Tag Archives: Winterval

Winterval: still continuing to fool lazy journalists

I had a message from a Twitter user a couple of days ago that Winterval had been trotted out again by yet another lazy journalist, this time Mary Kenny in a column for the Belfast Mercury. In her column she recounts how:

A few years ago, Birmingham city council sought to replace ‘Christmas’ with ‘Winterval’, alleging that it was “offensive” to Muslims and other non-Christians that a holiday based on ‘Christ’s Mass’ should be on the calendar.

Like so many later repetitions the Muslims are to blame, scaring Birmingham council with the very thought that such a holiday should even be on the calendar!

Of course, as I’ve repeated here and elsewhere many times: Birmingham council did no such thing, and the events they did hold (of which Christmas – called Christmas – was the focal point) were a marketing ploy to drive business into the city centre and had absolutely nothing to do with the religious sensitivities of anyone. Winterval took place in 1997 and 1998, as a media myth it has been debunked again and again, yet here we are, 17 years later still having it repeated by people paid to write for a living.

Now seems a good a time as any to plug my e-book on the subject, available via Amazon and Kobo for a very small price. In a year in which the press avoided regulation (again) it makes for pretty painful reading about how journalists are happy to repeatedly lie to push their media narratives – and how these media narratives become more extreme over time.

Winterval: Still alive and kicking

Remember the dim and distant days of November 2011 when the Daily Mail published a correction to a Melanie Phillips article in which they finally acknowledged that Winterval had never renamed Christmas:

We stated in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

As I wrote recently in my E-Book about Winterval (which this blog post will repeatedly plug) this correction from the Daily Mail did more to kill the myth than any debunking had managed before, and apart from the occasional mention the myth had pretty much died.

However, the Daily Mail has – 3 days ago – published another article on the myth: ‘She may as well have wished us Happy Winterval!’ MP who sent out Happy Holidays card faces backlash for ‘marginalising’ Christmas’. The article suggests – in one of the Mail Online’s various bullet-point sub-headings – that such a card ‘Draws comparisons to the 1990s Winterval furore in Birmingham’. The Mail also makes room for the following handy reminder to readers:

winterval

This little box is crammed full of lies. Winterval was never about ‘reflect[ing] the diverse nature of the city’s population’, nor did the council ever say anything about making the city a more welcoming place for ethnic groups. These are lies, I have read every single piece of news coverage, in both local and national newspapers, since 1997 on this subject and I have never, ever seen anything that could possibly justify these assertions. I know this will not come as a shock, but the Daily Mail is making this up, they are lying to their readers.

As for the then Bishop of Birmingham’s comments, they were made a year after the initial Winterval celebrations in 1997 (of which he seems to have been completely oblivious) and they were reported by a newspaper that up until that point had not criticised Winterval at all – indeed, newspaper reports after the 1997 event talked about what a success it had been and how Winterval 1998 was going to be bigger and better.

If you care about the state of journalism, or you want others to realise just how happy newspapers are to make stuff up to incite hatred towards target groups, then please buy and read my E-book on the Winterval myth. It will – I think – open the eyes of any reader as to how one little myth can fuel a media narrative (atheists / Muslims / PC brigade are banning Christmas) for over 15 years, and how in each passing year the original myth becomes more and more embellished to suit the political needs of the newspaper at the time.

In other news, Ann Widdecombe recently crammed as many media myths into a few hundred words as I’ve ever seen, including Winterval and a Dr Chris Allen has completely ripped-off all of my research into Winterval in a blog post in which he basically rejigs my writing on the topic – adding nothing new.

The only way anyone can make me feel better is to buy my E-book:

winterval-book

Winterval E-Book published

I’ve spent the last few weeks fully updating, proofreading and finalising my first E-book and am pleased to announce that it has now been published via Amazon. I hope to publish the book with Kobo store in the next couple of days.

It should make a nice digital stocking filler for anyone interested in a good tale of bad journalism. Should it go well I hope to publish a few more books on the media next year.

Thanks, and Merry Christmas.

Here lies Winterval: 1998-2011?

So, after a lot of resistance – distorted, truth-bending resistance – the Daily Mail have published a correction after Melanie Phillips claimed that:

Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval’.

Tabloid Watch has charted the great effort the complainant – regular Tabloid Watch reader James – went to in order for the Daily Mail to admit to the simple truth that Winterval was simply a tabloid fiction. As usual the Mail took a month to respond to the complaint – remember the PCC’s slogan is ‘Free, fast, fair’ and that Daily mail editor Paul Dacre keeps defending the PCC as effective – and when they did they argued that:

The nit-picking suggestion that the term “Christmas” refers only to Christmas Day cannot be supported by anyone with a modicum of common sense. And Phillips did not say the term was intended to replace Christmas Day.

Much wrangling later they finally issued in print and online the following apology:

We stated in an article on 26 September that Christmas has been renamed in various places Winterval. Winterval was the collective name for a season of public events, both religious and secular, which took place in Birmingham in 1997 and 1998. We are happy to make clear that Winterval did not rename or replace Christmas.

Amazingly – in what appears to be a first – the Daily Mail website has also added the same clarification to the bottom of the original article as well. The Daily Mail is to be commended for this – they have done the right thing.

There are a few remaining questions:

  1. Will Melanie Phillips acknowledge the correction in her next column with any sort of apology?
  2. Will Melanie Phillips apologise to me for responding to my polite email pointing her in the direction of my essay on the Winterval myth by claiming that my message was ‘as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive’?
  3. Will she also admit that her claim that my blog post about her was ‘highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action’ was complete rubbish – given that her own newspaper has now had to issue a correction on her behalf?
  4. Will Winterval still be repeated by politicians / journalists and so forth in the same way that it always has done following various previous debunkings?

I will always be tempted to refer back to my initial point on the Winterval myth: the most depressing thing about it isn’t neccesarily its longevity, but the fact that the original story was so clearly completely untrue and contained clear statements from the council that demonstrated this. It should never have been born, let alone be fed until it was big enough for politicians and far right groups alike to befriend.

Anyway, if you’re in the spirit for more on this please feel free to read my piece on Comment is Free. Or, you could settle down and read my lengthy essay on the matter.

Dishonest journalism has serious consequences

Yesterday I covered the Daily Telegraph rehashing a story that the Daily Mail had invented – and I had covered – last week. Basically, both the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph were claiming that Thomas the Tank Engine had abandoned Christmas in order to be ‘politically correct’. The current writers behind Thomas the Tank Engine, HIT Entertainment, were quoted by each newspaper and clearly informed them both that their claims were false, but to no avail. For the record, they have now felt the need to publish this statement on their website:

Media Statement (UK) – Representation of Christmas in Thomas & Friends

Any reports that HIT Entertainment, rights owner of ‘Thomas & Friends’, has been “writing Christmas out of a new series” are completely inaccurate. Nothing could be further from the truth. The episode recently referenced in some press articles is six years old and was contained in a four episode DVD that was not sold as either a “Christmas” or a “Holiday” themed release.

Thomas has a great deal of Christmas themed content and does not shy away from celebrating the occasion, as last year’s DVD ‘Thomas & Friends: Christmas Express’ makes clear. Currently we are working on another DVD ‘Merry Christmas, Thomas’.

We take the legacy of The Rev. Awdry’s work very seriously in the creation of all of our new content and work closely with his family to best manage Thomas for future generations of children. Christmas was, and continues to be, celebrated on the island of Sodor, the home of ‘Thomas & Friends’.

However, the truth is fairly irrelevant to both our broadsheet and tabloid media – indeed the Daily Telegraph article was worse than the original Daily Mail rubbish – and the Daily Telegraph article was picked up by the English Defence League and used as evidence that foreigners (read: Muslims) were forcing more British culture to be abandoned. I know that neither the Daily Mail nor the Daily Telegraph implied any religious motivations behind the untrue allegations they made about the series, but they must realise that any invented stories about the ‘banning’ or eliminating of Christmas will be used by the far-right to bolster their anti-foreigner (read: Muslim) agenda.

Perhaps what is more worrying is that at several points during the discussion thread people point out that the story isn’t true – indeed, some EDL members heave a sigh of relief that they don’t have to boycott Thomas the Tank Engine – but look at how many new comments simply ignore this and just fume with hatred and rage anyway.

This is why journalists should not be able to publish such blatant lies. There are elements of our society that are fearful, vulnerable and simply not intelligent enough to know when they are being lied to. Such people rely on dishonest journalism to hide their own inadequacy with a culture of hatred and blame aimed at ‘others’. Such a culture leads inevitably to the creation of organisations like the EDL.

Just read this thread and once again it becomes essential the we pursue with every energy genuine press regulation:

EDL
Click to enlarge

Publishing emails…

I have had some criticism on Twitter and in the comments on site – not to mention from Melanie Phillips herself – for publishing contents of the emails that she sent to me. I can understand the criticism, and it is something I have never done before and I doubt I will ever need to do again. I do receive a lot of email correspondence through this site and I do treat it all in absolute confidence as anyone who has contacted me will know (hence why this has never been an issue in the years I have published this blog). The emails from Melanie Phillips I published today and yesterday will not change that.

I initiated contact with Melanie Phillips not really expecting any response – other journalists I have contacted regarding my Winterval essay haven’t even acknowledged me – so I think I was a little surprised to hear back from her so quickly. Her response was aggressive, condescending and contained only fallacious or irrelevant arguments and clearly demonstrated she had no intention of reading any of the essay to verify whether she had indeed mislead her readers.

I had started politely, but given Melanie’s past history of bile-filled attacks on all manner of subjects and her dishonest, underhand and disdainful attack on a 16-year-old boy yesterday I felt publishing her email was in the public interest. I say this because Melanie – whilst you may say that she is a columnist – can still be labelled a journalist and as such she is an example of the kind of writer that is happily accepted and handsomely paid during these heady times of press ‘self-regulation’. Her attitude towards a member of the public who had politely pointed out that she was guilty – I didn’t even say intentionally – of misleading her readers over the Winterval claim she made just demonstrated how utterly untouchable journalists / columnists believe themselves to be.

I published her words because I wanted to demonstrate why occasionally this blog descends into unhelpful, despairing swearing aimed at a certain journalist or columnist; it is the frustration of knowing that irrespective of fact, evidence or truth the people I write about will never engage with me or any other media blogger, no matter how extensively you may have researched a given topic or how clear the error is. Winterval is a myth. It is as simple as that.  It was coined in one city (Birmingham), for two years (1997 and 1998) and yet Melanie Phillips claimed that:

Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval’

That is factually incorrect in every possible way:

  1. Christmas was never ‘renamed’ Winterval, Christmas in Birmingham in 1997/8 was Christmas as usual (see poster and you’ll see that Winterval is the small logo, bottom right, not replacing the much bigger ‘Christmas in Birmingham’)
  2. This non-renaming only took place in one city: Birmingham.

It cannot be any clearer that Melanie Phillips has mislead her readers by making a factually incorrect claim, and worse than that, she is repeating (indeed embellishing by making it ‘various places’ rather than just ‘Birmingham council’) a claim that has been debunked numerous times before and should never have been repeated again given that any Google search quickly reveals the truth.

All it needed from Melanie was an admission – one tiny admission in a career full of misleading or factually incorrect claims (she how she lost a libel case along with The Spectator after refusing to back down over untrue claims she made – rather than apologise she just repeated them) that she had got it wrong. However, she didn’t, she just responded in the same way as she always does, writing as if the truth inhabits a completely different realm to that occupied by Phllips. Even when provided with clear, irrefutable evidence that she was wrong, she couldn’t even admit it, let alone apologise to her readers or make any attempt to correct them.

That’s not abiding by the common etiquette that should come naturally to any writer, any writer irrespective of salary, audience or purpose. It is certainly entirely against the spirit of press self-regulation and the personal journalistic responsibility and basic integrity that should go hand-in-hand with such a system. This is why I – hypocritically if you like – also shunned any etiquette and printed her response. She has no rules when it comes to publishing words, so why should I? Let’s not pretend taking the higher ground is going to achieve anything when she can’t even admit to the tiniest of mistakes – and none of the Mail writers seem to care one bit about facts or truth.

It’s not as if the Press Complaints Commission are an option either.

So, I was left with an email from Melanie, and I took the opportunity to publish it, to hopefully destroy any fleeting belief that Melanie Phillips has any journalistic standards whatsoever, or even the vaguest interest in not misleading her readers.

So, sorry Melanie, for publishing your emails – but please clearly understand this: you were not damned by me, but by your own words.

Melanie Phillips on Winterval

About half an hour ago I sent Melanie Phillips an email regarding her repetition of the famous ‘Winterval’ myth on which I happen to think myself quite the expert – having traced the myth back to its origins in 1997 and written extensively on its development over the years since. Amusingly Melanie Phillips has been kind enough to get back to me already, and here is what she wrote:

Interesting that you think all those people, including Bishops of the Church of England who were so upset by Winterval, failed to understand what you alone apparently understood. In fact, it is plain that you have zero understanding of why this term caused such offence to so many people. Birmingham council’s protestations that Christmas remained at the heart of the Winterval celebrations were disingenuous and missed the point. ‘Christmas’ is a term that does not merely refer to Christmas Day but to the period around it. There was no need for the term Winterval at all — except as a way of not referring to the Christmas season, but instead to provide a neutral term which would enable other faith celebrations around that time to assume equal prominence. That was the objection which was clearly stated at the time by the Bishops and others: Winterval buried ‘Christmas’ and replaced it in the public mind. Your message is therefore as arrogant and ignorant as it is offensive.

Melanie

It’s a great answer, essentially stating that I am wrong because I couldn’t possibly have a better understanding than people such as ‘bishops’ and presumably all of the journalists happy to repeat the myth over the years. It’s a wonderful defence: the majority must be right. Although it must be said that such a defence hasn’t proved terribly reliable down the years given that at some point majority correctness (the Mail can feel free to use this) dictated that the earth was flat and the sun revolved around it until a few individuals pointed out that this wasn’t true. Truth is dictated by fact, Melanie, not sheer weight of believers.

No, I just miss the point and Birmingham council’s explanations were ‘disingenuous and [also] missed the point’ – even though such explanations were actually completely transparent (indeed they were baffled, a year after the first successful Winterval period, that anybody could possibly believe that they had done away with Christmas, given that they so clearly and unequivocally hadn’t). The council merely explained (repeatedly) that Winterval was a cynical marketing ploy to extend Christmas beyond the traditional Christmas season. Christmas, in all of its glory, was celebrated in Birmingham as normal which is why in 1997 and beyond not one person complained about it being ‘banned’ or marginalised in any way – as Melanie would know were she humble enough to read my essay which clearly explains this point.

Such a response would be amusing, were it not written by a supposedly ‘professional’ journalist.


In the interests of full disclosure, here is what I originally sent to her website:

Melanie, I noticed in your recent Daily Mail article that you again repeated the ‘Winterval’ myth – that councils have attempted to replace Christmas with ‘Winterval’. This myth has been debunked many times, indeed I have written an extensive essay on the subject which was covered by BBC Radio 4. As it appears you have somehow missed this can I point you in the direction of this essay so you can apologise to your readers for misleading them: http://www.thedisinformed.co.uk/2010/12/12/the-winterval-myth/

And I have now replied to her reply:

If you read the essay I think you’d realise that you are quite mistaken. Again, you really need to start engaging with facts, rather than just reverberating around your own blinkered mind.

Your dishonest attack on Rory Weal was a staggeringly embarrassing exercise in how underhand you have to become to even engage in an argument with a 16-year-old.

I’ve responded to you via my blog [ http://www.butireaditinthepaper.co.uk ], I prefer to keep such conversations public – as any writer should (although I notice you don’t believe that journalism or blogging is a two-way process, probably because it is easier to write your nonsense trapped in your own blissful bubble of ignorance).

I really think you should take a second look at some of the accusations you made about Rory Weal, because, thanks to your laziness (i.e. not bothering to look into his life situation before starting your rant), you got his situation horribly wrong and you look even more foolish than normal.

UPDATE:

Melanie Phillips has responded to me this morning:

Your blog post about me is highly defamatory and contains false allegations for which you would stand to pay me significant damages in a libel action. There are many things I could say to point out the gross misrepresentations, selective reporting and twisted distortions in what you have written. I will not do so, however, because you have shown gross abuse of trust in publishing on your blog private correspondence from me without my permission. Consequently I will have no more to do with you and any further messages from you will be electronically binned unread along with other nuisance mail.

I politely tried to engage with Melanie Phillips over a factual matter and she responded with arrogant abuse. I published her response to me because I thought it was important to demonstrate how Melanie deals with any polite, factual criticism of her writing. If she writes in public, she should stand by it in public, if she emails a reader prepared to engage with her she should not say anything she wouldn’t be happy for others to read. It is that simple as far as I am concerned.

As for her claims that I would have to pay her ‘significant damages in a libel action’ should she wish to pursue it, I invite any lawyers who read this blog to post an honest appraisal of my article on Rory Weal and Melanie Phillips to see if I am indeed guilty of libel or defamation – or indeed ‘false allegations’ or ‘twisted distortions’. Her article is free for anyone to read, as is mine so people can make their own minds up.

Just remember this little email exchange the next time Melanie Phillips complains that the ‘liberal elite’ are guilty of shutting down debate or existing in their own little bubble.

Winterval 2011

Well, it has started: Winterval season is upon us. In fact, it has been with us all year round thanks to the trusty ramblings of right-wing columnists only to happy to trot out the same lies. As you may know last year I spent a bit of time researching the ‘Winterval’ myth – that councils around the UK had renamed or abandoned Christmas celebrations in favour of Winterval for fear of offending Muslims or other ‘ethnic minorities’. Turns out it is one of the most successful myths I’ve ever come across and it has being going strong since 1998 and shows no sign of being abandoned.

This year I will be covering the usage of Winterval in 2011 and adding it to my existing essay in early December. A few well known writers will feature – including such luminaries as James Delingpole and Melanie Phillips. It was the ever reliable Melanie Phillips who reminded me today to start getting this new chapter ready for December when she wrote:

The pressure on Christians, however, is merely part of a far wider onslaught on Western culture through the hijacking or censorship of language.

Thus Christmas has been renamed in various places ‘Winterval’.

No, Melanie, it has never been renamed Winterval. It didn’t happen, and it didn’t happen in one solitary council in Birmingham in 1997.

Whilst you eagerly await 2011’s roll call of terrible hacks, feel free to re-read (or read for the first time) and share my essay on Winterval. It lives on my other website (which is still waiting for some new content) thedisinformed.co.uk.

Winterval Myth & Islamophobia to be covered by Radio 4

Tomorrow at 12.30 on BBC Radio 4, Face the Factswill be covering the Winterval Myth during a programme examining how the British press is contributing to Islamophobia. I was interviewed for the programme because of my essay on the Winterval Myth and the fact that the EDL (supposedly a peaceful organisation protesting against extreme Islam) threatened to march on and close down any town in which the local council attempted to ‘ban Christmas’. You can find out more about the programme here, and you can read my essay here for a full examination of how the myth started and how it has contributed to the growing problem of Islamophobia in Britain.

The programme should also be available on the Iplayer for a while after broadcast. I tried to get across my points as articulately and concisely as possible, but please bear in mind it was my first (and probably last) appearance on the radio and I left feeling that I hadn’t quite hit the nail on the head.

Dear Steve Doughty

I am writing to you because you recently wrote a few articles on bins not being collected. In at least two of them ( I haven’t checked the rest for fear of slipping into a coma) you mention that someone has dubbed this state of affairs ‘Binterval’. In one article you explain that this term is used because it sounds a bit like ‘the name Winterval, which was first coined by council chiefs as a politically correct replacement for Christmas’.

Can I please set you straight on this once-and-for-all. No council chief anywhere has ever used Winterval as a politically correct replacement for Christmas. Winterval was created in 1997 to cover a series of events that included finds like Children in Need and a Frankfurt Christmas market. Christmas – called Christmas, with all the traditional Christmas trimmings – was at the heart of the festival, in was in no way replaced or diminished by the Winterval marketing strategy at all. Look at this poster and spot the words ‘Merry Christmas’, then find the Winterval logo:

You have now mentioned the Winterval myth in nine separate articles since the myth was created in 1998. Please, if you have any integrity as a journalist read the essay I wrote about the myth, you can find it here and it is free to download. You can also rifle through the appendix which contains the original article on which the myth was based, you can see for yourself that the whole idea that Winterval was replacing Christmas was complete and utter rubbish.

I hope you take the time to read the essay and to respond to this email. You owe it to journalism to stop perpetuating a complete lie, especially one that was thoroughly debunked by a fellow journalist way back in 2006.

Yours Faithfully,

Uponnothing