Latest bulletins: 1 June 2010

Earlier news (archive) >

[The wording in these summaries is Media Hell's.
For dates, see source info posted in each story]

Pre-election scare tactics

Predictable scare-semantics in the run-up to the 2010 UK election: "Broken society", "social recession" (as opposed to economic recession), etc. Not all media bought it - The Economist pointed to a "steady, deep fall in crime", claiming: "The broken-Britain myth is worse than scaremongering - it glosses over those who need help most". (Economist, 6/2/10, p15, 61-63).

Scans of Economist articles also available here and here.

Daily Mail "makes stuff up" shock

The Daily Mail made up a story (based on a press release from Rentokil) about "every train compartment" containing "2,000 bugs". The Guardian criticised it. (Daily Mail, 3/3/2010; Guardian, 12/3/10).

Space Hotel vs Doomsday bunker

A space hotel is apparently on schedule to open in 2012. (Reuters, 2/11/09). Alternatively, if you think it's all getting a bit too much, check out the plush community doomsday bunker available in the Mojave Desert:

Handcuffed for free speech

A man was handcuffed by police for displaying (in his own home) a poster of David Cameron, with the caption "wanker". The audio of his phone conservation with a policeman, on the semantics of onanism (halfway down the page) is amusing. (Guardian, 11/5/10)

More police doesn't equal less crime

Article from the BBC's Mark Easton (BBC, 28/4/10).

Billion Pound O-Gram

Which costs more: the bail-out of the banks or people taking sick-days? The Guardian has provided a useful chart for putting these huge sums in visual context:

Click to zoom

Answer to above question: the cost to industry of sickies is tiny compared to the cost of bailing out the banks (as you probably already suspected).

Larger version of chart >
Guardian article >

One in ten UK households not paying council tax?

Bailiffs were used in 1.2 million cases to recover council tax arrears last year, and 2.5 million households received courts summonses (Times, 7/1/09).

Newspapers not trusted

A recent study found that only 23% of people in the UK count newspapers as "highly trusted" - roughly the same proportion who consider Wikipedia as highly trusted (BBC news online, 31/12/08).

Lie-detector nation...

Trials of lie-detector tests for benefit claimants have been declared successful by the government, and it seems that this technology will be made available for use nationwide.

... or taser-gun nation?

Better odds than the lottery? UK police are to be armed with 10,000 Taser guns. That's one for every few thousand households. Will you be the lucky recipient of 50,000 volts when you're mistaken for a troublemaker? (Sunday Times, 23/11/08).

Benefit fraud exaggerated

According to Neil Bateman, a welfare rights specialist, most benefit fraud is exaggerated. In a letter published by the Guardian (5/12/08), Bateman claims that out of 41 cases of alleged fiddling which he investigated, only three were correct. He writes of "an alarming trend for prosecutions to be based on fundamentally flawed evidence". And in cases where fraud has occurred, eg with people working while claiming, they often would have received as much, or more, in legitimate (but unclaimed) tax credits.

A million fake copies of the New York Times

Last November (2008) around 1.2 million fake copies of the New York Times, dated July 4, 2009, were handed out by the 'Yes Men'. It might have worked better if it weren't so obviously a spoof, but perhaps that would've led to prosecution under anti-terrorism laws.

Obama inhaled

"I inhaled frequently". "That was the point".

Workers aren't happy

According to a YouGov survey, workplace unhappiness is growing, with workers having to work harder and longer, while seeing their pay cut in real terms. 46% said the amount of work asked of them has risen.

Previous bulletins

Latest UK crime figures

The latest official crime figures have just been released (23/10/08). They show crime falling or stable in most categories (violence, firearm offences, serious knife crime, burglary, vehicle-related theft). Total recorded crime fell by 6%; recorded violence fell by 7%; recorded robbery fell by 16%. "The risk of being a victim remains at a historically low level".

Seems too good to be true? Well, it was revealed on the same day that police had made errors in categorising some types of violent crime, resulting in the figures showing a decrease when in fact there'd been an increase. The media made a great deal of this ("how can we trust the crime figures"?). The BBC's Mark Easton has written a very good commentary. He says that: "today's statistical fiasco does not demonstrate that serious crime is soaring whatever you may read in the papers. If anything, serious violence in England and Wales is probably stable or even falling."

Banks refund £2.6bn to customers

The Independent newspaper announced on its front page (31/8/07) that the campaign against the big banks' unfair "penalty fees" has so far cost the banks £2.6 billion in refunds to 3.8 million customers. The Independent's economics editor, Sean O'Grady, writes optimistically about the power of the internet to "humble some of the biggest corporate beasts in the jungle".

'Anarchy in the UK'

There was a media backlash against Conservative leader David Cameron's use of the phrase "anarchy in the UK" to describe crime levels. The Independent (21/8/07) ridiculed Cameron in a leading article titled "Anarchy in the UK? Hardly...". Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, criticised Cameron and pointed out that "Violent crime is at the lowest it has been since the mid-90s" (Press Association, 31/7/07). But BBC2's Newsnight decided to use the "anarchy" phrase as a headline to their coverage of the Rhys Jones murder a few days later. See our correspondence with Newsnight:,,2159918,00.html

The BBC maintained the shock-horror momentum with "news" that children under age 10 committed nearly 3,000 crimes last year. This was the BBC's main headline story on 2/9/07.

See our correspondence with BBC reporter Keith Breene >

Former BBC Crimewatch host accuses
media of fearmongering on crime

Nick Ross, the former presenter of BBC1's Crimewatch upset the Daily Mail by claiming that newspapers are guilty of fearmongering over crime. Ross stated on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that "the media have long been peddling a big lie about crime". He went on to say: "The most common forms of crime have plunged. Burglary is down 58 percent, car crime down 61 percent, violence by 48 percent". He referred to the media as "hunting in packs and hungry for the narrative regardless of the underlying truth".

We first read about Ross's statements in Roy Greenslade's Guardian blog (brought to our attention by a correspondent). A comment on this blog adds: "Ross made the same point during an interview on BBC1's Breakfast programme. Sian Williams' fixed smile almost cracked while the dashing Dermot quickly dif[f]used the outbreak of accuracy by abruptly ending the interview." (Daily Mail, 21/7/07; Guardian Unlimited, 23/7/07) (Daily Mail link)

Latest crime figures

Following the release of the latest crime figures, BBC1 Ten O'Clock News (19/7/07) announced: "Crime is at a historically low level..." This was a first for BBC1 news. As we've indicated in detailed complaints to the BBC, their headline announcements have, for years, cherry-picked rises in crime. The headline was followed by an informative report by Mark Easton which dispelled some myths about violent crime. He pointed out, for example, that "half of it [violent crime] involves no injury, and it includes crimes like bigamy". He also commented on the example of a 77 yr-old woman, petrified of crime: "Isabel's chances of being involved in a violent attack are extremely remote, but that's not what she reads in the papers".

For details of our previous complaints on BBC News, and our past correspondence with Mark Easton, see:

Students force HSBC into rethink

One of the 'big five' banks, HSBC, was "forced into a dramatic U-turn" after a web-based protest by students. HSBC had planned to cancel interest-free accounts for graduates - until thousands of students signed up to the Stop the Great HSBC Graduate Rip-Off campaign. The bank's hasty re-think led to a leading article in the Independent celebrating "a victory for people power". (Independent, 31/8/07)

Government to use lie detectors on benefits claimants

The UK government is set to make countrywide use of lie detectors in a "crackdown" on benefits fraud. The Voice Risk Analysis (VRA) technology works by measuring fluctuations in the voice that indicate stress and "an attempt to deceive". The Observer newspaper (2/9/07) quotes a government spokesperson: "Operators trained in intelligent questioning and behavioural analysis will use the system to identify suspect cases at the start of the claim process...".,,2160874,00.html

Single Working Age Benefit proposed

The Citizen's Income Newsletter has spotted that a recent Work and Pensions Select Committee report, 'Benefits Simplification' (26/7/07) contains a detailed proposal for something called a Single Working Age Benefit (SWAB), which would replace benefits for both the employed and the jobless. They argue that a SWAB is "nine tenths of the way to a Citizen's Income".

Majority of super-rich pay no income tax

HM Revenue figures, recently released under the Freedom of Information Act, suggest that only a fraction of those earning £10m or more in Britain pay income tax. Prior to the 1997 general election, Gordon Brown promised to end "the tax abuses which reach to the heart of our public finances by indulging the super-rich at the expense of the rest of us". A decade later, The Independent newspaper (22/6/07) describes Britain as "a haven for the super-wealthy".

One wage not enough to live on

Nearly half of all UK families need two or more salaries to cover their bills, according to a recent survey. "Over 11 million UK households are dependent on more than one salary". (BBC News Online, 4/5/07)

BBC removed details of Director General's pay

The BBC Director general, Mark Thompson, "was paid a total of £788,000 in the last financial year" according to a recent BBC web page, which, oddly, no longer contains this information – although it was still appearing in Google search results when we checked:

Fighting fund announced for battling the banks

Despite two apparent set-backs in which local courts found in favour of banks, the campaign against the banks' profiteering from excessive (and arguably illegal) charges is gaining momentum. A £100,000 fighting fund has been set up by consumer groups and private individuals, to encourage people to launch legal challenges against the banks. Commenting on the coverage surrounding the banks' first court victory, Martin Lewis (who announced the fund), said: "This case has no bearing in law and in practice sets no precedent [...] This is a desperate attempt to scare people away and it is important that we do not allow their spin and spiel to put people off". (The Scotsman, 4/6/07)

The most prominent case is that of barrister Tom Brennan versus National Westminster Bank. Brennan has set up a website to provide updates:

Jobless level is treble the official figure

The real level of unemployment in Britain is almost three times as high as the official figure, according to a report quoted by the Guardian. The reason for the discrepancy (between the 900,000 official "claimant count" and the report's figure of 2.6 million) is that many jobless people are diverted onto other benefits or out of the welfare system altogether. (Guardian, 13/6/07),,2101437,00.html

Alternative currency flourishes in New Age town

There are about 844,000 "BerkShares" in circulation in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Worth $759,600 at the fixed exchange rate of 1 BerkShare to 90 US cents. In their 10 months of circulation, they've become a regular feature of the local economy. (Reuters, 19/6/07)

Gap between rich and poor wider than ever

Inequality in Britain is at levels "not seen for over 40 years" according to new research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The widening gap between rich and poor has meant that 'average' households (neither poor nor wealthy) have been decreasing in number. (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 17/7/07)

Media hysteria over disappearance of child

The Independent newspaper has best summed up the media coverage of the disappearance of 4-year-old Madeleine McCann:

"The hysteria created by the reporting of this and similar cases does no service to anyone. It will lead only to children being wrapped in cotton wool and prevented from developing the social skills and independence they need to survive. Far from offering a shared catharsis, all it does is spread the virus of fear." (Independent, 15/5/07)

Average cost of a house rose £20,000 last year

The cost of an average home (in Britain) rose by £2,000 in March to reach £206,890. This figure is £20,000 higher than a year ago. The average price of a London home has jumped by £42,000 in a year. (Guardian, 15/5/07),,2079579,00.html

Police report "ludicrous arrests"

The Police Federation claims that "ludicrous arrests" result from the police trying to meet government targets. They quote examples of such arrests:

• A man cautioned for being "in possession of an egg with intent to throw".
• A woman arrested on her wedding day for damage to a car park barrier when her foot slipped on her accelerator pedal.
• A child arrested for throwing cream buns at a bus.
• A 70-year-old arrested for criminal damage after cutting back a neighbour's conifers too vigorously.
• Two children who were arrested under firearms laws for being in possession of a plastic toy pistol.

(Press Association, via Independent, 15/5/07)

Soaring antidepressant prescriptions

The number of prescriptions for antidepressants in England has hit a record high. More than 31 million prescriptions for drugs such as Prozac were issued in 2006 – a 6% rise on the year before. (BBC News Online, 24/5/07)

Road crashes the leading cause of death

Road crashes are the leading cause of death among young people, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly 400,000 people under the age of 25 are killed in road traffic crashes every year. Millions more are injured or disabled. (WHO, 19/4/07)

Dramatic change in working habits needed

A Guardian news story titled 'Work at home, drivers told' mentions a report by the RAC which claims that: "Only a dramatic change in working habits would prevent implementation of pay-as-you-drive schemes". (Guardian, 14/5/07),,2078875,00.html

Setback for anti-bank-fees campaigners

Lloyds bank has won a "landmark victory" against a customer who was claiming a refund of "penalty" charges. This is a setback for the campaign against such charges. However, Martin Hickman, of the Independent says that the ruling "does not mean that if you are claiming back your bank charges, you should abandon your case [...] All the campaigners say that you should continue and that you still have a very high chance of winning". A test case involving a barrister, Tom Brennan, should shed further light on cases later this year. (Independent, 16/5/07)

Benefit claimants to face lie detector tests

Benefit claimants will face lie detector tests, in a "crackdown on fraud", the government says. (Such fraud is currently worth £0.7 billion per year, compared to £14 billion in business fraud and £85 billion in corporate tax avoidance). Voice Risk Analysis technology picks up signs of stress when telling lies. These are measured against the "normal" voice, "ensuring that nervousness or shyness is not a trigger". (Guardian, 5/4/07),,2050811,00.html

Talking CCTV to apologise

The UK's "Talking CCTV" scheme got off to a bad start, when a camera's loudspeaker wrongly accused someone of littering outside a McDonalds. (Guardian 12/4/07),,2055057,00.html

One man's legal fight for justice over bank fees

Britain's banks will finally have the legality of their excessive "penalty fees" challenged in court later this month (30 April). Barrister Tom Brennan is reportedly risking his professional career to prove the banks are acting illegally (and since they currently make an estimated £4.7 billion per year from the charges, this almost sounds like John Grisham territory). (Independent, 14/4/07)

Bank interest charges "cannot be trusted"

Banks and credit card companies have been issued a "super complaint" over interest charges and face an inquiry from the Office of Fair Trading. A consumer watchdog (Which?) has warned that interest charges "cannot be trusted". (Independent, 1/4/07)

Office jobs are big polluters

An article in the Independent points out the environmental cost of working in offices. A typical office building is cited as using (per employee) three times the amount of electricity as the typical person consumes at home. Another good reason to work from home. (Independent, 25/3/07)

Average house price eight times average wage

The average price of a house in Britain is £192,200 - over eight times the average wage (less than £24,000). In the 1930s the average house price was around £600 - three times the average wage (around £200). In other words, the average earner would have to earn £64,000 a year to match the house-purchasing power of someone with a similar job in 1930 (not taking into account other expenses such as food, consumer goods, etc, whose prices have fallen in real terms since 1930). (Guardian, 18/12/1999; Telegraph, 10/3/2007)

Alcohol worse than ecstasy on new drug list

Scientists (including members of the government's top advisory committee on drug classification) have produced an assessment of the harm caused by 20 substances, and have rated alcohol and tobacco as more dangerous than cannabis, LSD and ecstasy. The rankings take into account the stronger cultivated "skunk" cannabis (which has been the subject of recent media scare stories).

The researchers say the existing drug classification should be scrapped and replaced with one based on evidence. Ecstasy is shown to be one of the least harmful substances, causing fewer than 10 deaths a year. One person a day is killed by acute alcohol poisoning and thousands more from chronic use. (Guardian, 23/3/07),,2040890,00.html

Rise in UK child poverty

The number of children living in relative poverty rose from 3.6 million to 3.8 million last year. (BBC News Online, 27/3/07)

UK's child mortality rate is linked to inequality

Britain has the second highest child death rate among the 24 richest countries in the world. A new study claims this is linked to the gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots" which is the third biggest among the 24 countries. (Independent, 1/4/07)

Talking CCTV

The Times (4/3/07) reports a case of two teenage girls happily ripping up a magazine and littering the area with it, when a voice from a nearby loudspeaker announces: "You two girls have been witnessed on CCTV camera dropping litter. Pick it up and put it in the bin provided". Later this month the Home Office is expected to announce a nationwide scheme to introduce “talking CCTV”.

MI5 trains supermarket staff

The security services are advising food retailers on how to identify "extremist shoppers". Supermarkets are apparently an attractive target for terrorists – but the only example provided in this news story is of three Palestinian-Americans arrested in Texas "after staff spotted them bulk-buying mobile phones". (Independent, 4/3/07)

Government uses terror plot for political purposes

The police have accused the UK government of using a recent "terror plot" to divert press attention from the "cash for honours" scandal. (New Criminologist, 4/2/07)

DPP: "There is no war on terror"

The Director of Public Prosecutions has warned that a "fear-driven and inappropriate" response to the terrorist threat could lead Britain to abandon fair trials. He was also reported as denying that there is a "war on terror". (Guardian, 24/1/07),,1997246,00.html

Drug laws driven by "moral panic"

A report from the RSA commission on illegal drugs says current drug law has been "driven by moral panic", and that the evidence "suggests that a majority of people who use drugs are able to use them without harming themselves or others". (BBC, Guardian, etc, 8/3/07),,2029203,00.html

American estimates of Iraqi deaths

According to a recent AP/Ipsos poll of 1,002 American adults, the median estimate of Iraqi civilian deaths since the March 2003 invasion was 9,890. The responses were as follows:

1,000 or less: 8%
1,001 to 5,000: 24%
5,001 to 10,000: 20%
10,001 to 50,000: 21%
50,001 to 100,000: 11%
100,001 to 250,000: 6%
More than 250,000: 5%
(DK/NS): 4%

AP report:
Poll: (currently inaccessible)

Police hysteria over terror threat

Police Commissioner Ian Blair claims the UK is facing an "unparalleled and growing threat of a terrorist attack". However, he said there was "no specific intelligence" about an imminent attack. He also asserted (without any supporting evidence) that the threat of terrorism was "far graver" than those faced during World War II or the Cold War. (BBC Online, 22/12/06)

MI5's terror alert email service

Not feeling anxious enough? Now you can receive email terror alerts from MI5, notifying you of changes to the terror threat level. Just the thing to liven up your day, whether you're travelling to work on a crowded train or doing the shopping. A spokesman for the Home Office denied that the automatic alerts would cause unnecessary panic among those receiving them. (Press Association, 9/1/07),,-6333074,00.html

[A problem with MI5's email service was quickly identified. Activists at revealed lack of protection of subscribers' personal details, claiming MI5 sent them unencrypted to commercial third-party email marketing/tracking companies based in America (leaving them open to snooping by, for example, US law enforcement agencies).]

MI5: "No imminent terrorist threat"

Prior to the 7/7 (2005) London bombings, The director-general of MI5 told ministers there was "no imminent terrorist threat" to the country. Media response has been: "How could they fail to predict those attacks". Perhaps a better question is: "Why has the assessment of risk changed so much since then?" (Guardian 9/1/07),,1985970,00.html

[See also our piece on the Misleading Vividness fallacy, which examines the tendency of politicians and media to assume increasing risk whenever a tragedy occurs].

Corporate welfare update

Barclays, Britain's third biggest bank (with annual profits of around £7 billion), has received a £4.2 million hand-out courtesy of the taxpayer (in the innocuous-sounding form of a Regional Selective Assistance grant, to help them "create jobs").

£2.3 billion MoD headquarters refurbishment

The cost of refurbishing the Ministry of Defence HQ has been estimated at £2.3 billion. News of this cost came as senior army officers criticised the "cramped and decaying" living quarters of many in the armed forces. (BBC Online, 8/1/07)

Politicians "exploit" terror fears

Politicians are "exploiting" the fear of terrorism for political gain, according to a report by the Joseph Rowntree Trust. The report's authors urge the government to abandon talk of a "war on terror".

Meanwhile, an article in the Guardian claims the threat of terrorism has been "wildly exaggerated": "While terrorism can take on different guises, it is not new and is not a threat to human society to rank with a world war or a nuclear holocaust".,,1953857,00.html

An earlier Sunday Times piece (by the same author, Simon Jenkins) criticised "politicians who hold weekly press conferences on 'international threat levels' [...] they seem comfortable only with a perpetual state of emergency." (Sunday Times, 20/8/06),,23110-2314418,00.html

According to the MIPT terrorism knowledge base, the total number of US and UK (including Northern Ireland) fatalities caused by terrorism in the five years after 9/11 was 74, compared to 68 in the five years before. The corresponding totals for Iraq are 15,763 and 12, respectively.

Unoriginal advertisers

Following Microsoft's 1990s strapline, "Where do you want to go today?", there were a series of unoriginal variations by (obviously overpaid) advertisers. A recent example was Capital One's "What's in your wallet?" Another is "How Do You Eat Yours?" for Cadbury's Creme eggs. Waterstones, the bookseller chain, has spent a lot of money coming up with the new slogan: "What's Your Story?" But as Private Eye magazine (24/11/06) points out, it's already used by Aldo Shoes.

Corporate welfare latest

A Michigan-based glass manufacturer, Guardian Industries, was persuaded to set up in Yorkshire with a £7.6 million sweetener. The justification was the jobs brought to the area. But the company only has 153 workers in the UK – taxpayers have effectively paid £50,000 for each job. (Private Eye, 24/11/06)

BBC cherry-picks crime increases

The latest official UK crime figures show total crime to have fallen 2%, no change to violent crime or burglary, a 6% fall in vehicle theft, an 8% fall in firearm offences and no change in "anti-social behaviour" levels.

But BBC Online's headline reads: "Robbery continues on upward trend". The 5% increase in robbery (mainly teenagers stealing mobiles and MP3 players from each other) is buried away on page four of the official crime report – the above falls are mentioned on the front page. (PDF document)

Secret Service grills 14 yr-old girl

US Secret Service agents interrogate 14 yr-old girl about her anti-Bush drawing. Julia Wilson had posted a cartoon-like drawing (which said "Kill Bush") on her MySpace page. The agents called at her home, then visited her school, where she was removed from class and grilled. (Counterpunch 17/10/06) ("Kill Bush" Drawing)

Economist pictured on new £20 banknotes

New £20 banknotes will carry a portrait of Adam Smith, the "Godfather of free-market economics", together with an engraving illustrating Smith's notion of "the division of labour", and the words: "and the great increase in the quantity of work that results". (Times, 30/10/06),,2-2428489,00.html (Image of banknote)

It's a pity they don't use a different Adam Smith quote. For example: "All for ourselves, and nothing for other people, seems, in every age of the world, to have been the vile maxim of the masters of mankind." (Wealth of Nations, Book 3, Chapter 4)

Virgin's viral marketing backfires

A viral marketing campaign by Virgin backfired after subscribers to the comedy site,, (who were challenged by Virgin to come up with ad ideas for the Virgin Money brand) created images that weren't appreciated by Virgin (and in some cases were illegal). The company has removed all traces of the competition, and requested its deletion from the site. (Inquirer, 26/10/06),,1934780,00.html

Nuclear test boosts condom sales

Stores across South Korea reported dramatic jumps in condom sales following the recent nuclear test by North Korea. Experts say that the figures cannot be definitively tied to the test but a similar phenomena, dubbed "terror sex", was observed in New York after September 11. (Associated Press, 26/10/06)

Britain a risk-averse nation

A new report claims "Britain has become a risk-averse nation that over-protects, over-regulates". (It's not from the usual right-leaning advocates of "deregulation"). Professor George Gaskell, a risk expert from the London School of Economics, says: "The mass media could be largely to blame. Virtually everything we eat, for example, has at some point been associated [in the media] with carcinogens. But people seem to want to read about new dangers. Maybe we just have a collective interest in finding things to be anxious about." (Guardian, 18/10/06),,1924842,00.html

"Government scam" to profit from the poor

The Department for Work and Pensions has made £268,000 profit from a helpline giving benefits advice to the poor and unemployed. The practice was exposed by the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Association, using the Freedom of Information Act to establish the department's income from the lines. The government has now promised to switch to a free service. (Guardian, 30/10/06),,1934864,00.html

Art attack on celebrities

The "guerrilla artist", Banksy, replaced hundreds of Paris Hilton CDs in various stores with his own tampered version which has song titles: "Why am I Famous?", "What Have I Done?" and "What Am I For?" He also changed the artwork – one picture showing the US socialite with a dog's head. (BBC Online, 3/9/06)

"Welfare cheats" latest

Fewer than 1 in 300 "tip-off" calls to the Benefit Fraud Hotline result in a conviction. The hotline is part of the government's multi-million-pound drive to convince newspaper editors that it's tough on spongers. (The Scotsman, 31/8/06)

Bank "late payment fees" unlawful

Several banks have reduced their "late payment fees" on credit cards following an investigation by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), which found charges over £12 to be excessive. To quote the OFT press release:

"Credit card default charges have generally been set at a significantly higher level than is legally fair [...] this has led to unlawful penalty charges currently in excess of £300 million a year."

See, also, our page on demanding refunds from banks >

False dichotomies in polls

According to Allister Heath (in the Spectator magazine), "Almost three quarters of the British public are now convinced that we are fighting a new world war against extremist Islamic terrorists". This was based on a survey which forced participants to choose between two statements:

1. "The West is in a global war against Islamic terrorists who threaten our way of life".
2. "Islamic terrorism is a regional problem that poses no real threat to the West".

A column in the next issue of the Spectator pointed out the distorting effect of having no third option between "global war" and "no real threat". (The Spectator, 28/6/06)

People worried about "lack of respect"

A BBC report (on an ICM poll) claims that Britain is "worse than 20 years ago". Participants in the poll apparently felt the biggest problems facing the country are: "lack of respect", crime and terrorism. (BBC Online, 4/9/06)

For a historical perspective on "lack of respect", see our article, 8,000 years of antisocial behaviour >

3,200 government PR employees funded by taxpayers

Recently published figures show that Whitehall employs 1,815 press officers and public relations staff, with a further 1,444 employed by quangos and other taxpayer-funded agencies. (Guardian, Independent, 31/8/06),,1861596,00.html

Survey links ill health with work

A survey of 2,233 men found the following: "35% suffered from sleeping difficulties that they linked to pressures of work"; "22% said they suffered from depression because of job-related stress"; "17% have visited a doctor to discuss their exhaustion"; "more than one in three relies on alcohol to switch off from job stress". (Guardian, 8/6/06),,1792697,00.html

UK media attacks ID cards

The UK "liberal" press has published a series of articles criticising the ID card and other "security" proposals. Some have even pointed out how the government falsely lumps together terrorism, crime, "antisocial behaviour", benefits fraud and immigration as if they're all part of one big RISING SINISTER THREAT. For example:

"Like crime, benefit fraud has decreased. But you hear little of this from No 10 or the rightwing tabloid press, because it suits them to keep us in a state of near frenzy about both." (Guardian, 11/7/06),,1817559,00.html

Government plans to sell your personal
details to private companies

The astronomical cost of ID cards (£19bn according to one optimistic study) embarrasses the government. Gordon Brown (UK Chancellor) plans to make them cheaper by allowing private companies to buy access to the ID database (containing biometric information on the population, etc). (Observer, 6/8/06),,1838315,00.html

Leaked emails reveal ID farce

Officials in charge of introducing ID cards reveal the "progress" made. The Sunday Times printed leaked emails between the ID card project director and a director at the Identity and Passport Service (IPS - the agency set up to implement ID cards). From one of the emails:

"I do not have a problem with ministers wanting a face saving solution, but we need to be clear [...] a botched introduction of a descoped early variant ID Card [...] could put back the introduction of ID Cards for a generation and won't do much for IPS credibility nor for the Govt's election chances either." (Email, David Foord to Peter Smith, Sunday Times, 9/7/06),,2087-2261631,00.html,,2087-2262437_1,00.html

UK terror threat level officially "SEVERE"

The official terrorist threat level has now been made public for the first time (by the UK intelligence agencies). It's "SEVERE" (Cue rising organ music). How do they decide the level? They explain:

"It is rare that specific threat information is available and can be relied upon. More often, judgements about the threat will be based on a wide range of information, which is often fragmentary..."

Knife crime hysteria

Despite recent media hysteria over the "wave" of knife crimes in the UK, murder by stabbing has not risen. In 1995 there were 243 murders with sharp instruments; last year there were 236. Not even the weekly average of knife killings (four and a half) rose during this latest so-called crime "epidemic". (Guardian, 9/6/06),,329500440-103390,00.html >

MI5 secretly vets thousands of BBC employees

In 1983, for example, 5,728 BBC jobs were subjected to "counter-subversion vetting" by MI5. Senior BBC figures "covered up" the link with the intelligence agency – leaked documents refer to a strategy of "categorical denial". (Daily Telegraph, 2/7/06)

ID cards latest

"The government is battling to ensure that estimates of the benefits and risks of identity cards remain secret" (BBC online, 5/7/06). The freedom of information watchdog ordered the UK government to publish the estimates, but the government has decided to appeal against this ruling. Why should the public know the benefits/risks of spending GBP 19 billion of taxpayers' money on ID cards? >,,-5873651,00.html >

Product placement in blogs

Bloggers are are getting paid by big business to push products. Disclosure is optional. "It's better for a brand to get into a blog than to surround it as a banner or text ad". (Business Week) >

Newspaper Meta-headline

The Daily Mail, Britain's "best-loved newspaper" (it claims) had a front-page headline of: 'BEYOND SATIRE' on 26/5/06. It wasn't describing its own contents, but some report of "burglars and robbers being taught costume making instead of going to jail".

Legal highs

The Daily Mail wasn't, however, listed as one of the legal highs now available in this country (by the Independent, 30/5/06). Instead, listed were 'Funk pills' (an ecstasy substitute), kratom leaf and salvia divinorum. BBC1 news ran a scare story about these on the same day. (subscription)

Pop singer invited to join UFO cult

UK pop singer Robbie Williams Invited To Join UFO Cult. The Church of the SubGenius has invited singer Robbie Williams to join its ranks. In May of 1996, Williams announced his intention to start his own mystical religion dedicated to extraterrestrials. In response to this statement, the SubGenius Foundation has made an offer: "If Mr. Williams wants to join a UFO cult, then have we got one for him!" (ClickPress, 17/5/06) > >

TV newsrooms use corporate PR as news

The Center for Media and Democracy (USA) found that 77 television stations "actively disguised" sponsored content (PR for General Motors, Intel, Pfizer, Capital One, etc) to make it appear to be their own news reports. (PR Watch, 6/4/06) >

Fake friendliness at work can make you ill

In a large study (involving 4,000 people) by psychologists at Frankfurt University, students were tested in a simulated call centre environment, where they were subjected to abuse from customers. Some of the students were allowed to answer back, while others had to be polite/friendly. The latter suffered more from stress.

The researchers concluded that flight attendants, sales personnel, call centre operators, waiters, etc, who are expected to be friendly all the time, are at risk of harming their health - and need their own space away from customers (ie more time off). (Sydney Morning Herald, 21/3/06). >

Police warn boys over lamp post

A 12 yr-old boy was stopped by police for photographing graffiti on a lamp post. He was given paperwork reading: "Was seen taking photos of lamp post ... advice given". Two other boys, both 13, were also given an official note by the police: "Hanging around lamp post - spoken to". (The Sun, 23/3/06),,2-2006130721,,00.html >

"Strong" economy generates more heart attacks

Low rates of unemployment are bad for health according to a recent US study. The researchers explain: "When the economy heats up, people often end up working more overtime" (whilst neglecting health). (Reuters, 6/4/06) >

al-Qaeda not linked to 7/7 London bombings

The Observer newspaper (9/4/06) reports that an official inquiry into the 7/7/05 London bombings will say that there was no link with al-Qaeda (despite the claims of Tony Blair immediately after the attack).,,1750139,00.html >

BBC upholds our complaint

We'd complained about a scaremongering BBC1 report which incorrectly said violent crime had "significantly risen". As a result, the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) has found that BBC1 news breached editorial standards on "truth and accuracy", and that there was "no basis" for claiming a significant rise in violent crime.

The Head of ECU said our complaint "gave rise to a good deal of discussion within the BBC" and that it "has made a difference". (More details to follow when the ECU publishes the findings of its investigation). Our original complaint >

Cheapskate Romance

Last month, the supermarket chain, Asda, launched an "economy" Valentine card costing just 8 pence. Their rationale for this was that 30% of people find Valentine's day "too commercial" (according to a survey). There's a marketing "logic" here which is way beyond anything we can grasp. >

Sonic Teenager Deterrent

A new gadget repels teenagers by emitting a high-pitched noise that can be heard only by under-20s. Police are endorsing the device, according to the Daily Telegraph (16/2/06). It annoys teenagers "intensely" – "they have to disperse and loiter somewhere else". Adults are immune as the "body's ability to detect some frequencies diminishes almost entirely after 20".

Tony Blair's grandmother a "graffiti vandal"

Tony Blair's PR crusade against antisocial youth backfired recently. During a photo-op, he hosed down graffiti and commented that older generations of his family would have abhorred such behaviour. The Daily Mirror (16/1/06) then revealed that Blair's grandmother was a "commie" graffiti vandal.

Blair also talked of a Golden Age when "people behaved more respectfully to one another", but a friend of his late grandmother, Alex Morrison, 86, said: "he is speaking absolute rubbish. Poverty and misery were widespread and it was a violent place as well."

Daily Mirror story: >

UK's richest firm gets £1.2bn in corporate welfare

A provision exists in the UK for writing off tax bills where "strict application of the law would be oppressive and unfair". It's rarely used, but the government – very charitably – used it to write off £1.2 billion (approx US$ 2 billion) from the tax bill of BP (British Petroleum), Britain's richest company. (Daily Telegraph, 11/1/06)

Daily Telegraph story: >

More on corporate welfare >

[According to the Guardian (22/1/04), the Duke of Westminster, Britain's richest man, receives a daily handout of £1,000 from the taxpayer. Other big landowners get similar amounts of welfare (in farm subsidies).]

'Number of the Beast' marriages.

Register offices in Holland have been flooded with requests for couples who want to get married on the 6/6/06. >

Blair's unnatural Hard Work fetish

In his New Year message, Tony Blair said: "We live in a beautiful, prosperous country where most of us work hard". Nobody in the media (to my knowledge) pointed out that it might be preferable to live in "a beautiful, prosperous country where most of us enjoy lots of leisure".

BBC misreports latest UK crime figures

Fiona Bruce announced on BBC1 news (10.00pm, 20/10/05) that violent crime had "significantly increased". But both the police and the British Crime Survey (BCS) say the "increase" is largely due to the continuing effect of changes in crime recording methods - ie not "significant". (The BCS says violence fell by 7% in real terms over the quarterly period reported).

The BBC's misleading announcement was followed by a report (from BBC journalist Mark Easton) containing no statistics or clarifications, but which did show realistically bloody simulations of violence (apparently from a well-meaning anti-gun video).

I emailed Mark Easton about it (see Blog for the email text). For more on the latest crime figures: (PDF format).

BBC's most important news story

As Orson Welles pointed out in Citizen Kane, the importance of a news story is measured by the size of the headlines. It's also measured by the amount of coverage (eg repetition). So, the most important news recently (judging from BBC coverage) has been the UK Conservative Party's leadership contest. No other story in recent decades has come close in importance.

One example: Last week, Newsnight (BBC's flagship "news" show) had a "headline" story – lasting 20 minutes – about Conservative leadership contender David Davis. It contained no news. >

Anarchist TV ads watched by a million Germans

In Germany all political parties are given prime-time television slots for their campaign ads. An estimated million viewers watched an ad from the Anarchist Pogo Party (APPD) on public television. Many people were reportedly outraged by the "video montage of drug/booze-induced chaos involving semi-naked revellers".

The Hamburg-based APPD is an officially registered political party. Among its stated goals is "humankind's complete and ultimate return to stupidity." It sells t-shirts that read: "Arbeit ist Scheisse" ("work is shit"). (APPD website) (Reuters report)

Improve efficiency: work slowly

A British company (a factory based in Oldham) has saved £1 million by getting staff to work slowly. "After just two weeks at the factory, the consultants came to the conclusion that efficiency would improve if staff worked more slowly".

Support for ID cards plummets

The UK government has been claiming "overwhelming public support" for ID cards based on a poll from a few years ago. The Daily Telegraph (4/7/05), however, reports a new YouGov poll showing public support for ID cards has plummeted to 45% (from 78% in the previous poll, cited by the government). We expected this news story to be given headline coverage in the mainstream media, but it was barely mentioned (BBC1 evening news didn't mention it at all).

Majority of UK workers dislike their jobs

More than half (53%) of UK workers are unhappy with their jobs according to a poll of 14,000 people by employment group Kelly Services. >

Electronic tags turn workplaces into "battery farms"

Thousands of UK workers are being electronically tagged with devices which can monitor breaks and trips to the toilet, according to the trade union GMB. The technology has been imported from the US, and the concept is similar to prison surveillance, says the union. The tags have been used with around 10,000 supermarket and warehouse workers.,,1500838,00.html > >

New report slays myths on "flexible" labour

The TUC has published a report called Slaying the Myths, which "demolishes the myths that are being peddled" about the need for "flexibility" to work long hours: >

Job satisfaction drops sharply

"On every indicator of job satisfaction in the British workforce, ratings have dropped sharply since 1990: hours, pensions, pace of job and workloads are the obvious ones; but interestingly, for a society that prides itself on being highly individualistic, there has been a marked decline in control over our work.",5673,1469475,00.html >

Leaked memo: "Case for military action thin"

In a high-level leaked memo published by the Sunday Times, the Foreign Secretary (Jack Straw) is quoted as saying: "But the case [for military action] was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran." This is contrary to Straw's public statements.,,2087-1593607,00.html >

Blair's shifting stance on "regime change"

Tony Blair has become increasingly strident in arguing that it was "necessary" to "remove" Saddam Hussein, even though there was no WMD threat ("I decided we had to remove him" – Blair on Election 2005, ITV, 2/5/05). Prior to the war (25/2/03), Blair said he was happy for Saddam to remain in power if Iraq complied with UN resolutions. >

Earlier news (archive) >