According to the Express the EU is coming for our kettles – and may have their sights set on our toasters too.
As the Express seeks to firm up support for a Brexit vote in June, the paper obviously thinks this is the kind of horror story that will get the old folk of Britain running to the polling station screaming "BACK OFF BRUSSELS!".
Of course, the story is largely nonsense and keen-eyed readers may note this isn’t even the first time the Express has claimed the EU was coming for our kettles.
Back in 2014 the Express claimed the EU hot drinks police were on the march and targeting the tea drinkers of Britain, no doubt sending worried readers scuttling into their panic rooms with kettle in hand. Some may still be in there, boiling water, because they can.
However, it is worth noting "our kettles" have survived this threat once before and will do again.The EU may suggest the kettles we buy in the future should be more energy efficient and durable, but such a sensible suggestion is hardly the "assault on our way of life" the Express would like us to believe.
Running the pro-Brexit 'Leave' campaign has always looked like an uphill struggle. In the absence of credible arguments they have had to cobble together a campaign based on old lies, scaremongering and a handful of celebrity endorsements.
It seemed inevitable the pressure would tell and things took a strange twist on Wednesday when the Leave campaign issued a bizarrely-worded threat against ITV. This followed the broadcaster booking Nigel Farage - arguably the most established critic of the EU in British politics - to debate Brexit.
A statement from the Leave campaign, claims this is a secret plot by "The Establishment" (capitalisation their own) to freeze out their champions Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
"The Establishment …[are] now fixing the debates to shut out the official campaign… ITV has lied to us in private while secretly stitching up a deal with Cameron to stop Boris Johnson or Michael Gove debating the issues properly. ITV has effectively joined the official IN campaign and there will be consequences for its future – the people in No.10 won’t be there for long."
It’s desperate stuff. Putting aside the ridiculous non-specific threat, 'team Boris' suggesting anybody else benefits from an unfair leg-up from the media shows a ludicrous lack of self-awareness. The same goes for their cries of "MEDIA BIAS!" given the open backing the Leave campaign has received from the likes of Rupert Murdoch, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.
The statement from the Leave campaign also suggested political editor Robert Peston is actually running ITV and is abusing his authority to push a pro-EU agenda on the broadcaster.
Peston dismissed this as "a mad slur".
The Daily Star is claiming "EASTER EGGS" have been "BANNED" so as not to offend "non Christians". By which it means it has heard there are some Easter eggs in the shops which don't have the word "Easter" on them (why should they, it's obvious what they are) and it's found a couple of try-hards willing to moan about this supposed "censorship" (one of whom just happens to be promoting his own brand of Easter eggs, of course).
Easter eggs haven't been "banned" and nor has the word 'Easter'.
A very quick look at the chocolate eggs being advertised online and in the shops clearly shows this claim to be a nonsense.
It is just the latest excuse for the Daily Star to indulge in some divisive finger pointing at "political correctness" and "non-Christians" and some free publicity for somebody peddling his own chocolate eggs.
Boris Johnson is doing his bit to push Britain towards the Brexit door and like many in the ‘leave’ camp he seems intent on doing it one silly lie at a time. It’s text book stuff: pick a ridiculous lie about the EU and then keeping repeating it as fact until it sticks.
At his monthly Mayor’s question time on Wednesday morning Johnson told members of the London Assembly there are EU laws banning children under eight from blowing up balloons.
It was the second time in a month he’d mentioned this law. Penning a piece for The Telegraph in February, Johnson wrote:
"Sometimes these EU rules sound simply ludicrous, like the rule that you can’t recycle a teabag, or that children under eight cannot blow up balloons."
The EU addressed the balloon claim back in 2011, when The Telegraph, Daily Mail and Daily Express first reported the supposed ban. The EU made clear back then "balloons made of latex carry a warning aiming to prevent children from choking or suffocating…This warning recommends adult supervision, it does not forbid children under 8 from inflating balloons".
It should also be pointed out Boris's teabag claim isn’t true either. ("Under EU law the UK is fully entitled, but not obliged, to impose stringent standards on the composting of household catering waste... It is also up to member states to ensure they have the treatment facilities in place to enforce their own standards").
These claims are easy to check but that won’t stop politicians and newspapers using them, because it is an approach that works. Repeated enough, a lie, even - or perhaps especially - a ludicrous one, can stick.
You can find a handy list of ‘Euromyths’ here. You may need it in the months ahead.
From Sky News to The Telegraph, via The Mirror, The Metro, The Sun and the Evening Standard, UK media outlets were falling over themselves on Friday to report the find of a 'giant rat' in East London.
"Rat 'as big as a four-year-old boy' found in London", reported ITV News, where clearly nobody has ever met - or even been - a four-year-old boy.
The story was accompanied by the now obligatory 'forced perspective' photo that accompanies all such 'giant rat' articles (somebody holds the rat away from their body and close to the camera ideally at the end of a long stick to exaggerate its size as much as possible).
Friday lunchtime must have been kind to a few news desks because there was certainly no shortage of outlets repeating claims the rat weighed "25lb" and was "four-feet long". For the whole of Friday afternoon is was as if the media had turned into a pub full of boozed-up anglers whose sense of scale had been forever warped by tall tales of 'the one that got away'.
Few of the outlets that ran the story questioned the obvious forced perspective of the photo or thought it odd the gas engineer and electrician who found the rat had apparently weighed it.
"James, I’ve found a rat."
"Wait there Tony, I’ll get the scales."
Similarly nobody questioned the not-unimpressive physical feat of somebody posing for a photo while holding a "25lb" weight (11.3Kg), one-handed at the end of a stick (try picking up a 25lb dumbbell with a litter picker and holding it at arms length, see how you get on).
After the story had been all over the media on Friday, all that was left was for the Daily Star (the home of giant rat stories) to run it on Saturday's front page and claim it as an "EXCLUSIVE":
Hackney Council has been doing its bit to dispel 'giant rat' panic by pointing out how deceptive forced perspective photos can be.
Other Twitter users were also quick to get in on the fun.
Only one cat can deal with London's giant rats pic.twitter.com/xaIURl9dJs— tom jamieson (@jamiesont) March 11, 2016
And the apparent confusion over perspective put many in mind of this classic Father Ted scene.
A correction published by the Guardian last week began:
"A review of David Astor: A Life in Print, a biography of the former editor of the Observer, contained a number of errors."
They say "a number of errors" and it seems plausible they struggled to count the exact number.
"In the article we suggested William Waldorf Astor was named after a hotel, when in fact his name referred to the family’s native Rhineland village. He didn’t build Cliveden, as we suggested, but bought it, and he didn’t sack the editor of the Observer for spiking his contributions... We said Katharine Whitehorn was women’s editor of the Observer when in fact she was a columnist. We said Patrick Leigh Fermor compared David Astor to Disney’s Pluto; Fermor actually compared the writer Philip Toynbee to that cartoon character. Terence Kilmartin replaced Jim Rose as Observer literary editor, not JC Trewin. During the war, David Astor didn’t merely suffer “a mild attack of dysentery” as suggested in the review. In fact he was wounded in action during a German ambush in the Ardennes..."
But other than that, they nailed it.
Normally such corrections relating to a book review, might go unnoticed, but for the fact it seems quite an achievement to get so much biographical information wrong when the book being reviewed was a biography.
"THE EU has drawn up plans to seize control of the British coastguard service as it creates a Europe-wide border force. Critics say it would result in the biggest transfer of sovereignty since the creation of the euro."
It calls it an "extraordinary measure" and quotes a spokesperson from the leave campaign who heaps on more hyperbole. But the article, towards the end, also quotes immigration minister James Brokenshire saying:
"Britain is not part of the Schengen area and, to be absolutely clear, we will not be part of an EU Border and Coast Guard."
So the EU won't be seizing our coast or our coast guard. It seems the headline was just a bit of anti-EU scaremongering. And this from a paper that last month branded scaremongering a "cheap tactic".
In February, a Sunday Express leader criticised what it claimed were "dire and entirely unfounded warnings" being issued by the pro-EU lobby. But obviously scaremongering from the anti-EU lobby is fair game, which is handy, because without it the Express and Sunday Express would probably struggle for content.
Recently, I read a list published by Press Gazette of the most unpopular jargon terms and clichés used by PR people. Right on cue, the very next email I received from a PR person explained they were "reaching out" to me (because contacting, or emailing, or just leaving it to the recipient to recognise they have received an email that is presumably about something, clearly aren't clever enough).
"Reaching out" was number one on a list which also featured hackneyed horrors such as "curate", "synergy", "solutions" and the ubiquitous "ecosystem" (which is probably OK if you work in the Eden Project or you’re studying the impact of deforestation or over-fishing, but otherwise should probably be left alone).
Somehow "leverage" didn’t make the top 10, nor did "traction" or "cadence" which I am hearing misused on an ever more regular basis. There are clearly now too many buzzwords being used and abused to limit ourselves to just a top 10 of the worst offenders. But it isn't just PR people mangling language so preposterously. Far from it.
An over-reliance on meaningless buzzwords and clichés has taken root in many industries and occupations and in part seems a reaction to the cynicism faced by people trying to sell ideas, opinions, consultancy or other professional services. In occupations facing high levels of cynicism, such as advertising, marketing, politics and even journalism, inane language is all too common.
Of course, not everybody in these occupations is guilty. Again, far from it. Smart people in any occupation can overcome cynicism by speaking confidently and sensibly, with clarity and authority.
But it does appear some people, who perhaps feel insecure or inadequate in the face of cynicism, feel the need to dress up their ideas, actions, products or policies in this lexicon of the ludicrous. Some people fall for this of course, but that doesn't make it right - because lots of people don't fall for it and the nonsense merely fuels the very cynicism they were hoping to head off, or at least bore or baffle into submission.
A Stephen Collins cartoon in The Guardian, this past weekend, brilliantly lampoons the marketing efforts of the craft beer industry and its fondness for cynicism-fuelling nonsense.
The FT's Lucy Kellaway does a great job each year of highlighting the guff spoken in the name of big business and was front of the queue to deride the World Economic Forum's recently published list of the '36 best quotes from Davos 2016' which comprised a collection of meaningless buzzwords, soundbites and clichés which will have done little to counter the cynicism surrounding the alpine junket for the super-rich.
The Daily Express on Tuesday leads with: 'QUIT THE EU TO SAVE OUR NHS'. We're told a "Top doctor says migrants are bleeding it dry".
The Express tells us "Britain should leave the EU in order to save an NHS which is being overrun by migrants, according to a top cancer specialist".
We're also told Professor Angus Dalgleish, the 'top doctor' in question believes: "Our membership of the EU is putting an intolerable strain on our NHS".
And the Express makes sure to tell us his endorsement is "a boost for the out campaign".
The Daily Mail has also picked up the story and tells us "The NHS has been left 'on its knees' by uncontrolled migration from the EU", according to Dalgleish.
But what we're not told by either the Mail or the Express is that Angus Dalgleish was the Ukip candidate for Sutton and Cheam at the 2015 general election. You'd think that was a fairly relevant detail under the circumstances.
What do you do if the facts don't suit the story you want to push? Create some facts that do, apparently. Hence Friday's claim from the Daily Express that "92% want to quit the EU".
The Express claims this is a "shock poll result" but the only surprise is that the number isn't higher, given the poll in question was run by the vehemently pro-UKIP, anti-EU Express, on its own website, among its own readers. Did the eight per cent just tick the wrong box? If so, that doesn't bode well for their ability to vote in the referendum.
On Friday it was reported the government is moving 'Northern Powerhouse' jobs to London. The Mirror reports:
"The Government's 'Northern Powerhouse' department is to shut down its office in Sheffield, moving 247 jobs to London in a blow to the credibility of George Osborne's pet project. And a dozen more regional offices of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills - including six in the North of England - are at risk of closure as the department moves to centralise policy staff."
It would be tempting to declare ‘you couldn’t make it up’ or brand such a ludicrously self-defeating plan 'beyond parody', but on this occasion that wouldn’t be true because satirical news site the Daily Mash made up this very story last November:
"The best place for the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ scheme is probably in London after all, the government has announced. The massive investment project for Northern business and infrastructure will now take place in the capital instead, making it easier for government ministers to visit and find a decent restaurant."
After one of the warmest Decembers on record you could forgive certain hapless weather reporters for quietly backing away from their discredited "coldest winter" predictions.
But not so. The Daily Express earlier this month claimed an "Arctic SNOWBOMB" would "smash into Britain" ushering in "the coldest winter in 58 years" and "plunging the ENTIRE COUNTRY into winter lockdown".
Not to be outdone, The Sun got in on the action. "Britain braces itself for coldest winter in 53 YEARS" reported the paper. Cue the Met Office reporting on Monday that we have now seen some of the warmest January temperatures on record.
In other weather-related nonsense, an ongoing spat between Channel 4 weather presenter Liam Dutton and a Daily Express writer reached a wider audience this week thanks to a post on Buzzfeed.
Social media managers may be resolving to pay closer attention to their calendars in the New Year after a few brands jumped the gun with scheduled tweets intended for midnight on New Year's Eve. Sadly for them they got the wrong midnight.
Highland Spring was among those who scheduled a tweet for 00:00 on 31 December 2015.
Of course there are worse things in life than getting the scheduling of a tweet wrong (such as celebrating New Year with fizzy water, I'd imagine).
Pizza delivery company Papa John's also appeared to struggle with the idea that 00:00 on 31 December is only the start of New Year's Eve.
Tower Bridge and Nottingham Castle also jumped the gun, including photos of fireworks displays which hopefully weren't really happening in the small hours of New Year's Eve.
In fairness to all these brands, they may have gone a day early but their scheduled tweets are no more or less insincere for their bad timing and at least their tweets will get noticed, unlike hundreds of brands whose scheduled tweets will be appearing at the right time.
When scheduled tweets attack
Back in September, the Express claimed "Britain is facing the most savage winter in more than 50 years with months of heavy snowfall and bitter Arctic winds set to bring the country to a total standstill".
In particular, we were warned “October is likely to see a real chill…and… a much colder than average November”.
So, how are they doing so far?
They’ve still got it!
The Sun on Wednesday reported that Ofcom was investigating the BBC following "complaints" about new drama London Spy:
"OFCOM is to investigate BBC2's London Spy after complaints over its explicit sex scenes and nudity. Stars Ben Whishaw and Edward Holcroft were seen romping naked only 25 minutes after the watershed."
But it seems The Sun was jumping the gun. Ofcom has clarified:
"We assessed one complaint about a sex scene in London Spy on BBC Two. In our view, the scene was appropriately scheduled after the watershed. We therefore won't be investigating the programme."
Over the past few weeks certain sections of the media have been whipping themselves up into the annual frenzy over who has been spotted not wearing a poppy. It’s a free and easy source of manufactured outrage at a time when "free", "easy" and "outrage" are music to the ears of editors.
What's more, this year the media have been able to combine this annual naming-and-shaming with another favourite sport – turning anything Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says or does into a scandal that will rock the nation.
The latest outrage follows some people on Twitter claiming Corbyn, while wearing a poppy and bowing his head when placing a wreath at the Cenotaph on Sunday, didn’t make enough effort with his solemn and simple bow.
No, really. Detractors with protractors (perhaps) claim Corbyn's bow wasn't pronounced enough, his bend too subtle.
The papers could have ignored such ridiculous criticism but then they were never going to pass up an opportunity for some Corbyn-related Remembrance-rage. The Sun has even put it on Monday's front page, with the misleading suggestion that Corbyn 'refused' to bow at all:
But The Sun was far from alone in blowing this story out of all proportion. Other papers too found themselves powerless to resist something that somebody said on Twitter.
Of course, the media and the "Twitter rows" they report on are far from independent of one another. Journalists are more capable than most of sparking a row on Twitter and on this occasion there were certainly those who pounced upon Corbyn's subtle bow of his head to ensure claims of outrage became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Some of the spite and satire of Twitter undoubtedly adds colour to many a story but in this instance it was a distraction from the stories that should be told on Remembrance Sunday. The UK media have done a good job of supporting the poppy appeal and the important work of the Royal British Legion in the past but the hijacking of the campaign in recent years to justify ugly finger pointing, name-calling and political point-scoring looks increasingly distasteful and demeaning.
No sooner had I flagged a laughable piece of product placement in an apparent news article on the Daily Mail's website than somebody flagged this clumsy effort from music title the NME last week which was supposed to be about the 10 best debut albums of the year:
"In the second of four blog posts that look back over an incredible year in music, we hone in on the debut albums that have set our pulses racing. With so many album reviews on NME.com, we armed ourselves with Windows 10 on the lightning-fast Surface Pro 3 tablet, a device Microsoft promise can replace your laptop."
It went on...
"Thanks to a neat feature on the new Windows web browser Edge, we snapped multiple web pages..."
"...we streamed via... the Windows 10 digital streaming service with an online music catalogue of over 38 million tracks. Hefty."
"In less than five minutes we'd bought tickets and used digital assistant Cortana to email our gig buddy, add the date to our calendar and set a reminder...so even if we're out and about the reminder will pop up on our phone. Nice one."
Nice one. Now can Cortana also pass me a bucket, because I think I'm about to be sick.
Of course brands want publicity and publications need to make money. Neither of those things are wrong, but it is the ham-fisted way some publications are going about it that should serve as a warning to everybody.
Microsoft should be embarrassed they paid anything for something so witless and the NME should hang their heads in shame at publishing something so cringe-worthy because this kind of puff-piece lets down readers and advertisers alike.
Producing "sponsored content" mustn't be taken as a licence to insult the intelligence of readers or do a half-arsed job on behalf of advertisers, otherwise both will be lost.