Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Conflict Between the PCC & Free Speech

Oh dear. My short post about the PCC and Jan Moir seems to have been rather misunderstood by most of those commenting.

Jan Moir had an absolute right to write what she did. If you believe in freedom of speech you have to accept that there will be times when people write disgustingly inappropriate things. Everyone has a right to offend. I do it quite often on this blog.

You can spot the 'however' which is coming, though, can't you?

If something like the PCC exists, and it has a code of conduct which specifically rules out its member papers from carrying articles likely to be interpreted as homophobic, then no one should be surprised when people complain about articles like Moir's. As in the case I brought against the Mail, the PCC found in their favour* despite it being obvious to most people in the newspaper industry that at least one clause of the PCC Code of Conduct had clearly been breached. In my case, two current newspaper editors told me they thought the PCC had made the wrong decision.

All of which begs this question. If the PCC wimps out of finding against one of its members who have so clearly breached their code of conduct, what is the point of having such a code of conduct, or indeed a PCC at all?

* Mail editor Paul Dacre is, coincidentally, chairman of the PCC's code of practice committee.

31 comments:

Nayan said...

The problem lies in the code of conduct then. Having a rule that puts one group of people above another is not right and should be abolished. Positive discrimination is still discrimination and if you are really a Tory Iain you should be against any form of discrimination and for a merit based society.

Protecting one minority group creates a lot of tension amongst people who aren't in those groups. It should be discouraged as it creates massive inequality, I as an Indian descent man will more likely get a job in IT or finance than someone else without my skin colour even though I may be less qualified. That's not right. As was reported recently students from private schools are now being discriminated against all in the name of equality.

Sorry for long-winded post but I feel very strongly about this subject. Anyway, I hope you can change your mind about this because being a conservative and supporting any type of discrimination is in direct conflict.

James D said...

I feel like an utter pedant for writing this, but you did just grate your fingernails down a blackboard. From the Grauniad Style Guide:

begs the question is best avoided as it is almost invariably misused: it means assuming a proposition that, in reality, involves the conclusion. An example would be to say that parallel lines will never meet, because they are parallel, assuming as a fact the thing you are professing to prove. What it does not mean is "raises the question", and if you can substitute this phrase, it has been used wrongly

Martin Wellbourne said...

Two currents newspaper editors, eh. Guardian and Independant?

albertmbankment said...

I think that the Mail would have been just as nauseatingly prurient about a heterosexual who had died in analogous circumstances. There was nothing overtly homophobic in what the woman wrote.

Moriarty said...

"....likely to be interpreted as homophobic".

Likely by whom?

Mark Reckons said...

I made a similar point this morning Iain. What exactly is the point of the PCC?

Oliver Drew said...

Now, if the PCC is to be properly independent, how can the editor of a daily newspaper be the chairman without having something of a conflict of interest?

I'm not suggesting that they (the PCC) have done anything "dodgy" in this or any particular instance. It would however remove any potential cause for criticism if they were totally independent of the media they are supposed to be monitoring.

PCC said...

Ian,

All Editors agree and abide by newspaper and periodical industry’s Code of Practice. The full, considered and detailed adjudication on Jan Moir’s article is here:

http://www.pcc.org.uk/news/index.html?article=NjIyOA==

It is not correct to state that Paul Dacre is Chairman of the PCC. Baroness Peta Buscombe is Chairman of the PCC.

Paul Dacre is Chairman of the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee (http://www.editorscode.org.uk/) which is a separate body and operates independently of the PCC. The Editors’ Code Committee writes the newspaper and periodical industry’s Code of Practice and the PCC independently enforces it; following the normal practice in self-regulation that industry contributes to, and co-operates with, the regulatory system.

PCC said...

Ian,

All Editors agree and abide by newspaper and periodical industry’s Code of Practice. The full, considered and detailed adjudication on Jan Moir’s article is here:

http://www.pcc.org.uk/news/index.html?article=NjIyOA==

It is not correct to state that Paul Dacre is Chairman of the PCC. Baroness Peta Buscombe is chairman of the PCC.

Paul Dacre is Chairman of the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee (http://www.editorscode.org.uk/) which is a separate body and operates independently of the PCC.

The Editors’ Code Committee writes the newspaper and periodical industry’s Code of Practice and the PCC independently enforces it; following the normal practice in self-regulation that industry contributes to, and co-operates with, the regulatory system.

Newmania said...

likely to be interpreted as homophobic,

By ultra sensitive friends of Dorothy maybe . Do you seriously think if, say ,David Beckham had died in similiar circumstances his corpse would not have been dragged through the mud ?
Do you know what the best way to avoid having your lifestyle traduced is Iain. Living a decent life.

Jess The Dog said...

Just because it is legal doesn't mean it is acceptable, and the public outrage is evidence enough. Should shut up Jan Moir for a while.

The Boiling Frog said...

likely to be interpreted as homophobic

Interpreted by whom? Using that word means we're getting onto dodgy censorship territory.

I particularly like your first sentence;
Oh dear. My short post about the PCC and Jan Moir seems to have been rather misunderstood by most of those commenting.

That appears to have been written in the spirit of; 'oops lots of my readers don't agree with me so it must be they who have not understood', as opposed to the fact they may actually be right.

Personally I agree with LFAT on the previous post that the PCC made the right decision, despite Jan Moir's article being ill-judged at best.

PCC said...

I'm afraid it is still incorrect after amendment. To state "Mail editor Paul Dacre is, coincidentally, chairman of the PCC's code of practice committee" is still not correct.

As mentioned previously Paul Dacre is Chairman of the EDITORS' Code of Practice Committee (http://www.editorscode.org.uk/) which is a SEPARATE body and operates INDEPENDENTLY of the PCC.

The Editors’ Code Committee writes the newspaper and periodical industry’s Code of Practice and the PCC INDEPENDENTLY enforces it; following the normal practice in self-regulation that industry contributes to, and co-operates with, the regulatory system.

Jimmy said...

There is no point. The Daily Hitler exists in order to publish poison for consumption by morons. If you really find it objectionable then the only way to make your protest count is to boycott it and its advertisers. If however you are only selectively outraged by its various prejudices then I don't know what to suggest.

hesspartacus said...

So really what we have in the PCC is a peculiarly British fudge, where the case gets lots of publicity, the offending writer is flayed publicly and has an uncomfortable time, the PCC talks about it over lunch, has a chat with the editor, slaps his wrist, and the right to free speech is upheld.

None of which stops Paul Dacre and Jan Moir being thoroughly objectionable individuals, and the public knowing it.

I'm pretty comfortable with that.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

The story was ill considered. A young man died.

But to see the gays jumping up and down screaming "homophobia" devalues the word. It now seems to be aimed at anybody who criticizes gays, in any way.

There is a certain type of homosexual who glories in the worst kind of perversions, including some of the high profile activists who are criticizing the PCC. A lot of people are ok with what goes on in private, but would rather not have it thrown in their faces. That it all. When someone writes "the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy" they are writing in the context of a hysterical outpouring of second-hand grief, not only about someone who is gay, but about someone who is, whether he wanted it or not, a public figure who was instantly made out to be some kind of hero.

This poor young man died while his "civil partner" was having sex with a rent boy. If you can pretend that is not seedy, you are living in la la land, and had this been a heterosexual story, most people would have condemned it as such.

Dave said...

Of course it was homophobic. If a heterosexual had died, no one would be questioning the validity of heterosexual marriage or the horrors of a heterosexual lifestyle. Yet Moir used Gately's death to throw civil partnerships and the supposed gay lifestyle into question.

Moriarty said...

"If however you are only selectively outraged by its various prejudices then I don't know what to suggest."

Well there's always another selection of prejudices available at the Guardian I suppose.

cherami said...

Sorry, Iaian, but for once I think you have got it totally and absolutely wrong.

The right to free speech trumps the right not to be offended every single time.

I really am becoming bored with and irritated by various minorities be they gay, trans-gendered, coloured or whatever drawing their skirts round their knees and demanding not to be offended.

It was an odious article. But the moral is, don't advertise in or buy the Daily Mail. And don't read it. No one is forcing you to.

Stephen said...

Iain

I believe you are absolutely right on this. Jan Moir wrote several things that were the opposite of the actual truth and for the PCC to reject this complaint beggars belief. It is no longer possible to have any confidence in the PCC.

I actually feel physically sick about this.

It was the invasiveness that was personally my biggest problem with it- it was the day before Gateley's funeral.

How can that be appropriate or decent even in anyone's book? The same freedom of speech rights apply equally to everyone who wants to voice their disgust.

John R said...

I think you have completely misunderstodd the role of the PCC. It really isnt there to decide what is decent or not, it's there to defend free speech and also to decide if the law was broken. In this case it was not, nothing in the article is "-ist" in any way. You may not like the article but that's another matter.

You do not have the right not to be offended.

jojoko said...

Free speech means free speech. It doesn't mean free speech hobbled by clauses and causes. John Terry is being dragged through the mud and it's not because he's homosexual. Stop being uber-sensitive and realise if you truly want to be an MP you can't demand special treatment and exemption when it comes to free speech. Free speech is exactly what it says it is. Free to offend is covered by the concept.

DespairingLiberal said...

You aren't the only one who questions the value of the PCC. It would be better to have fast-track libel laws with low-cost quick and easy litigation made available to most people and reasonable but not excessive awards of damages. Plus a list of things people can sue for, such as defamation of deceased relatives - I have never understood why it is considered OK to defame the dead when they have living relatives.

However, as we've mentioned before Iain, this would all be a little easier to accept from you and other Tories if you were a little more critical of the Harmsworth Lie Machine at other times when it pours vitriol on those you disaprove of. What is source for the goose.

Nigel said...

>>The Daily Hitler<<

Congratulations, Jimmy: you are Rush Limbaugh.

"I know we're not supposed to talk about Adolf Hitler but this administration is making it really, really tough to ignore some facts out there. ... [T]he "Big Lie" was an expression coined by Hitler. And the "Big Lie" is exactly what all of liberalism is. ... This is how the OSS described Hitler's psychology: "His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or a wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong" -- hello, George W. Bush and the Republicans," - Rush Limbaugh, comparing Obama's touting of the stimulus to a "Big Lie."

Curmudgeon said...

Surely the key point of the article was not that Stephen Gately was gay, but that he led a promiscuous, drug-fuelled lifestyle that contributed to his death. Men of 33 don't generally just die from "natural causes".

If a heterosexual man went out for a night's clubbing with his wife, brought another man home, then went to sleep on the sofa and died while the other man was in bed with his wife, should the tabloids abstain from comment?

And should they keep schtumm about Tiger Woods, John Terry and Ashley Cole?

Also the question must be asked how many gay civil partnerships are genuinely monogamous.

Stephen said...

Gateley wasn't promiscuous himself. He just smoked a bit of weed, like millions of other people, which did not contribute to his death.

He died, like his genetic forebears of the same genetic heart condition. That's the coroner's verdict.

Gateley was clearly singled out for special media treatment because he was gay. There are young straight celebrities recently who actually have died of overdoses but they haven't been rolled over in the gutter press the day before their funeral.


The lies included;
that his death was unnatural; that he couldn't hit a note in a barrel; that his death was linked to a suicide of another man just because the latter was gay as well; that their civil partnership was a myth ( i.e. made up)

I'm afraid I do now believe that the position of defending this article is so absurd and illogical when it was just a tissue of lies and slander that it's really just an excuse now for the homophobes to come out of their own closet.

Watching Kelvin Mckenzie defend the right of a journalist to traduce the dead reminded me of his own actions around Hillsborough and this is now Paul Dacre's Liverpool fans moment.

And by the way yes I'm gay, yes I'm livid, my own civil partnership is monogamous, it's the same for my friends and I'm sick of bigots making up bullshit about my life based on their own numbskull prejudices.

Freedom of speech may include the right to tell lies about dead people but identifying them as lies doesn't impact on the freedom of speech.

Indy said...

Newmania maybe thinks he is making a comedy point suggesting that if David Beckham died in the same way that Stephen Gately did that the media would have dragged hin thru the mud in the same way.

In reality however a suprisingly number of football players have died because they had the same condition that Stephen Gately had including some high profile players like Puerta and Daniel Jarque.

That is why UEFA brought in a rule that players have to be screened for congenital heart defects.

Interestingly no journalist decided to claim that there was a link between being a football player and having a congenital heart defect in the way that Jan Moir claimed that Stephen Gately's death was linked to the fact that he was gay.

Roger said...

today's Leading article in The Independent

A timely defence of press freedom

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Press Complaints Commission should be applauded, in spite of the criticism heaped on it yesterday, for not upholding a complaint about a notorious Daily Mail article criticising the lifestyle of the pop singer Stephen Gately.

The gay rights group Stonewall suggested there was now little point in people from minority groups complaining to the PCC, a nonsensical conclusion. It compared the self-regulation of the press to a banking system without auditors or a mining industry without rules on health and safety. Such comparisons are absurd. For the PCC to attack articles on the grounds of taste, punishing those which its members find disagreeable, would be a step in the direction of censorship. The language used by columnist Jan Moir may have provoked a record 25,000 complaints but it was her lawfully held opinion. The Crown Prosecution Service examined the article and found no case to answer.

Much of the criticism of the PCC is made by people who fail to understand its role. Far from being "toothless", it criticised Moir's journalism, saying it was "uncomfortable" with the tenor of the piece and attacked the newspaper's editorial judgment in publishing the article the day before the singer's funeral.

But for the watchdog to have ruled in favour of the complainant, Gately's partner Andrew Cowles, would have meant newspapers no longer being able to publish opinions on matters of public discussion. That would have been a far greater social evil than the views of a single columnist, unpalatable as some may have found them.

Many people who complained appeared to have done so merely because they were upset by the writer's comments. And in a digital age where people can express their dislike of articles published by papers which they do not buy, thousands did by protesting online about Moir's column via Facebook and Twitter. But the British press is wonderfully diverse and the Mail is but one of 10 national daily newspapers, each with readers who have the right to stop buying the product.

It has become fashionable to knock the PCC but in this instance the commission, its new chairman and director have demonstrated commendable courage.

Shamik said...

Ain't it great that they're allowed to regulate themselves, just like MPs were. And who complained the most about the MPs' expenses scandal? That's right, the Mail and the Sun.

At least we can kick out errant MPs; for low-life like Moir, it seems there is no sanction.

Apparently, columnists can lie all they want and get away with it; this case is more than about just her vile opinions, it's about lies upon lies, and the clear breach of the PCC guidelines.

Dr Kevin said...

sorry ian. strongly disagree with you on this one. what jan moir wrote was nasty. but as boiling frog blog puts it - it was her reputation she damaged - not stephen gately. freedom of speech is FAR more important than hurting somones feelings.

plus there was some VERY nasty bullying going on from Stephen Fry and his twitter followers which was every bit as nasty as anything jan moir said.

Roger said...

Comment is free – until the crowd makes Ofcom nervous

The PCC ruled that Jan Moir was free to say what she wanted about Stephen Gately, even though it was 'tasteless and offensive'. Ofcom's code says something very different

Peter Preston
The Observer, Sunday 21 February 2010

It's that old dividing line again: the difference between self-regulation (Press Complaints Commission) and statutory regulation (Ofcom). Twenty-five thousand instantly orchestrated protests, complaining about Jan Moir's Mail column on the death of Stephen Gately, pour into the PCC. The commission ponders, and decides that an apologetic Jan and her murkily confusing piece may have been "tasteless and offensive" – but that press freedom means it shouldn't deal in bad taste and offence. Columnists have a necessary right to sound off come what may. It's not for the chief constable of Cambridge, the professor of communications law at Queen Mary College, or the chairman of the Internet Watch Foundation (among others) to start blue-pencilling opinions, however grottily expressed. Comment is free, in print as online.

And Ofcom, in a parallel case? The same breed of great and good commissioners would have been deciding, of course, but they would have turned automatically to paragraph 2.3 of the broadcasting code. "Broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context (see meaning of "context" below). Such material may include, but is not limited to, offensive language, violence, sex, sexual violence, humiliation, distress, violation of human dignity, discriminatory treatment or language (for example on the grounds of … sexual orientation)." Oh! and "context" includes the size and composition of the audience.

So 25,000 angry letters, not to mention humiliation, distress and dignity, would surely have sunk Ms Moir. And the really serious question – beyond tweet or belligerent blog – is how much we want our press to be ruled by a quango that can decide what can or can't be written in terms (among other things) of how many take umbrage. Don't publish, escape damnation? It doesn't exactly resound.