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Jack of Kent: Bercow makes a stand for libel reform

October 4th, 2010 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal

At the end of last week, news broke that think-tank MigrationWatch had threatened political commentator Sally Bercow with libel action following comments she made on Sky News in August about a Daily Express story on migration.

Her comments reportedly included reference to what she perceived as the oversimplification of arguments made in the article, which included statistics from MigrationWatch, adding that the story was “fairly dangerous propaganda”, based on case documents posted by author Richard Wilson on his blog.

According to a release from the Libel Reform Campaign, Bercow, who is the wife of House of Commons speaker John Bercow, received a letter from MigrationWatch’s chairman Sir Andrew Green’s solicitors demanding an apology and legal costs as a result of her comments.

Yesterday lawyer David Allen Green announced on his ‘Jack of Kent’ blog that he had been instructed to act in Bercow’s defence to any libel action. Discussing the context of the case he said the current state of free expression is “depressing”.

But our ‘banning’ culture in respect of free expression is not inevitable and can be reversed; there is no good reason why the first reaction of so many people to unwelcome statements is to get the law involved, and then there is no good reason for so many police officers, judges, and officials to allow them to do so.

(…) Sally Bercow could have just quietly apologised, perhaps with the pre-prepared humble apology which was attached to the threatening letter. But she chose not to do so. She has chosen instead to make a stand for her right as a political commentator to respond to news stories in the way she did. She wants to show how threats like this to political commentators – and also journalists – support the need for libel reform.

The case has also been highlighted by the Libel Reform Campaign as what they claim is “proof” of the need for defamation law reform. A new defamation bill is already expected to be drafted in 2011 by the government. Jo Glanville, editor of the Index on Censorship added:

MigrationWatch should not be using our libel laws to silence criticism of their approach over immigration. Sally Bercow now faces the same ordeal as Simon Singh with potentially bankrupting costs, years of her life wasted in Court, all for expressing an opinion. It really presses home just how important the coalition’s pledge of a libel reform bill is.

MigrationWatch had no further comment to make at this time.

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Editorial job losses at Express Newspapers reduced from 70 following union talks

September 24th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Job losses, Jobs, Newspapers

As reported on Journalism.co.uk in August, Northern & Shell, owners of Express Newspapers and OK! magazine, announced plans to make 70 journalists at its newspaper titles – Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Sunday Star – redundant.

Now the company has reduced the overall number of cuts at the newspapers from 90 to 75. This means the number of journalism jobs cut would be reduced from 70 to between 52 and 57 – a figure reported by the Guardian and confirmed to Journalism.co.uk by the National Union of Journalists.

“The reduction in job cuts was only announced after the NUJ had warned the company that they were not following the right procedure,” said Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ deputy general secretary.

Stanistreet, a former Express Newspapers union representative, attended talks with the company this week.

“While we welcome the reduced numbers we still don’t know how the papers can be produced with the few people who will be left. We want to see some proper plans and we want guarantees that there will be no compulsory redundancies.”

Last year 80 Daily and Sunday Express redundancies were proposed by Northern & Shell, to cut the number of staff sub-editors, long-term regular casual sub-editors and other casual journalism staff.

Last year’s cutbacks included the introduction of a new working week pattern for sub-editing staff at the paper and a production system, which would allow some staff to write directly onto page templates without the need for sub-editors.

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INM signs £40m print deal in Northern Ireland

September 16th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers

Amid all the ominous news surrounding Independent News&Media a more positive story for the company has surfaced:

A £40m print deal will make Northern Ireland one of the biggest producers of daily newspapers in Europe, after INM signed contracts with the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mirror.

INM will now be printing all Mirror titles and the Telegraph titles, as well as the Sun, News of the World, the Daily Express and Sunday Express, the Daily Star and the London Independent.

The Belfast Telegraph reports:

“The first deal sees all sections of the Daily Telegraph printed in the company’s high-tech plant at Newry for the next 15 years. The second deal brings the Daily Mirror to the Belfast Telegraph print plant for a seven-year term.

“The deals represent two of the longest print agreements signed in the region and have been made possible by an IN&M investment strategy which has seen more than £50m spent on new presses in both centres.”

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Jon Bernstein: A telling tale of the twittercrat who wasn’t

September 4th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Comment, Online Journalism

So the government is not seeking another Twittercrat after all, ‘someone (…) paid to teach the [it] how to use social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Bebo’.

On one level this is a shame. Take this from the very web 2.0 Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Using the microblogging site Twitter, it announced earlier this week:

“@foreignoffice: Opium cultivation, production and prices are down according to @UNODC report http://bit.ly/qjGVm #afghanistan

As Guido politely asks on his blog:

“Why, if you are trying to eradicate supply in Afghanistan, proudly boast that opium supplies are cheaper?”

Perhaps Whitehall really could do with a deputy to help the Twittercrat-in-chief (aka the director of digital engagement, aka Andrew Stott) to knock the troops into shape.

But that’s not going to happen. In fact, what’s more interesting is to follow the story – how it got out there and how the Cabinet Office went online – with mixed results – to rebut those original claims.

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, the Daily Telegraph (‘Whitehall expands “Twittercrat” empire‘); Daily Mail (‘Ministers seek £120000-a-year ‘Twittercrat’ to help them communicate on the internet’); Daily Express (‘The Twittercrat on £118,000 a year – and you’re paying’); and a trade journal called Public Journal (‘Now they want a deputy Twittercrat‘); all carried very similar stories about the government’s supposed appointment of a director of digital engagment.

The only problem was that many of the points of fact in all four weren’t true. In its rebuttal statement, the Cabinet Office met each claim head on:

1. The job title is wrong
2. The details of the job description are wrong
3. Claims that the vacancy is for a ‘spin doctor’ are wrong
4. Details of reporting lines are wrong
5. Claims that digital engagement is all about pushing government messages on Facebook are wrong

Got that? It’s all wrong, although the circa £120,000 remuneration (including pension and bonuses) is not challenged.

To be fair to the papers, the job ad on which they were basing their copy lacked clarity. With its calls to ‘embrace’, ‘re-engineer’, ‘extend’ and ‘engage’, the technocratic language is certainly open to some interpretation.

Nevertheless, there were some obvious inaccuracies, not least the job title, worthy of correction. As yet, scanning the print and online versions of these publications, no corrections have been made.

Meanwhile out on the web, the Cabinet Office was doing its bit to get its message across. It floated it out on social networks and the blogosphere. Meanwhile, former cabinet office minister Tom Watson (a Twitter veteran) put this out:

“@tom_watson Old media have problem with the word ‘digital’ when added (or not) to ‘engagement’. Cabinet Office fightback: http://bit.ly/12pI0S

It carried a link to the Cabinet Office statement and was retweeted half a dozen or more times to be seen be many thousands of followers. Thanks to the network effect that underpins social tools like Twitter, word was getting out.

The end result?
A tight(ish) circle of digitally savvy Westminster, Whitehall and media folk and their associates got the message. But beyond that? Probably not quite far enough.

One of the great promises of the internet even in its pre-web 2.0 days was disintermediation, the notion that you can cut out the middle man.

It is an attractive proposition for everyone, from those seeking cheaper car insurance to celebrities keen to protect or repair their reputation to government departments wanting to go over the head of the fourth estate.

As we’ve seen in the recent past, for example in the case of singer Chris Brown, things don’t always turn out how you hope.

As so it is with the Cabinet Office’s attempts to right some wrongs. You and I know there’s more to the Twittercrat story than first thought, but most readers of the Telegraph, Mail and Express probably do not.

A story about outlandish salaries and civil service dilettantism is grist to the mill for those three papers – it plays to their agenda.

But as yet the average reader of all three is still expecting a £120k Twittercrat to head to a Facebook page near them soon.

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at this link.

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Express under fire for advertorials again

Only last week Journalism.co.uk reported how the Daily Express was criticised by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for masking advertorials as features.

Yesterday, as reported by MediaGuardian and others, the Express again came under fire for a similar incident.

An advertisement for Goldshield’s Rozip took up the bottom half of a page, with an article on the qualities of the product sitting on top.

Previously the ASA investigated as to ‘whether the features had been controlled by the advertiser and also whether the claims made by the products were true or exaggerated’.

They came to the conclusion that ‘both publisher and advertiser were purposefully trying to get around elements of the advertising code by presenting the articles and adverts in this way’.

When criticised for unsubstantiated claims made by the Express journalist about the healing properties of the products, Goldshield’s Rozip responded that ‘they were not responsible’ for the contents of the article.

Monitoring staff at the ASA said that the advertisement and the article were clearly linked. As with the previous cases reported last week, Goldshield had booked the ad on the understanding that the editorial would also appear.

The ASA state that because of the ‘reciprocal arrangement’, Goldshield in fact had implicit control over the top half of the page and as such Goldshield was responsible for ensuring the contents of the entire page complied with the Code.

In the latest issue of Private Eye (August 21 – September 3) it was suggested that the Express might not be the only newspaper guilty of this tactic. On August 5, the Evening Standard printed a piece about a world cruise that the Eye described as an ‘unmarked advertorial’ – it fell opposite a full-page ad for the very same cruise. The Evening Standard article in question can be found at this link.

It seems no action has yet been taken against the Evening Standard; the Daily Express on the other hand has been told ‘the ad must not appear again in its current form’.

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Greenslade: Peter Hill’s ‘mistakes’ to parliamentary committee

April 30th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism

Roy Greenslade challenges several points made by Daily Express editor Peter Hill at Tuesday’s Commons select committee meeting on press standards, privacy and libel.

The committee did not push Hill hard enough on the ethical issues surrounding his paper’s coverage of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, writes Greenslade.

Full post at this link…

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New study measures social media success of national newspapers

September 18th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Newspapers, Online Journalism

This week Martin Belham, of Currybet.net, released his study into the nationals newspapers’ use of web 2.0 tools, such as news aggregation and social media sites.

His aim was this:

“I wanted to examine, firstly, how well British newspaper content was performing on prominent social media sites, and secondly, see if there was any correlation between the placement of icons, widgets and links, and the presence of newspaper content on these services. In short, I wanted to measure UK newspaper success with social media services.”

In order to do this he monitored eight popular social bookmarking and link sharing sites for a month, checking for the presence of UK newspaper URLs on their front or most ‘popular’ pages. Between July 15 and August 14 he counted just over 900 URLs from 12 major newspapers across the services (the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Daily Star, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Mirror, News Of The World, The Scotsman, The Sun, The Telegraph and The Times)

Here’s a peek at some of the findings:

  • The Telegraph was the most successful UK newspaper in this study, with 243 prominent URLs on social media sites between July 15 and August 14 2008.
  • The poorest performances amongst the nationals were from the Daily Star (4 links), and the Daily Express and The Mirror (3 links each)
  • The correlation between having an ‘icon’ or ‘button’ for a specific social media service, and success on that service appears to be weak or non-existent.

The full study can be downloaded from here, for £25.

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Press Gazette: Express editor Hill leaves PCC after McCann libel payout

May 15th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers

Daily Express editor Peter Hill has left the Press Complaints Commission.

The move follows two months after his newspaper (along with its sister Sunday and the Star and Sunday Star) published front page apologies and paid the parents of missing child Madeleine McCann £550,000 in libel damages.

He’s replaced on the 17 strong commission by Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright.

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