Category Archives: media

TOMORROW’S CHIP PAPER – THE TABLOIDS & THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT

Yesterday I gave paper at the Newcastle Law School, part of some ongoing work looking at media representations of human rights cases and issues. The paper’s title was “All wrapped up in tomorrow’s chip paper – what do we learn about the reporting of human rights by British newspapers?”. The abstract is below

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 In this short blog, I am not planning to set out the paper in full but thought it might be a helpful contribution to the debate about possible repeal of the HRA to set out some of the findings I have made. In particular, this shows how skewed Daily Mail reporting in relation to deportation of foreign criminals is. The paper does not argue why this might be but simply asserts that regular readers of The Daily Mail will have a very different idea of the likelihood of a foreign criminal being deported at the end of the their sentence that is the reality. Screen Shot 2015-05-21 at 00.02.19In short, of all such stories in the paper (or, in fact and more accurately on-line) for a one year period (ending last week) – and there were 31 – 83.8% indicated very clearly that the Home Secretary’s attempt to deport was defeated on human rights grounds. This compares to an historic four-year mean (2009-2012) of 17.6% success rate for claimants, based on the Home Office’s own data. In fact if we included the massive drop in the %age success rate for claimants in both 2013 and 2014 (at 5.4% and 0.17% respectively) the mean is much lower, but there are good reasons to exclude these. Put another way, the regular reader of The Daily Mail – assuming they both believe the stories and digest them into a probability! – would think of every 100 attempts to deport, the Home Secretary wins a shade under 17. In fact, the reverse is true: of every 100 deportations attempted by the Home Secretary, foreign criminals successfully oppose only, on average, about 17. The Home Office data – in the form of a Parliamentary answer to a question asked by new MoJ Minister, in charge of HRA repeal, Dominic Raab MP – is set out below

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As the manifestos were published in the run up to the election, I blogged about the fact that the Tories had placed their pledge about repealing the HRA in the section on crime, specifically about victims of crime (alongside placing it in the section on the EU) – and not in that section of the manifesto devoted to constitutional matters, or citizen and state. What seemed a bit of a puzzle now starts to make sense. Reason replaced by rhetoric backed by the reproduction of unreality – the sort of thing that leads to moral panic, to a clamour “to do something”. Well that something – a British Bill of Rights and loosening of ties to Strasbourg – is now well and truly upon us. Let’s hope that tomorrow’s chip paper is not the parchment of the HRA

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Filed under General election, Human Rights Act, media

“They offer you a feature on stockings and suspenders next to a call for stiffer penalties for sex offenders: do we learn more about the media than about human rights from tabloid coverage of human rights?”

Last week, I spoke at the University of Liverpool, at a one-day conference Human Rights in the UK Media: Representation and Reality, organised by the Centre for Law and Social Justice. The twenty or so papers made for a fascinating day, with contributions from academic lawyers, lawyers in practice, journalists, communications theorists and from NGOs.

The slides from my talk are here (LIVERPOOL PRESENTATION SEPT 2014 ) and I hope to write a much fuller paper in due course. The title comes from “It Says Here” by the Bard of Barking, Billy Bragg, and as I made my way on the train, realised it was thirty years ago almost to the day that I used that same song and lyrics to end a prefects’ sixth form assembly on the power of the press – to be told pointedly that that would be enough politics, thank you!

 

This Liverpool paper marks several months work – with another presented at Leicester in May (to be part of an edited collection I think) – but the start of much more empirical work to come. It seeks to show how certain elements of the media – and the focus is on The Daily Mail, and to a lesser extent The Daily Telegraph – end up misreporting human rights stories, usually cases. It doesn’t offer explanations for why that might be – but it does conclude that it is, if not dangerous, then corrosive especially in times when the future of the HRA is not secure. Should repeal, reform or change be based on such skewed misinformation which drives (in all likelihood) public misconceptions? The paper does ask where this leaves the right of free speech – or media freedom – at least certain elements of it. If the rationale is an informed electorate and vibrant democracy, it is hard to see how such reporting justifies the vaunted position it occupies in the public sphere – but I hasten to add this element is by no means fully thought through!

 

The paper does offer several empirical insights – not all, it must be confessed, fully verifiable or inductive. Many are illustrative of a general concern the paper makes rather than being a demonstrable truth. Some though are: the paper shows that the Daily Mail massively over-reports the number of foreign criminals who successful avoid deportation. Of 21 stories in the Mail on-line for the year 7 July 2013 – 6 July 2014 about foreign criminals) searching “human rights act” deportation) only two were about or told the tale of the Home Secretary’s success. The other 19 were in various guises how the UK was forced to let them remain, a success rate for the applicants of some 91.5%. The reality, even on the Daily Mail’s own figures – from an FoI request – is that only 1/3 were not deported, their point being that this was an annual increase in the failure rate of 47%. The government’s data – admittedly hard to track down and for two years ago – show that 76% of foreign national offenders leaving detention in the six months 1 April to 30 September 2012 were removed i.e. a success rate for applicants of 24%. In short, Daily Mail readers are offered a very different – and I would argue false – impression of the chances of using Article 8 to defend deportation proceedings.

 

The paper offers examples of reporting that is simply false – the outcomes of legal hearings not being some contested and contestable reality, some socially constructed truth – and of distortions, drawing on McQuail (1992) who presents three criteria by which we may assess media bias: factualness (or opinion); accuracy; and completeness (Media Performance: Mass Communication and the Public Interest, London, Sage). It provides examples of the techniques of distortion – by omitting coverage altogether (again drawing on previous research noted in this UKCLA blog of mine where I depict the paucity of coverage of successful UK Strasbourg cases drawing on just this past calendar year) and by commission: through premature reporting (of cases not yet and perhaps never to be heard), through prominence of the story, through partiality in selection of sources, and phrasing of copy.

 

The paper concludes by offering perspectives drawn from media/communications theory, a whole new departure for me – so there is some content analysis (the Strasbourg silence for example) as well as a nod to semiotics – the Mail regularly talks of “human rights” as if they are as of doubtful status as the Loch Ness monster – and suggests the various discourses, or wider narratives at play.

 

 

Any thoughts or comments let me know.

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Filed under Human Rights Act, media