Thursday, February 18, 2010

The PCC Chickens Out Over Jan Moir Article

So the Press Complaints Commission PCC have reached their verdict on Jan Moir's piece after Stephen Gately's death, the timing of which they said was "in questionable taste". They said:

"It would not be proportionate to rule against the columnist's right to offer freely expressed views about something that was the focus of public attention."

They had also passed it on to the Crown Prosecution Service who ruled that it was not unlawful:

"In December 2009, the Metropolitan Police passed the article and statements from two complainants to the Crown Prosecution Service to determine whether or not any crime had been committed through publication of that article.

"Having considered that material I have decided that there is insufficient evidence that any offence has been committed.

"In coming to this conclusion I have paid particular attention to Article 10 of the Human Rights Act which protects individuals' freedom of expression. It is an established legal principle that this freedom applies equally to information and ideas that are favourably received as to those which offend, shock and disturb.

"Though the complainants and many others found this article offensive, this does not make its publication unlawful."

So if I'm reading the CPS right the government legislation against incitement to racial or homophobic incitement is null and void next to Article 1o of the Human Rights Act. So too it would seem are the laws of liable, they were suppositions in Jan Moir's original article which she presented as fact.

On her saying that the singers death was not "natural" the PCC said that while this was controversial and speculative, "could not be established as accurate or otherwise". But surely the point was that on that particular Friday only days after the incident a newspaper columnist with no medical or forensic training or access to the corpse would be in a far less likely place to know what was accurate than family or medical professionals. She actually dismissed the comments of these to give her own slant on things, saying is was factual. The thing that could not have been established was what Jan Moir was saying on that point, so the PCC chickened out on the one point that was open to censure on accuracy grounds rather than opinion to incite hatred.

The PCC said that there was a fine line to be drawn "between critical innuendo which, though perhaps distasteful, was permissible in a free society – and discriminatory description of individuals, and the code was designed to constrain the latter rather than the former". The problem is as Sara Bedford pointed out yesterday this is not an isolated incident with the Daily Fail.

Almost every story that features a gay man leads to some sort of stereotyping and discriminatory description of lifestyle. There is always some slur in the way they put the story across. The latter is prevalent within that particular publication. The problem is that they spread it around and only individual stories can be raised at a time rather than the whole library of unfounded innuendo that they splurge out over and over and over again.

So while the PCC keep saying they cannot condemn one individuals freedom of speech the whole ethos of the paper is slanted in a particular way which does discriminate. Unfortunately the Code is also incapable of dealing with the largess of such views across an entire publication.

UPDATE: Reading the PPC's full findings I was particularly interested to see what it had to say about the cause of death SADS (Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome) which Moir dismissed so fully as "not natural".

"It was clearly the columnist's opinion that "healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again". This was a general and rhetorical point, based on the view of the prevailing health of young men. It admittedly did not take into account the possibility of SADS or similar, but the Commission did not consider that it could be read to be an authoritative and exhaustive statement of medical fact. Equally, the Commission was fully aware of the widespread objection to the reference to Mr Gately's death as not being "natural". This was undoubtedly a highly provocative claim which was open to interpretation, and many people had considered this to be distasteful and inaccurate. It was a claim, nonetheless, that could not be established as accurate or otherwise. The article had set out the official cause of death so it was clear that this was a broad opinion rather than a factual statement."

So Andrew Cowles complaining thus about Moir saying the family were distorting facts:

"Although a post mortem had been conducted and the results published - confirming that Mr Gately had died from natural causes through an acute pulmonary oedema, believed to have been brought on by a heart attack - the thrust of the article was that this was questionable ("something is terribly wrong with the way this incident has been shaped and spun"; "the sugar coating on this fatality is so saccharine-thick that it obscures whatever bitter truth lies beneath")."

Appears to have no protection under the law. Journalists Columnists are at will under freedom of speech under the Human Rights act to deny facts, accuse the family who want these facts out to be liars, or indeed trying to obscure something. This is twisted and the PCC really has failed horrifically to defend factual representation today. The claim that Moir quoted the cause of death, she did but then only to rebuke it as nonsense. How that can pass accuracy under the PCC code dumbfounds me.

Read Also Andrew takes a look at one of the other clauses in depth. While a rather fluffy elephant renames the PCC the Press Cover-Up Cronies.

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