Archive for April, 2009

Why do advertisers get more complaints than the press?

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This is a guest post from Matthew Cain who is leading the work of the independent press review group:

The Advertising Standards Authority published its annual report today. It revealed that the authority received 26433 complaints about 15,556 adverts, an increase of nine per cent on last year.

The ASA receives far more complaints than the Press Complaints Commission – 463% more. Why is this?

1. The difference is long term
The number of complaints to the ASA is up 9% on last year. The number of complaints to the PCC increased by 8%. The differences in the number of complaints has always been there.

2. It’s not because there are more adverts
The figures to prove this can only be assembled at disproportionate cost. But I don’t believe that more adverts are produced each year than number of articles in the UK press. Just look at the volume of advertising in a typical newspaper in proportion to the number of articles (there were 1870 complaints about advertising in the national press).

3. It’s not because the ASA spends more on advertising
The ASA spent £334,595 on advertising last year that is as much as 270 %the amount the PCC spends (the figures aren’t directly comparable in the annual reports so it could be as little as twice as much) which doesn’t account for 462% more complaints.

4. It’s not because there are more grounds for complaint for an advert
The code of standards in advertising is drawn more widely than the PCC code, to include consideration of whether an advert could “cause offence”. However, the PCC’s 4698 complaints includes those that were rejected for not being within the remit of the PCC. Moreover, the PCC suggests it received only around 10,000 enquiries last year so there are substantially fewer people who are considering complaining about the press.

5. We don’t get more upset by bad advertising
The most complained about advert attracted 840 complaints, compared with the 584 complaints received about the most complained about newspaper article. Therefore, we can conclude that newspaper adverts attract greater motivation to complain.

6. It’s not because people accept a different standard from the press
Our tolerance threshold of advertising does not appear to be significantly lower than our tolerance of the press. The Guardian received 22,500 complaints from its readers in 2008 – almost as many complaints about one newspaper as the whole of the advertising industry.

7. Is it because the ASA is more tough?
The ASA’s work last year led to 2475 ads being changed or withdrawn. The PCC doesn’t publish a comparable figure. The ASA issued 772 formal adjudications compared with the PCC’s 45 so the PCC actually adjudicates on comparably more cases and saw a 40% increase in adjudications, compared with a 27% increase for the ASA.

8. It’s not because the PCC is doing a bad job at ruling on its code
There were 49 requests for a review of an ASA ruling to its internal ombudsman with 8 cases upheld. That compares with 52 complaints to the PCC’s charter commissioner with 5 cases upheld.

So why do you think the ASA receives so many more complaints?

Written by Martin Moore

April 29th, 2009 at 3:47 pm

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Orwell Diaries Blog Nominated for Webby

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I’m delighted to report that the Orwell Diaries blog, set up and run by the Media Standards Trust (well, Gavin who sits opposite me to be precise) has made it to the shortlist of the Webbys.

It has been nominated by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences for Best Culture/Personal Blog, along with 1000 Awesome Things, Design Observer, Indexed, and TreeHugger.
If, like me (though I’m biased), think the Orwell Diaries blog is great – you can vote for it at Please do, it has been a labour of love for Gavin who, as well as coming up with the idea and getting the entries uploaded from the Orwell archive (courtesy of the Orwell Estate) has carefully linked the entries to Google Maps, Wikipedia, BBC Gardening, and many many other weird and wonderful sites. The blog even has the notes from Peter Davison’s Complete Works of Orwell to contextualise some of his references.
Some of my favourite entries track Orwell’s route from London to Morocco in 1938. You can not only see his sea route to Marrakech but see a picture of the boat he travelled on and the dock from which it set sail. Soon (after quite a lengthy period writing about eggs) he will start to describe the build up to the Second World War.
You’ve got a week or two left to vote at winners will be announced on Tuesday 5th May.

Written by Martin Moore

April 21st, 2009 at 3:39 pm

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Return to political swamp

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Arriving back from holiday is rarely much fun, but there was something particularly depressing about coming back to such a tawdry and unpleasant political scene this past weekend.

Catching up on the coverage of ‘McBride-gate’ – or ‘smear-gate’ – I was struck not only by the grotesque-ness of the planned Red Rag smears, but by how long the smearing had been going on, years by the looks of it, and all but the most recent directed not at Conservative politicians but at Labour. The Sunday Times identified attempts to rubbish Ivan Lewis, Stephen Byers, David Miliband, Harriet Harman, and Stephen Carter. Given that Damian McBride was a special advisor from 2003 there were also, presumably, others. That is six years of smears – longer even than a government’s term of office.

But of course that limits the smears and spin to McBride himself. Who, though clearly the source of the recent emails found by Guido Fawkes, must have been part of a wider culture that found them acceptable. Indeed, given that figures such as Charlie Whelan were copied in emails sent between McBride and Draper (according to the Sunday Telegraph), a number of people connected to No.10 were aware of what was happening yet felt no need to comment or object (though it should be said that some – within and outside No.10 – did object, sometimes with painful consequences).

Though McBride’s plans were of a particularly vicious and personal nature, it is difficult, from the perspective of the public, not to conclude that if such a culture of political conspiracy is prevalent and considered acceptable in No.10, it must exist elsewhere in government too. And if in government, why not in Opposition aswell? It was the Conservatives, don’t forget, who appointed Andy Coulson as their Director of Communications, shortly after he had resigned as editor of News of the World in disgrace following the conviction of one of his journalists for illegally accessing personal information about the royal family.

Neither do all journalists come up smelling of roses, given a bunch of political correspondents seemed happy to publish McBride’s attacks on politicians – as Alice Miles indicated last week and Peter Wilby commented today.

One must hope that, as the MP Tom Harris said on the Westminster Hour, McBride was a serious anomaly. It would be too easy – and wrong – to extend the extreme behaviour of one special advisor to politicians and civil servants in general.

However, it is also hard to see how either main political party will rid itself of the more general culture of spin and leaks that seems to so characterise modern government.

Even today, most of the newspapers and many of the broadcasts led with leaks about the forthcoming Budget. There were frequent reports about it yesterday too.

Jump back to 1947, and Hugh Dalton – one of Labour’s most successful Chancellors – resigned when news of his Budget leaked to an evening newspaper on the day of its announcement.

This is certainly not a nostalgic paean to a post-war political culture (though austerity is coming back into fashion), but simply an observation that the corrosive culture of spins and leaks extends far further than the emails that have dominated the news for the last week.

Written by Martin Moore

April 20th, 2009 at 4:05 pm

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JS Mill, the Guardian, and footage of the G20 protests

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When, back in 1859, John Stuart Mill wrote that truth – provided it wasn’t suppressed - would eventually triumph, he also added a caveat. As long, he said, as there are people prepared dig it out and make a song and dance about it. Actually, his language was rather more polished than mine, he wrote:

‘The real advantage which truth has consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favourable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it’ (JS Mill, On Liberty).

It’s that caveat I’m most interested in, particularly with regard to the media coverage of the G20 in London.

The coverage would, of itself, make for a wonderful doctoral thesis: the attempts by government to control the media within the summit by penning all established correspondents within a single venue, while outside there was a morrass of dissonant voices – reporters, protesters, police, onlookers. While all the while everyone was publishing furiously in text, audio, photographs and video, across multiple platforms and thousands of outlets.

But within the multiple major narratives and thousands of individual stories was one particularly tragic one. A man trying to return home from work who, trapped in the protests, died of a heart attack.

The initial ‘truth’ of how Ian Tomlinson died was shaped mainly by the police. The police said they were told a man had collapsed, they found and examined him, contacted an ambulance, and moved him because bottles were being thrown at them by protesters (from Guardian, 8-4-09).

But we live in a different media age. Not just an age of mass reporting but an age of mass recording. Most people now carry a mobile phone that can certainly take still photos, may well be able to film video, and record audio. Now, if you are at a newsworthy event – and a G20 protest most definitely counts as a newsworthy event – then the chances are you will be recorded many times, by many people.

And you can publish what you have recorded, without fear of suppression, to the world. Technologies like AudioBoo allow you to audio record and then, with a couple of clicks, upload it to the net. If JS Mill were alive today, you figure he’d be pleased.

So, given people’s ability to record and publish you would assume that, amongst the millions of still photographs and the thousands of videos that someone, somewhere, would have recorded the death of Mr Tomlinson and, as important, the minutes leading up to his death.

But how do you find it? How do you track down something you don’t know exists recorded by someone you don’t know how to identify? Here’s where we come to Mill’s caveat. You need someone willing and able to take alot of time, and a media outlet willing to provide the oxygen of publicity. The Guardian did this with the story of Mr Tomlinson. It found it, published it as their lead story, and gave it the context with which people could appreciate its authenticity (article and footage here)

Would the ‘truth’ surrounding Mr Tomlinson’s death have come to light had it not been sought out by journalists, and then published as the lead story in the Guardian? Perhaps, but I don’t think so.

Good journalism has always been about digging out information, authenticating it, and contextualising it. But in our new media world where every voice can, theoretically, be not only heard but recorded and published, our need for journalists – who can, in Mill’s words, ‘rediscover’ the truth, is greater than ever.

Written by Martin Moore

April 9th, 2009 at 7:18 pm

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