...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day 3336: the PCC - Not Worth The Papers Who Pay to Have it Printed aka There's Been a Jan Moir-der


The PCC (Press Cover-up Cronies) have come to the opinion that twenty-five thousand people were wrong and Daily Hate Mail scribbler Ms Jan Moir-der is NOT a LYING, INTRUSIVE, HATEFUL HOMOPHOBE.

But let's be honest, that's a COMPLETELY UNNATURAL decision. Grown-up inquiries don't just lie down on the sofa and drop dead all the charges, so there's probably some very SORDID and DISGUSTING reason why they've rolled over and come to that conclusion.

No, don't worry! Apparently, according to the PPC, it's FINE for me to say that because I've mentioned the facts and the rest is just my opinion.

How it works: the Press Complaints Commission:

So let's have a look at how the PCC works for YOU. So long as by "you" we mean "someone who writes for/owns a newspaper who is looking to get pesky complaints dismissed".

Clause 1 – why the PCC thinks it's okay to tell lies

"Clause 1, […] states that comment, conjecture and fact should be clearly distinguished,"

"The article was a comment piece…"
So, right from the start it seems clear that, in the PCC's opinion, "facts" should be confined to the "factual" parts of the newspaper and that once you're in the "comment" sections anything goes.
"…it was important to recognise that the article had clearly referred to the official verdict on the cause of death that was available at the time ("all the official reports point to a natural death, with no suspicious circumstances"; "acute pulmonary oedema, a build-up of fluid on his lungs"). It was against this context that the columnist had stated her views on the matter."
This is the most amazing DOUBLE-THINK! So long as you state a fact, if you then go on to flatly contradict it, and strongly hint that it's not a fact at all but spin and cover-up, then that's not in any way being deceitful.

In other words, something like…
OPINION PIECE: "Ms Jan Moir-der isn't an evil witch. That's a fact. But that fact isn't true. Come on she's got that gingerbread cottage, and everyone knows that people like that are only interested in luring children into the oven."
…would be fine and dandy under that kind of logic. And it really isn't.
"…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."
Could not be established as accurate or otherwise… except of course by the coroner's post-mortem which, in fact, established AS a fact that Mr Gately's death WAS natural.

And therefore established this statement as A COMPLETE LIE.

And given that the post-mortem was QUOTED in the article itself, Ms Moir-der KNEW that it was a LIE.
"it was clear that this was a broad opinion rather than a factual statement"
No, it was clear that this was a LIE. Only the most WILFULLY PERVERSE interpretation of the facts can allow the PCC here to present Mr Moir-der's out-and-out refutation of the facts as anything other than a DELIBERATE DECEIT.
"Finally, the Commission considered […] the 'happy-ever-after myth'…"

"…the fact that a newspaper had published what might be considered to be an illogical argument (connecting two entirely separate individuals and seeking to draw a general conclusion) in itself did not equate to a breach of the Code."
You'll have to draw your own conclusions about WHY Ms Moir-der might choose to stoop to "illogical arguments" or what, shall we say, "prejudice" might lead her to include an unrelated death and not recognise that she was being illogical. Or for that matter why no one on the Daily Hate Mail editorial staff thought to suggest "hang on, this doesn't connect to the rest of what you're blathering about".

Clause 5 – why the PPC thinks it's okay to piddle all over someone's shock and grief

"Newspapers are under an obligation under Clause 5 to ensure that publication is handled sensitively at a time of grief."
Sounds good, doesn't it.
"In coming to a view on this aspect of the complaint, the Commission considered that the context of its publication was paramount. The article was a comment piece by a columnist whose regular readers were aware of the provocative nature of her articles."
In what way does that EXEMPT her and the Hate Mail from "an obligation to ensure that publication is handled sensitively at a time of grief"?

They appear to be saying that if you are PROVOCATIVE then you can say what you like, regardless of how people might be feeling, regardless of whether it's hurtful, harmful or even just old fashioned disgusting, and people jolly well ought to know better if they get offended by reading you.

Which, interestingly, is very much NOT what the Daily Hate Mail thought when PROVOCATIVE Islamic trouble-maker Mr Anjem Choudary wanted to make a COMMENT piece in the CONTEXT of being in WOOTEN BASSETT.

But after all, if it's on page 37 there's no way anyone might find out about it unless they were LOOKING for it. Because, you know, people had told them about the hurtful things that your paper was saying.
"It was also relevant that Mr Gately was a famous individual in a successful pop group. His life had attracted a large degree of public and media attention, as did his death. The immediate context of the column was therefore a body of public comment about what had happened to Mr Gately, and the forthcoming event at which his life was to be celebrated by many."
The only POSSIBLE interpretation of that is that the PCC is saying that the piece was fair comment BECAUSE it was a deliberate attempt to SPOIL that celebration of Mr Gately's life. Is it just me, or doesn't that make the article MORE offensive, not less?

Clause 12 – why the PCC thinks it's okay to be homophobic

You might think – given that the whole POINT of Ms Moir-der's drooling was to link Mr Gately's LIFESTYLE to her disturbing fantasies about DEATH that it would be unarguable that she came to this opion through a prejudicial opinion about the way gay daddies live. But no!
"Clause 12 makes clear that the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's sexual orientation. The question of whether the article was homophobic or discriminatory to gay people in general did not fall under the remit of the Code."
In other words, you can say WHATEVER you like about gay daddies IN GENERAL, so long as you don't refer to the SPECIFIC individual whom you are slandering.

Isn't that ACTUALLY BONKERS – how is it less bad for you to be homophobic to LOTS of people than to ONE person in particular?

But in that case how DO you get away with calling Mr Gately's death "more than a little sleazy" and "dubious events" and "strange and lonely", never mind all the snide asides of the "…could barely carry a tune in a Louis Vuitton trunk" kind, without it being in some way "prejudicial or pejorative"? Here's how:
"There was a distinction 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."
That is clearly self-serving nonsense: WEASEL WORDS – literally, because it's saying if you USE weasel worlds you can say whatever you like. Something like this...
OPINION PIECE: "There are some REALLY SORDID HYPOCRITES out there. Incidentally, Ms Jan Moir-der is someone whose actions in private* would make you BARF! Nod. Wink."

(*writing for the Daily Hate Mail)
...ought to be really OUT of ORDER because the IMPLICATION is clear, even if the cover of DENIABILITY is in place. That's the whole POINT of innuendo: that everyone KNOWS what you mean without you having to say the incriminating words. But it's the MEANING not the WORDS that is important. If you're going to have a code that claims to protect people against HATE SPEECH then you really HAVE to do people for being HATEFUL even if they do it SLYLY. Perhaps ESPECIALLY if they do it SLYLY.

If Ms Moir-der had said what she said but about BLACK people, then her career would be over; she would be UN-EMPLOYABLE. And rightly so. If she had said it about JEWISH people, she would have made herself ARRESTABLE in several European countries.

Ultimately, the PCC's defence of the odious Ms Moir-der is "free speech is too important for us to say people shouldn't be allowed to say stupid, horrid, deceitful things".

And on those grounds, THEY ACTUALLY HAVE A POINT.

She kind of DOES have the right to spout her horrid nonsense. And twenty-five thousand people have the right to call her the most hated woman in Great Britain. That's how it goes.

But they have to bend their own rules completely out of shape in order to say it. Under their actual rules, she's bang to rights and ought to have been severely censored. Double meaning intended.

The PCC's code of practice – in fact the PCC itself – exists as a framework to PROTECT free speech from Government legislation. It is saying: "look we will make sure that we do not lie or defame or distort or intrude or be blatantly bigoted and in return you won't bring in a raft of laws to silence us when it's really important."

And that's where this judgement is REALLY REALLY damaging.

Because if the Press thumb their noses at the LARGEST EVER protest about an article, if they break their own rules, and worse OBVIOUSLY break their own rules, then they are inviting the Government to take self-regulation away. People will DEMAND that the Government takes self-regulation away.

And then, next time someone discovers a scandal like the MPs' Allowances shock, the Government will super-injunction the Papers into silence.

You don't lie about "fire" in a crowded theatre. And you don't tell obviously homophobic lies about a much loved young man who has tragically died. Because the CONSEQUENCES are so much worse than the giggle you get out of doing it.

After all, a toothless tiger is STILL better than a sabre-toothed Government poodle!

Think about that, Ms Moir-der. You, lying, intrusive, insensitive, homophobic but above all desperately STUPID playing-into-Hard-Labour's-hands Government stooge.

Though that's just my opinion.



Lon Won said...

You're right as usual, Millennium. But I'm not sure it's worth getting your trunk in a twist about the PCC. They're not worth it.

What this episode shows is that complaining to the PCC is not the best way to protest against offensive articles. After all, we don't actually want such articles banned, do we? Or for columnists to never take risks. No - we want to register our profound anger about the content of the article.

So what to do? We don't buy the Daily Fail, so a consumer boycott isn't going to work.

Maybe excoriation on Twitter and in other newspapers is actually a good outcome in itself?

Millennium Dome said...

I think that the COMPLAINTS to the PCC (as opposed to the PCC itself!) DID achieve something through their sheer numbers, making it impossible for anyone (including Ms Moir-der and her evil overlords at the Hate Mail) to ignore that this WAS beyond the pale.

You're right that the Hate Mail isn't afraid of a consumer boycott - but they don't half run TERRIFIED when their ADVERTISERS start to pull out, and there's some evidence that complaining to the likes of Waitrose and Marks & Sparks (who like to present themselves as ETHICAL companies) does cause them to get on the fone to Dacre's Dungeon and issue stern warnings.