Blurred Stats

— Annual Violence Against Women and Girls crime report by U.K. state prosecution service inflates rape conviction rate statistics for second year in a row

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Last year, I blogged about how the U.K. Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) inflated the rape conviction rate with its annual Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) crime report.

In a press release, the CPS claimed that in 2015-16 it convicted “more cases of rape…than ever before,” with “a rise in the rape conviction rate [from 56.9 per cent] to 57.9 percent.” Those figures were widely reported by the British press. However, a close look at the accompanying data showed that those figures included “cases initially flagged as rape where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence” and “where a rape charge is subsequently amended.”

Efforts via this blog to report the actual figures resulted in corrections in two major British newspapers, including a page two correction in the print edition of The Daily Telegraph.

Earlier this week, the CPS released its 10th annual VAWG report. The report again boasts the “highest volumes ever recorded” of rape convictions, with a rise “from 2,689 in 2015-16 to 2,991 in 2016–17.”

The accompanying data also includes the caveat that “CPS data on successful rape prosecutions includes not only cases resulting in a conviction for rape, but also cases initially flagged as rape where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence.” The data report further states that CPS figures include cases “where a decision is taken to charge an offence other than rape, or where a rape charge is subsequently amended.”

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So far five major publications, The Guardian, BBC NewsThe Independent, The Times, and BuzzFeed News, have published stories quoting the CPS’ claims about “record” numbers of convictions.

I’ll ask all four about the inflated figures and blog the results.

Unpresentable

The BBC says “no further action will be taken” after news presenter Ben Brown physically pushed a woman during a live television broadcast

BBC News presenter Ben Brown physically pushed the female passer-by during a live television broadcast Tuesday.

Brown was in Bradford speaking about the new Labour Party manifesto with his colleague, assistant political editor Norman Smith, when the unnamed woman walked between the two men and said “absolutely fantastic,” giving a thumbs-up. But she was quickly pushed aside by Brown, who appeared to grab her breast. The woman then slapped the presenter on the arm before walking off camera.

Later that day, Brown tweeted: “Unfortunate interruption of broadcast in Bradford – just tried to minimise disruption but v tricky live on air – completely unintentional”.

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Yesterday I asked the BBC if it was appropriate that Brown physically pushed a woman who interrupted his conversation; if the BBC agrees the woman had the right to stand on a public street in Bradford, regardless of whether or not her presence inconvenienced Brown and/or BBC News; and if Brown could clarify what he was referring to in his tweet as being “completely unintentional,” as it was clear he intended to push the woman.

Today BBC News replied that Brown’s actions were “clearly unintentional and an accident” and that “no further action will be taken.”

Dear Mr. Jones

We appreciate you were concerned by an incident in which our presenter Ben Brown accidently made contact with a member of the public who had interrupted a live broadcast on the BBC News Channel.

Ben explained what had happened in a tweet soon afterwards, which you can see below:

“Unfortunate interruption of broadcast in Bradford – just tried to minimise disruption but v tricky live on air – completely unintentional”

As Ben said, this was clearly unintentional and an accident, and no further action will be taken.

Thank you for contacting us.

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints Team
http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

Blasphemy @ the BBC

The BBC issues lengthy apology for “disgraceful” tweet which asked what the “right punishment for blasphemy” should be

Last week, the BBC Asian Network – which hosts the lively Big Debate radio programme – asked Twitter users to say what they thought was the “right punishment for blasphemy.”

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Maryam Namazie, a prominent ex-Muslim and civil rights campaigner, called the question “disgraceful,” and labelled the British broadcaster the “Ayatollah BBC.”

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On Saturday, I asked the BBC – which is funded by public money – if it believed that blasphemy should be punishable.

Today, I received this lengthy apology from the BBC Complaints Team:

From: bbc_complaints_website <bbc_complaints_website@bbc.co.uk>
To: Dean Jones <****@aol.com>
Subject: BBC Complaints – Case Number CAS­-4274202­-VR2YRX
Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2017 12:07

Dear Mr. Jones

Thank you for contacting us regarding our programme, Asian Network’s Big Debate. We understand that you felt it was inappropriate to pose the question ‘What is the right punishment for blasphemy?’

Asian Network’s Big Debate is a live daily news and magazine programme. The first hour of the programme poses a question that the audience discusses on the phone, over emails and on social media. We regularly ask difficult and provocative questions on a wide range of issues that are relevant to a mainly British Asian audience usually on the basis of events in the news in the UK or South Asia.

The question was prompted by reports that Pakistan had asked Facebook to help investigate ‘blasphemous content’ posted by people in the country. Despite widespread condemnation, blasphemy is illegal in Pakistan, in some cases it is punishable with the death penalty.

We apologise for the poorly worded question and the way it was posted on social media, it was never our intention to imply that blasphemy should be punished. We agree that the question should have been better phrased and put properly into context.

Thanks again for contacting us.

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints Team
http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

Shortly after, I also received this separate response from the BBC Asian Network:

From: Asian Network Enquiries <asiannetwork.enquiries@bbc.co.uk>
To: **** <****@aol.com>
Subject: RE: Quick question regarding “clumsily worded” blasphemy tweet
Date: Tue, 21 Mar 2017 13:05

Hi Dean,

The Asian Network’s Big Debate asks difficult and provocative questions every day. This programme was an engaging discussion on the subject of blasphemy, but we admit that the question could have been phrased better and have since made this clear.

Kind Regards,

The Asian Network Team

It isn’t the first time the BBC has apologised for asking “clickbait rhetorical questions” and “legitimizing an indefensible POV – as award-winning British author Joanne Harris (MBE) charged in response to this September 2016 tweet by BBC Newsbeat re: video of US reality television star Kim Kardashian being accosted by “vile” Ukrainian prankster Vitalii Sediuk.

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When I asked about the offending tweet, BBC Newsbeat said it had intended to “provoke conversation” but did not mean to legitimise Sediuk’s “prank.”

Last year, the BBC made over three billion pounds from publicly generated funding.

Anonymous

Guardian Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick denies my request for more info about his paper’s vetting procedures for anonymous contributors

Last month, I blogged about a purported hoax on British daily newspaper the Guardian by serial media prankster Godfrey Elfwick.

In November, the paper had published an anonymous opinion piece about how its left-wing author was nearly turned into a racist after being exposed to right-wing views online.

Shortly after the article was published, Elfwick – who had previously duped the BBC World Service into allowing him to denounce Star Wars as “racist and homophobic” during a live radio broadcast – claimed authorship of the article.

Perhaps owing to his success at hoodwinking the BBC, many on Twitter – including award-winning US writer and leading New Atheist Sam Harris, whose views on Islam are cited in the article as having helped lead the author to nearly becoming a racist – seemed to accept Elfwick’s claim of authorship at face value.

This led to a high-profile Twitter spat between Harris and eminent US journalist Glenn Greenwald, who accused Harris of engaging in “hatermongering against Muslims.”

glenn-greenwald-guardian-sam-harris

Harris later used Elfwick’s unsubstantiated claims to demand an apology from Greenwald.

sam-harris-glenn-greenwald-guardian

When I asked Guardian Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick about Elfwick’s claims, he insisted his paper was “confident about the authorship of the article,” and that he saw “no point encouraging trolls by paying them attention.”

In a follow-up e-mail, I asked Chadwick about his paper’s vetting procedures for anonymous contributors, stating my concern that “without being able to provide demonstrable evidence that an article is genuine, you open the doors to false claims of authorship.”

Here is his January 3, 2017 response:

From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <guardian.readers@theguardian.com>
To: **** <****@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax
Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2017 19:20

Dear Dean Jones,

Yes, there are processes for vetting contributors, but I am sure you will understand that if they are to maintain their effectiveness it is counterproductive to detail them.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Chadwick

Readers’ editor

Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media

Hoax-ception

Busted: Purported Guardian hoax by prankster Godfrey Elfwick was itself a hoax [Updated: Guardian editor has denied my request for more info about the paper’s vetting procedures for anonymous contributors – more after the jump]

Last month, the Guardian published an anonymous article about how its author was nearly turned into a racist after being exposed to right-wing views online.

Shortly after the article was published, online social justice parodist Godfrey Elfwick, who last year duped the BBC World Service into allowing him to denounce Star Wars as “racist and homophobic” during a live radio broadcast, claimed authorship of the article.

In support of his claim, Elfwick shared an image of a Microsoft Word document on his computer with a similar title, but dated weeks before the Guardian article.

godfrey-elfwick-wordpress-file-screenshot

He also shared a print out of the article with his name on the byline.

godfrey-elfwick-guardian-article-print-out

Perhaps owing to his success at hoodwinking the BBC, many on Twitter – including award-winning American writer and leading New Atheist Sam Harris, whose views on Islam are cited in the article as having helped lead the author to nearly becoming a racist – seemed to accept Elfwick’s claim of authorship at face value.

The episode proved to be a lesson in confirmation bias.

For Glenn Greenwald, an American journalist whose work on Edward Snowden won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014, the article confirmed his long-standing belief that the New Atheism movement is little more than “a cover for Islamophobia,” and on Twitter accused Harris of engaging in “hatermongering against Muslims.”

glenn-greenwald-guardian-sam-harris

Meanwhile, Harris used Elfwick’s unverified claim to question Greenwald’s credibility.

sam-harris-glenn-greenwald-guardian

A couple of weeks ago, I asked the Guardian to comment on whether Elfwick authored the article, as claimed.

On Tuesday, I received the following response from Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick, stating he is “confident about the authorship of the article” and that the version shared by Elfwick on Twitter is “markedly different in several ways” to the draft originally submitted to the Guardian for publication.

From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <guardian.readers@theguardian.com>
To: **** <****@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax
Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2016 15:45

Dear Dean Jones,

Thank you for your email.

The Guardian has stated in response to specific media enquiries that it is confident about the authorship of the article.

I have separately looked into the matter and can assure you that the claim of authorship made on Twitter is not supported by the evidence offered on Twitter by the person claiming authorship.

In its original format the material submitted to the Guardian for the article is markedly different in several ways from what was claimed on Twitter to be a print out of the article as submitted by its author.

I can understand why the Guardian has taken the approach that it has taken to this matter. You would agree, I’m sure, that there is no point encouraging trolls by paying them attention.

Thanks again for making contact.

Paul Chadwick
Readers’ editor

Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media

While he didn’t quite manage to pull the wool over our eyes, Elfwick’s claim raises an interesting question: without being able to verify the identity of the author, how do we know the article isn’t a hoax?¹ Maybe that was the point all along.

Updated, 12/01/17: Last month, I asked Guardian Readers’ Editor Paul Chadwick about his paper’s vetting procedures for anonymous contributors, stating my concern that “without being able to provide demonstrable evidence that an article is genuine, you open the doors to false claims of authorship.”

Here is his January 3, 2017 response:

From: Readers’ editor (Guardian) <guardian.readers@theguardian.com>
To: **** <****@aol.com>
Subject: Re: Question about Anonymous Guardian article re: possible hoax
Date: Tue, 3 Jan 2017 19:20

Dear Dean Jones,

Yes, there are processes for vetting contributors, but I am sure you will understand that if they are to maintain their effectiveness it is counterproductive to detail them.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Chadwick

Readers’ editor

Guardian Readers’ editor’s office
Guardian News & Media

¹Prior to Elfwick throwing his hat into the ring, Twitter users were already questioning the article’s authenticity.

Hates Speech

Former BBC Wales Head of Public Affairs Leighton Andrews calls for European regulation of Facebook and Google

Leighton Andrews, the former Head of Public Affairs for BBC Wales, has called for European law makers to regulate U.S. Internet giants Facebook and Google.

Former Head of Public Affairs for BBC Wales, Leighton Andrews (source)

In two similarly worded articles on Open Democracy UK and Medium, Andrews argued that Facebook and Google are media companies, and should therefore be subject to stringent rules regarding antitrust issues, content, branding and “hate speech.”

Via “Europe should regulate Facebook and Google” by Leighton Andrews, Medium, December 9, 2016.

As well as their dominance of advertising, the two ‘titans’…have become the dominant news distributors as well. 44% of US adults get their news via Facebook according to the Pew Research Centre having taken over as the top news referrer from Google in 2015 according to the traffic analytics site parse.ly. At least originating news organisations get to keep their branding in the Google News app: in the Facebook News Feed, as Alex Hern pointed out in the Guardian, there’s no branding difference between fake news sites and established and respected news outlets…meaning that fake news can vie with real news for top spots.

Via “We need European regulation of Facebook and Google” by Leighton Andrews, Open Democracy UK, December 12, 2016.

What is needed is the necessary strategic alliance between other media companies, civil society organisations and academic specialists to drive an agenda forward to address the powers of internet intermediaries, in terms of content rules, competition issues and their dominance of the advertising markets which as we have seen has had the effect of undermining the newspaper industry in particular…

…Moving forward, there needs to be a coordinated and sustainable lobby at a European level, involving media organisations, advertisers, civic society organisations, and academic specialists interested in media policy to create the space for legislative action

– In defence of facts on digital advertising metrics
– In defence of facts in news reporting and/or attribution
– In defence of the rule of law (for example German hate speech laws)

Assuming Brexit goes ahead, and the UK does want a relationship akin to the EEA, then it’s likely it will have to adhere in practice to EU Media laws. EU legislation may be our last, best hope for effective action. There’s a thing.

I’ll leave it to the experts to debate the merits of antitrust regulation, but I can’t sit still for Andrews’ arguments in favour of controlling content, branding and “hate speech.”

Unlike the U.S., the EU famously doesn’t have a strong constitutional guarantee regarding freedom of speech or of the press. Consequently, countries within Europe have implemented a number of vague laws targeting political speech under the pretext of national security, racial and religious tolerance, and even women’s rights.

“Hate speech” is an especially meaningless term which has nevertheless been adopted by many European countries to punish unpopular speech. Just this month, Dutch politician and prominent Eurosceptic Geert Wilders was found guilty of hate speech by a Dutch court after he called for “fewer Moroccans” in the country.

Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders (source)

While you might not agree with Wilders’ comments or sympathise with his worldview, the point is that the legal concept of “hate speech” is sufficiently vague to encompass all kinds of political speech, not just unpopular words and ideas.

The arbitrary nature of hate speech laws and other, equally vague speech laws have proven controversial in some EU member states.

There was outrage earlier this year when – at the whim of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan – Germany agreed to prosecute prominent German satirist Jan Böhmermann, who had ridiculed the Turkish despot on national televisionAfter all, what kind of democracy prosecutes its satirists?

Yet the decision should not have come as a surprise. Germany has long placed limits on “insulting” speech, in agreement with the various rulings handed down by the European Court of Human Rights.

As Hamburg international media law expert Dr. Ralph Oliver Graef told The Intercept in April: “If you agree that hate speech at a certain level is punishable, then you have to be open to the idea that some things are not allowed to be said, even about a dictator.”

German satirist Jan Böhmermann on the cover of Der Spiegel (source)

Not wishing to succumb to the logical fallacy of the slippery slope, it’s easy to see where regulation of the media – and of speech in general – might lead. Just look to Turkey, where journalists are routinely prosecuted for reporting unfavourably about the government, and satirists are no longer free to openly ridicule those in power.

Is this what we want for our media or for our own hard-won freedoms? Personally, I’m with Welsh YouTuber Bill Hilton, who tweeted this response to Andrews’ Medium article:

leighton-andrews-bill-hilton-exchange