The Press Complaints Commission released figures last week that showed that the number of complaints from the general public had massively increased comparing 2008 to 2009.
In 2008 nearly 5,000 complaints were received and in 2009 rose to 37,000. Many in the black community have complained that the PCC lacks teeth when dealing with complaints alleging racism in the British press. Stories on issues of immigration, multiculturalism and criminal justice issues have all been areas where complaints have been lodged.
At the time of writing this article we were unable to confirm the number of specific race based complaints lodged with the PCC in 2008 and 2009. We are currently awaiting this information from the PCC.
Black communities will want to asses the extent to which their complaints are taken seriously by the PCC and whether or not such complaints have risen in line with the overall increase. It seems remiss that PCC do not readily publish this information broken down into the various areas of discrimination be that race, gender or sexuality.
Whilst we were unable to find such figures we can report that there is a specific clause included in the PCC Editors Code of Practice Article 12 that states:
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
As we await a fuller response form the PCC we do have one example of a successful compliant brought under article 12. That was a complaint against a Spectator Magazine blog written by the odious hack Rod Liddle.
In March of this year the PCC upheld a complaint by a reader that followed a OBV campaign in relation to a blog piece written by Rod Liddle. A particularly obnoxious article alleging that the African Caribbean community were “overwhelming responsible “ responsible for gun and knife crime robbery and serious acts of sexual violence in London. After a vociferous campaign and the Spectators blanket refusal to offer a right of reply the compliant lodged and was subsequently upheld by the PCC. In finding against the Spectator the PCC issued this statement
‘In concluding that the article was indeed in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the PCC recognised the magazine’s argument that the nature of a blog post is often provocative and conducive to discussion.
The PCC concluded that…”it had not been able to demonstrate that members of the African-Caribbean community had carried out the ‘overwhelming majority’ of crime in all the stated categories”.
Nor could it successfully argue that the claim was purely the columnist’s opinion – rather, it was a statement of fact. As such, the Commission believed that “the onus was on the magazine to ensure that it was corrected authoritatively online”. In the absence of such remedial action the Commission upheld the complaint.’
It will be important for the PCC to tell us how many complaints of this type were made last year and the year before. Racism in the press has been a huge concern for Britain’s black communities and ensuring that the PCC takes complaints about racism seriously its important that we are able to asses the overall level and success rate of such complaints.
We await the PCC’s response.