Thursday, May 26, 2011

The British are different from us ...

I followed a link from a tweet this morning to the blog Tabloid Watch, and spent the next twenty minutes browsing the posts to my increasing disbelief.  My awareness of British tabloid journalism and its cutthroat business model of sensationalism, celebrity gossip, and pandering to xenophobia and nativism has always been vague at best.  Reading about how many papers print screaming headlines that are intentionally misleading at best, outright bald-faced lies at worst, though, blew my mind.

The story that brought me to the site was this correction from the Daily Mail, which hilariously claimed that its story "Babies who are born at 23 weeks should be left to die, says NHS chief" was printed "in good faith.  When in fact, the National Health Service consultant in question said no such thing.

But the stories that exercised my outrage throughout the day were the repeated claims that the European Union was about to clap liberty-loving Englishmen in shackles.  Proposals to merge England and France!  Banning plastic bags!  Forcing government offices to fly the EU flag!  All examples of the tyranny of the the EU and all designed to foment outrage in the readership.  Only problem is that none of these things are true, as readers would find if they read far enough down in the stories, past the histrionic quotes from rightwing activist groups and self-appointed watchdogs, and if they can negotiate complexities of meaning beyond "EU diktat" and "EU plot exposed."

I understand that the British press is given more leeway in the civil code to print material that turns out to be false -- that it is much more difficult there to win a lawsuit for libel or slander.  But something is very wrong if papers can't be held accountable for intentionally telling lies in a breakneck race to the bottom.

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