Monday, 7 February 2011

Stable v Littlejohn (part two in an ongoing series)

With a huge, huge hat-tip to Tabloid Watch for doing all the heavy lifting (go there now, read the blog, be amazed, go back tomorrow and be amazed again), this afternoon I pinged off another complaint about Richard Littlejohn to the PCC.

Last time I flagged up a made-up fact in a Littlejohn column the PCC excused him, apparetnly on the basis that he talks so much shit that everyone would know he was just joking about Afghan asylum seekers getting priority for council houses. This time he's based an entire section of his column around something that is simply not true. There's no question that this is a rhetorical device, he's just talking out of his arse.

I've decided that from now on I'm going to go down the PCC route every time Littlejohn lies in one of his columns - not every time I disagree with his view, but every time he publishes something that is simply made up and has no basis in truth.

It may never come to anything. The PCC may continue to claim that Littlejohn is entitled to make stuff up as he's a columnist. But I'm hoping that if I can generate enough paperwork for someone at Associated Newspapers, Littlejohn's bosses may finally get tired and ask him to start basing his columns on something other than his vivid imagination. I shan't be holding my breath, mind...

Here's what I sent to the PCC:

In his column last Friday, Richard Littlejohn criticised the Chief Constable of Suffolk for flying a gay pride flag outside his force's HQ building. The column included the following:

"No one would mind that much, I imagine, if Chief Constable Ash didn’t also ban the flying of the Union Flag outside ‘his’ police stations — presumably on the grounds that it’s ‘racist’. He is a sworn servant of the Crown, who has pledged allegiance to the monarch. Yet he refuses to fly the Union Flag even on the Queen’s birthday — or any other special occasion, for that matter."
This is demonstrably untrue. As a Suffolk police spokeswoman stated during an Anglia TV bulletin last week:

"This is not accurate. Both flags are flown from our headquarters."
You can view the clip online here:

Further, the Suffolk Constabulary Policies & Procedures policyon the Use and Maintenance of Police Buildings reads:

"11.1 Police Headquarters and other stations with facilities for raising flags will fly the Union Flag on the following dates and on any special occasion notified: 6 February Accession of Her Majesty The Queen;19 February Birthday of Prince Andrew;10 March Birthday of Prince Edward; 21 April Birthday of Her Majesty The Queen; 23 April St George's Day"
And, as reported on the TabloidWatch blog, one individual who contacted Suffolk police about the "ban" on the Union Flag was told:

"...we would like to clarify that Suffolk Police, like every other force in England and Wales, does hoist the Union and St George Cross flags on appropriate days of the year. On other days, the force flag flies outside police stations and at force headquarters, but it is at the Chief Constable’s discretion as to when and if other flags are hoisted. There has never been any ban on flying the Union Flag on Suffolk Constabulary buildings as has been reported."
Littlejohn's claim that the Chief Constable had "banned" the flying of the Union Flag had no basis in truth, and is therefore a breach of sections 1(1) and 1(3) of the Editor's Code:

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Although Littlejohn's overall column was a piece of comment, the inaccurate and misleading claim regarding the alleged "ban" on flying flags was clearly presented as a fact.


Anonymous said...

Very nicely put. I really cannot see how the PCC could have any argument with your letter.

Unknown said...

Yet I suspect you're right - the excuse will be 'he's a commentator, not a reporter'.

Maybe if masses complained. Every time. But that would require having to read Littlejohn at source, and I'm not sure many would be up for that...

Knuckles said...

Good luck! Maybe this one will get somewhere.