How the Daily Mail selectively quotes in order to lie about attitudes to gay people

From today’s Daily Mail:

Most people still oppose gay marriage and the adoption of children by same-sex couples, a Government report revealed yesterday.

More than half believe homosexual marriages should not be allowed and two thirds think the adoption of children by same-sex couples should not have become legal nine years ago.

Unfortunately for the Mail, perhaps, the Office for National Statistics’ Population Trends Autumn 2011 is available to the public. And within the section concerned, Civil Partnerships Five Years On, we see that the information around which the Mail has hooked its “Look, look, Britain’s as homophobic as we’ve been telling you” hat comes from two 2006 Eurobarometer survey questions, included for cross-Europe comparison but not collated by the ONS:

Eurobarometer is run by TNS Opinion and Social on behalf of the European Commission. In 2006 two questions were asked to around a thousand respondents from each of the EU25 countries25. Given the small sample sizes for each country the results can only be indicative of the main differences and general ordering of countries.

(My emphasis.) So the ONS explicitly warns against using the Eurobarometer survey results in the way that the Mail has done.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised. Just as we shouldn’t be surprised that the Mail has ignored other statistical information within the same report that shows that the proportion of the population that believes same-sex relationships to be wrong is substantially smaller than the proportion which doesn’t.

Update: Ruminations of an Englishman examines the original Eurobarometer and finds that while 45% disapproved of gay marriage, 46% actually agreed…

Meanwhile, the Pink Paper swallows the Daily Mail’s spin hook, line and sinker. They should be ashamed.

The myth of the racist children

ANTI-BULLYING RULE THAT BRANDS CHILDREN RACIST” screamed the Express, who always assumes its readers can’t cope with headlines in mixed case (and, indeed, that SEO is about repeating the same keywords over and over in a URL…)

‘Racists’ aged THREE: Toddlers among thousands of children accused of bigotry after name-calling” said the Daily Mail.

The Evening Standard followed with “Children as young as three should be reported for ‘racism’, Government-funded group claims“, and the Telegraph added to the pile with “Children as young as four reprimanded for racist behaviour“.

The general gist was the same in each case, despite the differing levels of hysterics in the headlines. By recording incidents of racist behaviour, children would be branded for life if they uttered anything which the teachers might consider to be racist or homophobic.

But wouldn’t you know it? There’s not all that much in truth in the way the papers have covered the story.

From Show Racism the Red Card, the organisation campaigning against racism in football and society:

It is vital to understand that the recording and reporting of racist incidents by schools is NOTHING to do with labelling or punishing children. It is ludicrous to suggest that future employers will be turning away candidates because they uttered a racist word at nursery. Baseless stories such as these are simply scaremongering and continue to erode belief in the value of recording racist incidents.

Recording racist incidents means that schools are able to identify patterns; do incidents rise in response to particular local or national events? Are the incidents all of a particular nature or between specific groups of young people?

It helps schools to identify whether any strategies that they have put in place are having an effect and to identify whether there are any specific training needs for staff or pupils.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it creates a school environment where young people know that they will be taken seriously, where all young people feel valued and where racism and discrimination are not accepted. It is beneficial for the Local Authority to collect this information, so that they can gain a better understanding of issues within schools and offer relevant help and support.

Of course, if children grow up with respect for themselves and each other, they’ll end up as adults who are far less likely to fall for the tabloid papers’ catalogue of hatred and self-pity that they rely upon for newsstand sales and website page views. So maybe there’s some self-interest in their misrepresentation of this story?

Does the Daily Mail understand copyright law?

Earlier this week, my attention was drawn to a story on the Daily Mail’s website on the basis that it was unusual. And it is, for here’s a story about gay parents which makes no attempt to demonise them or suggest that the baby concerned is at risk in any way. For the Mail, that’s a big step forward.

Daily Mail story on gay surrogacy by Julie Moult

The story itself is quite a heart-warming one: a gay couple are now parents of a beautiful baby boy, thanks to one of the men’s sister, who acted as a surrogate.

It’s clear, though, that the couple did not approach the Mail with their story, but that the majority of the “investigation” has been conducted by reading Facebook pages of the people concerned.

> However, on his Facebook web page last week, Mr Sigston could not contain his excitement.
> ‘I am one happy Daddy – life is good, life is just where I want it,’ he wrote.
> Two weeks after the birth he posted a message to Mrs Bradley which read: ‘Still really can’t believe how one amazing gesture can change the course of your life. Thank you sooooo much – you know who you are!!!!!

Any attempts by the Mail to garner direct quotes resulted in people refusing to talk about this private matter with them:

> …’We’re not ready to talk about this at the moment.’…
> …A spokesman said it was a private matter on which they would not be commenting.
> Yesterday, Mrs Bradley said she was shocked the story had come to light and said she wanted time to think about whether to speak publicly. She said: ‘I need to consult my family, this has all come as a bit of a shock. There is a lot of us involved in it so we have all got to discuss it.’

That hasn’t stopped the Mail from publishing many photos, both of the happy parents and the sister who has helped them. Apart from one papped shot which is credited to freelance photographer Glenn Harvey, every other photograph on the page has the wording “© Facebook” attached.

Except that Facebook doesn’t own copyright on photos you submit to it – copyright remains with the people who took the photos. While there have been spats with Facebook over changes to their terms of service in recent times, the company has never attempted to claim copyright over what it terms “user content”. As with any other social networking website, you grant the site a licence to republish your content to your friends or other people, depending on your privacy settings. That doesn’t enable newspaper organisations to take those photos and republish them without your permission.

A quick look on Facebook now confirms that the three adults involved in this story have their privacy settings locked down so that only friends can see the pages from which this information has been lifted. Whether that was the case at the time the Mail lifted the story and the photographs, I can’t say. But whatever their privacy settings were, the Daily Mail had no right to use those photographs without permission — and from the quotes provided, it sounds unlikely that such permission would have been given.

Won’t somebody think of the children – instead of just blaming the broadcasters?

Previously posted on TV Today

Every morning when I get into work, I find an inbox crawling with press releases, most of which are of little to no interest either to me directly or even to The Stage as a whole. This morning, I did see one which deserved additional reading, as it covered children’s television, an area that TV Today readers will know is dear to our hearts.

The release claims that 70% of parents of children under 7 have said that their children have had regular nightmares because of children’s programmes.

Needless to say, both the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph have pumped out the story onto their respective websites, pausing only to rewrite every other sentence into their house style. Seriously – the Daily Mail version of the story is, sentence for sentence, exactly the same structure as the release (except for omitting a crucial couple of paragraphs at the end – but more of that anon).

But questions of lazy churnalism aside, the line being pushed by the press release does at least deserve some closer analysis.

Except, I’m not sure it really does stand up to such scrutiny.

The debate about whether television affects young people’s behaviour is an age old one – older, indeed, than television itself. For TV, substitute cinema, theatre or (depending on how far back you want to go) poetry and the discussion existed.

It doesn’t help that so many different research studies often draw different conclusions (examples of such studies, and a basic look at possible reasons for the discrepancies, can be found here).

But one thing that must surely be acknowledged is that, even if children’s programmes were as horrific as this poll of parents suggests, any possible long-term consequence can surely be mitigated by the parents themselves.

I don’t actually believe that children’s programmes are any less scary than they were when I was of that age. I would personally find live action dramas like Into the Labyrinth or Children of the Stones far scarier than any cartoon, violent or otherwise. And I’m not sure I accept that, even at an early age, children are unaware that programmes like Ben 10 and Power Rangers are complete fantasy. But the ability to separate fantasy from reality is something that parents can and should encourage in their children.

The release also targets Saturday evening shows Doctor Who, Primeval and Robin Hood as too scary, suggesting they should be shown post-watershed. Here’s a thought – how about watching them as a family, so that youngsters can enjoy them safely? That is, after all, the type of audience they were commissioned for – and not by children’s departments, but by the grown-ups’ equivalents.

The Mail version of the story continues in a similar vein, but ends with a quote a spokeswoman for the website that did the survey:

“We think that back in the 1950s there was a lot more guidance from broadcasters about the suitability of children’s programmes – they had Watch With Mother banners, and For The Children branded programmes.”

And today we have CBBC, CITV, CBeebies, Nickelodeon, Nick Jr. – the list goes on. Whether it’s through dedicated children’s channels on digital networks, or heavily branded strands on the terrestrial channels, it’s never been easier to find programmes specifically commissioned for watching by children.

Indeed, recently the BBC has gone further, and introduced iPlayer for CBBC and iPlayer for CBeebies, which not only include easier layout for young fingers to navigate, but has dedicated links to information for grown-ups.

The whole reasoning behind the press release is fallacious. Is there a link between TV programming and either children’s behaviour or the incidence of nightmares? There may be, there may not be. A guick Google uncovered the aforementioned examination of the possibility of links, looking at various research models. Different research comes up with different conclusions, along with raising more questions. Do naturally aggressive people seek out aggressive programming? What role do peer groups play in establishing children’s understanding of what they watch? And so on.

One thing must be sure, though: when it comes to breaking any possible link between, say, children watching programming they find frightening and having nightmares, parents have an opportunity to provide reassurance and context.

Which brings me to the one section that the Mail doesn’t include in their version of the article: the closing paragraphs of the press release.

[The website spokeswoman says:] “However, parents are left to regulate what their child watches, how much they watch and when.

“This means they would at least need to consult a TV guide to find out which programmes are classed as C band – suitable for all children, and P band – suitable for pre-school children.”

But the poll reveals parents don’t have time to monitor what their children are watching minute by minute, and 70 per cent readily admit they leave their children watching television whilst they make the dinner or get things ready in another room.

How about that – parents being asked to take responsibility for their children’s upbringing, including their TV viewing habits. Er, excuse me, isn’t that your job rather than the broadcasters’?

If you paid a human being to mind your child, you would take the time and effort to ensure that you were leaving your charges in appropriate care. Unfortunately, it seems that when it comes to the box in the corner, not only do some parents want to see it as a free babysitter, they also want to free themselves of any responsibility in ensuring their offspring are left in good hands.

Lessons learned

Over the past week, I’ve been representing _The Stage_ at two press conferences that Matt, our broadcasting correspondent, would normally have gone to had he not been moving house this week.

The two events (the launch of the _[Eurovision Dance Contest]( on Tuesday at City Hall, and of _[High School Musical 2]( on Friday at the Café Royale) both had communal press conferences before we had the opportunity of one-on-ones with some of the people involved. And with both, when the floor was opened up to questions nobody wanted to stick their hands up and ask a question.

You can call it fear, you can call it shyness, but whatever name it gets, it amounts to the same thing: I _can’t_ be the first person to ask anything. Maybe everyone else is in the same boat, because in both situations it took an achingly long time for the conference to get going.

Gradually, though, I summoned up the courage to ask questions. And, thankfully, being on moderately safe ground (I was virtually raised on light entertainment shows and Disney movies) I was able to ask questions that, to my mind, didn’t suck.

What I didn’t expect was that the panels in both cases would respond so positively to what I asked. I still don’t think my questions were especially deep, thought-provoking or profound: they just weren’t banal, and for some reason that made them stand out.

On Tuesday, I asked whether any action would be taken if dancers deviated from standard ballroom rules in the ballroom section of the competition in a bid to attract public votes (something that commentator [Len Goodman]( has, in the past, accused UK competitor Brendan Cole of doing on _Strictly Come Dancing_). Later, _EDC_ host Claudia Winkleman complimented me on the question, which not only came as a complete shock but was also immensely flattering.

Then, on Friday, the press conference for _HSM2_ was a bit flat. Early on, I asked Zac Efron to clarify about how much he sang in the first film (internet reports vary from “none” to “some”). Then, after teenybop magazines had asked questions such as “what is you favourite moment in the film?” and the Daily Mail had asked “what guilty secrets do you have that go against your squeaky clean image?” (yeah, because a bunch of famous teenagers are _so_ going to tell you, even if they had any), I was able to ask another question, so I asked director and choreographer [Kenny Ortega]( about his choregraphy team and how they worked with the cast.

The full answer is something I’ll be saving for a podcast on _The Stage_’s website, but suffice it so say that everyone on the panel started to respond well — from Kenny, to the screenwriter talking about how they worked out what each song should be contributing to the overall story, to Lucas Grabeel reciting an anecdote about his first dance rehearsal on the original film.

To see the whole panel finally be so animated on what was, sadly, the final question of the group conference, was immensely satisfying. What I wasn’t expecting after the conference ended was to have Kenny Ortega go out of his way to come up to me and thank me for my questions. He didn’t do that to anyone else, nor did he have to do it in my case, so it was both gratifying and also a mark of the man he seems to be.

The lessons I’ve learned from the last week are that I need to have more confidence in my ability to ask good questions, and to pipe up right at the beginning, when others are still sitting on their hands. And there are elements of that I can apply in more usual situations, as well.