Friday, 19 November 2010

PCC rejects complaints about 'bacon smell offends Muslims' story

Last month, the Mail reported that a cafe in Stockport will have to remove its extractor fan 'because the smell of...frying bacon 'offends' Muslims'.

This wasn't true.

The fan has to be removed because the cafe owners (one of whom is Muslim) were refused planning permission for it. Moreover, the only person who officially complained about the smell during the planning application process was a member of the non-Muslim family who lived next door to the cafe.

Three people complained to the PCC about the story - versions of which also appeared in the Metro and Telegraph - but it has rejected the complaints. Apparently, despite the Mail saying the fan was being 'torn down' because 'the smell of frying bacon 'offends' Muslims' the PCC says:

readers would not be misled as to the circumstances surrounding the refusal for planning permission.

Here's the full PCC ruling :

The Commission made clear that, given the brief and limited nature of headlines, it considers them in the context of the article as a whole rather than as stand alone statements. In this instance, the Commission noted that the headlines reflected Mr Webb-Lee’s testimony that his Muslim friends would not visit because of the smell of bacon that came from the fan.

While it acknowledged the complainants’ argument that this was not the specific reason given by the council for the refusal of the application, it noted that this was indeed an aspect of Mr Webb-Lee’s complaint which had led to the refusal of retrospective planning permission.

The Commission was satisfied that the body of the articles in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail made clear the situation and that, when the headline was read in conjunction with the article, readers would not be misled as to the circumstances surrounding the refusal for planning permission. In regard to the Metro’s article, the Commission acknowledged that it had not included specific details of Mr Webb-Lee’s complaint.

However, given that his complaint had referred to his Muslim friends’ refusal to visit his house on account of the smell given off by the extractor fan, the Commission was satisfied that the sub-headline “A cafĂ© boss has been ordered to change her extractor fan because the smell of frying bacon offends Muslims next door” was reflective of this complaint. The body of the article also made clear that the council’s decision was based on the smell being “unacceptable on the grounds of residential amenity”.

While it considered that the newspaper could have included further details about the complaint, it did not, on balance, consider that the absence of such details were misleading in such a way as to warrant correction under the terms of the Code. It could not, therefore, establish a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.

Under the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) newspapers must avoid making prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s religion. However, the clause does not cover generalised remarks about groups of people. Given that the complainants considered the article to discriminate against Muslim people in general, the Commission could not establish a breach of Clause 12 of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

(Hat-tip to Dave, one of the complainants)

UPDATE: Roy Greenslade has written an excellent post which points out that the vast majority of the 544 comments that appeared on the Mail's article were written by people who had clearly been 'misled' - despite the PCC saying that 'would not' happen. He writes:

The articles were clearly prejudicial because the headlines and intros were misleading. The end result was to feed anti-Muslim bigotry.

To build a story based on one man's unsupported statement when it involves the delicate matter of religious intolerance shows a reckless disregard for the pubic interest and social cohesion.

In the PCC's opinion, "the body of the articles" in the Mail and Telegraph made the situation "clear."

Come off it! The papers did not run this story because it involved the removal of an extractor fan. They ran it because it fitted their own anti-Muslim agendas.

15 comments:

  1. Well it seems that so long as you have a 'paragraph 19' the rest of the article/headline can say *anything* you like...

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/oct/16/ben-goldacre-bad-science-daily-mail-cancer

    ---

    It's astonishing that clause 12 (Discrimination) "does not cover generalised remarks about groups of people"

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  2. Absolute bullshit - I don't think I've ever seen an article that was so misleading and downright inaccurate.

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  3. Ahhh the PCC - that self-srving, self-regulating, self-interested bastion of all things true and honest. Great thing having an "unambiguous" code to interpret as you like, but then the shadow of Paul Dacre over the whole stinking mess that is the PCC has nothing to do with any of their rulings.

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  4. The headline was repeated to me as fact last week wish I had known more about it then. PCC obviously don't realise quite how many people want to believe the headline.

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  5. So basically, the PCC find that the Daily Mail didn't actually mislead at all. And that the complainant had used his Muslim friends refusal to come round on account of the smell is listed in the PCC writeup and the council acknowledged this was a factor in their decision. So this is basically a bunch of lefties picking out the bits of the PCC & council reports that they can then use to slate the Mail. I'm no fan of the Mail but if you're going to slate it, try not to be just as misleading as they are.

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  6. Under the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) newspapers must avoid making prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s religion. However, the clause does not cover generalised remarks about groups of people.

    WHAAAAAAT?!

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  7. Anonymous (10.30) - "The council acknowledged this was a factor in their decision."

    What do you base that claim on? Because the actual reason listed on the planning application says nothing about Muslims at all.

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  8. It's just more of the incessant, drip-feed approach of rags like the Mail. Run enough slanted stories, with hysterical headers, and the readership will get the message, eventually.
    That the PCC found for them in this complaint is almost irrelevant. Even when they are forced to retract, it never receives the same profile in the paper, so many that saw the initial opinion piece don't see the mea culpa.

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  9. Hey Tabloid Watch,this is the best blog I've discovered all year.

    I don't think that the PCC really believe that the article wasn't misleading, but there are serious questions over what they can actually do about it. After all, there were no objective lies in the article (for once), it was simply framed and headlined in a ridiculous manner.

    So since this is such a subjective area, there the PCC really has to toe the line on what it can do. The Mail has every right to print its opinion on on things, as does every newspaper. I don't think censoring the Mail's opinionated drivel is really an option, so long as they include the facts.

    This article has clearly been written with the exact knowledge of what they can get away with, as are many others.

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  10. Howe Zat - Many thanks. You are very (too?) kind.

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  11. sigh, as you rightly point out, remove the bacon / offense / muslim thing, and this is an utter non-story. In the public interest? Utter bullshit

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  12. The reason the Daily Mail publishes these stories is that both the journalists and the readership are genuinely convinced that Muslims are a hostile force seeking to take over the country and impose their own culture. All these Muslim scare stories attract a wave of indignant, fearful, enraged, and frustrated comments. That is also the case in other EU countries, where similar papers run similar stories. The Daily Mail did nothing to create that attitude, any more than the tabloids created male sexuality by publishing page 3 images.

    It is extremely difficult to have any rational discussion of this issue, because of the reluctance to admit the facts. It is a fact that many people are enraged and frightened by Islam, and reject its presence in their country. What this blog is implying, however, is that these people don't exist, and that Britain is populated by well-meaning multiculturalists, who have sadly been hypnotised by the tabloid press and a few right-wing extremists. That's also the story from Islamophobia Watch and similar groups. But it simply isn't true.

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  13. Anonymous (12.49) - I don't think this blog has ever implied that because it's certainly not what I believe.

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  14. Another spectacular failure by the PCC. Incidentally, HOPE not hate have an interesting campaign asking the Daily Star to tone down their anti-muslim tirades:

    http://action.hopenothate.org.uk/page/m/4c18dd4/618e6a18/619ceb44/167f5203/4234604511/VEsE/

    Not sure how much good it can do, but at least will show the Star most people know the game they're playing...

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  15. @Anonymous (12:49 22/11/10) - The way I see it is that the committed multiculturalists and committed xenophobes are both basically small minorities, and there is a very large middle ground that ordinarily wouldn't give a shit either way; its large swathes of this middle ground that are being swayed by reporting in tabloids they buy for other reasons (I'm looking at the Sun in particular here, which doesn't have the reputation of the Mail but shares much of its politics). They might read the headline and the first few paragraphs but not the qualifying "paragraph 19" where the truth is ultimately explained, and certainly wouldn't care enough to look on the internet and find out if there's more to the situation than the article is letting on.

    But the misleading intent of the headline is filed in their brain next to all the other misleading headlines, which all builds up to create an overall negative perception of Muslims/immigrants/etc, particularly in areas with a low population of such groups where people are less likely to actually know any on a personal level and so have no real-world experience to balance the tabloid bullshit (and certainly no mainstream media counterpoint, unless they happen to read the Guardian). And this all, of course, gets passed on through pub conversations and facebook posts to people who don't read said papers. If your exposure to a group comes primarily via a tabloid press that seeks to portray said group as a bunch of Britain-hating jihadists who nevertheless think we should bend over backwards to please them, of course you will be "enraged and frightened" by it.

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