Anorak News | Of Dogs And Men

Of Dogs And Men

by | 17th, October 2005

‘PUTTING the news in perspective so often depends on which end of a pint glass you’re looking at it through.

Looking down, staring into their pints, readers on Monday saw a small corner section of the Sun’s front-page given over to the grim news: “30,000 die in quake.”

“You can hear kids crying under rubble,” said the story of the Asian earthquake inside the paper. There were awful pictures of flattened houses and tower blocks, and a hideous shot of an arm limply hanging out from between two huge slabs of fallen rubble.

But how important was it? Does such awful news affect everyone in Blighty equally? Clearly not in the Sun.

Alongside the news from Asia, we were invited to look up at the Sun through the bottom of an emptying glass of lager, drunk fast to celebrate the news that England FC had qualified for the World Cup finals this summer.

Great stuff. But can football really be as big a story as news of an earthquake that had killed thousands? What about if a footballer was injured in the process?

The Telegraph had no such problems over deciding what story to lead with. Overlooking the business-focused Financial Times, the Telegraph is now the only remaining nationwide broadsheet on the newsstands; something the Telegraph is touchingly proud of.

None can compete with the Telegraph’s size. And we were invited to look at the paper’s big shots of the destruction in Pakistan. An overhead picture of the flattened Pakistani town of Balakot took in the entire vista. No building had been left standing by a quake that measured 7.6 on the Richter Scale.

It would be unfair to say that the Telegraph rejoices whenever a massive disaster strikes; but it must take some pleasure in being able to report on scenes that give it the chance to showcase its size. The paper’s pictorial treatment of Hurricane Katrina was as shocking as it was captivating.

On Tuesday, the Times wondered if any good could come from the disaster. Aid to the region was flooding in, and much of it from the USA. “The terrorists make us out to be infidels, but this is not true and we hope this mission will show it,” said Sergeant Marina Evan, a spokeswoman for the US military in Kabul.

But while the earthquake gave the US a chance to whiten its image in the stricken region, the tabloids were playing their usual numbers game. Tragedy had stuck. Mother Nature had done her worst. And what we wanted to know was: how many were dead?

It was like listening to a macabre auction as the papers bid to work out how many had perished in the Asian earthquake.

The Sun estimated the death count at 30,000. The Express said the “disaster toll” had reached 40,000. The Mail said 20,000 children were dead, while the fate of a further 10,000 people was unknown.

The Mail also said there were fears that faced with so much disaster the British were suffering from “compassion fatigue”.

The combined effects of the earthquake, the famine in Niger, the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina might have stopped us giving. Too many charity records had dulled the senses and made our hearts hard.

Perhaps that was why the papers spoke in big numbers? Were the papers worried that people would only respond to money-raising campaigns if the body count was high enough?

If so, why bother finding out the real figure when you can round up the number of those thought to have been killed to the nearest ten thousand? If you won’t give at 10,000 dead, what about at 20,000? 30,000? More? The papers could get more. How much would it take to get readers digging deeper into their pockets?

Perhaps the BBC can help us to make sense of things? But what would we spend for the Beeb’s version of the news.

On Wednesday, all papers reported that the BBC was looking to hike the TV licence fee from its current £126.50 a year to just under £180 a year by 2013.

But the Sun sensed something was amiss. While the BBC and other papers remained focused on Asia – to a lesser or greater degree – the Sun had spotted a bigger story.

The Sun knew what would touch its readers more than scenes of men, women and children injured, their lives in ruins, was Spot the dog.

Spot was the dalmation puppy left hanging from a tree by sick thugs. The Sun produced a photo of this heinous crime on its cover. It “outraged the nation”.

The Sun was fearless. Congratulations to it for bringing this wrong to the attention of us all. With Omar Bakri ousted, the paper needed a new cause. And it wanted us to bang the drum and join the campaign.

Addressed to Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, the Sun’s cut-out-and-send petition ran: “I demand the Government acts urgently to reform the outdated laws on animal cruelty.”

You the reader wanted the Government to “INCREASE” the maximum jail sentence for animal cruelly.

You wanted the powers that be to “ENFORCE lifetime bans on anyone found guilty of deliberate cruelty”. (Presumably this was a lifetime ban on owning animals, although don’t rule out banning culprits from watching England football matches and smoking in pubs.)

You called on Beckett to “INTRODUCE” a “duty of care”, making animal owners legally obliged to look after the critter’s welfare. And you wanted Tony Blair and his marketing team to “UPDATE” the “archaic” 1911 Protection of Animals Act.

You then signed the petition – either with a pen, if, say, you’re a chimpanzee, or by sticking your paw in a large pot of ink.

And if you’re George Michael you signed it in public. On Friday the signer was onboard. And he was joined by Mariah Carey (“The campaign is brilliant”), Rolf Harris and Jay Kay (“It beggars belief animals are killed or maimed in a society like ours”).

Jay Kay was right, as ever. It was amazing how in modern Britain a pet can be hurt.

Especially when the Express reminded us how there were so many humans out there to kill and maim.

As if stung into action by the Sun’s campaign, the Express dedicated two pages to “VIOLENT BRITIAN”. The paper hadn’t identified its own star victim, a human version of Spot – perhaps it was spoilt for choice.

“The true horrors of life in Britain were laid bare yesterday,” said the paper. The Express had noticed what it called a “series of mindless attacks” across the country.

“Hoodies batter old folk,” said one story. “Widow’s tragedy,” ran another. “Raider kills maid,” yelled a third.

It was sensational stuff. But we feared that without a petition, such violence could not be stopped? Without a slogan we could chant, what chance the protest? Without celebrity support, the campaign to stamp out attacks on human beings looked like a non-starter.

We were powerless to act – unless, of course, the murderers, thieves and rapists went for the pets…

Paul Sorene

Read Anorak everyday’

Posted: 17th, October 2005 | In: Broadsheets Comment | TrackBack | Permalink