s successor. I don’t know enough about The Mail to confidently bet on this market, but I expect it won’t be George Osborne. Even though George Osborne’s tenure at The Evening Standard has been a success the time David Cameron tried to get Lord Rothermere to sack Paul Dacre for his pro-Brexit views might be held against Mr Osborne.

The timing of Dacre’s departure is interesting, which is around the time our Brexit deal is being finalised, with the favourite to succeed Dacre being the relatively pro-European editor of the Mail on Sunday. If Mrs May offers a relatively soft Brexit she might not be monstered by The Daily Mail which could make a soft Brexit an easier sell to her party and the country.

TSE

PS – This is my favourite Daily Mail front page featuring Theresa May.

 

 



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Fake news and how to deal with it

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

DNA is perplexingly long. Almost 98% of the human genome is non-coding: that is, it does not make protein in the cell. Some of that definitely does have some practical aspect but at present large parts of human DNA has no known function. Scientists are still trying to work out why. It is sometimes disparagingly known as junk DNA.

The internet, like DNA, is a mechanism for passing on information. Like DNA, large parts of the internet have no outwardly-obvious function. Perhaps there are scientists earnestly scrutinising cat videos trying to work out why they are there (perhaps junk DNA encodes cat videos).

In each case, the really dangerous part isn’t the junk, it’s the corruption of the important information. The nature of lying online has changed the way in which untruths have affected public debate. It’s well past time that we took stock.

Lying wasn’t invented on the internet. In the past, however, the ability to tell a narrative-changing lie was severely restricted. In the early part of the twentieth century, mass communication was in the hands of those who owned newspapers. The barriers to entry were high and newspaper audiences were large. The influence of the owners was enormous. Not for nothing were they called press barons.

We should have no false nostalgia for the age of the fourth estate. At least one British election was hugely influenced by press lies – the Zinoviev letter remains notorious. Journalism was seen as a byword for venality and unfairness. Moreover, much information that was of huge public interest was kept from the masses because the political classes could effectively control the small group responsible for public information. Edward VIII’s assignations with Wallis Simpson were not publicly known in Britain for many months (though covered in detail in other countries).

The internet destroyed the barriers to setting up information provision. Suddenly anyone with a computer and an internet connection, a readable writing style and with some information to offer could open for business.

Initially, this seemed like an unqualified positive. Want to know about opposition politics in Hong Kong? Developments in bee-keeping? The technical changes to Formula 1 constructor requirements? The internet could fulfil your needs more quickly and more comprehensively than any newspaper or magazine could ever hope to.

Some of this has been truly transformative. There are now more than 5.5 million articles on the English version of Wikipedia, a single repository of knowledge unlike anything ever previously seen in any previous encyclopaedia.

The worm in the apple took some time to break cover. It had long since been appreciated that online information that had not been peer-reviewed might be wrong or misleading through inadvertence or might present a highly tendentious view of the truth from the writer’s personal viewpoint. Readers were well-aware that some might present deliberate lies defensively. All of these problems were familiar from past experience with the media.

The idea of someone presenting deliberately untrue information as an active policy was something new. It had not previously been practical because of the gatekeepers at the top of the media who could bar access to the public. With that control gone, the way was open for anyone who wanted to launch a campaign of misinformation.

It started relatively innocently, with mischief-makers on Wikipedia tinkering for kicks. Some saw the business opportunity in heart-warming clickbait, whether or not the inspirational story was in fact true (see Daisy the Dog for more details).

Then the political implications began to sink in. “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”, Winston Churchill advised. It is apparent that many fighting wars online feel exactly that way.

Why are internet lies so successful? First, people want to believe stories that are congenial to their worldview. Corbynites, Leavers and those on the Trump train are obvious examples of this phenomenon, but those on the opposing side of each of these groups can be just as guilty of wishful thinking. Why scrutinise carefully a story that confirms your prejudices?

Secondly, debunking a lie takes time as the facts are established. Previously, journalists would have done the job. But the media’s response to the pressure on costs that the internet has driven was to cut those costs. Among the most expensive costs were the salaries of the journalists who did the fact-finding. So the people who used to do this just aren’t doing this job any more.

I’ve already quoted Winston Churchill so I’d better quote Oscar Wilde as well: “The truth is rarely pure and never simple”. Truth is fractal – the more closely you look at it, the more qualifications you need to put on the assertion. This leaves plenty of scope for argument and the original claim can get lost in an argument over an essentially trivial point. Moreover, the truth is usually quite humdrum. But (this is my thirdly) a lie is subject to no such need for restraint. It needs no nuance and can be as exciting as its creator wishes it to be. And who doesn’t like lurid excitement?

Fourthly, it’s human to want to lead the pack. Once CNN exhorted us to “Be the first to know”. Now we want to be the first to tell. Why check when you can be claiming kudos points?

So, in a news version of Gresham’s Law, bad information drives out good. We hoard the quality stuff and pass on the rubbish.

What can we do to combat this? In short, be sceptical. If you’re told something eyebrow-raising, look for a primary source to back it up. Try to get context.

Be especially sceptical of information that produces a strong emotional response from you. Ask yourself who wants to produce that response.

Don’t be part of the problem. If you are retweeting without first checking your information, you are a vector.

At the moment, fake news is achieving its proponents’ ends spectacularly. In the long run, it will subside as the internet public become more wary of their source material. For now, trust no one.

Alastair Meeks




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Brexit-backing Sun & Mail seen as having the most negative impact on society – remain supporting Times & Guardian the most positive

Monday, December 18th, 2017

New YouGov poll ranks the main national papers

I can’t recall any similar polling – looking at how the main national papers are perceived in terms of the impact they are having on society.

At a time when the nation is so divided by Brexit it is striking that the papers that have been most strident in their backing of Brexit and opposition to those who oppose it should be seen in the negative way set out in these numbers.

Full data from the poll can be found here.

Mike Smithson




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New “media trust” polling finds the BBC top and the Sun bottom

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

I’m sure people will correct meif I’m wrong but I think this polling is a first. We see from time to time several different forms of “trust” polling but as far as I can recall these latest findings from Ipsos MORI covering broadcast, the press and the internet is new.

For those who follow politics closely the close relationship between media and politicians is something that is raised all the time especially the way the former can have a huge impact on the what we term the “narrative”.

The question is set out in the chart above and as can be seen Twitter and Facebook fare badly which I find reassuring. The two popular red tops, the Star and the Sun are the least trusted.

As a former BBC newsman I’d expect the Corporation to be fairly reassured by this polling given the intensity with which it is attacked by left and right.

I find the approach to the BBC of many within the Corbyn clan an indictment of them and it was surely a disgrace that the BBC Political Editor had to be accompanied by a bodyguard at the Labour conference.

It’s interesting as well how Huffington Post is establishing itself.

Of the heavies, what used to be called the broadsheets, the Telegraph seems to, in comparative terms, fared worse.

We live in very polarised times which make things very challenging for all who are trying report what is going on in the world.

Mike Smithson




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Maybe a reason why LAB gets poor media coverage is that the Corbyn-appointed PR team is not up to it

Friday, March 31st, 2017

It is as if the red team has given up

I have never been a fan of Seumas Milne, the PR chief of Corbyn’s Labour, not because of his politics but that he is so poor at the job.

The series of Tweets highlighted by Sam Coates of the Times above is something that the whole LAB leadership should worry about – they are after all the OFFICIAL opposition with all the associated perks that go with it.

Until this is sorted out let’s hear no complaints from Corbyn cultists about the way their man is treated. Mr. Milne was the leader’s appointment.

I’m not hopeful of change.

Mike Smithson




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Remember when the BBC’s Woman’s Hour asked David Cameron and David Davis what sort of underpants they preferred?

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

With all the fuss today about the Daily Mail’s “legs” front page let us not forget that the BBC can sometimes stray into what could be described as sexist.

In November 2005 when David Cameron and David Davis were slugging it out for the Tory leadership the two of them appeared on Woman’s Hour and were asked at the end what sort of underpants they preferred.

Another question was whether they preferred blondes or brunettes. David said the former while Cameron did not reply.

The interviewer was Martha Martha Kearney, now of the World at One, who was quizzing people about the Mail’s front page at lunchtime today.

There’s a link to the 2005 interview here

Mike Smithson