Reading the Sunday Express on the way back to the UK

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 31 July 2006

In preparation for my stint in the UK I 'treated' myself to a Sunday newspaper at Athens airport yesterday, although the choice was limited to the Sunday Express, and it got me all excited about seeing British newspapers once again every day.

Where else but the British press could you get such great things as a front page splash "Bitter end for Pan's People" leading to a three page article about how the BBC had agonisingly snubbed the ex-Top of the Pops dancers, that finishes with a plug for the BBC2 documentary about the girls showing that day?

Meanwhile The Sunday Express is quite rightly dead-set against the government having huge databases of people and things, and was in a particularly vexed mode about a threatened new 'stealth' tax on peoples houses backed up by a database of the details of every property in the UK. Mind you, I wasn't sure how taxing you on something as conspicuous as your house could be described as 'stealth'. I was especially intrigued though about the type of technology the government are using:

And, in a dark twist, a second database called Oracle Nine has been set up to store unlimited digital images capturing our properties from every angle.

Bloody Oracle and their unlimited database capabilities. This Oracle Nine monster they have unleashed sounds worse than Hal 9000. Although, personally I'd have been more furious about the claim that the government has 'invested £438,749 on 2,126 digital cameras to allow an army of home inspectors to snap more shots'. Can't they just use Google Earth to spy on the neighbours' property like everyone else?

My favourite story in the newspaper was, though, without doubt, "Thieves gallery ordered down" by Paul Vass. It was the story of a shopkeeper who had displayed CCTV pictures of shoplifters caught in the act being 'ordered' to take them down by the police because of the human rights act. It was a classic of the genre of my favourite type of tabloid journalism. The formula runs like this:

  1. Something terrible has happened which is shocking and bad and undermines Britain and we don't agree with it
  2. A pithy quote from the victim - in this case the soundbite-tastic: "I'm being told that the criminal is the victim and I, the victim, am the criminal" but usually "it is political correctness gone mad"
  3. Final paragraph - oh, actually nothing like this really happened at all - we've just put a lot of spin on events.

Reductio ad absurdum is a classic bit of logical debating style, but these kind of articles simply reduce themselves to absurdity if you just read the opening and closing paragraphs one after the other:

A shopkeeper who put up "wanted" posters of thieves stealing from his store has been ordered to take them down because they infringed the criminals' human rights.

...

Yesterday a spokesman for Dorset Police said: "No formal advice has been issued on the subject of shops displaying CCTV images of suspected offenders. It is a matter for individual shop proprietors to decide."

Far from being ordered to take the pictures down, it seems that one police officer advised him that the people in the pictures might try to sue him. It caught my eye particularly as if you fast-forward 23 pages in the same edition there is a story about the police themselves in Burnley giving out packs of cards featuring the mugshots of the areas most wanted burglary suspects. No fear of the human rights act for these plucky police!

Elsewhere in the paper I noticed they had section entitled "Did you know?" by Mitchell Symons. This caught my eye as it trotted out last year's top ten favourite paintings in Britain Radio 4 poll results. It also had a section headed:

Tuesday sees the start of National Road Victim Month. Here are some celebs who died in road accidents.

You'll never guess whose picture they used to illustrate the article...

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