It’s often said of politicians that you know when they’re is deep trouble because it then that they become the story and not the issues.
I wonder if the same can be said for a newspaper?
On Monday of this week, I posted an article on the closure of The Lagoon public house, in Tipton, a hostelry that was well known, locally, as the de facto headquarters of the local BNP, in which I noted with some curiosity that the only local newspaper to pick up on the story, the independently-owned, Wolverhampton-based, Express & Star (which has no connection whatsoever with Richard Desmond’s Express and Star group, which published the Daily Express, etc.) completely neglected to mention the pub’s BNP connection; an omission made all the more curious by the fact that its licencee, named as Jamie Lloyd in the report, is, in fact, Councillor James Lloyd, the leader of the BNP group on Sandwell Council.
Strange, thought I (and quite a few others who’ve contacted my since I ran the story).
Even without the BNP ‘angle’, the mere fact that a councillor is to appear before a licencing panel of his own Local Authority because the Police has requested the closure of a pub of which he is the licencee as a result of violent incidents involving a machete and a semi-automatic weapon is something most would consider a matter of legitimate public interest, especially as the pub, itself, in situated in the same ward that the councillor represents. And its not as if the reputation of the pub and its regular ‘clientele’ is not common knowledge locally, nor is difficult to make the connection between ‘Jamie Lloyd’ and ‘Councillor James Lloyd’ either by way of his political affiliations or by a simple search on 192.com, which shows him to be the only James Lloyd residing in Tipton.
And yet the Express and Star appear either to have been unaware of these facts at the time of publication, or simply decided they were of no relevance to local people.
A puzzle, I’m sure you’ll agree, and that became rather more puzzling on my being alerted to an interesting little exchange that’s been taking place of late on one of Stormfront’s forums…
Okay, a quick ‘who’s who’ is in order here.
‘Ontology’ is former BNP member (and briefly a Birmingham City Councillor), Sharon Ebanks, who was expelled from the BNP last year following her unsuccessful efforts to retain, in the courts, the seat she had been ‘awarded’ as a result of a miscount in last year’s council elections. As to why she was expelled from the BNP, there are conflicting accounts - Griffin alleges an assortment of ‘misconduct’, including anti-semitism; Ebanks claims that the BNP welched on a promise to cover her legal costs, despite advising her to defend the election case, and got shot of her when she complained about it and demands they cough-up.
Ebanks has since set up her own political party, which she has been actively promoting on Stormfront, much to the consternation of those forum users who are still members of the BNP - think ‘Life of Brian’ and ’splitters!’ and you’ll get the general picture.
‘White Resistance’ is one of the BNP members with whom Ebanks have been having a few ‘running battles’ of late, frictions which culminated in the posts shown in the screenshot, in which Ebanks ‘outs’ ‘White Resistance’, identifying him as the BNP’s local organiser, Steve Haddon (pictured below with Nick Griffin - Haddon is pasty-looking guy on the left) and also as being a journalist in the employ of the Express and Star newspaper - the same newspaper that some would consider to have soft-pedalled the story of the closure of The Lagoon by omitting all references to its BNP connections.
Mmm… Curioser and curiouser, as Alice might say.
As the Express and Star does not ‘byline’ its stories in either its online or print editions, there is no obvious way to confirm whether the information about Haddon’s employment given by Ebanks is correct - although ‘White Resistance’s’ response to Ebanks remarks do appear to confirm both that she has correctly identified his real world identity and that of his employer:
I keep my job because people can’t be sacked from their jobs for being a member of political parties. The E&S would be rather hypocritical if they did sack me considering its past views on this very subject. Again, nice try though.
What can one say?
Well, what one cannot say is that Haddon (if the information supplied by Ebanks is correct) has had any involvement or influence over the E&Ss coverage of the closure of The Lagoon - for all one can tell he might just as easily be assigned only to the coverage of local Sunday League football.
And, yes, he (as ‘White Resistance’) is quite correct in noting that he cannot (legally) be sacked because of his political affiliations or membership of a far right political party.
But that does not mean that the possibility that a journalist working for a local newspaper may also be a local organiser for a far-right political party with a well dopcumented history of racism and anti-semitism, is not a matter of legitimate local public interest or that such an occurance, if shown to be true, will not cause many local people to harbour serious misgivings about the Express and Star, or to consider somewhat more carefully the editoral intent behind some its stories, such as this one, which attacks a fairly routine swimming initiative as if it were the arrival of the Barbarian hordes…
A swimming session for women and children from ethnic minorities in Wolverhampton has sparked complaints from regular bath users who say it is encouraging segregation.
The weekly session, at the city’s Central Baths on Thursdays between 7pm and 8pm, has been introduced to encourage groups who would not normally get involved in swimming.
But it has come under fire as “political correctness gone beserk”, with council bosses today admitting a number of complaints had been received from members of the public.
Blinds costing around £1,000, funded by Kellogg’s Swim Active programme, have also been installed to improve privacy.The sessions replace a former aqua aerobics class. Council chiefs say they are aimed at Muslims, Sikhs and any other ethnic groups “with religious or cultural issues which would otherwise prevent them from taking part”.
Does one hour a week for people - actually women - who because of their religious/ beliefs cultural beliefs would not be able to make use of open public sessions really merit this kind of vitriol? Is this really ‘political correctness gone berserk’ or ’small-minded reporting gone berserk’?
Or is there a more subtle and consciously divisive intent on display?
Who, outside the E&S, actually knows - as the newspaper does not byline its stories we cannot even say for certain which ones Haddon may or may not have worked on, let alone whether his political views ‘colour’ his reporting - in fact, if the editor of the Express and Star is aware of Haddon’s afilliations, they may even go so far as to actively keep him off stories where his political opinions could, if (or rather when) exposed, turn out to be something of a liability to the newspaper.
One thing I have pondered carefully since receiving the information that appears to link ‘White Resistance’ with Haddon, and Haddon to the Express and Star (props to Lancaster UAF), is whether it would be unethical, on my part, to make use of this information - and as you’re reading this now, it should be obvious I’ve concluded that it isn’t.
The balance to be struck, as always, is that between legitimate public interest and individual privacy - does the right of the public to know that a local journalist has been identified as a BNP organiser in the town in which he works trump that of the individual’s right to privacy - a tough call at the best of times and one made tougher by the fact that Haddon is at best only a semi-public figure in a fairly minimal sense and only by virtue of articles published on the BNPs own website.
But then Haddon (if it is him) does work for a noticably right-wing newspaper that does, frequently, take a rather confrontational line of matters of race and ethnicity’ and the newspaper does serve an ethnically diverse area in which recent electoral gains by the BNP have caused some measure of unease amongst local minority communities, who quite naturally see the active presence of a racist political party as something of threat to the area’s otherwise pretty good track record on tolerance and diversity.
On balance, and on this occasion, the public right to know shades the argument because that right will necessarily inform local people’s perceptions of the Express and Star - Haddon’s political views could, conceivably, introduce a measure of bias into his reporting of some stories, bias that may not be corrected editorially given that the newspaper, itself, is one that expresses markedly right-wing views on many issues. Knowing this to be a possibility permits the public to adjust its perceptions of the newspaper accordingly and (hopefully) take a rather more sceptical view of its contents that they might otherwise have done had they been wholly unaware of Haddon’s background - again assuming that Ebanks’ claims are not a complete dud.
You’ll note that I’m neither calling for Haddon to be sacked due to his political affilliations, nor advocating protests outside the offices of the Express and Star - the former would be unlawful, the latter rather ill-advised and a little silly - it’s better to keep the BNP in plain sight, where you can keep an eye on them and openly challenge their pruirient views and values than drive them underground.
No, to simply be aware of the possibility that a local journalist may also be a BNP organiser is sufficient in this case, given that there are some small uncertainties as to the accuracy of the information and that there is no extant evidence to suggest that Haddon is or has been using his position as a journalist to quietly introduce BNP propaganda into its pages - and given the editorial stance of the Express and Star one has to wonder who could reasonably tell for certain if he had?
If the information supplied is correct then this is rather a matter for the Express and Star to ‘manage out’ as it sees fit and a matter in which the public interest rests simply in the knowing and not in seeing any particular action taken against the individual in question, unless concrete evidence did emerge of unethical conduct on his part.
And with that, I’ll sign off after the manner of the great Hunter Thompson.
Res Ipsa Loquiter
UPDATE: 24 Jan 2007
Lancaster UAF have kindly ‘asked the question’ of the local NUJ Chapter and received this response:
‘As regards this Haddon chap, it was raised at a meeting of Wolverhampton branch last week and all the former and current E&S members present did not
know of this guy.
Next day I checked with their reception and no one of that name could be found at the company.
It seems to be a phantom at the moment but there is the possibility that this person might be on some far-flung weekly or using an alias…’
Possibly not a journalist then, although it should be noted that the BNP does have form for using aliases on its website and public communications to conceal the identity of members; such as its press secretary Stuart Russell (real name) aka ‘Dr Phil Edwards’.
Russell/Edwards’ claim to a doctorate is, according to the excellent Disillusioned Kid, rather dubious:
As an adjunct to the above, it might be worth briefly considering the provenance of the article’s author. “Dr Phil Edwards” is in fact a pseudonym adopted by the party’s press secretary Stuart Russell. Even his doctorate is dubious, he claims to have taught quantum mechanics at the University of Nottingham, although when I directly challenged him on the issue of his qualifications he dodged the question. Make of that what you will.
And, indeed, a search for evidence to verify Russell’s claim to have taught quantum mechanics turns up absolutely nothing, not even a single citation on a published academic paper, which is the minimum one would expect to find for a theoretical physicist with a doctorate - the only Stuart Russell who does turn up in a search, and then only be citation, is a highly-regarded Professor at UCL Berkeley and a specialist in artificial intelligence, and I can be absolutely certain this in not the BNPs Stuart Russell, not least because I’m already familar with his work.
Finally, on Russell/Edwards, the plot thickens even more thanks to this transcript of a Radio 4 science programme, ‘Checkup’ from July 2005…
Okay, let’s take another call now. And we’ll go to Grantham and Dr Stuart Russell is there, hello?
Yes hello. When I was involved with the Nottingham University Psychic Research Group we used to have an orthopaedic surgeon came to give a talk on hypnosis as used in anaesthesia, I wondered if - that was Dr Ian Fletcher - I wonder if as time’s gone by whether this has actually progressed at all?
I think that’s a very, very interesting area Dr Russell and it’s an area where if you’re a keen hypnotist you’re trying to push it forward a great deal all the time and that the problem, as I understand it, with hypnosis or other things perhaps like acupuncture is that not everybody is as susceptible as the next person to hypnosis or say acupuncture…
I can find no formal record of a Psychic Research Group at the University of Nottingham, although Dr Alan Gauld, a former president of the Society for Psychical Research is a retired Reader in Psychology at the School of Psychology of the University of Nottingham - but then that’s still a hell of long way from teaching quantum mechanics and suggests, at best, that Russell may have spent some time at Nottingham University as an undergraduate - at worst he may just own a few of Gauld’s books and be leeching off his academic reputation as a backstory to this own doubtful claims.
None of this answers the question as to why the E&S failed to make the BNP connection with the closure of The Lagoon or discover/disclose any of the other information that journalists working for its local rival, the Birmingham Post & Mail group, seem to have had little difficulty in uncovering.
Nor, indeed, does it shed any light on why Sharon Ebanks thought ‘Haddon’s’ (alleged) employment at the Express & Star significant enough to taunt him with it - if Haddon’s just the teaboy or a newspaper packer, then what difference does his being the local BNP organiser make?
And then there are these two comments, from a poster in Wolverhampton…
Amazing! So the only people who work for a newspaper are journalists or paperboys/girls? How do they get by without management, advertising, sales, production, distribution etc etc?
I see no mention of the term ‘journalist’ in the ‘expose’
Steve Haddon’s job has no influence on the content of the paper, hence why the witch hunt ground to halt with the ’switchboard has no listing for him and enquires to journalists on the paper have resulted in ‘never heard of him’ responses.
Comment by Pasty looking guy on the left(Just in case you got him mixed up with Nick Griffin!) 01.19.07
‘If it shown that the information given by Ebank is wrong, then of course I’ll post a correction’
Comment by Pasty looking guy on the left(Just in case you got him mixed up with Nick Griffin!) 01.24.07
And post an update, I have, as soon as I had confirmation on information from ‘GeorgeP’ also posted on the 19th.
But then, why is ‘Pasty looking guy…’ getting quite so jumpy, here, just because a question or two is being asked?