Children of famous parents and their right to privacy

Another thing I would like to see from the Leveson Inquiry is the conclusion that plastering the faces of young children across newspapers and their websites simply because they have been born to famous parents is utterly unacceptable. The PCC code of practice does mention Children and states:

Editors must not use the fame, notoriety or position of a parent or guardian as sole justification for publishing details of a child’s private life.

However, perhaps it should address the celebrity-driven nature of newspapers now and state specifically that it is not acceptable to publish lots of photos of them either – unless they are specifically engaged in a public appearance with their parents. Of course, whatever replaces the PCC will have to have relevant enforcement powers.

It troubles me that so many of the activities a family might want to engage in take place in public and that means the press have a never-ending supply of easy stories involving the children of celebrities. Like this published on the Mail website today: ‘Fun and hugs: Doting Olivier Martinez has a beach playdate with Halle Berry’s daughter Nahla’. The article includes 8 close-up long lens photos of Nahla who is not yet four years old – also rather disturbingly the sub-editor who writes the photo captions has a habit of pointing out that young girls look older than their years, today is no exception:

Growing up fast: Nahla will turn four years old in March, but already looks older than her tender years

This kind of article shouldn’t exist – let alone with such disturbing captions; people have the right not just to privacy in their own homes, but also the right to a certain level of privacy in public – unless you really want to argue that as soon as someone famous steps outside their house the press has every right to harass them with long-lens cameras and then publish beach snaps of 3-year-old children worldwide to make a few quid. The press constantly talk about privacy as if respecting it stamps on some kind of sacred right that the press has, yet the reality of 99% of press intrusion is the morally and ethically bankrupt pursuit of celebrity gossip.

This not only ends up with vulnerable young children being exploited, it also means that things of real importance are being ignored because the media have decided instead to focus on feeding us non-stop celebrity drivel.

That’s just not cricket

Another year, another immigrant being allowed to stay in the UK for the flimsiest of reasons. Last year we had the person allowed to stay because he went to the gym and before that the famous Bolivian-student-allowed-to-stay-because-they-owned-a-cat. Of course, the important thing about both of those cases is that those were not the reasons at all. The media – bless them – had just taken what they thought to be the most absurd reason for remaining (even, if in the case of the cat, whether it wasn’t even used as an argument) from each case and reported it as if that was the sole reason for the judge’s verdict.

Which brings us to today’s Mail Online headline: ‘Judge gives Bangladeshi student permission to stay in the UK… because he loves cricket’. Which actually means:

In what is being seen by lawyers as a test case, a trainee accountant from Bangladesh who came to Britain to study has been granted permission to remain in the country after successfully claiming that he had made friends and played cricket on Sundays.

While the Home Office turned down Abdullah Munawar’s initial bid to stay on in the UK after graduating, the courts overturned the decision on appeal and ruled that he could continue to enjoy a “private life” in this country under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

You can argue all you like about the ‘right to a private life’ enshrined under Article 8 of the ECHR, but let’s have those arguments like adults, rather than just screaming that X has been allowed to stay for one reason alone when they clearly have not. The right to a private life does kind of imply that every student on a 3-year VISA will be able to argue their case to a judge to be allowed to remain – after all, you would hope that most people would have established a private life over the course of living in the UK for 3 years. What this perhaps does is highlight how the UK currently expects to be paid handsomely by foreign students whilst they attend its universities, only to then remove them as soon as their education is over without question.

Again, newspapers are free to have this debate but it would be refreshing if for once they could just report the truth accurately and avoid dishonest headlines. The Daily Mail was recently bemoaning the apathy of young non-voters, yet at the same time this is the level of political debate that the newspaper engages in. There is clear scope for a proper debate over the right to a private life and what this ruling means for future cases. However, all people will be taking away from this article is the false impression that playing cricket is a surefire way that ‘they’ can stay in the country – just as if ‘they’ owned a cat.

Speaking of which, at least the Mail Online article didn’t dare mention the cat, unlike the Telegraph:

The case of the cricketing student now takes its place in the annals of unusual immigration decisions – alongside the “Bolivian cat man”, first exposed in these pages two years ago, who sparked a Cabinet rift at the 2011 Conservative conference.

Indeed, the cricketing student myth will now be regularly quoted alongside ‘Bolivian cat man’ by people unaware that they’ve just been lied to by their newspaper, again. Considering the absolute falsity of the ‘Bolivian cat man’ story it staggers me that the Telegraph – the article was written by David Barrett – has again proudly stood by it.

The new press regulator needs the statutory power to fine or flog any journalist who repeats a myth that has been publicly and convincingly shown to be false. Otherwise we just end up with millions of individual Wintervals damaging public understanding of how the world works.

Was 2011 the year that shame died?

Dominic Sandbrook today claims in the Daily Mail website’s ‘RightMinds’ section that ’2011 was the year that shame died’. His reasons for believing this to be true are: the London riots; riots across Europe as austerity took hold; Liam Fox clinging to his job; Sally Bercow entering TV’s Big Brother; two England captains (John Terry, Football and Mike Tindall, Rugby) getting into trouble; fat cat bankers; Fred Goodwin and ‘two Croydon girls, drinking a bottle of looted wine at nine in the morning’.

Somehow, Sandbrook doesn’t find any room for even the faintest mention of the shameful state of the tabloid press or the days of appalling evidence of shameless tabloid actions collated so far by the Leveson inquiry.

Instead – like all good tabloid journalists – Sandbrook prefers to blame the normal groups for the death of shame; the ‘feral underclass’, the ‘Left’ and any kind of social liberalism in general. All of the tabloid cliches are wheeled out, including the classic Daily Mail fantasy:

Of course, few of us would enjoy life in the 1950s, when landladies put up ‘No Coloureds’ notices, and when ignorance and intolerance forced tens of thousands of women to seek bloody and dangerous back-street abortions.

Yet thanks in part to the decline of Christianity, we have lost the sense that morality is public as well as private.

The Daily Mail still holds dear the values of the 1950s – institutional racism, deep-rooted misogyny and a rigid, overbearing sense of class division – and as a newspaper is just completing another year of morally bankrupt and socially irresponsible journalism. It is ironic that Sandbrook writes a missive on the death of shame in a newspaper that has no shame, and Sandbrook just reinforces this by not even mentioning the Leveson inquiry of the general conduct of the press in 2011.

Sandbrook hopes that next year:

we can genuinely rediscover the virtues of social responsibility and moral austerity

But he isn’t convinced. I don’t blame him, when one of the most socially and morally bankrupt institutions in the world dares write about shame without even the merest acknowledgment of its own consistently shameful conduct, things are not about to get any better.

Remember when The Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and Sun run huge front page stories about Christopher Jefferies – painting him as a ‘nutty professor’, a ‘peeping Tom’, ‘strange’ and many other unproven smears? Remember when those same newspapers – when forced by the courts to apologise – then buried the apologies on page 2?

Shame is just another topic that no tabloid journalist should ever write about unless they are about to confess the sins of their profession.

Daily Mail and baby names

October 2010 and the Daily Mail happily distorted statistics on baby names given to boys in the UK to make it look as if ‘Mohammed’ was the most popular. The Daily Mail decided to add together the 12 variations of the name in order to claim it was now the most popular boy’s name to create a bit of anti-Muslim scaremongering. They also did the same the year before. Today the Mail website has taken the top 100 boys names in 2011 from an online source and funnily enough Mohammed – in any variation of spelling – does not appear in the list at all.

Make a note of this for when the Daily Mail trots out the ‘Mohammed is the most popular boy’s name’ story next year.

Daily Mail back on the subject of prison vans

The Daily Mail are fond of attacking prisons and associated services as being overly luxurious and expensive even when what they are attacking fundamentally undermines the newspaper’s free market ideology. On the one hand the Daily Mail takes great pain to label the NHS an inefficient lumbering bureaucracy that can only be saved by immediate and complete privatisation, on the other they keep criticising the partial privatisation of services within the justice sector. A while back they distorted a story about how a prison van was driven 96 miles to transport a prisoner 60 yards to court – a story which David Cameron picked up and used to beat human rights with – and today they have another complaint: ‘Hope they’re not watching the Great Escape! Prison vans to get flatscreen TVs and DVD players ‘to keep anxious prisoners calm”.

The article claims that:

security firm G4S revealed it is installing televisions and DVDs in some vehicles.

The flatscreens are being introduced to reduce prisoners’ anxiety as they are transported between jails or to court appearances.

Straight away the Daily Mail is admitting it is only ‘some vehicles’ that are having the televisions fitted. In fact, the Daily Mail could be specific right from the beginning of the article as they do know exactly how many are going to be fitted:

A spokesman for G4S today said the scheme will only take place in Scotland and that only two out of 146 vans will be fitted with the technology.

Two vans, in Scotland, will be used to trial the technology. The reason for the trial is not just to simply ‘reduce prisoners’ anxiety’ but is rather targeted at:

Only prisoners with a particular risk of self-harming during journeys that last up to eight hours will be transported in them…

Mr Denny added: ‘It is feasible that a young person might need to travel from Central Scotland to the Highlands. That’s at least an eight-hour round trip.’

Obviously the Daily Mail then brings in a quote from someone concerned with the cost to the taxpayer, but again, this is just the free market in action. G4S are a private company, if they want to fit their vans with spa baths and mini nightclubs then it is no longer the concern of the taxpayer once the contract has been awarded. Surely this is just the kind of innovation that the Daily Mail believes private companies can bring to the (largely) publicly run NHS – the kind of ‘outside-the-box’ thinking that they should be applauding? After all, G4S hopes that:

the cost of fitting the technology will eventually save money spent repairing vehicle interiors damaged by violent inmates.

Isn’t this what private companies are supposed to be good at – and the public sector bad at – saving money by doing things differently?

It’s incredibly frustrating that the Daily Mail doesn’t even have the decency to be consistent with who or what it is attacking from one minute to the next. If the Daily Mail is in favour of a completely liberalised free market capitalism which expressly requires the services of the state to be privatised – which editorially, it clearly is – then it would be nice if the newspaper could at least stop complaining about the consequences of getting exactly what it wanted in the first place.

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