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  • Alan Martin

A Modest Proposal To Eliminate Tabloid Lies

I’ve long held the belief that the media, and in particular the right wing tabloids, frequently write things they know to be false because it will appeal to their readership. Or to give them the benefit of the doubt, they will sometimes not adequately fact-check a story. There are many sites out there that will cover the bare-faced hypocrisy of these publications in far more depth than I intend to here: But I Read It In the Papers and Enemies of Reason are both excellent starting points.

The problem is what is to be done about it. The Press Complaints Commission is not only entirely self-regulating and funded by the newspapers, but is chaired by Daily Mail Editor Paul Dacre. And the lightest of taps on the wrist are all it delivers - it’s entirely toothless, despite the papers’ cries to the contrary.

I’ve been listening to Mark Thomas’ brilliant Radio 4 show The Manifesto, lately. In it, Thomas and a studio audience whittle down policies for a manifesto, at which point an independent candidate stands on the agreed platform at the General Election. This is not only a very funny program, but genuinely thought provoking. Anyway, I intend to send in (an abridged version of) this suggestion, and a tumblr post seemed like a good place for it to make its debut.

So:

I propose that any corrections in newspapers are to be displayed with at least the same prominence as the original mistake. This means that if The Daily Star were to publish a misleading article about muslims on their front page (imagine!) the retraction would be required to go in exactly the same position, with the same sized font, same sized image, everything.

Any newspaper/website that refuses to comply would be forced to pay an on-the-spot fine based on their pre-tax earnings set against the number of people likely to have consumed the lie. In the case of print media this could be taken from the ABC figures for the publication set against where the story was placed in the paper, while online media could be even more accurate - granting as it does exact figures of the number of unique users who have visited the page in question.

This would mean that if The Daily Mail were to publish an inflammatory and incorrect story on their front page, we would look at their most recent ABC figures, which show an average monthly circulation of just over 2,000,000. We divide that by 30 days, and come to a guesstimate that 66,666 people read it that day (maybe there is something in the book of revelations, after all.) The Daily Mail Group (for arguments’ sake - I don’t have figures for just the Daily Mail itself, rather than including Metro and the like) has a revenue of roughly £950,000,000 per year. Let’s shove a fictional fine of £1 per misled reader on them then - that’s a whopping fine of £66,666. Small fry for them, maybe - but certainly more effective than a slap on the wrist from their own editor, who was supposed to oversee the content in the first place.

By this system, sloppy journalism would put publications in serious danger of lost revenues, which would result in more thorough research, while inconvenient truths could not be overlooked with the knowledge that a tiny retraction on page 37 will be enough.

But the absolute best thing about it is that it means people could read and spread the inflammatory articles The Daily Mail publishes via Twitter without having to worry about contributing to their advertising income - if the article eventually sees the publication prosecuted, the sheer number of people who have read it will count against them when it comes to fining time!

All in favour?

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Note: This post originally appeared on The Inquirer, which heartbreakingly closed in December 2019, losing a huge amount of my best work in the process. Given it's all been scrubbed from the internet