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Causing offence

As many of my UK readers will have seen, Ryanair has been advertising flights using slogans based around the London bombings:

The full-page advertisements, which appeared in national newspapers yesterday, were headed “London fights back” and included a photograph of Winston Churchill in RAF uniform, smoking a cigar and giving the victory sign.

A speech bubble contains a three-line parody of one of his most famous speeches made in June 1940: “We shall fly them to the beaches, we shall fly them to the hills, we shall fly them to London!”

It is now refusing to withdraw these advertisements, despite over one hundred complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. As such, it’s getting itself lots of free coverage and free advertising of the offer through the various reports about it in newspapers. Since people generally go for price over principles, it’ll probably do very well.

And just in case the ads aren’t enough to get newspaper columns wound up, Ryanair would defend the ads thusly, refusing to accept that the advertising provides any kind of marketing boost to the company:

Peter Sherrard, head of communications for Ryanair, which is based in Dublin, defended the advertisements as an attempt “to stand by the people of London after these terrible terrorist atrocities.

“We are trying to ensure that the terrorists don’t succeed in paralysing people with fear, which is their primary objective, and that people continue to lead their lives as normal and continue to fly.”

Ryanair should be making a united stance with other major operators to ensure that visitors return to London.

Clearly, as long as this strategy of antagonism works and provides a profit to companies, it isn’t going to stop. But why do newspapers continue to play into their hands, by initially printing the clearly offensive ads, and then by reporting the complaints about them – often whilst still running them? Do they not realise that it is far more damaging to their newspaper than to the advertiser? After all, the companies who run these ads normally attract through price rather than reputation, but the newspaper still has to convince its readership that it is principled, despite effectively supporting the advertiser’s unprincipled campaign.

This practice is bad for the newspaper business, and until editors begin to realise this, they are effectively going to continue to lose sales. Who needs to buy reams of advertising when the ‘horrified’ copy does it for them?

Away from the world of advertising, it’s worth noting that many of the news networks and newspapers took questionable editorial decisions in their reportage of the London bombings. It is at times like these when the BBC and The Guardian – though more particularly the latter, as the former has more of a statuary duty – show themselves to be genuinely excellent news sources, and in true touch with their readers and viewers. They are not afraid to enter a dialogue with their readers, explaining their decisions, and admitting their mistakes. To do this on such a big news occasions, when controversy is flying, is admirable, but not difficult. To do so regularly, often responding to complaints and queries by just a couple of their audience, is truly extraordinary, and as much as other newspapers (most notably The Independent) have tried to copy it, they’re not nearly as candid and honest. It is rare for rivals, particularly of the BBC, to issue a correction (bombs at seven tube stations and on three buses?), and still more rare to offer an apology. For the BBC to offer a weekly slot on it’s rolling news channel to explain its decisions and accept its faults is brave, and wins it respect.

Will Ryanair ever apologise for it’s offensive advertisements? Yes, but only once the complaints have been featured everywhere, so that the apology can then make a second feature, and continue it’s free advertising. I do hope that newspapers wake up to this soon – perhaps I should write and complain…

This post was filed under: Media.

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Comments and responses

Comment from Maximilian Goldenberg

    20.32, 22/07/2005

“show themselves to be genuinely excellent news sources”

Just who are you trying to fool?

The coverage of events on the fatal day was far more accurate and detailed on the web pages of Le Monde, and also CNN, than the butchered snippets written in English for 7 years old, provided by the BBC.

Before the BBC were even admitting there were people killed, and the problem was merely due to a power surge, Le Monde was reporting that one of the Italian Ministers of State had issued a statement that up to 40 people had died in the attacks.

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    09.43, 23/07/2005

Before the BBC were even admitting there were people killed, and the problem was merely due to a power surge, Le Monde was reporting that one of the Italian Ministers of State had issued a statement that up to 40 people had died in the attacks.

That’s true. The Guardian were reporting higher casualty figures, but the BBC chose to stick with the official figures, whilst indicating that the official death toll (horrible phrase) was almost certain to rise. This drew criticism from some people. They then dedicated a whole primetime programme to this criticism, admitted some mistakes, whilst also defending some decisions. They’ve also published several articles on their website with a similar function, just as the Guardian have had multiple columns explaining their decisions and admitting their mistakes.

Le Monde, I seem to recall, were also reporting that there were many more bombs than actually transpired to be the case. Where is their open discussion with readers about why these mistakes were made, and steps that will be taken to ensure that they don’t make the same mistakes in future?

Yes the Beeb is slow, but it is – on the whole – accurate. Excellent news sources aren’t just about speed, though I’ll concede that to have a good understanding of the news, it’s essential to consult faster sources like Le Monde as well. By saying I think these two are particularly excellent, I am by no means suggesting that one should rely on those sources alone.

Comment from Carolus Magnus

    22.44, 23/07/2005

Le Monde depicts the situation on London Underground with a
very apropos cartoon.


and there is clear depiction of the sites of the four attacks on
7 Juillet (mis à jour le 11.07.05 | 16h30)


a much better carte than that offered by the BBC.

If you recall, the initial explosions, affected metro trains in both directions on the three lines, which is why reporters believed that there were six explosions rather than the originating three.

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)

    11.17, 24/07/2005

The BBC, as well as a number of pictorial guides to the events, also offer an animated effort, complete with photos of the bombers at each stage of the attack, and showing their progress through London, and how they arrived at each of the stations where their bombs were detonated. The timings are also correct on the BBC diagrams, unlike that provided by Le Monde, as is the location of the bombs between King’s Cross and Russel Square. If the Russel Square bomb had not been detonated almost equilaterally between the two stations, where the tunnel is at a depth of 70 feet and so difficult to access, the loss of life may well have been much smaller. It also has Tavistock Square more than one block too far to the North, presumably because they preferred style over substance, and didn’t want to overlay two of their large explosion graphics. Perhaps you should also link to Le Monde’s correction of the times, and their explanation of their error and how they will avoid such a mistake in future?

As I’ve said, relying on just a couple of news sources is not sensible. All of them made mistakes in their coverage – I simply say that I have much greater respect for those news sources which have enough respect for their audience to come out and correct, admit and explain their errors, rather than just brushing them under the carpet.

As for your explanation of the crucial error:

If you recall, the initial explosions, affected metro trains in both directions on the three lines, which is why reporters believed that there were six explosions rather than the originating three.

That fails to explain why some ‘news’ sources (though I can’t be sure whether Le Monde was one of these) claimed that there were bombs on seven tube trains and three buses.

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