...any Afghan climbing off the back of a lorry in Dover goes automatically to the top of the housing list.
Blogger Primly Stable called Littlejohn a 'liar' and complained to the Press Complaints Commission. This claim not only breached the first clause of the Code of Practice about publication of 'inaccurate, misleading or distorted information' but also conflicted with a PCC guidance note on reporting immigration issues that warns of:
the danger that inaccurate, misleading or distorted reporting may generate an atmosphere of fear and hostility that is not borne out by the facts.
Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that despite all that, the PCC ruled there was little wrong with what Littlejohn had said:
The Commission acknowledged the complainant’s concern over the statement; however, it had to consider the remark in the context of the article in which it appeared. The article had been clearly presented as a comment piece, in which the columnist expressed his concern that a soldier who had served in Afghanistan had not been granted a council house. The Commission considered that the columnist had exaggerated and simplified the example of housing immigrants for the purpose of stressing his assertion that the “system of government exists simply to punish those who do the right thing”.
It emphasised that the newspaper should take care when using such rhetorical methods of expression that readers would not be misled into understanding that they reflected statements of fact.
In this instance, on balance it considered that readers would be aware that the columnist was not accurately reflecting the government’s policy on the housing of immigrants, but that he was making an amplified statement for rhetorical effect. It was therefore the Commission’s view that, on this occasion, readers generally would not be misled in such a way as to warrant correction under the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.
In its favour, the ruling does accuse Littlejohn of exaggeration and simplicity. But the rest of it defies belief.
Although the PCC regards that as the end of the matter, Primly Stable does not. She has challenged the PCC to back up its claim that readers would not be mislead or think the situation outlined by Littlejohn is merely 'rhetorical'.
She points out that on the original news story on the Mail website that Littlejohn was commenting on, there are lots of positively-rated comments which suggest otherwise. Such as:
“He should just have told that council he was an illegal immigrant from Afghanistan....And he would have been housed immediately!!”
“expect no better from Bracknell Forest Council, because they are fast-tracking immigrants to the head of the housing queue ... just the same as all councils throughout Britain are daily doing”
“He should go back to Aghanistan, throw away his British passport and come back as a 'refugee'. Apartment in Mayfair awaits him.”
And then there are these recent Mail articles about migrants and 'queue jumping':
A drip-drip-drip of stories claiming migrants do jump the housing queue. So on what basis does the PCC think Mail readers would not take Littlejohn's claim literally?
Primly Stable compares this ruling with a recent resolved case where the Sunday Telegraph had to say:
We have been asked to make clear that the Metamorphosis Centre in west London (report, June 13) is not Britain's first to treat thumb sucking.
The [PCC] proudly boasts of its rapid response to the shocking inaccuracy that led to one organisation being called “the first specialist thumb-sucking clinic in London” when in fact it was the second. But it is happy to give the seal of approval to a newspaper that publishes lies in order to whip up racial tensions.
Had Littlejohn compared the soldier’s situation with, for example, a convicted criminal who had been released from prison and promptly housed in local authority accommodation than he may have had some grounds to claim that he was making a point about people who “do the right thing” losing out. But he didn’t. He chose to make something up entirely. To lie. And with this ruling the PCC has said such conduct is perfectly acceptable.