Monday 6 December 2010

A letter to the PCC

So you may have guessed that I wasn't too thrilled with the PCC's outright rejection of my complaint about Richard Littlejohn. Based on comments on the blog and on Twitter (not to mention the traffic figures for Primly Stable going through the roof - thanks for your support, everyone!), I wasn't the only person out there who was displeased. So this morning I replied to the PCC case officer. I'm not expecting to hear anything back, but what the hey...

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.


Press Not Sorry said...

A superb response to a decision that clearly displays the ineffectiveness of the PCC. It will be interesting to see if you get a response.

P. Stable said...

It's the readers' comments thing that really bugs me. The PCC says "readers don't think X" but the readers own comments show that they do.

I'd love to know how the PCC came to the opposite conclusion.

Sonya Thomas said...

Well done. The PCC's stance is staggering. It almost makes you want to give up but of course, we can't let the likes of Mail and Littlejohn get away with it.

Anonymous said...

"Essentially the PCC has said it is acceptable for newspapers to publish lies, provided they support the views of the columnist."

Errm. Why would a columnist knowingly lie if it were not supportive to their views or arguments?

More to the point, on this basis, what circumstances are necessary for lying to not be okay, other than when an attack is made on a named individual with the money to pursue legal action who does so?

Louiseghawkins said...

Eloquently put!

Robbert said...

Fantastic letter. Including the reader comments was a particulalrly great move, I think. I sincerely hope the PCC will now see itself to do soem backtracking on the matter, and if not, I shall he very much looking forward to the post that contains your MP's reply.

Robbert said...

Oh, and apologies for the ludicrous amount of typos in my previous comment. :)

Jon_S said...

Great letter - hope you get somewhere with it. I think you've exposed just how silly the idea of self-regulation is in this context.

Anonymous said...

Like your colleague at Tabloid Watch, you are missing the point entirely. One of the comments you complained about was

"Why is it that the UK gives housing, benefits and anything else that migrants want.”

It is absurd to blame the media for the attitude visible here. The whole point is that the UK does give benefits and housing to immigrants, and in some circumstances to asylum seekers. The main reason for immigrants being treated in this way is that EU law would forbid any discrimination of EU citizens in this respect. However there are many people who would simply prefer that housing and benefits were for white British people. In fact they would prefer that the whole country was returned, as Nick Griffin put it, to the way it was in the late 1940's.

There is an enormous gap between the preferences of this section of the population, and the reality of Britain in 2010 as an EU member state. The same phenomenon is visible in other countries. That's what drives the frustration and anger - which would be translated into electoral success for a right-wing party, if not for the UK electoral system.

At most, the media simply reflect these issues. They do not cause them in any way. Tabloids publish anti-immigrant stories, and hire xenophobic columnists, because their readers want to read that content. (Same goes for Islam, they don't make people hate Muslims, that was there already).

The dissonance between your target here (a columnist) and the actual political issue, is very great. The issue is, in simple terms, that some people simply don't accept that the government should help foreigners in any way, or indeed that they have any right to be in the country. Nothing is done to address this dissonance, so it will continue to exist. The tabloids are only playing to this frustrated gallery.

P. Stable said...

"At most, the media simply reflect these issues. They do not cause them in any way. Tabloids publish anti-immigrant stories, and hire xenophobic columnists, because their readers want to read that content. (Same goes for Islam, they don't make people hate Muslims, that was there already)."

I think you're half right. The Mail and its ilk sell truckloads of copies because they tell their readers what they want to hear.

However, I don't agree that they have no role in furthering anti-immigrant feeling. Publishing false information (such as Littlejohn's claim that any Afghan jumping off the back of a lorry in Dover goes straight to the top of the list for a housing list) reinforces existing sentiments and provides people with an evidence base.

The BNP have made great gains by talking less about foreigners being evil and more about the political mainstream treating them better than the "indigenous" population.

These claims are based on false information, but go and talk to people in places like Dagenham and you repeatedly hear people parroting what they read in the paper - "I'm not racist, but why do why do immigrants go to the top of the housing queue / why is the council banning Christmas to avoid upsetting Muslims / etc etc etc".

You see the same tabloid myths repeated over and over again. If someone doesn't like Muslims, or foreigners, or immigration or whatever then fine, that's their prerogative. It's a free country.

But, just as with the debate about whether we should be in the EU, we can only have a sensible, grown-up debate about such issues if it's based on facts. And facts about immigration are in short supply in the tabloid media.

BTW, I didn't "complain" about any of the comments, I merely pointed out that they contradicted the PCC's view that most readers would appreciate that Afghans arriving in Dover don't receive priority council housing ahead of former soldiers.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou for taking the time to challenge the PCC. Will you post when (if) they bother to respond? I'd like to see how they address the direct points you've raised. I've considered reporting Littlejohn or Slack to the police for incitement to racial hatred, bypassing the PCC entirely (I posted about this recently). I'm still borderline on this and will see how things develop.

The Living Dad said...

Well said, Primly. The PCC is a self-serving sham. The media clearly cannot be trusted to regulate itself. It's time for the PCC to be wound up and a little honesty and objectivity brought into the process.