The Sun. The good old currant bun. Home of page three, puns and some of the most humorous – and memorable – headlines in history. ‘Gotcha’, ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’, ‘Up Yours Delors’ and, my personal No1, ‘It’s Paddy Pantsdown’ being among the more quotable.
Yes, our favourite daily newspaper – read by 2.9 million – is the populist prince of print, the red-top super heavyweight that’s become a modern day icon. And, last week, it was also guilty of some of the worst journalism I have ever had the misfortune to read.
Now, I know, like ex-professional footballers who comment on the current crop, criticising someone in your own game is tantamount to treason, but there are some stories so ridiculous, so flawed and so potentially damaging, they are immune from the normal insurance of self-imposed silence. Like the story entitled ‘Killer Piranha in Folkestone Pond’ that appeared in The Sun’s June 17 edition.
If there has been a more misleading and misinformed article masquerading as news then I have yet to see it. Fairytales are more believable.
For those left in any doubt by the screaming headline as to what the ensuing words described, let me explain. Basically an ‘angler’ claimed to have caught a piranha while fishing Radnor Park in Kent.
On the face of it, there doesn’t appear to be much of an issue. Should a piranha, with all its over-inflated Hollywood-fuelled reputation for menace in tow, be caught thousands of miles from its Amazon home
in a lake somewhere in Folkestone, I can see the news value. If it were true, it would deserve its place as lead story on page 11 in Britain’s best-selling newspaper. The trouble is, it wasn’t. Remotely.
Let’s start with the ‘piranha’, that fearsome creature which, to quote the story, ‘can strip the flesh of a human in seconds’. This will be the same ‘piranha’ that was actually a red-bellied pacu, a fish that’s completely harmless, unless you happen to be a piece of fruit, that is.
And what of the rest of this tall tale of fiction? What about the quotes attributed to the angler, Derek Plum?
“It dragged my line about 500 yards,” he alleged. On a lake no bigger than 100 yards by 80 yards? Unless the thing was on steroids and did five laps, the figures don’t add up.
“It took me about 15 minutes to reel it in,” he added. At 1lb 4oz? What was on his reel? Cotton?
“When it emerged it was thrashing around and going crazy,” he continued. This a fish that normally lives in water temperatures of 27ºC to 30ºC and can’t, according to those who know, survive in the cold waters of a pond in Kent.
The Sun even wheeled out an ‘expert’ to validate this work of fiction. It would be unfair to name names, but the Angler’s Mail journalist in question needs a crash course in fish identification if he thinks a pacu is a piranha. I can almost feel the warmth of his embarrassment from here.
There is, of course, a wider point at issue here. National newspapers – and The Sun is by no means alone – have a sickeningly patronising view of fishing, only reporting on the outlandish, the crazy and the freakish elements of the sport. Ordinarily fishing is too dull to be newsworthy, occasionally appearing on the radar when it ticks certain boxes like fear, wackiness or unbelievable size.
I’m not naïve. I know all of that. But when papers like The Sun print this nonsense, it is taken as fact. Just like the way it reported the recent death of Heather the Leather, claiming it had been caught more than 1,000 times rather than the 40 to 60 that is reality, the unquestioning masses have no reason to doubt what they read.
And not only is that irresponsible, it’s dangerous too. We have enough battles to fight without the national press misrepresenting us so flagrantly.
Angling’s millions surely deserve better – and until they get it I’d suggest they look elsewhere for their daily fix of news.