Sun Stupidity Watch: No, Faslane was never censored

You’d think that the UK’s The Sun would have crawled under a rock from embarrassment after its cringeworthy article announcing the discovery of Atlantis two weeks back. Not so. It is back for more abuse, with an “exclusive” that reveals: Brit nuclear HQ on Google Earth


(But first, notice how the Atlantis story still gets prominent coverage as a related story. That’s because The Sun does not believe in corrections.)

So what’s the news, exactly? The most recent imagery update has finally added some high resolution tiles to Scotland, including of the UK’s main nuclear submarine base. Google Earth doesn’t tell us by default, but a quick perusal through the DigitalGlobe default layer shows that the imagery in question was taken on March 13, 2003 (compare the cloud pattern near the base).

That means that the imagery has been available to the public for purchase from the DigitalGlobe store for about 5 years now.

Fortunately there is a website, The Sun – Tabloid Lies, that documents the The Sun’s antics, and it contains a very good fisking of this article. That frees me to focus on the remaining errors.

For example, The Sun writes:

Two years ago the Government demanded Google blot out British bases in Iraq after a terrorist held in Basra was found with a Google Earth map of the Shatt Al-Arab base — home to 1,000 soldiers.

It also agreed to fuzz out the Trident base, the highly-sensitive GCHQ eavesdropping centre in Cheltenham, Gloucs, and the SAS training camp.

But following updates to the Google Earth programme, the locations are visible again.

The first sentence isn’t technically correct: Older pre-war imagery replaced post-war imagery. The second sentence is pure fiction. Those areas merely happened to be in low resolution on Google Earth at the time. The Trident base at Faslane, for example, straddled the edge of a high resolution DigitalGlobe tile back in 2007:


Newspaper reporters then (and now) did not have the competence to realize that low-resolution imagery does not equal censorship. Google Earth was (and is) full of low-resolution 15-meter imagery. It’s the default. As for The Sun’s last sentence above, the “again” at the end of it is thus entirely incorrect.

What’s a pity is that at the time, nobody (this blog excepted) corrected the media’s inaccurate claims about Faslane, Cheltenham and Hereford being censored. As a result, it is now the received wisdom that they were, and it is parroted credulously as the truth by sites such as The Register.

(The Register parrots much else besides, such as The Sun’s claim the the UK military top brass are “said to be furious” at the update, probably a claim made by the exactly one “shaken” (not stirred) unnamed military “expert” The Sun managed to talk to.)

The next installment of wholly justified Sun-bashing on this blog will likely be very soon, when the paper feigns horror at the UK release of Street View. Stay tuned!

10 thoughts on “Sun Stupidity Watch: No, Faslane was never censored”

  1. I enjoy your blog, but I think your pedantic spin on both Sun stories are totally unnecessary.

  2. Pedantry is a virtue, not a vice:-)

    I’ll agree I’m pedantic, but disagree that it is uncalled for. The Sun has millions of unwitting loyal readers, and the swill that the Sun feeds them affects public opinion in the UK.

  3. Nice post, it is a shame most Sun readers take everything written in the newspaper as gospel. I’m no fan of Google but totally unfounded stories like these don’t help anyone, now if they ever start reporting on the true problems with Google the professional community will totally ignore them, I don’t think Google itself will mind this story, in fact I’m sure their PR department is salivating right now.

  4. At this point Steffan I think is better not to place links to TS. You are – in a small way – helping their business. Although it’s important to unmask a bad “Newspaper”.

  5. The Sun also has many readers in the armed forces – page 3 litters many a squaddie wall, or so I’m told.

    Polarization of factual truth is therefore not surprising.

  6. I can understand that explanation, but how about something like a county dam in a small town in South Carolina. this doesn’t seem to be a case of just an old map.

    81º 0’27.46″W 35º 1’13.36″N

  7. Hi, could u tell me what’s on

    20º25′ N 136º04′ E ??????????????????????????????

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