Daily Star’s tacit support for EDL is no surprise

It could be a good thing – at least we now know where they stand.

Wednesday's front page of the Daily Star has been widely seen as an endorsement of the English Defence League. Roy Greenslade of the Guardian called it "a clear piece of propaganda on behalf of the EDL", while the Independent's Ian Burrell asked, "Has the Daily Star decided to back the EDL?"

It's just a coincidence, of course, that Richard Desmond should moot the EDL's spiritual home of Luton as the base for his newspapers, but it couldn't be better timing. Who knows? Maybe the EDL will hold a "Welcome to Luton" street party for Star hacks when they arrive at work for the first time in Bedfordshire.

My fellow media blogger Five Chinese Crackers expresses the view of many of us who viewed the Star as just a worthless comic and not worthy of serious criticism, saying: "I hardly ever looked at the Star, since it exists primarily as a vehicle for selling pictures of tits to stupid people," but admits we're going to have to start taking it seriously now.

This is, after all, a national newspaper – of which there are only ten – aligning itself with an organisation that many consider to be odious, hostile to freedom and deeply unpleasant. Of course, as many other bloggers have documented down the years, Daily Star headlines often bear little or no relation to the stories below, and it's a similar case with this one. The EDL boss saying "We aren't ruling it out" is alchemised into "EDL to become political party". No matter. The Star has its story, and backs it up with a remarkably chummy editorial column.

It's been coming for a while. Back in November, Hope Not Hate wrote politely to the Star asking the paper to tone down its coverage of Muslims. It came on the back of a Star poll which found that 98 per cent of readers feared Britain was becoming a Muslim state – the most recent poll found that 98 per cent of readers, perhaps not entirely unrelatedly, backed the policies of the EDL.

At the time, I looked at the reaction on nationalist and EDL message boards and blogs, and found it was highly positive. One blogger wrote, delightedly, "This is the first article I have read, from both the national and regional media, that hasn't been critical of the EDL," and hoped for more in the future. It would seem that wish has been granted.

It seems an odd decision, on the face of it, from the Star to be so matey with the EDL. Perhaps 98 per cent of Star readers really do support the EDL; and phone polls are entirely representative of a readership's feelings on any particular subject. Perhaps there is a lot of latent support for the EDL from ordinary Brits who feel angry at what they see as the Islamification of their country, based on the kind of stories they read in the Star (and elsewhere, in slightly more complicated terms). Perhaps it's just a way of targeting a narrow demographic as a way of tunnelling out of the general slump in newspaper sales, abandoning broad appeal in favour of a particular type of reader.

As I said last week, newspapers may be reflecting their readerships, but if they're just confirming prejudices rather than reporting what's actually going on, that erodes the credibility of all newspapers even more.

If you look back further, this was a newspaper that would have had a "Daily Fatwa" edition published, had it not been for a revolt by the newsroom's union chapel. So, this isn't a new flirtation, but perhaps rather a "coming out" by the Star, and perhaps is to be welcomed by the rest of us. At least we know what we're dealing with now, and it's out in the open. At least we know where they stand.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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What it’s like to fall victim to the Mail Online’s aggregation machine

I recently travelled to Iraq at my own expense to write a piece about war graves. Within five hours of the story's publication by the Times, huge chunks of it appeared on Mail Online – under someone else's byline.

I recently returned from a trip to Iraq, and wrote an article for the Times on the desecration of Commonwealth war cemeteries in the southern cities of Amara and Basra. It appeared in Monday’s paper, and began:

“‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the engraving reads, but the words ring hollow. The stone on which they appear lies shattered in a foreign field that should forever be England, but patently is anything but.”

By 6am, less than five hours after the Times put it online, a remarkably similar story had appeared on Mail Online, the world’s biggest and most successful English-language website with 200 million unique visitors a month.

It began: “Despite being etched with the immortal line: ‘Their name liveth for evermore’, the truth could not be further from the sentiment for the memorials in the Commonwealth War Cemetery in Amara.”

The article ran under the byline of someone called Euan McLelland, who describes himself on his personal website as a “driven, proactive and reliable multi-media reporter”. Alas, he was not driven or proactive enough to visit Iraq himself. His story was lifted straight from mine – every fact, every quote, every observation, the only significant difference being the introduction of a few errors and some lyrical flights of fancy. McLelland’s journalistic research extended to discovering the name of a Victoria Cross winner buried in one of the cemeteries – then getting it wrong.

Within the trade, lifting quotes and other material without proper acknowledgement is called plagiarism. In the wider world it is called theft. As a freelance, I had financed my trip to Iraq (though I should eventually recoup my expenses of nearly £1,000). I had arranged a guide and transport. I had expended considerable time and energy on the travel and research, and had taken the risk of visiting a notoriously unstable country. Yet McLelland had seen fit not only to filch my work but put his name on it. In doing so, he also precluded the possibility of me selling the story to any other publication.

I’m being unfair, of course. McLelland is merely a lackey. His job is to repackage and regurgitate. He has no time to do what proper journalists do – investigate, find things out, speak to real people, check facts. As the astute media blog SubScribe pointed out, on the same day that he “exposed” the state of Iraq’s cemeteries McLelland also wrote stories about the junior doctors’ strike, British special forces fighting Isis in Iraq, a policeman’s killer enjoying supervised outings from prison, methods of teaching children to read, the development of odourless garlic, a book by Lee Rigby’s mother serialised in the rival Mirror, and Michael Gove’s warning of an immigration free-for-all if Britain brexits. That’s some workload.

Last year James King published a damning insider’s account of working at Mail Online for the website Gawker. “I saw basic journalism standards and ethics casually and routinely ignored. I saw other publications’ work lifted wholesale. I watched editors...publish information they knew to be inaccurate,” he wrote. “The Mail’s editorial model depends on little more than dishonesty, theft of copyrighted material, and sensationalism so absurd that it crosses into fabrication.”

Mail Online strenuously denied the charges, but there is plenty of evidence to support them. In 2014, for example, it was famously forced to apologise to George Clooney for publishing what the actor described as a bogus, baseless and “premeditated lie” about his future mother-in-law opposing his marriage to Amal Alamuddin.

That same year it had to pay a “sizeable amount” to a freelance journalist named Jonathan Krohn for stealing his exclusive account in the Sunday Telegraph of being besieged with the Yazidis on northern Iraq’s Mount Sinjar by Islamic State fighters. It had to compensate another freelance, Ali Kefford, for ripping off her exclusive interview for the Mirror with Sarah West, the first female commander of a Navy warship.

Incensed by the theft of my own story, I emailed Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Online, attaching an invoice for several hundred pounds. I heard nothing, so emailed McLelland to ask if he intended to pay me for using my work. Again I heard nothing, so I posted both emails on Facebook and Twitter.

I was astonished by the support I received, especially from my fellow journalists, some of them household names, including several victims of Mail Online themselves. They clearly loathed the website and the way it tarnishes and debases their profession. “Keep pestering and shaming them till you get a response,” one urged me. Take legal action, others exhorted me. “Could a groundswell from working journalists develop into a concerted effort to stop the theft?” SubScribe asked hopefully.

Then, as pressure from social media grew, Mail Online capitulated. Scott Langham, its deputy managing editor, emailed to say it would pay my invoice – but “with no admission of liability”. He even asked if it could keep the offending article up online, only with my byline instead of McLelland’s. I declined that generous offer and demanded its removal.

When I announced my little victory on Facebook some journalistic colleagues expressed disappointment, not satisfaction. They had hoped this would be a test case, they said. They wanted Mail Online’s brand of “journalism” exposed for what it is. “I was spoiling for a long war of attrition,” one well-known television correspondent lamented. Instead, they complained, a website widely seen as the model for future online journalism had simply bought off yet another of its victims.