The Most Inaccurate Headline in History?

1st October 2012 in Media

The BBC has suggested that the Sunday Times front page headline Only 100 Adult Cod Left in the North Sea, when the correct answer is something like 21 million, may be the most inaccurate headline in history?

The story was picked up and repeated uncritically by the BBC, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Sun, amongst others.

It has taken a threat from the Federation, to report the Sunday Times to the Press Complaints Commission for failing to provide a right of reply, to secure a correction and publication of a corrective letter to the editor. Even then our letter was edited to remove any direct criticism of the paper.

What is disturbing is not that a journalist, even one as highly placed as the Environment Editor of Sunday Times, can make a mistake. It is that this misreporting is part of a more general campaign against the fishing industry in which any pretence of balance or fair reporting has been abandoned.

The general rule seems to have been if the story is about fishing, it is axiomatically about overfishing, depleted stocks, and collapse. Misquoting fisheries scientists and the Federation, and taking quotes out of context has all been part of the mix. There has been absolutely no reporting on the fact that most stocks in the North East Atlantic are rebuilding, or of cooperation between scientists and fishermen in fisheries science partnerships, or of the innovative approaches to conservation that have been developed in recent years.

Will the hostile campaign now be replaced by more balanced reporting? Will the media provide fair and balanced coverage of the fishing industry in the future? Perhaps.

But there are strong reasons to believe that this phase is not yet over. Catastrophe sells newspapers and it will take more than red faces at the Sunday Times to shift from a mindset that equates fishing with short term greed, rather than the realities of fishing industry cooperation with scientists on the best ways of husbanding our resources to provide billions of people with high quality food to eat.

The NFFO will continue to do its part in redressing the balance.