How The Mail degrades journalism and refugees

Jon Danzig |

Daily Mail Front Pages

• Inaccurate and misleading: The Daily Mail’s reporting of Calais asylum seekers

Last week two front page stories by The Mail displayed shocking disregard for accurate reporting or any care for the plight of desperate asylum seekers trying to reach the UK from Calais.

Setting the tone for the week, the ‘Mail on Sunday’ in their front-page report expressed outrage that hundreds of ‘illegal’ migrants arriving in Britain from Calais are being put up in hotels at tax payers’ expense. The problem?  There were not ‘hundreds’ but at most one-hundred being temporarily accommodated in hotels, and these people were not ‘illegal migrants’ but asylum seekers fleeing war and terror.

The next day the Mail continued its onslaught against the Calais refugees with another front page claiming that, ‘70% of the thousands of migrants massing at Calais are making it to Britain.’  The problem?  The Mail had misquoted the Chief Constable of Kent’s evidence to Parliament.  He said that 70% of the migrants in Calais leave within four months but it wasn’t known how many of them go elsewhere in France or reach Britain.

As the independent fact checking organisation, Full Fact, pointed out:

‘There’s no evidence that 7 in 10 Calais migrants are entering the UK’.

This the Mail did report in their story, but much lower down on the inside pages, when they accurately quoted Kent’s Chief Constable, Alan Pughsley, as telling Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee that it could not be ascertained, ‘whether these migrants leave to go elsewhere in France, or whether they enter the UK.’

But this little half-hidden full-truth in the story didn’t stop the Mail calculating all their statistics on the false premise that Mr Pughsley had instead said, as their opening story claimed, that 70% do make it to Britain (even though Mr Pughsley never said that).

On that basis then, since there are estimated to be 5,000 migrants now ‘amassed’ in Calais, according to The Mail statistics department it must mean that around 3,500 (i.e. 70% of 5,000) were making it to Britain.  Oh and that of course must surely mean that 900 of these ‘illegal’ migrants are arriving from Calais to Britain every month.

It’s nonsense of course, but this is the world as The Mail sees it; or rather as they want their readers to see it, because this misinformation (rather than the truth) reinforces their readers prejudices against asylum seekers.  And that, of course, is how the Mail sells their newspapers to their ‘market’.

Having reported the mistruth as an established fact, with the unwitting source being the Chief Constable of Kent (without his knowledge or consent), the Mail could then refer to this as a ‘fact’ in future stories and editorials.  So, last Friday, in their leading editorial comment, the Daily Mail felt confident to repeat their ‘fact’ and pontificate:

‘As we learned this week, 70 per cent of those who reach Calais eventually make it to England.’

Voila, the Mail’s mistruth was now an established truth: 70% of Calais migrants were making it to Britain.  The Mail could now unashamedly quote this as a fact, without even bothering to refer to their maligned original source (after all, why would the Mail want to alert the Chief Constable of Kent that what he had told a prominent Parliamentary Committee was being grievously misquoted by the newspaper?)

Since this was now being repeatedly circulated by The Mail as the truth, other media and politicians could quote from it, reinforcing that yes, the Mail must be right, others are saying it too. If anyone asked the Mail where this so-called ‘fact’ came from, the Mail could vaguely answer oh, it was the Chief Constable of Kent who said this, and he must surely know!

The same technique was employed in the ‘Mail on Sunday’ story claiming that ‘hundreds’ of migrants illegally arriving from Calais were being put-up in hotels at tax payers’ expense. That’s at least what the story reported on the front page and first paragraphs.

Lower down the story on the inside pages, however, the Mail added, as an aside to the main thrust of their article, that only 100 were being accommodated in hotels by Serco, the private firm contracted by the government. Did the Mail hope that readers wouldn’t spot the difference between ‘hundreds’ and ‘one hundred’?

And only lower down the story did The Mail stop referring to ‘illegal’ migrants and instead correctly describe them as ‘asylum seekers’.

So when I complained to the Managing Editor of the Mail on Sunday, Mr John Wellington, that the Mail’s story had incorrectly reported that ‘hundreds’ of asylum seekers were being temporarily accommodated in hotels, whereas in fact there were just one hundred, he was able to respond to me, “The figure was clearly presented as an estimate and explained lower down in the story when we said that Serco admitted 100 recent arrivals were staying in hotels.”

It seems that at the Mail’s highest management not an eyebrow is raised nor a forehead furrowed when it’s pointed out that so-called ‘facts’ presented in the opening headlines and paragraphs of an article don’t match what’s presented “lower down in the story”.

Those who have studied the Daily Mail method of  journalism might agree with me that this is a well known technique.

In my view, these two Daily Mail stories misreported the truth to enable a sensational front page headline and opening paragraphs, which were then ‘balanced’ by more accurate information albeit subtly hidden ‘lower down’ the story.  That way the Mail, if challenged (as indeed I have challenged them) can respond that that their story, after all, was accurate, because look, there it is ‘lower down’ in the story.  (Even though the front page headline and opening sentences didn’t match what was presented ‘lower down’).

This is surely too clever by far to be considered a mistake? Could this be a purposeful technique employed by the Mail to enable them to fashion their headlines and stories to match a view of the world which they know will appeal and therefore sell to their market (readership)?

I wonder how many Mail readers actually spotted that the headlines and opening paragraphs in these two stories bore little resemblance to the more accurate but less noticeable reporting that inconspicuously took place ‘lower down’?  In fact, how many readers just glanced at the front page headlines and never actually read the rest of the story on page 5 or 10 or wherever?

Some might consider that presenting seemingly incorrect or misleading information in the headline of a story and then subtly balancing it with more accurate information ‘lower down’ to be the work of geniuses, worthy of a post-graduate thesis on effective propaganda techniques.

But I consider this to be the lowest form of journalism, that does not serve the interests of this country or its citizens well, or that of refugees who are fleeing horrible wars and terror.

Jon Danzig’s speech in Germany: ‘Newspaper lies can cost lives’

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• Click arrow to hear 11 minute interview with Jon Danzig about the Calais migrants


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