December 6th, 2009


Playing to the audience.

Visitors have gone to sleep. They will dream dreams of the 'Doom' film I put on because the goggle-box had nothing to offer, so there might be screams in the night. Especially if I wander about the house with my hat on.

Now that they are dormant, I can comment on today's papers.

I usually start news-browsing on Yahoo. The Yahoo links don't last long so they aren't a lot of use but they sometimes link to Sky news or ITN or the like. They also list stories from the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail. They would link to the Times, I'm sure, but Murdoch doesn't like free advertising so they can't.

My impression of the three they link to is this:

The Guardian takes a socialist view of everything and is aimed at an audience of middle-class left wingers who play at equality and multiculturalism for everyone else, as long as it doesn't affect them.

The Telegraph is referred to as the 'Torygraph' by left wingers and as the 'Labourgraph' by right wingers. It seems to switch sides depending on the reporter. It's sort-of in the middle ground overall but seems to swing one way or the other at will. Readership must be the swing voters or the dual personality types.

The Daily Mail can make a sensational story out of mouthwash. It exists to combat low blood pressure and veers towards tinfoil hat territory a lot. The stories are usually true in essence but often beefed up to make them appear far more anger-inducing than they need be and sometimes inflated way beyond any reasonable interpretation. It's fun to read but it should come with a blood pressure warning and stories need to be scrutinised carefully. Definitely one for the more rabid reader. On the other hand, they will cover stories the others don't regard as 'national' enough. It's often so over the top it's actually funny, too.

Other than that, the Times is usually reasonably calm but went down in my estimation over the Nightjack outing and has never felt the same since. The most unbiased source I know is Reuters but reporting is very dry as a consequence.

The reason these papers report in the way they do isn't so much to do with their editors (although that does come into it) as their readers. Newspaper producers do not exist to provide untampered news. They exist only to sell newspapers. They identify their target audience and write in a manner that audience will pay to read.

And so, on the story of the NHS watchdog baroness who quit, we have the Mail insisting that she was forced out for annoying both the government and her staff, with her friends quoted as saying:

But her friends say that shortly after the leak, she had a series of angry meetings with Mr Burnham over the system for rating hospital care.

The Guardian says she simply quit because she didn't want to do it any more and there is nothing else to report. Her friends told the Guardian:

"She jumped. It's got nothing to do with Basildon. She just decided that she didn't want to do it."

Who to believe? It doesn't matter. Mail readers will believe the Mail version, Guardian readers will believe the Guardian version but which is true? Possibly neither of them. It's quite possible this woman has never existed and the photos are posed by an actress. We have no way of knowing. We don't even need to care.

Then there's the Dr. Kelly story haunting Tiny Blur's dreams. The Mail insists that doctors claim he was murdered, but that's not quite what they claim. The Telegraph is a bit more restrained in that these same doctors point out that there was never a proper inquest so the declaration of suicide was unsafe and must be re-examined. Not quite a declaration of murder, more a suspicion that it might have been. Those doctors are not alone in their suspicions but until the case is examined, the doctors are quite sensibly not making accusations.

I'm certain he was murdered and I'm sure any one of us would be if we had access to a hell of a lot of very embarrassing data. I doubt bloggers need to worry. Even those civil servants deemed so inept and useless as to be given the job of reading drivel like this rather than being entrusted with anything important must realise that if a blogger had any evidence of anything at all, it would be on the blog that day. We just couldn't keep anything secret. If it's not on the blogs it's because we don't know about it.

There is nothing anyone can do about those two stories other than read what happens. We can't investigate for ourselves. We just don't have the resources, the contacts or the time. The Doctor and the Baroness remain at arm's length to the general population and the stories are unlikely to cause any problems, no matter how they are told. In other cases, the manner of reporting can have potentially explosive effects.

The Mail doesn't seem to have picked up the EDL march story. The Guardian has it, peppered with references to 'right-wing' and 'racist organisation' and apparently the fight was between the EDL and the police. The UAF just watched, according to them. The Guardian has this line:

A large number had their faces covered with hooded tops and shouted insults aimed at Allah.

...whereas the Telegraph puts it slightly differently...

About 500 protesters from the English Defence League (EDL), many with their faces covered with scarves and hooded tops, marched through Nottingham yesterday decrying Allah

Is it just me, or does the Guardian seem far more incensed at the idea of insulting Allah than the Telegraph? Language like that led to a Muslim uprising against Danish cartoonists. Are the Guardian trying to start a war here?

Guardian -

A 43-year-old member of the EDL, a serving soldier who did not want to be named, said: "We came here to support our lads and the UAF and other militants have turned up. I think it's disgusting.
"I look at their protest and there's a Pakistani flag flying with a Muslim symbol."

Telegraph -

One EDL member, a serving soldier who declined to be named, said of the student protest: "I look at their protest and there's a Pakistani flag flying with a Muslim symbol. They're protesting against the troops and it's anti-British. I'm not a fascist, I'm not a Nazi but I am British."

Subtly different interpretations of the same quote there. The Guardian report links 'disgusting' with 'Pakistani flag' whereas the Telegraph version links 'Pakistani flag' with 'protesting against the troops'. The first will enrage Muslims, the second will enrage the British. Neither is good, but enraged British will write strong comments on the bottom of the article and threaten to vote BNP, whereas enraged Muslims tend to prefer more tangible and immediate responses. The Telegraph version is likely to make its readers say 'tut'. The Guardian version is likely to make its more volatile Muslim readers say 'Kill the EDL' and its right-on white readers say 'Go for it, we'll support you from over here' because they don't get their hands dirty, these capuccino communists. Oh, no, they have people to do that for them.

The EDL have one stated purpose. They don't want Sharia law in the UK. The EDL have not demanded anyone leave, nor that anyone abandon their religion, nor that anyone become Christian and have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for Sunday lunch. They don't want Sharia law. That is the sum total of their concerns.

The UAF oppose them. The only issue is Sharia law which leads to the conclusion that the UAF want it imposed. There is no other issue to oppose as far as the EDL is concerned.

Reporting of the ongoing EDL vs UAF battles is not a plaything for making clever political points. Next time the EDL march, there will be some among the UAF drones who will have read that Guardian article and who will be convinced they are facing Hitler's chosen apostles. The words in those newspapers are written to appeal to their audience and they serve to reinforce views that the audience already had. Nobody pays to read a newspaper that disagrees with them. They buy papers that tell them what they want to hear. The problem with that system is that those people then believe what they are told precisely because it confirms what they already believed. The newspaper reports tell them that their prejudices are correct, whether about immigration or about Sharia or about nazis under the bed.

Reinforcing prejudices makes it easy for the audience to dehumanise the opposition, and once dehumanised, well, it's not murder if they're not human. it's like disposing of a rabid dog. Doing the world a favour.

The papers play to their audience for sound business reasons. There are times when playing to the audience is very dangerous indeed.

I doubt any newspaper editor will ever realise that. The editors tend to think the same way as their audience.