The Birmingham Mail, serving Britain’s second-city since 1870, was once one of the UK’s biggest regional print titles.
But in a city of 1.1 million residents, average circulation has nosedived to just 16,626 (Dec 2017) and if the past weekend is anything to go by, its readership isn’t the only thing that has fallen by the wayside – so too has the standard of its journalism. Many would argue this is just the latest example of a newspaper that has lost touch with the people it purports to represent.
Recently rebranded ‘Birmingham Live’ by its owners Trinity Mirror, they had a small team of reporters and photographers covering Saturday’s marches by the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) and Democratic Football Lads Alliance (DFLA) as well as a small counter-protest numbering a few hundred people by the Bullring shopping centre.
One of those journalists was Jasbir Authi who appeared to be covering the DFLA march and the counter-protest judging by videos that she uploaded to her twitter-verified work account throughout the day. So it was curious then that at 16:14, with events already reaching their conclusion, Authi quote tweeted a post from her employer and made this remark to her 2,400 followers…
This photo shows two big North East football rivals, in Sunderland and Newcastle United, shaking hands in a show of unity against extremism which is how and why the FLA say they were formed last year after the Manchester and London terror atrocities. Instead of reporting this apparent show of solidarity, particularly given that both marches passed off without a single arrest, Jasbir used her platform to proclaim: “This just about sums up some of the protestors in Birmingham today.”
The implication and inference from Jasbir was clear. She deliberately used her position of influence to try and paint a picture of two drunken, tattooed, unruly, white racists to push the narrative of a stereotypical football thug. Perhaps she was frustrated at having to write a headline entitled ‘No arrests as 5,000 protesters descend on Birmingham city centre’? Or perhaps she felt emboldened by the fact that, by and large, nobody much interacts with her Twitter account and indeed the above post had received a solitary ‘like’ when it was flagged to us by an astonished (ex) Mail reader.
That all changed when we called out her divisive and judgemental generalisations which led to dozens of people flooding her page with comments and challenging her misleading remark, with one lady even writing to the Mail editor. A few short hours after we exposed the remark, the tweet was deleted by Authi probably on direction of their social media team who could already see a PR crisis brewing.
We sent an email to the editor and newsdesk challenging them to explain why their journalists were making such crass, personal judgements on accounts used for work purposes? We also asked them if this is how they view all of their working-class readership if they happen to fit a certain stereotype? We sent the email on Monday morning and yet there remains a deathly silence from Fort Dunlop Towers. More than that, Authi quickly blocked our account along with a number of others shortly afterwards.
Ironically, Authi was praised for her journalistic performance at the weekend. “Journalism at its best,” Abdullah Rehman proudly declared.
However when you delve a little deeper it transpires that Abdullah Rehman is actually a “hate crime campaigner” (snazzy code-word for: ‘you can’t criticise Islam campaigner’) and a member of the CPS’ hate crime advisory board. He regularly promotes the discredited Tell MAMA organisation and shares content calling the FLA an “extremist group”.
And if you think all of this is painting a certain picture of Authi, you’d be right and there is more. Far more. You see when she uploaded a video of DFLA protestors supposedly “booing, jeering and making offensive gestures” at counter-protestors, a Muslim lady replied saying “How dare they come here and spread their hate! These people need to be re-educated in respect & manners! @WMPolice move them on.” Shockingly, Authi’s work account ‘liked’ the comment.
Yesterday she deleted the video, but not before we took a screenshot detailing the evidence in all its grisly glory.
Let us be clear, journalists have the right like everybody else to freedom of expression and freedom of speech. But they also have a responsibility to remain professional, responsible and true to their profession, something Authi and the Birmingham Mail appear to have trouble grasping.
Under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of IPOSO’s Editors’ Code of Practice, to which the Mail is supposed to adhere, it states clearly that “the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text”. So why then, did Authi not apologise for doing exactly that by inferring something that this Sunderland and Newcastle fan was not? The deleting of the tweet is an admission of guilt in itself, yet they haven’t quite got it in them to apologise for potentially offending a large cross-section of their readership.
But then Authi seems to have form when it comes to alienating her readers; happily promoting tweets from the controversial Muslim councillor Waseem Zaffar who was forced to step down from his role as an equality chief in March 2017 amid accusations of impropriety – this came after pressurising a local school when it asked a four-year-old girl to remove an Islamic headscarf. Authi also regularly and openly shows her disdain for Brexit voters despite Birmingham narrowly voting to leave and the West Midlands heavily voting to exit the European Union. From an ethical point of view, she appears to literally have no shame. None, zilch, zero.
The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) advise the profession to remain “honest, accurate and fair” at all times.
However given the above revelations, perhaps it is no surprise that when Authi and her colleague Andy Richardson filed their copy on the march on Saturday evening: it followed a predictable pattern…
- First a quote from the police
- Second a quote from the chair of Stand Up to Racism
- Third a quote from a Stand Up to Racism supporter claiming how “intimidated” they had been
- And, nestled right at the bottom of the page, a quote from a DFLA spokesperson from *before* the event – meaning, not only had they failed to quote the main FLA march, but they hadn’t even bothered speaking with the DFLA after their event had passed off successfully and peacefully.
Does that strike you as a proportional summary of the day’s activities? Of an account which is honest, accurate and fair? Where were the interviews with the hundreds of British war veterans that admirably attended both marches? Or the Gurkhas who wowed crowds of all colours, shapes and sizes on Victoria Square? According to the Mail, it didn’t happen. And that’s exactly why alternative media sites like Shy Society and AltNewsMedia are beginning to fill the gaping void.
When Trinity Mirror next publishes circulation figures depicting another sharp decline, perhaps they would be wise to look back at this and question when it was they started treating their own readers with such disdain? A newspaper that would rather cover-up and actively ignore such poor journalism rather than hold their hands up and apologise is a newspaper which has truly become out-of-touch and disconnected to the very people that could have halted their demise.
Standing up for those without a voice in Britain
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