It’s odd how some stories write themselves. This story is different from the one I was going to write this morning for the simple reason that the one thing I did not want to happen did happen. A lazy journalist took a press release and took it at face value. And so gave it credibility. And once read that story will be regarded as the truth. Here is how that happened.
This is the Wikipaedia definition of ‘Propaganda’
“Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of the community toward some cause or position by presenting only one side of an argument. Propaganda statements may be partly false and partly true. Propaganda is usually repeated and dispersed over a wide variety of media in order to create the chosen result in audience attitudes.”
Shadwell Basin lighting
Both readers of this blog (and it is a blog remember, not a national paper’s newsroom) will know that our entire editorial team, including the squirrel who is the trainee Political Editor, have spent a lot of time covering the issue of the lighting in Wapping Woods.
A few weeks ago several residents mentioned that the lighting around Shadwell Basin was patchy at best and at times was turned off.
I thought this was a bit odd as I often wander that way in the evening and had never noticed this. And as I have a leaning towards lamp posts I should have noticed this.
The lights in Wapping Woods have been sorted through the hard work of our local Councillors Denise Jones (Labour and Emma Jones (Conservative) and numerous others, especially Peter from Tower Hamlets who looks after the CCTV and of course MPS Tower Hamlets.
So one evening I walked around the Basin and checked every light and noted the ones not working. (This will be the subject of a separate post because I have had to write this.)
Bottom line was that I did not think there was much of an issue. Some were out, but not many. The main problem was the lights at the end of the Canal where it meets the Basin. Likely a power supply problem?
But thought I would check with the Council and see what the official position was and take it from there.
Here is the email I wrote:
20 February 2014
Nice to speak to you before. As I said I am trying to find out if some of the lights around Shadwell Basin have been turned off at night by the Council? Reports I have had so far from residents are:
Some lights are off every night usually about two out of every five. That’s east, west and north sides.
I counted 10 lights out this week but there didn’t seem to be a pattern to it.
About a third of the street lights on the quaysides were switched off.
I think people read that stuff about some lights in the Borough being turned down a bit to save power…. Also of course there have been muggings in Wapping Woods.
I should say when I went to have a look the other week they were all on and shining brightly 🙂
Anyway if you could let me know what the formal position is?
Now it seemed the Tower Hamlets Council press office was busy so it took a while to get a response. No problem, I wasn’t in a hurry, had lots of other things to do.
Then this morning I get this email from Susan Mulligan:
5 March 2014 11:25
Please see the info below:
Residents have welcomed improved safety measures made in the Wapping Woods area by Tower Hamlets Council.
New lighting has been installed under the first phase of a project which was initiated after safety concerns about the area were raised by local people at the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013.
Phase two of the project will see installation of new CCTV cameras in and around Wapping Woods, and is due for completion in March.
Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “I am happy to report that this part of the project has now been completed with excellent results and comments from residents”.
“Many people use the woods for travelling east to west and it is also the main route from both Shadwell Stations to Wapping. It was vital that we undertook these works to improve the safety of people walking through the woods.”
Cllr Ohid Ahmed, Deputy Mayor of Tower Hamlets, added: “This scheme came about as a direct result of feedback from local people, and shows that we are listening to your safety concerns and acting on them.”
The main feature of the improvements has been the lighting changes, by using the latest LED technology this has improved lighting levels to make the area safer and more welcoming. The new LED lamps are highly efficient, use less energy to operate and require less maintenance. The lamps also assist the council in its ECO and Carbon credentials.
New lighting has been installed throughout Dellow Street and the footpath leading out onto the highway. Wapping Woods itself has had new lights installed on the west ramps and all other older style lighting upgraded to the latest standard.
Tower Hamlets Homes are also replacing some of the wall lights on the estate around Pearl and Penang Street to provide improved lighting on the lower approach to the woods.
Excuse me? I am used to reading nonsense coming from the Town Hall but this was exceptional. And they pay people £40k a year to write this?
Here’s some of the main things wrong with this response.
- I asked a question about Shadwell Basin then two weeks later I get a reply back about Wapping Woods.
- Anyone unfamiliar with the lighting in Wapping Woods issue would know that Mayor Lutfur contributed as much to getting this done as the Titanic contributed to the future of luxury ocean travel.
- A quote from the Dep. Mayor Ohid Ahmed? The same Deputy Mayor who had flu so could not attend a safer policing walk through Wapping Woods that specifically included checking the lighting. And then recovered from ‘the flu’ so speedily that within the hour he was well enough to go to a nice dinner.
- “..we are listening to your safety concerns and acting on them.” That’s the quote from the Dep. Mayor. Honest. Do they think we are all stupid? Yes. Yes they do!
- Two things matey, first you never listened (free buffet remember?) and second you and your colleagues only acted on the cheese trolley.
As you might imagine I was not impressed by idle politicians hijacking a textbook case of a community working together to get things done and presenting it as their own work.
I was even less impressed by Susan Mulligan, a Council officer, peddling this party political propaganda.
Or maybe Susan is one of the Mayor’s media consultants? Who knows. Who cares.
In response to my pointing out that I had asked a question about Shadwell Basin and got a reply back about Wapping Woods I got another gem.
5 March 2014 11:47
In response to your questions, please see the council’s response below:
A council spokesperson said; “The council doesn’t have a policy of turning ?street lighting off in order to reduce energy costs.
Illuminated bollards, not lighting columns, were installed along Spirit ?Quay due to vandalism to the previous lighting. We are currently exploring ?whether they can be upgraded to a brighter LED output.”
Spirit Quay. Which is not Shadwell Basin either. As most of us know it is by Tobacco Dock and the opposite side of the Woods to Shadwell Basin.
And yes we know about the problem with the lights along the Canal thanks.
Someone buy Susan a compass
At this point I sent Susan two Google Maps links to Spirit Quay and Shadwell Basin. And have not heard from her since. Maybe she is wandering around Stratford asking where Wapping Canal is? (That’s Stratford Belgium of course…)
Apart from the incompetence shown by Tower Hamlets press office (disappointing) and the arrogance of the Mayor and Dep. Mayor (routine) there was another issue that worried me more.
The text about Wapping Woods looked very much like a press release. Was the Mayor intending to claim the work of others as his own for party political purposes? All it would take was one lazy journalist to take the press release at face value and it would soon be masquerading as fact.
This is how propaganda works
For this is how propaganda works. Those with a specific ideology to promote take an event that did happen, distort the facts for the their own purposes, distribute to the media who swallow it whole and reproduce it. Job done.
Lighting in Wapping Woods is reasonably low on today’s global news agenda. In fact it is not on it and rightly never will be. We care, no one else does. Fair enough, its our issue.
But using propaganda to distort the truth can be used on events big and small, global and local. Same method, same goal. To deceive.
As I said in my introduction I was going to write this up at lunchtime today 5 March. But as the initial reply was not a formal press release I thought I had some time to spare.
How wrong I was.
Only a few hours later I saw this tweet from The Wharf newspaper:
Lighting improved at Wapping Woods in response to attacks on lone women. Do you think this is enough?
And clicked the link. And what did I find? You guessed it.
The Wharf reprints a
story press release
March 5, 2014 3:21 PM
Safety improved at Wapping Woods after attacks on females
By Rob Virtue on March 5, 2014 3:21 PM |
Tower Hamlets Council has improved lighting at Wapping Woods in response to serious concerns from residents about crime.
It follows incidents at the end of 2012 for which saw a man sentenced for grievous bodily harm after separate attacks on two lone women.
Sijil Miah, 32, of Shadwell, was given an indefinite hospital detention order after pleading guilty in June.
According to residents in the Wapping area, however, it was just the most severe of a number incidents in the parkland.
Council officials have now added extra lighting, using LED technology, throughout the woods and the footpaths leading up to it.
Stage two, to be completed later this month, will see the introduction of CCTV cameras.
Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “Many people use the woods for travelling east to west and it is also the main route from both Shadwell Stations to Wapping. It was vital that we undertook these works to improve the safety of people walking through the woods.”
I remonstrated with The Wharf on twitter:
@the_wharf You have reprinted a press release from Mayor Lutfur. Should you not check the facts first? Embarrassing & sloppy journalism.
@LoveWapping Which is why we are asking for people’s views – I take it you are not happy with the ‘improvements’?
I left it to The Wharf to realise how silly it sounds to ask me if I am not happy with the ‘improvements’.
Let’s recap shall we?
- So at 11:25 today I get an inaccurate response from Mayor Lufur’s press office in response to a question I first asked two weeks ago.
- Then this is sent out into the media world and ‘Hey presto!’ some lazy journalist, in this case Rob Virtue of The Wharf, prints this press release without questioning it at 3:21 PM.
- The residents of East London read this story as fact.
- And the propaganda exercise is complete.
Which is both sad and worrying. Sad because I like The Wharf. Worrying because how much else that people read is untrue?
And why the delay of two weeks between my original query and the (incorrect) reply? The incorrect reply which was sent to me at quite possibly the same time it is sent to the media.
Strange coincidence that.
Trivial propaganda? No such thing
This is a trivial example. But it illustrates what happens in Tower Hamlets every day.
Of course it is not just Mayor Lutfur’s ‘Tower Hamlets First’ party who like to spin things to their advantage. All political parties do this. It’s what politicians do.
But when someone pisses all over my shoes and then tries to tell me it’s raining I get annoyed.
What about you? Are your shoes wet?