The Daily Mail last night refused to apologise for their story that claimed buses and planes from Romania and Bulgaria to the UK were full up and sold out, or to agree that their story was inaccurate.
The Mail claimed that seats were sold out; that one airline had to double its flights to meet demand, and one-way air tickets were selling for £3,000.
The paper announced that ’29 million Romanians and Bulgarians’ now had, ‘the right to work in the UK’.
Their New Year’s Eve edition reported that all buses from Bulgaria’s capital to London were sold-out for the first week of January and that almost all flights from Romania were full-up. The paper claimed that Wizz Air, the no-frills low-cost carrier, had to raise its prices to £300 a ticket because of the demand.
Yet here on EU ROPE I posted two blogs claiming that buses and planes were not full; tickets were still available at reasonable prices; Wizz Air hadn’t doubled its flights, and demand for bus and plane tickets was about the same as this time last year. In fact, the main bus company in Bulgaria said that ticket sales were down.
I sent a comprehensive letter of complaint to Paul Dacre, the Daily Mail’s Editor – published here – claiming that their story was inaccurate and misleading, and that the paper should publish a prompt correction and apology.
But yesterday former journalist Hilary Kingsley, now the Mail’s ‘legal adviser and corrections editor’, wrote back to completely reject my complaint. (Her full reply is available here.) Ms Kingsley asserted:
‘We do not agree that the article is inaccurate and misleading and we see no reason to apologise to you.’
The newspaper also refused to concede that their story implied that large numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians were coming to the UK as a direct result of the lifting of ‘work restrictions’ from 1 January. Wrote Ms Kingsley:
‘As to whether flights were fuller as a direct result of more Romanians and Bulgarians flying to England (because of the lifting of restrictions) we do not say so. It is for a reader to make a connection if he or she so chooses.’
Ms Kingsley added that two Daily Mail journalists went to Sofia and Bucharest, the capitals of Bulgaria and Romania, and were assisted by local journalists and translators. She explained:
‘It is clearly a fluid situation, a running story.. This was a ‘snapshot’ taken on the eve of a change in the rules. The picture has already changed and will go on changing, of course.’
Ms Kingsley wrote that the Mail has published many different stories about Romanian immigrants which, ‘raise different issues and provide different information.’
Also, their researcher still asserted that Wizz Air had doubled its flights from Romania to the UK to meet the increased demand. A response from Wizz Air, who strongly deny the Mail’s claims, can be read here.
As to the statement by Balkan Horn, Bulgaria’s leading bus company, that the Daily Mail had never contacted them or given any quotes for the paper, Ms Kingsley replied,
‘The published comments from the worker at the Balkan Horn office at Sofia bus station were given on the condition that he was not named because there is a company ban on speaking to journalists.’
(Strange that this ban didn’t prevent other journalists including myself talking ‘on the record’ and at length with Balkan Horn without any problems).
The Daily Mail’s story, headlined ‘Sold out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK’ claimed that plane and bus loads of Romanians and Bulgarians were not only coming to the UK for jobs, but were intent on finding ways to claim on the UK’s benefits system.
Firms had been set up to advise them how to do it, or how to avoid paying government fines, reported The Mail. In addition, Romanians and Bulgarians were posting on website forums asking how to get a Council House, child tax credits or maternity benefits in the UK.
The Daily Mail article caused indignation and alarm among their readers. The story was shared via social networking over 58,000 times and attracted almost 1,800 comments.
‘Our country is already full. I am disgusted..’ posted reader Pete from Essex, attracting 981 reader approvals. ‘Please please, please don’t come here, we don’t want you,’ wrote reader MontyPython, winning 8,378 reader votes in favour. ‘It churns my stomach to be invaded like this, we must take action,’ commented Mat, winning almost 11,000 favourable ratings.
Added KLG, ‘This country is going to implode soon if nothing is done to stop foreigners taking over our jobs, our schools and our healthcare system. And it won’t be pretty.’
The Daily Mail moderated all their readers’ comments before they were published. Comments against Bulgarians and Romanians coming to the UK considerably outnumbered all others.
By contrast, this week The Daily Mail published a story headlined, ‘Just 24 Romanians have entered Britain since migration laws were relaxed, according to the country’s UK ambassador’
The paper quoted Romania’s ambassador to the UK, Dr Ion Jinga, that the influx of migrants since 1 January ‘never happened’ with just 24 Romanians coming to the UK and only 21 to Holland.
Ironically, many of the Mail’s readers who posted 850 ‘moderated’ comments flatly refused to believe the story.
Commented MartySommerville from Cardiff, ‘If this is the standard of honesty and or arithmetical knowledge of their educated Ambassador what the hell can we expect from the newly-arrived average Romanian in this country.’ AVFC1982 from Birmingham posted, ‘There was 30 Romanians living in a house on the tv show Benefit Street yesterday?! So I find that hard to believe?!’
Woody from Wakefield added, ‘Some how I don’t believe him. They may be the official figures but what about all the illegals?’
I am disappointed by the Daily Mai’s response to my complaint. In my opinion, The Daily Mail has failed to justify publishing their story in the first place. As I wrote to The Mail:
‘Your newspaper could have published a similar report on 31 December 2012 – instead of 31 December 2013 – to claim high demand for buses and flights from Romania and Bulgaria to England following the Christmas break.
‘There was not an increased demand so far this year as a direct result of the lifting of ‘work restrictions’ on 1 January 2014. Subsequently, your report was misleading and seemed aimed only to raise false alarm and fear among British citizens about the numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians coming to this country.’
In her previous letter to me, Ms Kingsley had claimed in defence of the Mail’s story that references to flights being full only represented, ‘a small part of the article’, as if that was an excuse. I subsequently asked a number of questions about the rest of their article but the Mail has declined to answer them:
*What are the addresses of websites and forums that the Daily Mail claimed are offering advice to Romanians and Bulgarians on how to claim benefits in the UK?
*What are the names of firms that the Daily Mail reported give advice to Romanians and Bulgarians on UK benefits and how to avoid paying fines by HM Customs and Excise?
*What are the names of the journalists who reported for you, especially the ‘respected Romanian political journalist’ you have stated helped you with this story?
*Has the Daily Mail reported to the appropriate authorities in Romania, Bulgaria and the UK details of the firms and websites offering possibly illegal advice?
There are so many loose ends with the Daily Mail’s story that last week I decided to enlist the help of my colleague, Alina Matis, award winning journalist and Foreign Affairs Editor of one of Romania’s leading newspapers, Gândul. Alina recently won a prize in the ‘European Reporter’ contest for her article about immigration.
We decided to do a full deconstruction of all 890 words of the Daily Mail’s feature that claimed buses and planes from Bulgaria and Romania to the UK were full. This in summary is what we analysed and discovered about the Daily Mail’s claims:
●The claim is flatly rejected by Wizz Air, the airline named by the Mail as doubling its flights from Romania to the UK ‘to meet demand’. Wizz Air flights from Romania and Bulgaria to the UK were only increasing by 30%, stated the airline, and that was for summer 2014. The Mail’s claim that tickets from Romania to London from 1st January were being sold for £3oo was also misleading. Wizz Air flights from Bucharest to London were available on New Year’s Eve for travel the next day at only €190 each (£158).
● The £3,000 ticket was offered by Alitalia for a non-direct route from Bucharest to London via Rome. As I pointed out to the Daily Mail, they’ll always be oddly priced, oddly routed tickets. But why mention it when direct flights were readily available for less than £160? Who would buy a £3,000 ticket when much cheaper ones were available?
● On 1 January I, the day after the Mail’s story was published, I was easily able to buy a bus ticket from Sofia to London departing 3 January. The bus company, Balkan Horn, stated that the bus left on 3 January with five empty seats. Their manager, Valentina Georgieva, told me, ‘We actually have less bookings than this time last year.’
● The Daily Mail claimed that their story didn’t say if there was a link with Romanians and Bulgarians coming to the UK and the lifting of ‘work restrictions’ on 1 January. The Mail’s legal department told me, ‘It is for a reader to make a connection if he or she chooses.’ But the connection seemed clear enough in the sentence above.
●Apart from the fact that it simply isn’t possible, let alone likely, that the entire populations of Bulgaria and Romania would all move to the UK, the Daily Mail’s claim that 29 million from both countries have ‘the right to work in Britain’ from 1 January cannot be correct. Romania has 3.5 million children under the age of 15; many of them are babies. Is the Mail claiming they have ‘the right to work in Britain’? There are also almost 1.2 million children in Bulgaria, and a combined elderly population of Bulgaria and Romania of over 4.5 million. Are they all coming to work in the UK too?
Also, the Daily Mail was incorrect to state that ‘controls’ were imposed on Romanians and Bulgarians in 2005. The ‘transitional controls’ were imposed by some EU member states – including the UK – in 2007 when Romania and Bulgaria first joined the European Union. During the transitional period, Romanians and Bulgarians could only work in the UK with a work permit, although students could work for 20 hours a week during term time and full time during holidays. From 1 January 2014, Romanians and Bulgarians are able to come to work in the UK, or to look for work, on the same basis as other European Union nationals.
●The Daily Mail claimed that messages on internet forums in Bulgaria and Romania asked how to claim benefits in the UK. No details of the website forums were given in The Mail story. The Mail declined to let me have the addresses of the websites they referred to, so that I could check them. Of course that doesn’t mean such forums don’t exist; but it does seem odd, and not best journalistic practice, for the Mail not be open about this.
● Aleksandra Dzhongova, partner in the employment agency Anons, insisted that she had never spoken with the Daily Mail and she would never have given such a quote. My colleague, Romanian journalist Alina Matis, told me, ‘The agency was stunned when I phoned them. They had no idea about the Daily Mail story.’ Programme Manager and Partner, Daniel Kalinov, commented, ‘The quote is inaccurate and untrue and we will likely take this further through our lawyer.’
Mr Kalinov explained that last January the Daily Mail had interviewed him for a story published in February 2013: ‘Mafia bosses who can’t wait to flood Britain with beggars: While politicians dither over new wave of immigration from Eastern Europe, ruthless gangmasters are rubbing their hands with glee’ Mr Kalinov claimed that the article presented ‘untrue facts’ about him, so that when the Daily Mail contacted the company again last December for another interview, they refused. As Ms Dzhongova doesn’t speak English, Mr Kalinov conducts all interviews with foreign media, and he said no one from the Mail had spoken with Ms Dzhongova or to him or anyone else in the company.
●I asked the Mail for the name of this firm and whether they had reported them to the authorities for possible illegal activities. The Mail declined to answer. The Mail’s story also referred to another anonymous firm helping Romanians find work in Britain whose spokesman was quoted as saying, ‘There are already many using these social benefits without necessarily having an urgent need for them.’ But the Mail didn’t name the firm and has not accepted my request to provide more details.
My colleague Alina said, ‘I did a thorough search on the internet, but I could not find any such firms in Romania or Bulgaria offering advice on benefits or avoiding fines.’ Of course, that doesn’t mean to say that there are no firms offering such advice; but it’s impossible to prove something doesn’t exist, and it would be easy for the Mail to verify this part of their story. As Alina pointed out, ‘Out of 141,000 Romanians and Bulgarians living in the UK, in February 2013 there were around 1,700 Romanians who applied for benefits, according to statistics from the British government. I would hardly say there is a trend or a mindset on going to the UK for benefits by the citizens of Romania or Bulgaria.’
●I phoned the Managing Director of Priority Point, Cristina Haicu, and read the above piece to her from the Daily Mail article. She exclaimed, ‘Oh my God!’ and said she knew nothing about the story. She told me, ‘Thank you for bringing the article to our attention. Please be advised that Daily Mail did not call Priority Point and Priority Point did not make the quoted statement for Daily Mail.’
● Commented my Romanian journalist colleague, Alina Matis, ‘Svetlanka Beaucheva has been impossible to find. She only seems to exist in the Daily Mail article. The Bulgarian who helped me told me that the Daily Mail might have misspelled the name when they tried to adapt it to English, because it doesn’t sound right and he tried some variations of it, but couldn’t find her anywhere.’ It does seem strange that the Daily Mail didn’t give the name of the travel agency. Furthermore, it wasn’t correct that as at 31 December – the date of the Daily Mail article – that all bus seats to England were booked until 9 January. I was able to book a seat on the bus from Sofia to London on 3 January; and according to the bus company, that bus had five spare seats when it left Sofia for London.
● Karats Eurolines in Bulgaria categorically stated that they never spoke to the Daily Mail, or gave that quote, and they don’t even have any buses going to the UK. In a strong statement sent to my colleague, journalist Alina Matis, their manager, Bojidar Stamenov, wrote: ‘What is the problem? Our company is KARAT-S AD, member of Eurolines Organisation from Bulgaria. We have NO interest for England, NO coaches for England, NO meetings with journalists.’
● Balkan Horn deny any knowledge of ever talking with the Daily Mail, and say they would never have given such a quote as it wouldn’t have been true; there were seats available on their buses to London, and no increased demand because of the change in EU rules. In fact, demand for bus journeys to England had gone down.
Last night the Mail’s legal department explained that, ‘The published comments from the worker at the Balkan Horn office at Sofia bus station were given on the condition that he was not named because there is a company ban on speaking to journalists.’ This seems odd, as both myself and my journalist colleague, Alina Matis, had no problems talking several times with Balkan Horn, and found them to be very helpful. There was no ban by the company on speaking to journalists.
● Commented my Romanian journalist colleague, Alina, ‘I spoke with Ion Prioteasa, and he was shocked when I read out the quote to him. The Mail had misquoted Prioteasa from a speech he gave last October when Wizz Air launched a direct flight from the city of Craiova to Luton. Mr Prioteasa was talking about numbers of all flights from Craivova airport to all destinations, and he was not referring to the UK.’
Ion Prioteasa told Alina, ‘I was referring to the doubling of the number of passengers from Craiova Airport in the next year, but we have many other destinations other than Luton. We have Bergamo, Milan, Rome, we are now trying to have flights to France and Barcelona. I had no knowledge to support a statement regarding the number of people traveling to UK in the coming year.’ Mr Prioteasa confirmed that he had never spoken with the Daily Mail.
The Daily Mail has claimed that they didn’t say in their article whether ‘flights were fuller’ from Romania and Bulgaria because of the lifting of work restrictions. The Mail’s legal department told me, ‘It is for a reader to make a connection if he or she so chooses.’
So, the Daily Mail’s article of 31 December 2013 headlined, ‘Sold out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK’ :
Did this Daily Mail report represent a trick or the truth?
I won’t say.
It is for you, the reader, to decide, if you so choose.
In the meantime, I am making a formal complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about the Daily Mail article, on the grounds of an alleged breach of the PCC’s Editors Code of Practice, in particular Code 1, items i, ii, and iii, regarding accuracy:
Code 1: Accuracy:
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving the Commission, prominence should be agreed with the PCC in advance
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
I will also complain about an alleged breach of the PCC’s Code 12, which deals with discrimination:
Code 12: Discrimination
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
However, there is a potential problem with Code 12, as it only refers to discrimination against an individual, rather than discrimination against an entire race, nation or ethnic group. To me, this seems nonsensical, as racism is usually directed against an entire race, in addition to individual members of that race.
Some time ago I attempted to complain to the PCC under Code 12 about an allegedly racist headline in my local newspaper. Since the headline referred to an entire race, and not to an individual, the complaint was rejected. (I will be writing more about this soon on my other blog at, Jon Danzig’s World.) However, if you are a Romanian or Bulgarian, or a named person in the article who feels you have been discriminated against, then you may wish to consider complaining under Code 12 in addition to Code 1.
If you feel that the Daily Mail article breached the PCC’s Editor’s Code of Pratice, please promptly complain online to the PCC using this form.
All you need to do is explain why you wish to complain and which Codes of Practice you consider have been breached. If you wish you may refer to the evidence presented in my blogs here. If you’re going to complain, please do it soon.
You can also complain directly to the Daily Mail by clicking here. (Although it should be noted that the Editor in Chief of the Daily Mail, and the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission’s ‘Editors Code of Practice Committee’ is actually one and the same person – Paul Dacre. However, although the Code is written by Editors, breaches of it are independently assessed by the PCC. Here are the FAQ for the Committee, and the FAQ for the PCC. They supposed to be independent and separate from each other.)
UPDATE 3 SEPTEMBER 2014:
Click here to see all the stories about the investigation of the Daily Mail by Jon Danzig and Alina Matis
• The Daily Mail published ‘absurd’ and ‘entirely untrue’ stories about Romanians and Bulgarians coming to the UK, a government peer said in the House of Lords following my investigations into this story. (Click to watch video)
Roy Greenslade’s blog in The Guardian:
Alastair Campbell, author and former Communications Director for Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on his blog about my blog:
‘I recommend you read this brilliant expose of one paper’s lies and myths about the so-called wave of immigrants heading our way from Bulgaria and Romania.’ –
Read Alastair Cambell’s blog:
My guest blog on the British Influence website:
— Jon Danzig (@Jon_Danzig) January 20, 2014
Please re-Tweet and share on Facebook.
My colleague, Romanian Journalist Alina Matis, who has been of great assistance to me on this investigation, has simultaneously published a comprehensive article in her own newspaper, Gândul, about the failings of the Daily Mail’s story:
Link to Alina Matis’s story in Gândul (in Romanian)
The headline in English reads:
‘Daily Fail. Gândul deconstructs an anti-Romanian campaign by the Daily Mail newspaper, the most powerful British tabloid. 60 per cent of the article warning of an ‘invasion’ of Romanians was false’
The story starts:
‘Gândul’s Alina Matis (in Bucharest) and British journalist Jon Danzig (in London) have fact checked, line by line, the truth behind an article of one of the most powerful anti-immigration campaigns of the British media. They found false data and quotes that didn’t exist.’
Alina Matis is on Twitter: @AlinaMatis
— Alina Matis (@alinamatis) January 16, 2014
‘It was billed as a flood, but it’s been barely a trickle so far – there’s been no sign that masses of Romanians and Bulgarians are heading for these shores, but the rhetoric has been described as heated at best; toxic and divisive at worst’ – Channel 4 News reports, and ask Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister, Kristian Vigenin, if Bulgarians are victimised in the UK?
— New Europeans (@NewEuropeans) January 25, 2015
Other articles by Jon Danzig:
- The value of being ‘citizens of Europe’
- Winston Churchill: A founder of the European Union
- The free movement of people: It works both ways