Saturday, November 29, 2008

Manchester Evening News: In Pocket of NO Campaign?

Only asking. But consider the above double page spread, readable online, in a reduced form HERE. The printed version is completely and utterly partisan, sad to say.

Partly because the MEN/Channel M it covers was pretty partisan with a title - "C-Charge Debate" - that is itself highly partisan.

The Q&A was predictably extraordinarily badly chaired by a former commercial radio pin up DJ and kid's TV presenter who is, to say the least, no Jim Hancock, never mind an Anthony H Wilson. Sorry Andy Crane mate, but you were completely out of your depth on this. Train crash debate if you'll pardon the punning.

But leaving the ineptitude and resulting bias aside this spread's every aspect seems calculated to push the Charge element of the proposal, rather than the benefits, hence favouring the NO campaign. For example:

1. The London C logo has been used by the MEN throughout this campaign even though scheme has only limited similarities with the one in London;
2. Coverage has continually been premised on the term "C-Charge";
3. Headline here: "Charged", nice work;

"C-Charge" bias dominates the MEN headlines

4. Q and A coverage: Seven members of the invited audience are quoted. Five of these are radical NO campaigners and the sixth a single-detail-campaigner also on NO tip. Only one is a YES supporter;
5. Q and A pictures: All photos are of NO campaigners;
6. Sidebar: A story picking up an aspect of YES campaign print. NO campaign print which for example scaremongers on future town-centre charging makes the YES error look nit-picking;
7. Links: Naturally this is linked to the video of the debate. Inevitably, given those called to ask questions, also partisan.

David Ottewell's politics blog features a number of stories about a pretty extraordinary Ofcom decision. This in essence seems to be that FACTS may prejudice the vote. FACTS must therefore be suppressed! That is PERVERSE.

Perhaps the Returning Officer would now ask the MEN to reel in their witting or unwitting partisanship too? Even the still from the frame grab from the "offending" Martin Henfield fronted Fact-Vert they use has "NO" jumping out from it.

The paper were actually very strong on the Big Metro Bang "Save Our Trams" campaign back in 2004. Now they have I feel lost their way. Darling has as they say Moved Over. Where's the leadership gone MEN? Heading in completely the wrong direction for your humble readers that's where. Though not bad for one or two boardrooms. Including the one in the throbbing purple Dome of the Temple of consumption that is the Trafford Centre.

Is the "Assistant Editor" known as Robert Ridley, a major bid opponent, having any input into which stories are run and which are spiked? And how they look on the page?

Robert has just three by-lines on the website in the last three years:

Utter self-aggrandising balls on snooker, a free holiday trough this year in Portugal, and now more utter balls on transport proposals he doesn't like. What's this guy in charge of? Headlines and pictures? Advertorial sections? Only asking.

Whatever the intent the Manchester Evening News coverage of this debate seems to these eyes to be utterly biased towards the NO campaign. This is demonstrable. Why is that?

WHATEVER HAPPENS: Both sides have a pretty good case now for a re-run under Queensbury Rules. The Ofcom decision is extraordinary. The MEN coverage is in my view extremely partisan. Mostly in terms of management, design and subbing issues.


Anonymous said...

Big problem isn't it that MEN own most of the local free and paid papers as well as this mickey mouse TV channel.

That particular spread is very biased.

Chris Paul said...

I think they have quite a few fingers in radio pies too. And all things considered they must carry a hell of a lot of advertising from the Trafford Centre, the GMMG members and TC tenants.

David Ottewell, MEN said...


The MEN's stated position is that we believe the charge is a price worth paying for the investment, if it is delivered as promised. Every other paper in the group has made its own decision.

For our part, we have been careful to confine our position to our leader columns so as to be clear that our reporting is in no way affected.

The process of reporting the TIF bid is very simple. I gather stories, assess them for news value, and put them up to the newsdesk, who decide (taking my view into account) where the stories should appear in the newspaper.

There is absolutely no pressure on me to come up with stories that "favour" either side. My agenda is simply this: to share information, to report on what people need and want to know about TIF, to attempt to provide a balanced picture, and to reflect what is in the public interest.

Your complaints seem to revolve around the fact we have drawn attention to the congestion charge as a central part of the TIF bid. Well, I'm afraid it is. Without it there could be no TIF bid, and it would provide (via a loan) nearly half the total investment. Without the charge, TIF would be entirely uncontroversial.

Bloggers do themselves no favours with insinuations of collusion and conspiracy where the mainstream media is concerned. In this case - as so often - there has been no such thing.

Chris Paul said...


1. Thanks for responding;
2. As I conclude the main problem is management, design and subbing issues, not your own writing;
3. In the case of the spread featured the problems included:
- a. the use of the C symbol which is misleading
- b. the use of the "charged" term which is ahem charged
- c. six-one on comment coverage AGAINST the bid (better, as I quickly pointed out, in your online version)
- d. four-out-of-four pictures of NO campaigners/commentaters
- e. side bar with a NO side story

Over the whole period of the consultation there has been a pattern of various editorial choices - again mostly away from the words used, including:

A. The persistent use of "C-Charge" in headlines;
B. The persistent use of the London C logo in photos;
C. The persistent use of C graphics

This is pushing and pulling the debate to centre on the charge itself not the charge as a means to an end.

Don't know whether you saw Paul McKenna demonstrating persistent hints, sub liminals, repetition etc as a way to manipulate?

Your coverage has these characteristics. You feel sleepy, you feel sleepy, when you awake all you'll think of is the charge ...

I'd also detect some possible spiking in story choice and tone. But you're in a better position to know exactly what occurs there.

OK. Just one example ... your blog rightly queries some of the Ofcom judgment as perverse for almost expecting facts to be suppressed. The MEN have not as far as I know printed similar analysis.

Robert Ridley is we know very antagonistic to this proposal. So is Ray Meek. So is Andrew Grimes. That is drip, drip, drip (no offence chaps) filling the lake of sorrows, fuelling the NO.

So, as Ridley is not an editor who does words much, is HE choosing the elements I'm questioning at all?

Those headlines, graphics and pictures. Is he in effect chief sub editor of the paper and/or web site?

Yes or no may do. If no some brief job description would be reassuring.

On the debate itself:

1. Do you think the chairing of this was competent?
2. Do you thing former kids presenter Andy Crane is a journalist or an MC?
3. Do you think this problem - it was a problem - was predictable?
4. Do you accept that the weight of the questions as measured numerically or by stopwatch came from the NO campaign?
5. And that the paper's printed coverage was also biased? (see above, all pics, 6-1 in quotes etc)
6. Who was/is Helen Smith?

I will be very happy to learn that the OBVIOUS BIAS is purely accidental and not because any sub- or manager is putting their oar in. Or because of commercial concerns.

As I say I'm only asking some questions.

But really, that spread is bang to rights.

I know from speaking with people all over GMC (working for a major market research company though with no connection with this project) that many, many, many people DO NOT UNDERSTAND the proposals.


As the dominant, almost monopoly local and regional media purveyor in the GMC the MEN must have some role in reaching that sad pass.

Don't you think?

If I accept that the patterns in the coverage are non-deliberate will you perhaps at least accept that there are patterns??

PS And your covering the Video story as an "exclusive" when I broke it more than 48 hours earlier? That is rather typical MEN too.

David Ottewell, MEN said...

Chris -

Briefly, since I am busy this evening...

a) You talk of Robert Ridley and Ray King, but what about Maria McGeoghan (deputy editor) and Will Hutton? They have both weighed in with pro-TIF articles. Maria is actually more senior than Robert in the company. I daresay she's written the odd travel feature, too, although I don't think she plays snooker... Should we ONLY carry pro-TIF opinion pieces? Would that be balanced?

b) On the debate... I think Andy Crane did a superb job. We did not pre-vet those invited as to whether they were pro or anti TIF, and I'm glad we didn't. As it turned out, a (slim) majority were "anti". Andy had no idea who would be making a "pro" point and who would be making an "anti" point. He put challenging questions to panellists on both sides. I consider Andy to be a very good journalist indeed, as well as a first-rate presenter.

c) On the use of the "c" logo... I've explained that we consider (rightly) the congestion charge to be an important part of the package, and why. But in every single story we explain that the charge would come with £1.5bn of grant to improve public transport. In other words, we explain precisely what the facts of the matter are.

d) On OFCOM... I've said what I think. The top line of the news story - rightly - was that Ofcom ruled against the ad. Anything else would have been utterly dishonest. Within the news story we gave space to differing views on the judgement. As far as I am aware, no opinion piece (on either side) has been published in the paper re this judgement.

Chris Paul said...


What is Robert Ridley's job Dave? Does he do headlines or supervise those that do? Does he choose pictures or supervise those that do? etc You are avoiding the question I've raised. He is rabidly anti- and I think there is a clear pattern of anti- choices in headlines, pictures, captions, sub-editorial choices.

Ray King (and Grimes) has been banging on and on and on about this for months and months and months. Giving Will and Maria one go can hardly be seen as a remedy for that really toxic and persistent anti- propagandising. And as I recall there have been other columns anti- as well ...

We'll have to agree to differ over AC. NOT a journalist really is he? And he got trampled by the Noes I feel. And I'm a bit surprised to hear there was no attempt to balance the audience ... is that really true? Really?

If not, why not? that would have been sensible. As would knowing where at least a handful of the questions were coming from.

Who was/is Helen Smith? What is/are her businesses?

On the spread I featured I have yet to hear any explanation for the six-one slant in the "public" quotes or of the 4-0 slant in the "public" pictures.

The C-Charge and C stuff really is a negative in terms of this debate. Fair enough - OF COURSE IT IS PART OF THE EQUATION - but heading every piece C-Charge, illustrating every piece with London pictures, and/or the big C ... this is deflecting from the balance - and indeed essentially pro-bid position - you say you seek.

If the debate was continually headed, I don't know, "Greening Manchester" or "Bonanza for Passengers" or "Lifeline for Manchester" or "Boom City" the NO side would be all over the MEN like a rash complaining and preventing that. But environment, passenger improvements and even the excellent pro- business/employment case are important. This type of heading would be justifiable.

Because you have chosen instead to run with C-Charge, Congestion Charge, Charged Debate etc you are privileging the negative for drivers over the positives for everyone else.

This has reached the point where there are passengers and non-drivers I know and know of who think that this ballot is FOR DRIVERS and quote: "I don't drive so I'm not voting. It's not for me. It's the C-Charge ballot".

These choices and in this case the MEN choice of the BRAND-LIKE "C-CHARGE" are extraordinarily powerful.

A fairer platform would have been provided if the C-Charge brand was not dominating your coverage.

On Ofcom. Pretty duff decision from them I think. You nailed a problem on this on your blog. Yes, the paper reported the result factually - with a persistent picture of Martin Henfield with "NO" behind his ear as it goes - but isn't it INEVITABLE that the GMPTE and AGMA welcome the proposals?

Hasn't someone asked Ofcom the wrong question?

And possibly that Peel oppose them - they are a car-business and an out-fo-town business and a who-cares-about-congestion business - is there any circumstances in which Ofcom or anyone will be able to stop any of their advertising?

One last time, for tonight, who is this Helen Smith??

Anonymous said...

Isn't it just possible that you are so committed to the TIF whether by personal conviction or party diktat, that anyone who thinks differently seems biassed?
I don't have a car, I just walk or cycle, and I am so unimpressed by the whole TIF bid that I have voted against it.