13 June 2006

Nazis and the iPod

While the Mail on Sunday don't seem to have got around to allowing their articles to be available online yet (no surprise there, it is after all only 2006), we non-paper-readers are left picking up the gist of their full-blown assault on Apple from other news sources (this link from MacWorld)

As I understand it, the Mail on Sunday has accused Apple of using essentially slave labour to make it's iPods and possibly some of it's computers. Now this is a serious claim and deserving of our attention if true. But I have grave doubts about the story and reporting, especially coming from a newspaper that doesn't give a hoot about foreigners.

But before we cover this story as best we can, let's look at the Mail on Sunday/Daily Mail credentials a little. This may be particularly appropriate for our international readership who may not know too much about this newspaper. I suggest you take a trip over to Wikipedia to see what is said about the Daily Mail. This link will take you straight into the part which talks about their support for Fascism and the Nazis in the 30's.

The wikipedia article will tell you a lot about this newspaper and it's raison d'ĂȘtre. However it doesn't tell you about how the Mail is more responsible than any other newspaper for the scandal of MMR vaccine reporting which has led to a massive increase in incidence of measles and mumps in this country. It strongly supported the discredited Andrew Wakefield. Just try searching Google for "Daily Mail Andrew Wakefield MMR". Indeed, the Mail is perhaps the worst reporter of science in the country. Just stop by Ben Goldacre's Bad Science column for more evidence to back that up. Or, perhaps take a look at some criticisms levelled at the Mail by another of my favourite journalists - David Aaronovitch on his blog.

The Daily Mail and it's sister Mail on Sunday are truly atrocious publications that bring out the worst sort of behaviour in our population - fear of change, fear of crime, fear of immigration, fear of.... If they had their way, we wouldn't of course have iPods. There'd be a few of the landed gentry here listening to gramophone records played at 78rpm, perhaps with some German opera - certainly no rock and roll - placed on the player by the servant, who of course would also change the side for his master. The gramophone player would have been made by fine craftsmen at the Rolls-Royce-Amstrad factory (non-unionised of course), costing £2,000 17 shillings and sixpence, and of which less than 1,000 had been made, three for export. The factory was of course designed in classical style by Prince Charles. The rest of us would probably be down the old pub having a knees up while some cockney plays the Joanna (piano), spending some of our hard-earned £27 a month. Oops sorry, mixing up my stories and imagination here.

The problem I have with this story is not that it isn't true. I don't know enough to say one way or another. It's that it picks on one company's products being made by one Chinese company. As I understand it, that same company produces many other well-known devices for other hardware manufacturers including Sony PlayStations and PSP's, Dell, HP and IBM (just Google for Foxconn and some other names too if you doubt). Now, I would agree that there is a relevant story against Apple if somehow only Foxconn factories making Apple gear are the baddies and that other Foxconn factories are models in treating workers right. But we don't know that - the journalists couldn't be bothered to cover that. Nor could they be bothered putting the salaries and conditions in the context of the country they are covering. How does £27 (if that is indeed the figure - I've seen it vary between £27 and £100 and between 1 week and 1 month as the timeframe) work out in China? How are the conditions relative to other places? Maybe there is a story here about how our electronic goods are being produced in such situations. But it is a general one (and more serious because of that). It seems particularly perverse and ironic to pick on a company that for many years produced its computers in the US, Ireland and Singapore but has been constantly criticised (by the press particularly) about its high prices.

I have read in other discussion areas about Foxconn by people who have seen it first or second hand, and generally seem to have positive things to say about the company. One post referred to UN approval of their factories. I can't say, I don't know enough. But before I wrote an article attacking one of that company's clients, I think I'd do a bit more research.

Is the Mail on Sunday article going to do any good? Of course not. Will people search out a domestic MP3 player or make sure it's produced under Western conditions? Of course they won't. If they desert the iPod because of such writing, it will probably be only to buy even cheaper crap made by someone else in a worse sweatshop. There may well be a story here, as there was with Nike shoes some years ago, but this is not it. If I were Apple I would be quite mad about being picked on in this way. But, as always, the nazi-loving, jew-hating Forger's Journal, er, sorry, Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday wouldn't want the truth to get in the way of a good story would it?

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Charles said...


Rather than being 'ad hominem', this is an example of 'ad publicationem'.

If the piece had been about, say, Creative Labs getting its digital players assembled in China for what appears to Western wallets to be a pittance, would you have railed against the Mail in the same way?

Did John Prescott complain that the picture of him didn't count, because it was published in the MoS?

All that really matters is whether the facts of the story are right, and whether anything material has been left out. The history of the Mail, while diverting, and helpful to understand some of its agendas, doesn't mean anything here. Were Steve Jobs Jewish (he's very much not) you might have the beginnings of a point.

But as it is, it's a case of shooting the messenger.

Ian Hobson said...

Thanks for stopping by Charles. My delay in moderating this comment was entirely down to me being away for a few days devoid of the internet. So apologies for that.

It's always interesting to me to see how journalists will support each other when it comes to "the story", no matter what side of the fence they sit.

My attempt here at a somewhat humourous ridicule of the Mail (and brethren) has also fallen flat I guess. Perhaps I shouldn't have tried to use this particular situation to do so? I was also trying to cover multiple audiences (US for instance) that don't understand what/who the Mail is. Not a good idea. That being said, perhaps I can re-state my views more specifically:

1. The Mail, Mail on Sunday, and other Associated Newspaper rags have done more than any other media organisation to hold the UK back in thinking positively about the UK's future in the World. I detest it for that.
2. The Mail... has a history of extreme right wing thinking going back to the 20's and 30's as I noted. Such thinking wasn't seen as bad at the time because people weren't critical enough of it. I still think they are not critical enough of that newspaper today (with a few honourable exceptions such as Aaronovitch and Goldacre).
3. The Daily Mail's nickname among many people in this country is "Daily Hate". It is a master of focusing on the anecdote to brand generally with sometimes dire consquences (eg MMR).
4. The Mail even has a history of forgery as I pointed out also.

So, I hate the Daily Hate (ironic I guess). I distrust anything I read in it, and that is what I urge anyone reading this blog to do.

As for the particular story I was focusing on. As I said earlier, perhaps I did not choose a good one to make my points above. I thought it was slightly interesting in the Mail campaigning on behalf of Chinese workers' rights when I can not think of an incident in which it has done the same for UK workers!

But I disagree with your point about Creative. I said in my original posting that "There may well be a story here, as there was with Nike shoes some years ago". I would be disgusted with Apple if it was pushing the absolute limits of workers rights in that country directly or through its suppliers. However, I seriously doubt this is the case. I strongly suspect that Apple is no worse (and hopefully better) than its major competitors. Perhaps we may have to wait for more information and their own inquiry to finish (should you believe it). Do you for instance honestly think that Apple's Foxconn facilities are run worse than those the same company uses to supply Dell, HP etc? If Apple's facilities are dire, and Creative's are a pinnacle of treating workers well then that is indeed a story. Otherwise the story is about poor workers rights in China. Does that get headlines? A far more reasoned article from the BBC on a similar topic doesn't achieve anything. But that is no reason to slander a single company to the benefit of its equally/more guilty competitors.

As for John Prescott and the Mail, I'm not sure I've ever commented on this here. For the record, I am not a fan of Prescott at all thinking of him as somewhat of an incompetent imbecile. But I think David Aaronovitch's article neatly points out the Mail's failings on that particular story.

I'm sure you are not a fan of the Mail, and I wish I'd kept my disgust of the publication for something more worthy. After all, Apple can handle their own publicity. But I honestly think that the Mail's treatment of Apple here was along the lines of "iPods make you deaf", "iPod users Mugged" etc etc. It was a headline trading off a name to make a point. I will stand corrected if Apple turns out to be a villain, and I will personally hold off purchasing Apple products until I am convinced they have rectified these problems. But in the meantime, I suspect there are the slightly less visible hardware companies who are thinking "Phew, that was a close one, glad it was them, not me". There may be a few others who are especially pleased that the story they planted got so much publicity!