The Daily Mirror ran a great front page this week about government cuts.
Its campaigning headline was: “Britain, 2014. We’re the sixth largest economy in the world. We have more millionaires than ever before… So why have we handed out one million food parcels? And new figures reveal 330,000 went to hungry children.”
There was an excellent, and upsetting, close-up picture on the front page of a crying child.
It turns out that the child is not, as the reader might reasonably infer, a hungry child in Britain in 2014.
In fact, the child is the daughter of US photographer Lauren Rosenbaum, who took the snap in 2009 in San Francisco.
Rosenbaum put the photo on Flickr, and it was then sold onto the paper by the Getty Images photo library.
According to the caption on the original Flickr picture, the little girl – Anne – is crying because she was playing with an earthworm in the park and it crawled away. Awww.
So, not a starving child. But a great picture nonetheless. In the trade they’re called stock pictures, which you can buy from a database, when it’s not possible or appropriate to use a ‘real’ person.
Does it matter?
Lots of people think it does, that the newspaper is misleading its readers. To my mind, putting “Britain 2014” implies that the picture was taken in Britain in 2014.
Sadly, the paper has form in this department – there was, of course, the unfortunate business of the faked Iraqi torture pictures that ended up costing that lovely Piers Morgan his job.
Still, it is just a picture – and a good one at that – to illustrate the story.
The Daily Mirror editor Lloyd Embley is quoted by the Guardian as saying: “And there was me thinking a million food parcels was the story… Imagine the stink if we'd used a pic of an actual child who had received food parcels.”
Since Leveson, it has been open season on the press.
Politicians and other powerful people have largely won the PR war to convince the public that journalists are lying scumbags who cannot be trusted.
Obviously the rich and important would rather they were not scrutinised by a free press, or any other kind of press, and sooner or later we will all be sorry that we’re voluntarily giving up hard-won press freedoms.
As Embley says, it’s a shame that the shocking story about one million food parcels loses its impact because people instead focus on the debate about the method of telling the story.
But he should have known that would happen if they got caught out.
Pity, because it’s a good and important story, and deserved better than this childlike attempt at manipulation.
Alan Tyers is a journalist.
This article is the opinion of Alan Tyers and not necessarily that of BT.