Campaigning for stuff is a tiring business. It involves huge amounts of patience, keeping one’s cool and being able to forensically take apart a reply. I don’t have great pools of these resources, but I do have the same tenacity that keeps a pit-bull’s jaws locked once it crunches into a limb.
Two such campaigns reached a (sort of) end this week. Considerate, I suppose, as both have been dragging on for ages, and I’m trying to wind down to get Issue 26 of The Beestonian out, and be a relaxed, focused groom on my upcoming wedding day.
There’s good news, and bad. Let’s do the bad first.
Regular readers will recall how I have been advocating for Sergio and Natalie Rocha from The White Lion regarding the awful lies Mail group newspapers made up about them. A quick memory refresh: last year, the couple gave birth to a daughter in the pub after tramworks delayed the paramedics. A nice little story, I covered it and also tipped off the Nottingham Post, who turned it into a popular front page story complete with a sweet photo.
A day or so after, an agency journalist rang The White Lion claiming he had exclusive rights to the story, and demanding Sergio agree to a series of quotes. Sergio refused, and slammed the phone down on the insistent gutter-rat.
That doesn’t stop The Mail though. They published t heir entirely fabricated series of events, inventing quotes that werer e clearly not Sergio speaking, claiming the baby was named after Stella Artois lager, their ‘best-selling lager’, and the baby was born in the bar, rather than in the flat above.
Natalie saw the article, and the sneery comments below as dozens of readers mocked their decision to name the baby after beer. She was aghast. The baby’s name was nothing to do with lager, but a name Sergio has had in his family for years, Portugese for ‘star’. Furthermore, The White Lion doesn’t sell Stella, and if they did their brewery would find them in breach of contract, potentially losing them their business and home. Natalie tried to comment on the piece, but every one of her attempts was refused moderation.
I offered to support them in a PCC complaint, and they agreed. We scoured the PCC code and found several breaches, and lodged the complaint. What followed was one of the most cynical, draining, evasive experiences I’ve ever had.
First, The Mail accused Sergio and Natalie of lying. When we still pushed, they conceded a little and suggested that their had been a simple misunderstanding, that the phone call was cordial, and look! here’s the journo’s notes to prove it. At this point we did get the on-line article removed, though not after it was ‘mirrored’ across the internet.
They then resorted to base racism, suggesting Sergio had agreed to such quotes as he spoke in ‘broken English’. Sergio has an accent. His English is impeccable. But, y’know, in Daily Mail land an accent means you’re one of those thick foreigners, yeah?
We still held fast, and after a waiting period three times longer than the usual, the PCC commission got in touch this week to tell me they were not upholding the complaint. Despite providing documents showing the brewery contract stating beers sold, sworn statements from Natalie and Sergio, finding inconsistencies in the account provided by the Mail, the crux of the decision is this ‘You say one thing. He says another. One of you must be wrong so that holds everything up so we will default to not upholding’.
This totally misses a crucial chunk of logic: motive. What motive would the Rocha’s have to lie about their own child, potentially risking their business, home and privacy?
On the other hand, why would a gutter reporter find a nice, local story in need of a little tabloid sensationalism in order to collect his cash from The Mail?
I’m not the first person to call the PCC not fit for purpose, and I’m glad it’s heading for some reform, though even the Royal Commission is massively flawed. The system as it stands – ran, don’t forget, for many years by Mail editor in chief Paul Dacre- is there to provide a buffer between the papers and the courts. It exists to kill off any legal threats by first discouraging any complaint; then extinguishing complaints with spurious logic.
There’s not even room to appeal. If we were to take it to court, we’d accrue huge costs and the first thing the defence would say would be ‘Well, the PCC adjudicated, so piss off’.
It’s a battle lost but the war will go on. There are also some consolations. The Mail will print an apology to the Rochas soon, and keep the article offline. They were initially refusing to do even these things.I will post up the full adjudication soon on a separate site.
However, some great news. The Ladbrokes debacle has been well covered here, and in the Beestonian where we published an open letter to the Chief Exec in the latest issue. Quick run through the background: Ladbrokes took the lease on local charity shop, ViTal, kicked them out leading to the charity collapsing financially with the loss of it’s source of income. Then Ladbrokes admitted they were not going to use the property, but leave it empty. For 15 years.
We didn’t expect a response, but we did, and from Richard Glynn, Chief Exec of the bookies. He apologised for the situation, promised to review the practices that led to it (I’m not convinced entirely by the excuses he gave, but I’ll hold that thought for now), and admitted it would be a good thing to make a donation to the trustees of the ex-charity to fund a new initiative.
I’ve passed on his details to Teresa, the head of the charity, to negotiate the exact nature of this donation, and will report back when she has got a figure. A cautious rejoice then, but proof that sometimes when we work together on stuff we can get results.
A mixed week, then. Tomorrow should be a fun day as well, with Soubry shooting fish in a barrel oustside the Boot’s store, collecting signatures to get more money for businesses hit by the tram. A fine cause, indeed, but hypocritical: Soubry has long rallied against any collective means of protest, such as coordinated letter writing, and has made it clear when she is targeted by such a thing it goes straight in her bin. I talked to the branch secretary of the CWU this week, following my piece last week on Royal Mail, and the stories he told me about how she had treated him and his members, the rudeness, the spite, the dismissive arrogance shocked even me. And I have a file of emails from disgruntled constituents who have either been ignored, insulted or misrepresented by her: I thought I was now unshockable. Do sign the petition, by all means. But maybe ask her a couple of pertinent questions while shes there.
Also, the bigotted, anti-female, anti-science, anti-not being a member of a golf club and braying loudly UKIP are in town on Saturday, holding an open meeting in the Victory Club. As we are a wonderful, multi-cultural town that revels in it’s diversity, these saloon bar racists are most unwelcome. Please feel free to drop in on them and point this out. After all, they are all for freedom of speech.