Many thanks for your response.
While I accept that PCC rules mean I have no right to take this further, I have to say I am extremely disappointed with the decision. Essentially the PCC has said it is acceptable for newspapers to publish lies, provided they support the views of the columnist. And that is what Richard Littlejohn did in the column in question – he lied to his readers. To try and claim that he was making an ”amplified statement for rhetorical effect” to make a point about the state not helping people “who do the right thing” is absurd. He lied about the benefits on offer to immigrants and asylum seekers in a story about the plight of a homeless soldier, even though the two cases are entirely separate. This was not a “rhetorical device” in any recognised definition of the term. It was a naked attempt to blame foreigners for the lack of available council housing.
I’m also deeply suspicious of your claim that “readers would be aware that the columnist was not accurately reflecting the government’s policy on the housing of immigrants”. The Mail’s website also contains a news story about Lance Corporal Lance Corporal Craig Baker, the soldier at the centre of this issue. Comments from readers underneath the story include the following:
“He should just have told that council he was an illegal immigrant from Afghanistan....And he would have been housed immediately!!”
“expect no better from Bracknell Forest Council, because they are fast-tracking immigrants to the head of the housing queue ... just the same as all councils throughout Britain are daily doing”
“He should go back to Aghanistan, throw away his British passport and come back as a 'refugee'. Apartment in Mayfair awaits him.”
“Single mothers come on top of the list dont they plus foreigners”
“criag ,you should have lobbed your passport on the way back from afghanistan you would have gone way up the list”
“Why is it that the UK gives housing, benefits and anything else that migrants want.”
“Throw your passport away,make out you can't talk understand English. Answer?, the life of riley!!!!!!!!!!!1”
All of these comments have received hundreds of “positive” ratings from fellow Daily Mail readers, which rather suggests that they ARE NOT aware of the finer points of the government’s policy on the housing of immigrants. What evidence does the PCC have to support its view?
Had Littlejohn compared the soldier’s situation with, for example, a convicted criminal who had been released from prison and promptly housed in local authority accommodation than he may have had some grounds to claim that he was making a point about people who “do the right thing” losing out. But he didn’t. He chose to make something up entirely. To lie. And with this ruling the PCC has said such conduct is perfectly acceptable.
I had very little faith in the PCC’s ability to hold the media to account before this episode. Now I have none. The organisation proudly boasts of its rapid response to the shocking inaccuracy that led to one organisation being called “the first specialist thumb-sucking clinic in London” when in fact it was the second. But it is happy to give the seal of approval to a newspaper that publishes lies in order to whip up racial tensions.
I shall be sending copies of all our correspondence to my MP, along with a request for him to raise the issue of media self-regulation with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.