Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Curious Case of the Bouncing "Elf and Safety Killjoys"

Those Elf & Safety killjoys have been at it again, this time "outlawing" a trampoline that a woman has erected outside her house every summer for the past decade. As the Daily Mail says:

"A childminder has been ordered to take down a trampoline – because youngsters could ‘injure themselves’ if they bounce off it and onto the grass. Sharon Farmer has put up the 14ft trampoline in communal gardens in Lewisham, south London, for the past decade, but has been told by housing association bosses she must remove it for health and safety reasons."
The Express is also up in arms, telling us that the "Nanny state" has outlawed communal bouncing in South East London. You couldn't make it up. Except, of course, you can, especially if you're a "Daily Mail Reporter", the byline they usually use when they've taken a story from a news agency or, more often than not, just ripped it out of a local paper without giving them credit. A local newspaper such as South East London's News Shopper, which first broke the story yesterday, and from which the Express and Mail directly lift their quotes without attribution.

Plagiarism aside, you don't even have to go back to the source material to spot the gaping hole in this story, you simply have to read to the end. In the final paragraph of the Mail and Express stories, a spokesman for the London and Quadrant Housing Association (AKA the Elf & Safety Killjoys), which owns the land that the trampoline is sited on, says:

"We have agreed the trampoline can remain until the end of the school holidays. The trampoline will be re-assessed next spring in conjunction with health and safety representatives."
So they haven't ordered the owner to take it down - in fact, they've agreed she can keep it in place until the end of the school holidays, just as she does ever summer. And they haven't "outlawed" it for next summer either, they've just said that they want to do a proper health and safety assessment before it gets used next year. All of which rather fails to stand up the Mail and Express headlines. But that's not the end of it - although the national tabloids are more than happy to lift quotes from outrages residents, they're not so hot on repeating in full what the Elf & Safety Killjoys have to say. Go back to the News Shopper and the spokesman's quote continues:

“The trampoline will be re-assessed next spring in conjunction with health and safety representatives to determine if there are any potential risks to residents from their use and, if so, what can be done to mitigate these risks. We will also be carrying out a consultation with residents at Sandstone Road to get their views on the trampolines.”
He's being quite clear that they're not banning the trampoline, or even planning to ban it, they just want to be clear about any potential risks and take steps to mitigate them. Which seems perfectly sensible, both to protect children from harm and to protect the housing association from legal action if a child is injured on their property.

But the Mail and the Express didn't get where they are today by being perfectly sensible. Or by telling the whole story. Or even by using the actual things people say - eagle-eyed readers will have spotted the quote marks in the Mail's intro: "...because children could 'injure themselves' if they bounce off it..." If anyone can point me to the place where the housing association use the words "injure themselves", thus justifying the Mail's use of quotation marks (normally used to denote, you know, 'quotations'), I'd be very grateful.

1 comment:

Richard T said...

And I wonder just which papers would be in the front of the stampede to condemn the trampolining should some child be unfortunate enough to be injured on it?