leveson

Lies, damn lies and the Mail on Sunday

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The other weekend, that paragon of middle class values the Mail on Sunday decided to continue its sister daily’s campaign to divide every substance and contrivance in the world into a cause of or cure for cancer.

That day’s target: wind turbines. The Mail hates them and the middle classes fear having one in view of the stately home they dream they will one day own. The MoS got that useless idiot James Delingpole to quickly run off a factual-sounding piece of crap straight from the top of his own head, announcing the dangers to life and limb that living really near a wind turbine are bound to cause, despite the total lack of evidence (that’s never stopped Delingpole before, of course).

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What the story needed to really terrify the suburban masses over their lattes was a nice big picture of a huge wind turbine blotting the landscape. Here the MoS hit a snag: there aren’t any. But just like the Mail never lets the facts get in the way of a good scare story, they also don’t let the lack of a picture get in the way of printing a picture.

Some poor lowly art editor was drafted in to take an innocuous agency photo of a turbine and make it dark and broody and scary and cancerous. And then, for the online version, badly comp in a second turbine, presumably to double the fear and loathing and make readers clutch their pearls/BMWs/ponies all the more tightly as they fear the War of the Worlds-style march of the turbines over the horizon and into their very front gardens.

The problem with this is that the UK newspaper industry’s own code of practice says that it’s wrong. It must not be done. It is lying to readers and faking news. Do not do it, the code directs. Long story short: that’s why we’ve just had the big Leveson inquiry and why we might now be getting some real regulation in future (although I suspect that we won’t). So I complained to the Press Complaints Commission.

The last time this happened was a few years ago, when the Daily Mail wanted to bash the BBC but for once couldn’t find a target. They settled on the old “Question Time is biased” crap, proving their point by printing the QT’s audience handout… badly photoshopped to change the whole tone and direction. I complained to the PCC and the Mail removed the image but left the story in place (thus making the story make no sense) online, although the damage was mostly done in print. The PCC, in those pre-Leveson days, saw itself as a defender of newspapers against their readers and turned down my complaint out of hand: the Mail, they said, had printed the image in error so the case was closed. As I pointed out in my reply, the Mail took a document, paid somebody to crudely alter it, paid someone else to write a false story based on the forgery, then printed both together. All. By. Mistake. Yeah.

This time, post-Leveson, the PCC have been a bit more on my side than the Mail’s. But only just. They have actually investigated the matter, the Mail have denied the charge but apologised weakly for using the image, and the PCC would now like me to accept the non-apology apology and move on. The other choice, they darkly hint, is for it to be stalemate and for the useless ‘clarification’ not to appear at all. Heads the Mail wins, tails I lose. Nice.

So, the next time you pick up a newspaper and see them making a big point, as they’re all doing, that regulation as it stands works and anything else is just censorship, remember that they’re lying to you. Also, the next time you pick up a newspaper, please don’t let it be the Mail.

With thanks to Jude Gibbons and David Trussler.

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The chocolate fireguard

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When the above headline appeared on the front page of the Sun yesterday, I contacted the Press Complaints Commission.

Today they replied, dismissing my complaint out of hand. This is why the Leveson Inquiry is bound to recommend they are abolished forthwith – they almost always do this (the exception being when complaints are levelled against smaller newspaper groups like the Independent and the Grauniad)

Here’s what I said:

The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability. 

Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story. 

Cruelly mocking a man for his speech impediment and thu s mocking everybody with a speech impediment is a material breech of the Code. I don’t speak for the man himself, but I do speak for others with problems speaking. This headline and the general mocking tone of the coverage will lead to more bullying, more shame and more embarrassment. 

The chocolate fireguard replied:

Thank you for writing to us to express concern regarding The Sun’s recent coverage of Roy Hodgson. The PCC has received over 1,500 complaints on this subject.

We contacted the Football Association yesterday to discuss how Mr Hodgson might like to respond and whether he wished to register a formal complaint with the PCC. The Football Association later released this statement on Mr Hodgson’s behalf:

FA STATEMENT

The FA and Press Complaints Commission have today received a large number of objections relating to the front page headline in The Sun newspaper, regarding Roy Hodgson’s manner of speech.  On this occasion, we will not be making an official complaint to the PCC but we have raised it with the newspaper and made it clear that their front page is unacceptable to us.

With regard to the above, FA Chairman David Bernstein said:  “We are delighted at the media response to Roy’s appointment but are disappointed with the headline in The Sun, which we consider is in poor taste and disrespectful.”

Given the nature of the story and the fact that Mr Hodgson has made clear he does not wish to make a formal complaint, it appears that it would be difficult for the Commission to investigate this matter; we would in any case require Mr Hodgson’s consent for the publication of the outcome of any Commission investigation (for example, an apology or adjudication) to avoid intruding into his privacy.

If you believe that there are nonetheless exceptional public interest reasons for the Commission to formally investigate this matter without Mr Hodgson’s involvement, we would be grateful to hear from you in the next ten days. The Commission will then be asked whether it wishes to take the complaint forward in these circumstances.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you need further advice.

With best wishes

Yours sincerely

Simon Yip

Of course, I have replied forthwith. The PCC only ever reply just before they shut for the day, giving them a good 24 hours to delay matters consider things carefully:

Dear Simon

Thank you for the response I expected from the PCC.

If you could now refer back to my original complaint, you will find it is about the Sun’s incitement to bully 4.5 million British people who have speech impediments rather than about Mr Hodgson (a man who dare not in his position take on that newspaper, as the PCC is clearly aware given recent events), I would be grateful if the Commission could fully investigate this matter rather than dismiss it out of hand. 

Clearly Clause 12 has been broken. The last time that happened (the Clare Balding/Adrian Gill case), the PCC censured the newspaper concerned exactly because of the bullying and shame such prejudiced language causes.

I expect the PCC to do the same this time. I don’t expect that it will make any difference, but nevertheless it’s about time that the PCC stood up to the press before Lord Justice Leveson inevitably recommends you be abolished for continually failing to do so.

And I wrote to Sir Brian Leveson too:

The inquiry has now moved on, but I still thought it worth asking if Sir Brian would be interested in the recent headline in the Sun newspaper which took the opportunity to mock 4.5 million British people with speech impediments and incite others to bully and shame them.

The Press Complaints Commission have reject the complaint, despite of the clear breach of Clause 12 of the Code, because Mr Hodgson is unwilling to make a complaint himself – someone in his position not being able to afford to make an enemy of News International.

This leaves 4,499,999 other people in the United Kingdom without a right of reply and allows the newspapers to get away with naked prejudice against a minority – something Lord Justice Leveson has expressed an interest in earlier in his inquiry.

It won’t make the slightest fucking difference – the chance we had to stop such appalling behaviour has gone past, thanks mainly to Louise Mensch doing a (frankly excellent) rearguard action job to protect News International for reasons that must forever remain her own.

Ah well.