The Daily Express claims to have uncovered the "X-rated" past of an X-Factor contestant who told judges on the show she worked on the family farm.
The Express reports:
"Hannah told the judges and viewers at home that ...she hadn't given her singing career a real go because she'd been busy working on her family's farm...However, it's now been revealed that she spent at least one night...as a cage-fighting ring girl."
That doesn't sound very "X-rated". And you'd think the Express, of all people, would know what counts as X-rated, given their owner Richard Desmond owns porn channel Television X, home to programmes such as Gobble Box, Friends With Benefits Street, Mummies Gone Wild and Lolly's School of Rubber.
From the newspaper that revealed Paris Jackson was lined up to be the new Doctor Who comes news that David Beckham is set to be the new James Bond.
Despite the Star's confident claims, which are based on some people on Twitter thinking it sounds cool, Beckham's odds to be the next Bond remain long at 200-1 with bookmakers Paddy Power and Ladbrokes. That makes him even less fancied for the role than other unlikely candidates such as Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe (100-1), comedian David Walliams (100-1), John Travolta (100-1), boxer David Haye (100-1) and fellow ex-footballer Vinnie Jones (80-1).
Bookies' favourites Tom Hardy, Idris Elba or Damian Lewis remain hotly fancied to beat Beckham to the role.
In recent years I've tried to ignore Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn, largely because when I do read his columns I find the increasing adherence to his unimaginative template just as offensive as what he says. His constant repetition and limited range invariably leave me wondering whether I've read this one before or whether they really are all exactly the same.
If you have to be offensive at least put some effort into it, but with Littlejohn it feels as if any original thought there might once have been is now lost in a sea of huffing and puffing about "diversity", "elf and safety", "muslims", "foreigners", "gays" and the "self-righteous Guardianistas" and "metropolitan elite" ruining schools, marriages and bin collections. Any mention of equality, liberals or feminists is couched in inverted commas because typing "so-called" before every mention would be too much work for Littlejohn. The same goes for 'human rights' though Littlejohn spells it 'Yuman Rights' because his readers' expectations regarding what passes for wit have been set incredibly low.
Of course all writers, particularly columnists, need a recognisable style. But it seems that is all Littlejohn has. There is little discernible substance; no wit, no compelling argument, no originality.
He even relies heavily on the same tired cultural references, often from the same 1980s comedy programmes, which appear with tedious monotony:
But on Friday, Littlejohn shared his thoughts (for want of a better word) on the harrowing images of refugee Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian child whose body washed up on a Turkish beach sparking widespread calls for action on the crisis. With dread intrigue I clicked to see how the most predictable of commentators had reacted to something which had forced many in the UK media to stop and think and even ditch their routine criticism and contempt for migrants.
"By any standards, it was a horrible, harrowing, heart-wrenching image. A young boy, washed up dead on a Mediterranean beach, cradled in the arms of a Turkish policeman. I defy anyone with a shred of humanity not to be moved by the photograph…"
At this point even Littlejohn was still making sense.
But not for long. He went on to put the boot into "preening pundits queueing up to parade their compassion" and "media tarts" exploiting "the shocking death of a child just [to] feel good about themselves" with their "deranged" reaction to the images. But he omitted to mention the most glaring volte-face on this whole refugee crisis had arguably been from his own paper who apparently needed those images more than anybody to wake up to the fact there is a "human catastrophe" taking place in Europe:
Of course logic isn't Littlejohn’s strong suit as he proved when wheeling out a most ludicrous argument in response to Labour MP Yvette Cooper’s call for the UK to take in more refugees.
"If Yvette is so keen on welcoming Syrian migrants, maybe she could invite a couple of families to live [with her]".
This was the same argument a UKIP councillor used when trying to troll a celebrity on Twitter and it doesn’t get any less stupid for repeat use or an appearance in a national newspaper.
And so it transpires that yet again, even with painfully topical subject matter that forced others to stop and think, Littlejohn’s offering is the same old all-too-predictable grumbling-by-numbers.
The lazy clichés and tiresome cheap shots repeat to fade as ever, with mentions of "the joyous 'diversity' we are all ordered to 'celebrate'" and "self-righteous metropolitan Guardianistas" (of course) - not forgetting the "'liberal' luvvies", complete with inverted commas.
The images in today's papers are almost impossible to bear. But it shouldn't have needed a dead child to force some people to rediscover their humanity and it shouldn't have needed a dead child to force people to stop demonising the victims of a humanitarian crisis.
It shouldn't have needed such harrowing images to make people end cruel and dehumanising attacks on "swarms" of families just seeking safety. It shouldn't need the hideous reality behind those images to stop people whipping up fear and hatred towards those most in need of our help.
It shouldn't take a dead child to force those with a powerful voice to start talking about "victims" not "vermin"; for open contempt to be replaced by traces of compassion which may prove fleeting but might, hopefully, become the prevailing voice in the media.
It shouldn't, but sadly it has.
Yesterday this blog declared we had hit peak silly season and right on cue the media duly obliged with that timeless silly season staple: some shark-related holiday horror. Not in Cornwall this time (for a change) but Benidorm.
The Sun reported a 10-year-old boy had been "mauled" by a seven foot "beast" and "holidaymakers fled from a packed beach" (though you'd think most people would know they are safe from sharks on the beach). The Daily Star was unequivocal: this had been a "JAWS ATTACK".
However, despite the Daily Star's obligatory use of a library photo of a Great White shark, the real pictures of the injury sustained rather undermined the headlines and stock pictures of ominous-looking shark fins and gnashing jaws:
A report in the Daily Mail suggests the fish may have been closer to 60cm long and was responding to the boy trying to prod it.
So 'boy nearly prods fish, gets bitten'. Those awaiting storyline ideas for Jaws 5 may have to keep waiting.
It's finally happened. It's been coming for a while, but I am calling it - we are now at peak silly season with news (because I don't really know what else to call it) that David Cameron ate some crisps on a flight. No really. He ate some crisps on a plane. They were paprika-flavoured Pringles, seeing as you didn't ask and probably don't care.
'Silly season' seems to last year-round nowadays but it still has a discernible peak during the summer and we are now, surely, there. With every seagull-related headline it has felt like we've been getting closer by the day, including one claiming seagulls were "poised to sabotage Great British Bake Off" (despite the competition having already been filmed). Then we had the "mythical lizard man of South Carolina" hitting the headlines along with some hairy babies (no idea) and the usual mix of research stories:
As well as being a good time to see hairy babies (still no idea), silly season is a prime time for spotting ghosts and miracle sightings such as Jesus on a bathroom wall, Jesus in the tail smoke of a plane, Vladimir Putin in some starlings and Anne Boleyn in a badly blurred photo of a lamp from Hampton Court:
But not even Vladimir Putin can compete with another world leader eating some crisps on a plane. Crisps. On a plane. Incredible scenes.
The Daily Express is demanding to know:
So I looked into it and it turns out the answer is no, not really.
According to the BBC's annual report, the Corporation broadcasts more than 98,000 hours of radio and television content for us to choose from each year and only 35 minutes - less than 0.0006 per cent of its output - was taken up by Songs of Praise from Calais.
So there you go.
Although the BBC won't say how much was spent on the Calais episode of Songs of Praise some basic maths tells us it must have accounted for a tiny part of our licence fees.
Songs of Praise is a small part of more than 8,200 hours of programming on BBC1, funded by a £1.1bn budget. That means the average cost of 35 minutes programming on BBC1 is about £78,000, with some broadcasts costing considerably less and some costing considerably more. Songs of Praise is clearly not a lavish production with big name stars and expensive special effects but it probably costs more than a repeat of Pointless. As such it seems likely the cost of that Calais episode to the 25 million homes and businesses who fund the BBC is most likely in the region of half a pence each, or less.
I didn’t watch the programme myself, but they are welcome to my half penny.
For more on why the BBC was right to take Songs of Praise to Calais and why many of the arguments against the licence fee don't stack up, see:
Never underestimate the Daily Mail's ability to see 'political correctness gone mad!' in almost anything. Today it is the turn of Bob The Builder who is returning in a new series that will include a black character.
"Not even Bob the Builder can withstand the forces of political correctness," writes a Daily Mail showbiz reporter who possibly never imagined having to type such a sentence. "The cherished series is returning to our screens with the show's first prominent black character."
The Mail has already criticised Great British Bake Off this summer for including too many "fashionable minorities" in its line-up, singling out "a Muslim with a headscarf", "a househusband" and an "Afro-Caribbean".
Of course the Mail knows what it's doing with such ridiculous outrage. It is trying to whip up very real outrage among its readers. And it works - no matter how silly the story. Here's a sample of the responses they stirred up with the Bob The Builder story, with added points for a textbook mention of "leftists":
Three things struck me when I read that the BBC's Songs of Praise would be filmed in the refugee camp known as 'The Jungle' in Calais.
1) Songs of Praise is still going. Really? I had no idea.
2) If the programme has ambitions to be more relevant and reach new audiences then this seems a smart move given how high-profile the Calais story is currently.
3) This would inevitably be used as a stick by all those who criticise the BBC for anything it does. And so it proved...
It turns out Songs of Praise is indeed still going, but after more than 50 years it has been trying of late to arrest falling viewing figures by tinkering with its format. The trip to Calais is clearly an attempt to remind people it still exists and reach new viewers by tackling a current, highly relevant issue.
The media have made the refugee crisis in Calais the top story over the past fortnight and no doubt Songs of Praise spotted not only an opportunity to thrust itself into a story which is high-profile and topical - not words often associated with Songs of Praise I imagine - but also an editorial opportunity to cover the crisis, not with the scaremongering xenophobia that has become so commonplace elsewhere, but with some humanity, via an examination of the faith which clearly fortifies some people living in adversity.
Of course the Songs of Praise decision was always destined to earn the ire of those media outlets who have been working hard to whip up a scare story that has brought out the very worst in their readers. Many of the comments posted on the Daily Mail website, for example, have been distinctly unchristian:
The decision to visit Calais was also destined to draw fire because it's the BBC daring to do anything. But it is easy to imagine the BBC would also be damned for turning its back on "old-fashioned Christian values" if it was to consign Songs of Praise to the TV scrapheap without at least trying to raise its profile and relevance.
It is time to back the BBC, not pick it apart
The "mind-blowing excess" of BBC tea-drinkers
BBC critics ramp up their attacks
Bullish BBC boss comes out swinging
Telegraph bashes BBC for doing its research
BBC bashed for "lavish" lambing largesse
In the past week the UK national media have run over 150 news stories and comment pieces about seagulls.
The seagull has well and truly unseated the false widow spider of recent years to be the media's scare story of choice for the summer. To put the numbers into some perspective, at peak hysteria the false widow spider only generated 54 pieces of national coverage in its busiest week.
The Times, downplaying the media's role in whipping up seagull-related hysteria, has taken pause to ponder the nature of this "primeval dread", suspecting it might be innate in our psyches:
"Somewhere, deep down, we fear nature’s revenge. That fear discharges, irrationally, because it’s there and we’ll never get rid of it. Seagulls are not, commonsense informs us, a real risk to mankind but this year we fear them."
Others have been less thoughtful in their coverage:
The Daily Star, a long-time fan of animal scare stories, leads the way in reporting the "seagull terror" from above with stories of "seagulls waging war on mutant rats" to claims that "vicious seagulls will attack and kill babies".
It should be stressed no babies have been killed. In fact, the reality to date has often been a lot less shocking. While the Daily Mail and others did report that a pensioner and a four-year-old boy both needed medical attention after being pecked by the "seagull menace" and a couple of pets have been killed, the Star also informs us that a family was "forced to flee a guest house when a plague of noisy seagulls kept them awake all night". That may have been frustrating but it doesn't feel like a national news story.
In the main the victims have reportedly been ice creams, pasties and sausage rolls but that hasn't discouraged the media from setting about the story like a flock of hungry seagulls mobbing a discarded chip packet.
It is a situation which has even brought journalists into direct contact with the "bloodthirsty", "terror-inducing" menaces. The Telegraph reported a "particularly sadistic" seagull attacked one of its journalists and a photographer as they left an ice cream shop in Brighton.
According to an outraged headline on The Mirror’s website: "British parents should be JAILED for smacking their children says United Nations report".
The Express wades in with "British parents should be JAILED for smacking their kids, warn UN human rights bureaucrats".
Those damn human rights bureaucrats, how dare they! Coming over here, protecting our children.
To illustrate the sort of behaviour these bureaucrats want to outlaw, the Express has used an image (posed by models, obviously) of a mother about to smack her child around the face with the kind of forehand smash a tennis player might be proud of. Presumably the Express thinks allowing this would be preferable to giving in to the outrageous whims and recommendations of "meddling" human rights "do-gooders":
However, it should be pointed out the UN’s recommendation actually says: "The state should take practical steps, including through legislative measures where appropriate, to put an end to corporal punishment in all settings, including the home, throughout the United Kingdom."
Which seems entirely reasonable. Tellingly there’s no mention at all of parents being thrown in jail, or of the UN recommending any such a punishment.
(Hat tip: @PrimlyStable)
When the Conservatives won a majority at the general election it was clear the BBC was in for a tough time, with charter renewal on the horizon and election favours to be repaid.
The government has made no secret of its feelings towards the BBC, of course (though it's been less open about its dealings with the commercial media owners who stand to benefit from cuts to the Beeb).
When much of the country's media is openly right-leaning it is natural the Conservatives would find the BBC's even-handedness frustrating - hence the regular cries of bias. But many of the arguments the government is putting forward to justify cuts don't stand up.
Take the suggestion the BBC is bad for local media, when a more pressing issue should be the extent to which local media owners are bad for local media - as highlighted by recent strike actions. Under-investment in journalism and effective digital strategies, alongside poor commercial planning, are hurting local media far more than a competitor that has been around for decades. But if you were the boss of a local or regional media company who would you blame for the falling quality of your product? Certainly not yourself.
The accusation that the BBC has gone "chasing ratings" clearly has a grounding in truth. What broadcaster doesn't want to draw an audience? It is the BBC's job to bring people together in good times, bad times, fun times and important times.
While programming such as The Voice (X Factor without the hit singles) or celebrity gymnastics show Tumble (Splash without the swimming pool) may expose the extent to which the BBC has made some bad bets in the name of entertainment, the obvious risk aversion and lack of imagination behind such decisions arguably makes a case for giving the BBC more room to breathe, not less. However, much of this is subjective and the debate cannot become about individual shows or even whole channels and stations.
Objecting to the licence fee because you can name a handful of programmes, or even whole channels or stations you don't like makes about as much sense as walking out of a restaurant refusing to pay the bill after an excellent, fairly-priced meal because there were other things on the menu you wouldn't have liked if you had ordered them.
The BBC's greatest strength is the choice it offers across online, television and radio. But the choice needs to be rich and diverse and the economics of content are such that we need to judge value carefully. Somebody who only watches niche documentaries on BBC4 may cry foul that their licence fee funds big budget prime time shows on BBC1 but 300,000 people watching a documentary on BBC4 are getting far greater value for money than 10 million watching The Voice, because they are getting a scarce product for the same price as a more commoditised product.
People enjoying the BBC's factual and documentary output benefit from the licence fee in a way that simply couldn't be recreated under any other funding model. One television historian told me commercial broadcasters may still commission occasional historical documentaries "but only if they are about Nazis or the Titanic". He was joking. But only just.
Nothing characterises the BBC's dilemma more than sport. Damned if it shows too much, damned if it shows too little. Take the recent example of the BBC being sidelined in the world of Olympic coverage which resulted in angry criticisms of the Corporation. The BBC arguably taught the world how to broadcast sport but is now being pushed to the periphery because money talks and the BBC is having to keep its voice down.
Love it or hate it, the role of sport in creating those moments which unite us should not be underestimated, nor should the impact of the BBC losing rights, because without its involvement sport is reaching ever-smaller audiences - the current Ashes series being a prime example. Currently the rights owners, such as sports' governing bodies, don't seem to care but in time they surely will.
Of course there are things we'd all change about the BBC if we could and we're all entitled to our moans - not least because - for now - we pay for it, not advertisers and not the government. Keeping the licence fee separate from general taxation and annual government budget reviews gives us all a claim over the services we receive and research shows the majority of us still favour the licence fee as the preferred way of funding the BBC (ICM, 2014).
As BBC Director General Tony Hall pointed out this week: "The BBC does not belong to the government. The BBC belongs to the country. The public are our shareholders. So it is their voice that will matter most in this debate."
For more on this subject, see:
The "mind-blowing excess" of BBC tea-drinkers
BBC critics ramp up their attacks
Bullish BBC boss comes out swinging
Telegraph bashes BBC for doing its research
BBC bashed for "lavish" lambing largesse
The Media Blog is now six years old. Below are the top 10 posts from the first six years...
Monday's Daily Star reliably reported:
"Telly hit Top Gear smashed ratings records as millions tuned in last night to see axed host Jeremy Clarkson's final appearance... Last night's final episode starring Jezza, James May and Richard Hammond clocked up huge viewing figures for the BBC."
However, the story, which may well have been written even before Sunday's Top Gear had aired and certainly before official viewing figures were published, was a little wide of the mark.
Cue the kind of high-speed U-turn The Stig would be proud of, with Tuesday's Daily Star reporting:
"Motormouth Jeremy Clarkson's last ever Top Gear show went out with a whimper rather than a bang. Only 5.3 million viewers bothered to tune in on Sunday night for the big farewell."
The truth is somewhere in between. Top Gear's 5.3 million viewers neither "smashed ratings records" as claimed by the Daily Star on Monday, nor could it be classed a "flop" as claimed by the Daily Star on Tuesday. The viewing figures were marginally up on the previous episode of Top Gear (5.1 million) shown back in March and level with the first episode of the most recent series shown back in January (5.3 million).
Only the Daily Express could celebrate the potential of extending the life expectancy of Britain's ageing population while also bemoaning the swelling of the working-age population - all on the same front page.
The Express makes no secret of the fact it likes old people and doesn't really like foreign people coming over here, getting jobs, paying their taxes and making a net contribution to the UK economy. But such is the paper's dedication to its 'old people good, foreign people bad' narrative it is happy to disregard the economic consequences of Britain's ageing population living longer, the bearing that might have on the overall population and the resultant need therefore to increase the working-age population.