Latest bulletins: 1 June 2010
Earlier news (archive) >
[The wording in these summaries is Media Hell's.
For dates, see source info posted in each story]
Pre-election scare tactics
Predictable scare-semantics in the run-up to the 2010 UK
recession" (as opposed to economic recession),
etc. Not all media bought it - The Economist pointed
to a "steady, deep fall in crime", claiming: "The
broken-Britain myth is worse than scaremongering - it glosses
over those who need help most". (Economist,
6/2/10, p15, 61-63).
Scans of Economist articles also
Daily Mail "makes stuff up" shock
The Daily Mail made up a story
(based on a press release from Rentokil) about "every
train compartment" containing "2,000 bugs".
The Guardian criticised
it. (Daily Mail, 3/3/2010; Guardian, 12/3/10).
Space Hotel vs Doomsday bunker
A space hotel is apparently on schedule to open in 2012.
2/11/09). Alternatively, if you think it's all getting
a bit too much, check out the plush community doomsday bunker
available in the Mojave Desert: http://www.terravivos.com/
Handcuffed for free speech
A man was handcuffed by police for displaying (in his own
home) a poster of David Cameron, with the caption "wanker".
The audio of his phone conservation with a policeman, on the
semantics of onanism (halfway down the page) is amusing. (Guardian,
More police doesn't equal less crime
Article from the BBC's Mark Easton (BBC, 28/4/10). http://tinyurl.com/easton-police
Billion Pound O-Gram
Which costs more: the bail-out of the banks or people taking
sick-days? The Guardian
has provided a useful chart for putting these huge sums in
Answer to above question: the cost to industry of sickies
is tiny compared to the cost of bailing out the banks (as
you probably already suspected).
version of chart >
One in ten UK households not paying council tax?
Bailiffs were used in 1.2 million cases to recover council
tax arrears last year, and 2.5 million households received
courts summonses (Times, 7/1/09). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article5462649.ece
Newspapers not trusted
A recent study found that only 23% of people in the UK count
newspapers as "highly trusted" - roughly the same
proportion who consider Wikipedia as highly trusted (BBC
news online, 31/12/08). http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/7789494.stm
Trials of lie-detector tests for benefit claimants have been
declared successful by the government, and it seems that this
technology will be made available for use nationwide. http://tinyurl.com/5s2ma4
... or taser-gun nation?
Better odds than the lottery? UK police are to be armed with
10,000 Taser guns. That's one for every few thousand households.
Will you be the lucky recipient of 50,000 volts when you're
mistaken for a troublemaker? (Sunday Times, 23/11/08).
Benefit fraud exaggerated
According to Neil Bateman, a welfare rights specialist, most
benefit fraud is exaggerated. In a letter published by the
Guardian (5/12/08), Bateman claims that out of 41
cases of alleged fiddling which he investigated, only three
were correct. He writes of "an alarming trend for
prosecutions to be based on fundamentally flawed evidence".
And in cases where fraud has occurred, eg with people working
while claiming, they often would have received as much, or
more, in legitimate (but unclaimed) tax credits. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/dec/05/letters-welfare
A million fake copies of the New York Times
Last November (2008) around 1.2 million fake copies of the
New York Times, dated July 4, 2009, were handed out
by the 'Yes Men'. It might have worked better if it weren't
so obviously a spoof, but perhaps that would've led to prosecution
under anti-terrorism laws. http://gothamist.com/2008/11/12/fake_new_york_times_hits_readers.php
"I inhaled frequently". "That was the
Workers aren't happy
According to a YouGov survey, workplace unhappiness is growing,
with workers having to work harder and longer, while seeing
their pay cut in real terms. 46% said the amount of work asked
of them has risen. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7592050.stm
Latest UK crime figures
The latest official crime figures have just been released
(23/10/08). They show crime falling or stable in most categories
(violence, firearm offences, serious knife crime, burglary,
vehicle-related theft). Total recorded crime fell by 6%; recorded
violence fell by 7%; recorded robbery fell by 16%. "The
risk of being a victim remains at a historically low level".
Seems too good to be true? Well, it was revealed on the same
day that police had made errors in categorising some types
of violent crime, resulting in the figures showing a decrease
when in fact there'd been an increase. The media made a great
deal of this ("how can we trust the crime figures"?).
The BBC's Mark Easton has written a very good commentary.
He says that: "today's
statistical fiasco does not demonstrate that serious crime
is soaring whatever you may read in the papers. If anything,
serious violence in England and Wales is probably stable or
Banks refund £2.6bn to customers
The Independent newspaper announced on its front page
(31/8/07) that the campaign against the big banks' unfair
"penalty fees" has so far cost the banks £2.6
billion in refunds to 3.8 million customers. The Independent's
economics editor, Sean O'Grady, writes optimistically about
the power of the internet to "humble some of the biggest
corporate beasts in the jungle".
'Anarchy in the UK'
There was a media backlash against Conservative leader David
Cameron's use of the phrase "anarchy in the UK"
to describe crime levels. The Independent (21/8/07)
ridiculed Cameron in a leading article titled "Anarchy
in the UK? Hardly...". Ken Jones, president of
the Association of Chief Police Officers, criticised
Cameron and pointed out that "Violent crime is at the
lowest it has been since the mid-90s" (Press Association,
31/7/07). But BBC2's Newsnight decided to use the "anarchy"
phrase as a headline to their coverage of the Rhys Jones murder
a few days later. See our correspondence with Newsnight:
The BBC maintained the shock-horror momentum with "news"
that children under age 10 committed nearly 3,000 crimes last
year. This was the BBC's main headline story on 2/9/07. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6974587.stm
See our correspondence
with BBC reporter Keith Breene >
Former BBC Crimewatch host accuses
media of fearmongering on crime
Nick Ross, the former presenter of BBC1's Crimewatch
upset the Daily Mail by claiming that newspapers are
guilty of fearmongering over crime. Ross stated on BBC Radio
4's Today programme that "the media have long
been peddling a big lie about crime". He went on
to say: "The most common forms of crime have plunged.
Burglary is down 58 percent, car crime down 61 percent, violence
by 48 percent". He referred to the media as "hunting
in packs and hungry for the narrative regardless of the underlying
We first read about Ross's statements in Roy Greenslade's
Guardian blog (brought to our attention by a correspondent).
A comment on this blog adds: "Ross made the same point
during an interview on BBC1's Breakfast programme. Sian Williams'
fixed smile almost cracked while the dashing Dermot quickly
dif[f]used the outbreak of accuracy by abruptly ending the
interview." (Daily Mail, 21/7/07; Guardian
(Daily Mail link)
Latest crime figures
Following the release of the latest
crime figures, BBC1 Ten O'Clock News (19/7/07) announced:
"Crime is at a historically low level..."
This was a first for BBC1 news. As we've indicated in detailed
complaints to the BBC, their headline announcements have,
for years, cherry-picked rises in crime. The headline was
followed by an informative report by Mark Easton which dispelled
some myths about violent crime. He pointed out, for example,
that "half of it [violent crime] involves no
injury, and it includes crimes like bigamy". He also
commented on the example of a 77 yr-old woman, petrified of
crime: "Isabel's chances of being involved in a violent
attack are extremely remote, but that's not what she reads
in the papers".
For details of our previous complaints on BBC News, and our
past correspondence with Mark Easton, see:
Students force HSBC into rethink
One of the 'big five' banks, HSBC, was "forced into
a dramatic U-turn" after a web-based protest by students.
HSBC had planned to cancel interest-free accounts for graduates
- until thousands of students signed up to the Stop the
Great HSBC Graduate Rip-Off campaign. The bank's hasty
re-think led to a leading article in the Independent
celebrating "a victory for people power". (Independent,
Government to use lie detectors on benefits claimants
The UK government is set to make countrywide use of lie detectors
in a "crackdown" on benefits fraud. The Voice
Risk Analysis (VRA) technology works by measuring fluctuations
in the voice that indicate stress and "an attempt to
deceive". The Observer newspaper (2/9/07) quotes
a government spokesperson: "Operators trained in intelligent
questioning and behavioural analysis will use the system to
identify suspect cases at the start of the claim process...".
Single Working Age Benefit proposed
Income Newsletter has spotted that a recent Work and
Pensions Select Committee report, 'Benefits Simplification'
(26/7/07) contains a detailed proposal for something called
a Single Working Age Benefit (SWAB), which would
replace benefits for both the employed and the jobless. They
argue that a SWAB is "nine tenths of the way to a Citizen's
Majority of super-rich pay no income tax
HM Revenue figures, recently released under the Freedom of
Information Act, suggest that only a fraction of those earning
£10m or more in Britain pay income tax. Prior to the
1997 general election, Gordon Brown promised to end "the
tax abuses which reach to the heart of our public finances
by indulging the super-rich at the expense of the rest of
us". A decade later, The Independent newspaper
(22/6/07) describes Britain as "a haven for the super-wealthy".
One wage not enough to live on
Nearly half of all UK families need two or more salaries
to cover their bills, according to a recent survey. "Over
11 million UK households are dependent on more than one salary".
(BBC News Online, 4/5/07) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/6624047.stm
BBC removed details of Director General's pay
The BBC Director general, Mark Thompson, "was paid a
total of £788,000 in the last financial year" according
to a recent
BBC web page, which, oddly, no longer contains this information
although it was still appearing in Google search results
when we checked:
Fighting fund announced for battling the banks
Despite two apparent set-backs in which local courts found
in favour of banks, the campaign against the banks' profiteering
from excessive (and arguably illegal) charges is gaining momentum.
A £100,000 fighting fund has been set up by consumer
groups and private individuals, to encourage people to launch
legal challenges against the banks. Commenting on the coverage
surrounding the banks' first court victory, Martin Lewis (who
announced the fund), said: "This case has no bearing
in law and in practice sets no precedent [...] This is a desperate
attempt to scare people away and it is important that we do
not allow their spin and spiel to put people off".
(The Scotsman, 4/6/07) http://business.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=869502007
The most prominent case is that of barrister Tom Brennan
versus National Westminster Bank. Brennan has set up a website
to provide updates: http://www.tombrennan.co.uk/
Jobless level is treble the official figure
The real level of unemployment in Britain is almost three
times as high as the official figure, according to a report
quoted by the Guardian. The reason for the discrepancy
(between the 900,000 official "claimant count" and
the report's figure of 2.6 million) is that many jobless people
are diverted onto other benefits or out of the welfare system
altogether. (Guardian, 13/6/07) http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,2101437,00.html
Alternative currency flourishes in New Age town
There are about 844,000 "BerkShares" in circulation
in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Worth $759,600 at the
fixed exchange rate of 1 BerkShare to 90 US cents. In their
10 months of circulation, they've become a regular feature
of the local economy. (Reuters, 19/6/07) http://tinyurl.com/28nvwa
Gap between rich and poor wider than ever
Inequality in Britain is at levels "not seen for over
40 years" according to new research by the Joseph
Rowntree Foundation. The widening gap between rich and
poor has meant that 'average' households (neither poor nor
wealthy) have been decreasing in number. (Joseph Rowntree
Foundation, 17/7/07) http://www.jrf.org.uk/pressroom/releases/170707.asp
Media hysteria over disappearance of child
The Independent newspaper has best summed up the
media coverage of the disappearance of 4-year-old Madeleine
"The hysteria created by
the reporting of this and similar cases does no service to
anyone. It will lead only to children being wrapped in cotton
wool and prevented from developing the social skills and independence
they need to survive. Far from offering a shared catharsis,
all it does is spread the virus of fear." (Independent,
Average cost of a house rose £20,000 last year
The cost of an average home (in Britain) rose by £2,000
in March to reach £206,890. This figure is £20,000
higher than a year ago. The average price of a London home
has jumped by £42,000 in a year. (Guardian, 15/5/07)
Police report "ludicrous arrests"
The Police Federation claims that "ludicrous arrests"
result from the police trying to meet government targets.
They quote examples of such arrests:
A man cautioned for being "in possession of an
egg with intent to throw".
A woman arrested on her wedding day for damage to a
car park barrier when her foot slipped on her accelerator
A child arrested for throwing cream buns at a bus.
A 70-year-old arrested for criminal damage after cutting
back a neighbour's conifers too vigorously.
Two children who were arrested under firearms laws
for being in possession of a plastic toy pistol.
(Press Association, via Independent, 15/5/07)
Soaring antidepressant prescriptions
The number of prescriptions for antidepressants in England
has hit a record high. More than 31 million prescriptions
for drugs such as Prozac were issued in 2006 a 6% rise
on the year before. (BBC News Online, 24/5/07) http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/6653013.stm
Road crashes the leading cause of death
Road crashes are the leading cause of death among young people,
according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly
400,000 people under the age of 25 are killed in road traffic
crashes every year. Millions more are injured or disabled.
(WHO, 19/4/07) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2007/pr17/en/index.html
Dramatic change in working habits needed
A Guardian news story titled 'Work at home, drivers
told' mentions a report by the RAC which claims that:
"Only a dramatic change in working habits would prevent
implementation of pay-as-you-drive schemes". (Guardian,
Setback for anti-bank-fees campaigners
Lloyds bank has won a "landmark victory" against
a customer who was claiming a refund of "penalty"
charges. This is a setback for the campaign against such charges.
However, Martin Hickman, of the Independent says that the
ruling "does not mean that if you are claiming back
your bank charges, you should abandon your case [...] All
the campaigners say that you should continue and that you
still have a very high chance of winning". A test
case involving a barrister, Tom Brennan, should shed further
light on cases later this year. (Independent, 16/5/07)
Benefit claimants to face lie detector tests
Benefit claimants will face lie detector tests, in a "crackdown
on fraud", the government says. (Such fraud is currently
worth £0.7 billion per year, compared to £14 billion
in business fraud and £85 billion in corporate tax avoidance).
Voice Risk Analysis technology picks up signs of stress when
telling lies. These are measured against the "normal"
voice, "ensuring that nervousness or shyness is not a
trigger". (Guardian, 5/4/07) http://politics.guardian.co.uk/homeaffairs/story/0,,2050811,00.html
Talking CCTV to apologise
The UK's "Talking CCTV" scheme got off to a bad
start, when a camera's loudspeaker wrongly accused someone
of littering outside a McDonalds. (Guardian 12/4/07)
One man's legal fight for justice over bank fees
Britain's banks will finally have the legality of their excessive
"penalty fees" challenged in court later this month
(30 April). Barrister Tom Brennan is reportedly risking his
professional career to prove the banks are acting illegally
(and since they currently make an estimated £4.7 billion
per year from the charges, this almost sounds like John Grisham
territory). (Independent, 14/4/07) http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/legal/article2447665.ece
Bank interest charges "cannot be trusted"
Banks and credit card companies have been issued a "super
complaint" over interest charges and face an inquiry
from the Office of Fair Trading. A consumer watchdog
(Which?) has warned that interest charges "cannot
be trusted". (Independent, 1/4/07) http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news/article2411248.ece
Office jobs are big polluters
An article in the Independent points out the environmental
cost of working in offices. A typical office building is cited
as using (per employee) three times the amount of electricity
as the typical person consumes at home. Another good reason
to work from home. (Independent, 25/3/07) http://news.independent.co.uk/business/comment/article2390840.ece
Average house price eight times average wage
The average price of a house in Britain is £192,200
- over eight times the average wage (less than £24,000).
In the 1930s the average house price was around £600
- three times the average wage (around £200). In other
words, the average earner would have to earn £64,000
a year to match the house-purchasing power of someone with
a similar job in 1930 (not taking into account other expenses
such as food, consumer goods, etc, whose prices have fallen
in real terms since 1930). (Guardian, 18/12/1999; Telegraph,
Alcohol worse than ecstasy on new drug list
Scientists (including members of the government's top advisory
committee on drug classification) have produced an assessment
of the harm caused by 20 substances, and have rated alcohol
and tobacco as more dangerous than cannabis, LSD and ecstasy.
The rankings take into account the stronger cultivated "skunk"
cannabis (which has been the subject of recent media scare
The researchers say the existing drug classification should
be scrapped and replaced with one based on evidence. Ecstasy
is shown to be one of the least harmful substances, causing
fewer than 10 deaths a year. One person a day is killed by
acute alcohol poisoning and thousands more from chronic use.
(Guardian, 23/3/07) http://politics.guardian.co.uk/constitution/story/0,,2040890,00.html
Rise in UK child poverty
The number of children living in relative poverty rose from
3.6 million to 3.8 million last year. (BBC News Online,
UK's child mortality rate is linked to inequality
Britain has the second highest child death rate among the
24 richest countries in the world. A new study claims this
is linked to the gap between the "haves" and the
"have-nots" which is the third biggest among the
24 countries. (Independent, 1/4/07) http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/health_medical/article2411397.ece
The Times (4/3/07) reports a case of two teenage girls
happily ripping up a magazine and littering the area with
it, when a voice from a nearby loudspeaker announces: "You
two girls have been witnessed on CCTV camera dropping litter.
Pick it up and put it in the bin provided". Later
this month the Home Office is expected to announce a nationwide
scheme to introduce talking CCTV. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1466734.ece
MI5 trains supermarket staff
The security services are advising food retailers on how
to identify "extremist shoppers". Supermarkets are
apparently an attractive target for terrorists but
the only example provided in this news story is of three Palestinian-Americans
arrested in Texas "after staff spotted them bulk-buying
mobile phones". (Independent, 4/3/07)
Government uses terror plot for
The police have accused the UK government of using a recent
"terror plot" to divert press attention from the
"cash for honours" scandal. (New Criminologist,
DPP: "There is no war on terror"
The Director of Public Prosecutions has warned that a "fear-driven
and inappropriate" response to the terrorist threat could
lead Britain to abandon fair trials. He was also reported
as denying that there is a "war on terror". (Guardian,
Drug laws driven by "moral panic"
A report from the RSA commission on illegal drugs says current
drug law has been "driven by moral panic", and that
the evidence "suggests that a majority of people who
use drugs are able to use them without harming themselves
or others". (BBC, Guardian, etc, 8/3/07)
American estimates of Iraqi deaths
According to a recent AP/Ipsos poll of 1,002 American adults,
the median estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths since the March
2003 invasion was 9,890. The responses were as follows:
1,000 or less: 8%
1,001 to 5,000: 24%
5,001 to 10,000: 20%
10,001 to 50,000: 21%
50,001 to 100,000: 11%
100,001 to 250,000: 6%
More than 250,000: 5%
AP report: http://tinyurl.com/2nbyul
Police hysteria over terror threat
Police Commissioner Ian Blair claims the UK is facing an
"unparalleled and growing threat of a terrorist attack".
However, he said there was "no specific intelligence"
about an imminent attack. He also asserted (without any supporting
evidence) that the threat of terrorism was "far graver"
than those faced during World War II or the Cold War. (BBC
MI5's terror alert email service
Not feeling anxious enough? Now you can receive email terror
alerts from MI5, notifying you of changes to the terror threat
level. Just the thing to liven up your day, whether you're
travelling to work on a crowded train or doing the shopping.
A spokesman for the Home Office denied that the automatic
alerts would cause unnecessary panic among those receiving
them. (Press Association, 9/1/07)
[A problem with MI5's email service was
quickly identified. Activists at spyblog.org.uk
revealed lack of protection of subscribers' personal details,
claiming MI5 sent them unencrypted to commercial third-party
email marketing/tracking companies based in America (leaving
them open to snooping by, for example, US law enforcement
MI5: "No imminent terrorist threat"
Prior to the 7/7 (2005) London bombings, The director-general
of MI5 told ministers there was "no imminent terrorist
threat" to the country. Media response has been: "How
could they fail to predict those attacks". Perhaps a
better question is: "Why has the assessment of risk changed
so much since then?" (Guardian 9/1/07) http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,1985970,00.html
[See also our piece on the Misleading
Vividness fallacy, which examines the tendency of politicians
and media to assume increasing risk whenever a tragedy
Corporate welfare update
Barclays, Britain's third biggest bank (with annual profits
of around £7 billion), has received a £4.2 million
hand-out courtesy of the taxpayer (in the innocuous-sounding
form of a Regional Selective Assistance grant, to help
them "create jobs"). http://tinyurl.com/y9bsjg
£2.3 billion MoD headquarters refurbishment
The cost of refurbishing the Ministry of Defence HQ has been
estimated at £2.3 billion. News of this cost came as
senior army officers criticised the "cramped and decaying"
living quarters of many in the armed forces. (BBC Online,
Politicians "exploit" terror fears
Politicians are "exploiting" the fear of terrorism
for political gain, according to a report by the Joseph
Rowntree Trust. The report's authors urge the government
to abandon talk of a "war on terror".
Meanwhile, an article in the Guardian claims the
threat of terrorism has been "wildly exaggerated":
"While terrorism can take on different guises, it
is not new and is not a threat to human society to rank with
a world war or a nuclear holocaust". http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,1953857,00.html
An earlier Sunday Times piece (by the same author, Simon
Jenkins) criticised "politicians who hold weekly press
conferences on 'international threat levels' [...] they seem
comfortable only with a perpetual state of emergency."
(Sunday Times, 20/8/06) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,23110-2314418,00.html
According to the MIPT terrorism knowledge base, the
total number of US and UK (including Northern Ireland) fatalities
caused by terrorism in the five years after 9/11 was 74, compared
to 68 in the five years before. The corresponding totals for
Iraq are 15,763 and 12, respectively. http://www.tkb.org/
Following Microsoft's 1990s strapline, "Where do
you want to go today?", there were a series of unoriginal
variations by (obviously overpaid) advertisers. A recent example
was Capital One's "What's in your wallet?"
Another is "How Do You Eat Yours?" for Cadbury's
Creme eggs. Waterstones, the bookseller chain, has spent a
lot of money coming up with the new slogan: "What's
Your Story?" But as Private Eye magazine (24/11/06)
points out, it's already used by Aldo Shoes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_advertising_slogans
Corporate welfare latest
A Michigan-based glass manufacturer, Guardian Industries,
was persuaded to set up in Yorkshire with a £7.6 million
sweetener. The justification was the jobs brought to the area.
But the company only has 153 workers in the UK taxpayers
have effectively paid £50,000 for each job. (Private
BBC cherry-picks crime increases
The latest official UK crime figures show total crime to
have fallen 2%, no change to violent crime or burglary, a
6% fall in vehicle theft, an 8% fall in firearm offences and
no change in "anti-social behaviour" levels.
But BBC Online's headline reads: "Robbery continues
on upward trend". The 5% increase in robbery (mainly
teenagers stealing mobiles and MP3 players from each other)
is buried away on page four of the official crime report
the above falls are mentioned on the front page.
Secret Service grills 14 yr-old girl
US Secret Service agents interrogate 14 yr-old girl about
her anti-Bush drawing. Julia Wilson had posted a cartoon-like
drawing (which said "Kill Bush") on her MySpace
page. The agents called at her home, then visited her school,
where she was removed from class and grilled. (Counterpunch
("Kill Bush" Drawing)
Economist pictured on new £20 banknotes
New £20 banknotes will carry a portrait of Adam Smith,
the "Godfather of free-market economics", together
with an engraving illustrating Smith's notion of "the
division of labour", and the words: "and the
great increase in the quantity of work that results".
(Image of banknote)
It's a pity they don't use a different Adam Smith quote.
For example: "All for ourselves, and nothing for other
people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the
vile maxim of the masters of mankind." (Wealth
of Nations, Book 3, Chapter 4)
Virgin's viral marketing backfires
A viral marketing campaign by Virgin backfired after
subscribers to the comedy site, b3ta.com, (who were challenged
by Virgin to come up with ad ideas for the Virgin
Money brand) created images that weren't appreciated by
Virgin (and in some cases were illegal). The company
has removed all traces of the competition, and requested its
deletion from the b3ta.com site. (Inquirer, 26/10/06)
Nuclear test boosts condom sales
Stores across South Korea reported dramatic jumps in condom
sales following the recent nuclear test by North Korea. Experts
say that the figures cannot be definitively tied to the test
but a similar phenomena, dubbed "terror sex", was
observed in New York after September 11. (Associated Press,
Britain a risk-averse nation
A new report claims "Britain has become a risk-averse
nation that over-protects, over-regulates". (It's
not from the usual right-leaning advocates of "deregulation").
Professor George Gaskell, a risk expert from the London School
of Economics, says: "The mass media could be largely
to blame. Virtually everything we eat, for example, has at
some point been associated [in the media] with carcinogens.
But people seem to want to read about new dangers. Maybe we
just have a collective interest in finding things to be anxious
about." (Guardian, 18/10/06)
"Government scam" to profit from the poor
The Department for Work and Pensions has made £268,000
profit from a helpline giving benefits advice to the poor
and unemployed. The practice was exposed by the Derbyshire
Unemployed Workers Association, using the Freedom of Information
Act to establish the department's income from the lines. The
government has now promised to switch to a free service. (Guardian,
Art attack on celebrities
The "guerrilla artist", Banksy, replaced hundreds
of Paris Hilton CDs in various stores with his own tampered
version which has song titles: "Why am I Famous?",
"What Have I Done?" and "What Am I For?"
He also changed the artwork one picture showing the
US socialite with a dog's head. (BBC Online, 3/9/06)
"Welfare cheats" latest
Fewer than 1 in 300 "tip-off" calls to the Benefit
Fraud Hotline result in a conviction. The hotline is part
of the government's multi-million-pound drive to convince
newspaper editors that it's tough on spongers. (The Scotsman,
Bank "late payment fees" unlawful
Several banks have reduced their "late payment fees"
on credit cards following an investigation by the Office
of Fair Trading (OFT), which found charges over £12
to be excessive. To quote the OFT press release:
"Credit card default charges have generally been
set at a significantly higher level than is legally fair [...]
this has led to unlawful penalty charges currently in excess
of £300 million a year." http://www.oft.gov.uk/News/Press+releases/2006/68-06.htm
also, our page on demanding refunds from banks >
False dichotomies in polls
According to Allister Heath (in the Spectator magazine),
"Almost three quarters of the British public are now
convinced that we are fighting a new world war against extremist
Islamic terrorists". This was based on a survey which
forced participants to choose between two statements:
1. "The West is in a global war against
Islamic terrorists who threaten our way of life".
2. "Islamic terrorism is a regional problem that poses
no real threat to the West".
A column in the next issue of the Spectator pointed out the
distorting effect of having no third option between "global
war" and "no real threat". (The Spectator,
People worried about "lack of respect"
A BBC report (on an ICM poll) claims that Britain is "worse
than 20 years ago". Participants in the poll apparently
felt the biggest problems facing the country are: "lack
of respect", crime and terrorism. (BBC Online, 4/9/06)
For a historical perspective on "lack of respect",
see our article, 8,000
years of antisocial behaviour >
3,200 government PR employees funded by taxpayers
Recently published figures show that Whitehall employs 1,815
press officers and public relations staff, with a further
1,444 employed by quangos and other taxpayer-funded agencies.
(Guardian, Independent, 31/8/06) http://politics.guardian.co.uk/media/story/0,,1861596,00.html
Survey links ill health with work
A survey of 2,233 men found the following: "35% suffered
from sleeping difficulties that they linked to pressures of
work"; "22% said they suffered from depression because
of job-related stress"; "17% have visited a doctor
to discuss their exhaustion"; "more than one in
three relies on alcohol to switch off from job stress".
(Guardian, 8/6/06) http://money.guardian.co.uk/work/story/0,,1792697,00.html
UK media attacks ID cards
The UK "liberal" press has published a series of
articles criticising the ID card and other "security"
proposals. Some have even pointed out how the government falsely
lumps together terrorism, crime, "antisocial behaviour",
benefits fraud and immigration as if they're all part of one
big RISING SINISTER THREAT. For example:
"Like crime, benefit fraud has
decreased. But you hear little of this from No 10 or the rightwing
tabloid press, because it suits them to keep us in a state
of near frenzy about both." (Guardian,
Government plans to sell your personal
details to private companies
The astronomical cost of ID cards (£19bn according
to one optimistic study) embarrasses the government. Gordon
Brown (UK Chancellor) plans to make them cheaper by
allowing private companies to buy access to the ID database
(containing biometric information on the population, etc).
Leaked emails reveal ID farce
Officials in charge of introducing ID cards reveal the "progress"
made. The Sunday Times printed leaked emails between
the ID card project director and a director at the Identity
and Passport Service (IPS - the agency set up to implement
ID cards). From one of the emails:
"I do not have a problem with
ministers wanting a face saving solution, but we need to be
clear [...] a botched introduction of a descoped early variant
ID Card [...] could put back the introduction of ID Cards
for a generation and won't do much for IPS credibility nor
for the Govt's election chances either." (Email,
David Foord to Peter Smith, Sunday Times, 9/7/06)
UK terror threat level officially "SEVERE"
The official terrorist threat level has now been made public
for the first time (by the UK intelligence agencies). It's
"SEVERE" (Cue rising organ music). How do
they decide the level? They explain:
"It is rare that specific threat
information is available and can be relied upon. More often,
judgements about the threat will be based on a wide range
of information, which is often fragmentary..."
Knife crime hysteria
Despite recent media hysteria over the "wave" of
knife crimes in the UK, murder by stabbing has not risen.
In 1995 there were 243 murders with sharp instruments; last
year there were 236. Not even the weekly average of knife
killings (four and a half) rose during this latest so-called
crime "epidemic". (Guardian, 9/6/06)
MI5 secretly vets thousands of BBC employees
In 1983, for example, 5,728 BBC jobs were subjected to "counter-subversion
vetting" by MI5. Senior BBC figures "covered up"
the link with the intelligence agency leaked documents
refer to a strategy of "categorical denial". (Daily
ID cards latest
"The government is battling to ensure that estimates
of the benefits and risks of identity cards remain secret"
(BBC online, 5/7/06). The freedom of information watchdog
ordered the UK government to publish the estimates, but the
government has decided to appeal against this ruling. Why
should the public know the benefits/risks of spending GBP
19 billion of taxpayers' money on ID cards? http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/5150584.stm
Product placement in blogs
Bloggers are are getting paid by big business to push products.
Disclosure is optional. "It's better for a brand to get
into a blog than to surround it as a banner or text ad".
(Business Week) http://www.businessweek.com/print/magazine/content/06_28/b3992034.htm
The Daily Mail, Britain's "best-loved newspaper"
(it claims) had a front-page headline of: 'BEYOND SATIRE'
on 26/5/06. It wasn't describing its own contents, but some
report of "burglars and robbers being taught costume
making instead of going to jail".
The Daily Mail wasn't, however, listed as one of
the legal highs now available in this country (by the Independent,
30/5/06). Instead, listed were 'Funk pills' (an ecstasy
substitute), kratom leaf and salvia divinorum. BBC1 news ran
a scare story about these on the same day. http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article621825.ece
Pop singer invited to join UFO cult
UK pop singer Robbie Williams Invited To Join UFO Cult. The
Church of the SubGenius has invited singer Robbie Williams
to join its ranks. In May of 1996, Williams announced his
intention to start his own mystical religion dedicated to
extraterrestrials. In response to this statement, the SubGenius
Foundation has made an offer: "If Mr. Williams
wants to join a UFO cult, then have we got one for him!"
TV newsrooms use corporate PR as news
The Center for Media and Democracy (USA) found that
77 television stations "actively disguised" sponsored
content (PR for General Motors, Intel, Pfizer, Capital
One, etc) to make it appear to be their own news reports.
(PR Watch, 6/4/06)
Fake friendliness at work can make you ill
In a large study (involving 4,000 people) by psychologists
at Frankfurt University, students were tested in a simulated
call centre environment, where they were subjected to abuse
from customers. Some of the students were allowed to answer
back, while others had to be polite/friendly. The latter suffered
more from stress.
The researchers concluded that flight attendants, sales personnel,
call centre operators, waiters, etc, who are expected to be
friendly all the time, are at risk of harming their health
- and need their own space away from customers (ie more time
off). (Sydney Morning Herald, 21/3/06). http://tinyurl.com/n2fm6
Police warn boys over lamp post
A 12 yr-old boy was stopped by police for photographing graffiti
on a lamp post. He was given paperwork reading: "Was
seen taking photos of lamp post ... advice given".
Two other boys, both 13, were also given an official note
by the police: "Hanging around lamp post - spoken
to". (The Sun, 23/3/06)
"Strong" economy generates more heart attacks
Low rates of unemployment are bad for health according to
a recent US study. The researchers explain: "When
the economy heats up, people often end up working more overtime"
(whilst neglecting health). (Reuters, 6/4/06) http://tinyurl.com/oy9lb
al-Qaeda not linked to 7/7 London bombings
The Observer newspaper (9/4/06) reports that an official
inquiry into the 7/7/05 London bombings will say that there
was no link with al-Qaeda (despite the claims of Tony Blair
immediately after the attack). http://observer.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1750139,00.html
BBC upholds our complaint
We'd complained about a scaremongering BBC1 report which
incorrectly said violent crime had "significantly risen".
As a result, the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU)
has found that BBC1 news breached editorial standards on "truth
and accuracy", and that there was "no basis"
for claiming a significant rise in violent crime.
The Head of ECU said our complaint "gave rise to
a good deal of discussion within the BBC" and that
it "has made a difference". (More details
to follow when the ECU publishes the findings of its investigation).
Our original complaint >
Last month, the supermarket chain, Asda, launched
an "economy" Valentine card costing just 8 pence.
Their rationale for this was that 30% of people find Valentine's
day "too commercial" (according to a survey). There's
a marketing "logic" here which is way beyond anything
we can grasp. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4706320.stm
Sonic Teenager Deterrent
A new gadget repels teenagers by emitting a high-pitched
noise that can be heard only by under-20s. Police are endorsing
the device, according to the Daily
Telegraph (16/2/06). It annoys teenagers "intensely"
"they have to disperse and loiter somewhere
else". Adults are immune as the "body's ability
to detect some frequencies diminishes almost entirely after
Tony Blair's grandmother a "graffiti vandal"
Tony Blair's PR crusade against antisocial youth backfired
recently. During a photo-op, he hosed down graffiti and commented
that older generations of his family would have abhorred such
behaviour. The Daily Mirror (16/1/06) then revealed
that Blair's grandmother was a "commie" graffiti
Blair also talked of a Golden Age when "people behaved
more respectfully to one another", but a friend of
his late grandmother, Alex Morrison, 86, said: "he
is speaking absolute rubbish. Poverty and misery were widespread
and it was a violent place as well."
Daily Mirror story: http://tinyurl.com/bjtfy
UK's richest firm gets £1.2bn in corporate welfare
A provision exists in the UK for writing off tax bills where
"strict application of the law would be oppressive
and unfair". It's rarely used, but the government
very charitably used it to write off £1.2
billion (approx US$ 2 billion) from the tax bill of BP (British
Petroleum), Britain's richest company. (Daily Telegraph,
Daily Telegraph story: http://tinyurl.com/anq2a
More on corporate welfare >
[According to the Guardian (22/1/04), the Duke of
Westminster, Britain's richest man, receives a daily
handout of £1,000 from the taxpayer. Other big landowners
get similar amounts of welfare (in farm subsidies).]
'Number of the Beast' marriages.
Register offices in Holland have been flooded with requests
for couples who want to get married on the 6/6/06.
Blair's unnatural Hard Work fetish
In his New Year message, Tony Blair said: "We live
in a beautiful, prosperous country where most of us work hard".
Nobody in the media (to my knowledge) pointed out that it
might be preferable to live in "a beautiful, prosperous
country where most of us enjoy lots of leisure".
BBC misreports latest UK crime figures
Fiona Bruce announced on BBC1 news (10.00pm, 20/10/05) that
violent crime had "significantly increased". But
both the police and the British Crime Survey (BCS)
say the "increase" is largely due to the continuing
effect of changes in crime recording methods - ie not
"significant". (The BCS says violence fell by 7%
in real terms over the quarterly period reported).
The BBC's misleading announcement was followed by a report
(from BBC journalist Mark Easton) containing no statistics
or clarifications, but which did show realistically bloody
simulations of violence (apparently from a well-meaning anti-gun
I emailed Mark Easton about it (see Blog
for the email text). For more on the latest crime figures:
BBC's most important news story
As Orson Welles pointed out in Citizen Kane, the importance
of a news story is measured by the size of the headlines.
It's also measured by the amount of coverage (eg repetition).
So, the most important news recently (judging from BBC coverage)
has been the UK Conservative Party's leadership contest. No
other story in recent decades has come close in importance.
One example: Last week,
Newsnight (BBC's flagship "news" show) had
a "headline" story lasting 20 minutes
about Conservative leadership contender David Davis. It contained
no news. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4314130.stm
Anarchist TV ads watched by a million Germans
In Germany all political parties are given prime-time television
slots for their campaign ads. An estimated million viewers
watched an ad from the Anarchist Pogo Party (APPD)
on public television. Many people were reportedly outraged
by the "video montage of drug/booze-induced chaos
involving semi-naked revellers".
The Hamburg-based APPD is an officially registered political
party. Among its stated goals is "humankind's complete
and ultimate return to stupidity." It sells t-shirts
that read: "Arbeit ist Scheisse" ("work
Improve efficiency: work slowly
A British company (a factory based in Oldham) has saved £1
million by getting staff to work slowly. "After
just two weeks at the factory, the consultants came to the
conclusion that efficiency would improve if staff worked more
Support for ID cards plummets
The UK government has been claiming "overwhelming public
support" for ID cards based on a poll from a few years
ago. The Daily Telegraph (4/7/05), however, reports
a new YouGov poll showing public support for ID cards
has plummeted to 45% (from 78% in the previous poll, cited
by the government). We expected this news story to be given
headline coverage in the mainstream media, but it was barely
mentioned (BBC1 evening news didn't mention it at all).
Majority of UK workers dislike their jobs
More than half (53%) of UK workers are unhappy with their
jobs according to a poll of 14,000 people by employment group
Electronic tags turn workplaces into "battery farms"
Thousands of UK workers are being electronically tagged with
devices which can monitor breaks and trips to the toilet,
according to the trade union GMB. The technology has been
imported from the US, and the concept is similar to prison
surveillance, says the union. The tags have been used with
around 10,000 supermarket and warehouse workers. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,,1500838,00.html
New report slays myths on "flexible" labour
The TUC has published a report called Slaying the Myths,
which "demolishes the myths that are being peddled"
about the need for "flexibility" to work long hours:
Job satisfaction drops sharply
"On every indicator of job satisfaction in the British
workforce, ratings have dropped sharply since 1990: hours,
pensions, pace of job and workloads are the obvious ones;
but interestingly, for a society that prides itself on being
highly individualistic, there has been a marked decline in
control over our work."
Leaked memo: "Case for military action thin"
In a high-level leaked memo published by the Sunday Times,
the Foreign Secretary (Jack Straw) is quoted as saying: "But
the case [for military action] was thin. Saddam was not threatening
his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that
of Libya, North Korea or Iran." This is contrary
to Straw's public statements.
Blair's shifting stance on "regime change"
Tony Blair has become increasingly strident in arguing that
it was "necessary" to "remove" Saddam
Hussein, even though there was no WMD threat ("I decided
we had to remove him" Blair on Election 2005,
ITV, 2/5/05). Prior to the war (25/2/03), Blair said he was
happy for Saddam to remain in power if Iraq complied with
Earlier news (archive)