28 March 2011

Why allow the truth to get in the way of vicious calumny?

This is the front page of today's Mail on Sunday. Just above the main headline, in itself quite a clever if hyperbolic pun, is a lie. 

Next to an image of Gordon Brown is a headline suggesting that yet another piece of evidence, trumpeted as 'EXCLUSIVE', has been been uncovered by the paper and will merely add to a long list of reasons to hate this man.

Anyone catching sight of the cover would immediately be given the impression that this selfish, heartless and despicable ex-Prime Minister had turfed a heavily pregnant woman out of her seat on a plane so that he could enjoy sumptuous luxury!

Were you to read the accompanying article (Istyosty link)  inside the paper, however, you would find a completely different, and more truthful, account of what actually happened.

The story in the Mail on Sunday journalist Glen Owen's words unfolds thus:

Gordon Brown sparked a mutiny on a British Airways flight after he was blamed for an attempt to downgrade a heavily pregnant woman and Red Cross doctor into more cramped seats.
The extraordinary scenes - dubbed Mutiny On The Brown-ty - unfolded on a flight from Abu Dhabi to London, when passengers lost their seats before the former Prime Minister's six-strong entourage got on board.
It prompted an angry war of words with an 'aggressive' Brown aide, and led to a formal complaint to BA and an offer of compensation described as 'derisory' by those involved.
During the first, hour-long leg from Oman to Abu Dhabi, the displaced passengers stared resentfully at the six empty seats in business class, known as Club World by BA.
At Abu Dhabi they were livid to see Mr Brown board the plane with his team and take up the £3,000-a-head places.
The passengers immediately concluded that they had been 'bumped' to make way for Mr Brown, a suggestion the airline strongly denies.
According to the Mail on Sunday, an argument ensued. We're left in no doubt as to who were the more aggressive passengers and who were the innocent.

Then comes perhaps the humorous aspect of the piece. Apparently, Gordon Brown's people and BA have conspired to try to limit the embarassment:

A spokeswoman for the airline said Mr Brown's arrival on the flight was a coincidence, and he had been unfairly blamed by the mutinous passengers.
'The situation had absolutely nothing to do with Gordon Brown,' she said. 'We have apologised to [the complainant] and we have offered to pay compensation.

'It is very rare for a customer not to be able to travel in the cabin that they have booked and we are extremely sorry that this happened on this flight. Gordon Brown and his party were booked in advance and were not involved in any way.'
 And from Gordon Brown's office:
Mr Brown's office was contacted on Friday. Yesterday afternoon, his spokeswoman sent a text message saying 'I assume you have read the BA statement and are now not ­running the story', making it clear that BA and the former PM's office had been in discussions.
She released a statement that said: 'As BA has made clear, the arrangements were nothing to do with Mr Brown, who had booked his flight and seats well in advance and made no requests for - nor received - any special treatment.
'As BA will confirm, all questions about bookings, overbookings and allocations of seats are not - and could not be - a matter for Mr Brown but for British Airways.'
They try so hard to pin the rap on their victim, that although the whole episode turns out to have been a malicious piece of fiction from a discontented traveller, they place the hook to a potentially harmful piece on the front page so that an impression is given even if not warranted.

The Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday have 'previous' where this particular victim is concerned:
Note use of words: 'SQUALID', 'cynically', 'bids'.
This was one of many front pages which graced the newsstands just after the General Election in May 2010. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats were negotiating a deal which would pave the way for a coalition of the two parties. 

The deposed Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was obliged to remain temporarily at No 10 Downing Street until the Queen had formally invited David Cameron to take over as Prime Minister. Despite many explanations as to why he had not left after five days, all of the Right - leaning press and Sky News simply 'neglected' to publicise the reason for his remaining in place.


The Sun was relentless in its assertion that Gordon Brown was behaving in an unreasonable manner.

The examples here are just a snapshot of the lengths to which certain papers will go in order to blacken and discredit a subject. 

Perhaps Gordon Brown is fair game? Perhaps any celebrity written about in sneering or untruthful articles, or pictured in unflattering poses is fair game? Shouldn't they perhaps expect such treatment as part of being in the public eye?

That aside, what about the reader? Do we not deserve truth and balance? How many of us read an article in one of the papers renowned for its propensity for fiction and bias and think twice before swallowing the bait hook line and sinker?

There are times when it is crucial that the public have the truth laid before them, when the media have an absolute duty to be honest and balanced.

How many of us vote at an election after having been fed by the British media a pack of lies or manipulated facts and statistics deliberately concocted to sway our opinion? I fear the number would be far greater than we think....

Rosie Robertson