Product of a self-regulated Press

Posted by Paul Gardner

Paul Gardner accuses the Daily Mail of "yellow journalism" as it holds up Mick Philpott as everything that is wrong about the welfare state and benefit culture.

Daily Mail Philpott headlineIn the judicial review set up in the wake of the Milly Dowler phone hacking scandal, Lord Justice Leveson criticised the newspaper industry for "marking its own homework" when dealing with complaints.

This is illustrated all too plainly when one wishes to complain about an article in the Daily Mail, only to find out that the chairman of ther Editor's Code of Practice Committee at the Press Complaints Commission is none other than... the editor of the Daily Mail. No conflict of interest there then.

So will Paul Dacre be wearing his Daily Mail editor's hat or Press Complaints Commission hat when people complain about his front page splash about Mick Philpott, headlined "Vile product of Welfare UK", possibly the most disgusting Daily Mail front page since "Hurrah for the Blackshirts"?

The gist of the article is that Philpott was a scheming opportunist who hatched a reckless plan for personal gain and destroyed lives when the scheme went badly wrong. It argues that the entire basis for this horrendous scheme was that Philpott was in receipt of welfare benefits. One could just as easily say that as Philpott was a UK citizen throughout the years of Margaret Thatcher's government, he is a “vile product of Thatcherism”. Or if he has ever read a copy of the Daily Mail in his life, that he is a “vile product of the Daily Mail”.

It is simply preposterous to blame the welfare state as the underlying cause for this shocking crime. There are millions of other benefit claimants who are law-abiding citizens. At the same time, there are criminals from other strata of society. Would the Daily Mail say that all doctors are serial killers on the strength of Harold Shipman's actions?

There are other scheming opportunists who have destroyed far more lives with their own reckless plans for personal gain, without the welfare state being involved in any way. Furthermore, these criminals not only went unpunished for their fraudulent actions, they were actually rewarded to the tune of billions out of taxpayers' money and encouraged to carry on as if nothing had happened.

The comparison with bankers may seem obtuse to some but their actions, using scams such as derivatives and default swaps, all based on non-existent money in the first place, have indisputably destroyed the livelihoods of countless millions of people worldwide and have in some cases led to deaths by suicide or illness brought on by the stress of lost jobs and homes, family break-ups etc. They have escaped criminal charges, even in the Libor rigging scandal where there are clear prosecutable acts with a strong prospect of convictions in the courts.

In other cases, thousands of elderly and people on low incomes have had to balance the need for heating against  ever spiralling costs during this prolonged winter - all thanks to the obscene profiteering by privatised utilities that are not properly regulated and have apparently rigged the wholesale gas market in a similar scam to the Libor scandal, again without a single collar being felt.

But the likes of the Daily Mail would never go for these people in the same way that they have vilified Philpott. Ultimately, papers like the Mail do it "because they can" as it's not as if benefit claimants can sue them over such a blatant attempt to tear apart the safety net that most of them have paid for throughout their working lives in tax and national insurance.

It is yellow journalism in every sense of the term.

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