More on moronic use of stats in the Mail

Okay. After my own tabloid style outrage over the Mail's choice and use of figures in '196,000 out, 574,000 in: Record numbers leaving Britain for new life abroad - as immigration to UK soars', I've managed to have a closer look at the article. Plus, the gods of leaving papers on public transport seats smiled on me and left a few pages of the paper copy of yesterday's Mail on the tube, including the inside pages covering the headlines, which make an interesting illustration of the difference between the Online and paper versions of the, er, paper.

In the paper version, the 'full story, pages 10-11' includes more than just the '196,000 out...' article. The double page spread is topped with the headline 'Thousands join the great exodus', and includes three stories across two pages. There's the '196,000 out...' article (with its own heading 'Record number of Britons leave for new life overseas'), theres '1 in 4 babies had a parent born overseas' (which has the more misleading headline 'A quarter of all UK babies have a foreign parent' in the Online version, which is substantially different in content), and there's 'Fiasco lets migrants use 'human rights' to stay here', by our friend, James Slack (who never replied to queries about where his shonky figures I looked at in 'No crow for me please mum!' came from - anyway, the Online headline for that is 'The failed migrants told its their right to stay').

Movement of Jah people

We're clearly supposed to read these three stories as being the 'full story' mentioned on the front page. The first doesn't get past page 10 (except for a large photo), the second is spread across the two pages, and the third is positioned above the second on page 11, with the 'great exodus' headline covering all three. This is something it's all too easy to miss when looking exclusively at the Online version of the paper. Often, different stories are presented together like this to create a connection we wouldn't necessarily get Online. There is a cumulative effect to the misleading coverage of stats, reports, papers and policies in the Mail, and they're often deliberately positioned to encourage us to create connections, like this.

They also fit in with the Mail's general overarching narrative concerning immigration, and the reader will presumably be familiar with that. Like I mentioned in the first post of the 'How the Daily Mail lies about immigration' series, there's a context here. The Mail's implied reader already assumes that immigration is unacceptably high, the government is too incompetent to count it properly at best and actively secretly encouraging it to get migrants' votes at worst, that immigrants are chancers who want to live off the state and that immigration is ruining the country and the 'British way of life'. Those assumptions will push readers toward reading these articles in a certain way even before they start.

Record number of Britons leave for new life overseas

The first article fits in nicely with the general Mail stance on immigration, but the entire approach to the story is interesting. The ONS release that the article is based on clearly shows that both net migration (the amount that the population has risen by as the result of immigration after counting the number who left) and the total number of people migrating to the UK are both lower than the last year measured. The number of those immigrants who are foreign is also lower than the last year. So immigration hasn't 'soared'. It's dropped. 'Soar' is a weasel word that implies 'risen' but doesn't actually state it.

At the same time, the number of foreign nationals leaving the UK - which the Mail virtually ignores and only mentions obliquely 18 paragraphs in - has risen from 146,000 in 2004-2005 to 187,000 in 2005-2006. In the same period, the gap between the number of British citizens and non-British citizens leaving the country has closed from 42,000 to just 9,000.

In Daily Mail terms, you'd think this would be good news. Fewer foreigners coming to the UK than last year, a record number leaving. You'd expect the Mail to be happy - until you remember that every story about immigration must fit into the narrative that shows it to be a Bad Bad Thing in crisis at all costs. Hence the focus on the high number of British citizens leaving even though that number is only 1,000 higher than the next highest figure, and the ignoring of the high number of non-UK citizens leaving even though that number is 29,000 higher than the next.

So even before we go into how misleadingly the paper represents the figures it has chosen, there's already a certain amount of misdirection in the choice. A year that has shown fewer foreigners coming to the UK than the last, as well as more leaving and a lower level of net and total immigration is reported in terms of there being a 'great exodus' with an almost total surpression of all other statistics.

There are some real problems with the article beyond this choice of stats and the way they're presented. There's this, for example:
It also included 74,000 who came from Eastern Europe, the ONS said. This brings the official estimate of migration from the new EU countries since the middle of 2004 to 151,000.

However, ministers admit that in reality more than 600,000 have come over here. Sir Andrew Green of Migrationwatch said that the ONS calculated that only 57,000 of the recent Eastern European arrivals had stayed in Britain.
Unless the Mail has been talking to different Ministers than the BBC, this is simply not true. The Home Office only states that the 600,000 the paper mentions have applied to come here. Some haven't turned up, some haven't qualified, and others haven't stayed long enough to be counted. One set of stats don't discount or contradict the other. They measure different things. And they show exactly what we'd expect to see from a process where people come to work temporarily and then leave.

There's this:

ONS officials, who continue to base immigration estimates on a largely-discredited survey taken at ports of entry, said compiling the figures was becoming "difficult" and "challenging".
If the Mail thinks the figures here are based on a 'largely-discredited' survey, why does it even bother covering them here? And why does the paper use that survey numerous times to exaggerate the level of immigration? This very caveat helps show how irrelevant the stats actually are to the story. If the paper really thinks they're rubbish and not to be trusted, it wouldn't actually put them on the front page. Also, note that it only states that immigration is based on the survey and not the emigration figures in the headline, even though they're both based on the same survey. It's only relevant that the paper thinks the survey is discredited when it disagrees with its preconceptions.

There's this:
The figures include asylum seekers but do not count, and make no estimate of, the levels of illegal immigration.
How can you possibly count people who by their very definition have avoided being counted and are impossible to count? This is such a fat-headed agrument that I'm still dumbfounded when I hear people use it.

As I said recently, the figures don't actually matter. The paper is not interested in giving a realistic or nuanced view of what is happening in the world but, as Paul Dacre himself says, reflecting the views of the public. The public the paper is targeting are people who think immigration is a shambles - that's what they want to hear and dammit, that's what they'll hear.

I'm not saying here that the paper ought to be impartial, or that it should ignore the rise in the number of UK citizens leaving the country. I'm pointing out that figures that could have been used to create story that would be positive about immigration in Daily Mail terms were ignored in favour of ones that fit the negative narrative. Sure, a drop from one year to the next doesn't say anything about future trends, you'd think they were at least worth mentioning.

I'll cover the other two articles in my next post. Lucky you, eh?

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