Friday, 17 December 2010

The PCC and Littlejohn (cont.)

As the Press Complaints Commission launches an investigation into Richard Littlejohn's remarks about Jody McIntyre (see here, here and here), the regulator has ruled on yet another complaint against the Mail columnist.

On 23 November, Littlejohn wrote:

When I went to Sunday school, a million years ago, we were taught to love our neighbour.

I don’t recall ever being told that we should take an ‘eye for an eye’ literally. Or that the punishment for homosexuality was death.

Aged six, we didn’t even know what homosexuality was, even though we’d been warned to steer clear of that chap who was always hanging round the swimming pool.

Three people complained to the PCC about this insidious remark. Here's their ruling:

The complainants were concerned that the article implied that homosexual individuals were paedophiles.

The Commission acknowledged the complainants' concerns that the columnist had equated homosexuality with paedophilia. However, while the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) prevent newspapers from making prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's sexual orientation, it does not cover generalised remarks about groups or categories of people. Given that the complainants were concerned that the article discriminated against homosexual individuals in general, the Commission could not establish a breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors' Code of Practice on these grounds.

So while the PCC do 'acknowledge concerns' about the remark they decide to do nothing about it. Why? Because the Code only refers to discrimination against the individual. As one of the complainants told this blog:

'I expected them to clear him by saying that he hadn't specifically said that homosexuals were paedophiles, and that was just our interpretation. Instead they acknowledge the slur, but say discrimination is totally fine if it is against all the people in a group rather than just individuals.'


  1. " does not cover generalised remarks about groups or categories of people..."

    I'll go through my complaints later and see how many times this crops up. A pound a time and it would probably pay the rent.

  2. Hmm. If he'd said "We didnt even know what Judaism was, even though we'd been told to stay away from the guy in the skullcap who lurked around the bank", I wonder whether the PCC would have said the same thing? Simpering little pricks.

  3. It will be interesting to see how Roy Greenslade in his Guardian column tries to defend these PCC rulings since he appears to recently claim that not only does Littlejohn have a right to be offensive (really?), but the PCC is much improved and is all for the good and robust health of self-regulation.

    Another reading would of course be that the likes of the Mail, the Star and Littlejohn in particular, hasten the PCC to its natural end and increase the chance of court led rulings. In my opinion no bad thing since self-regulation appears to have been an abject failure.

  4. Exactly the same defence was given against the Janet Street Porter article on depression earlier this year. The PCC said they would not investigate because it did not single any individuals but was discriminatory against a group.

    The basic logic of this is you can write in a paper that all homosexuals should be killed, but not write one homosexual should be killed because he is. It's one of the stupidest clauses in the PCC, and let's fact facts, there are a lot of stupid clauses.

  5. That is bizarre. I don't really want anyone to have too much control over gets printed or said, but does that mean you can talk about 'blacks' or 'short people' or 'women' in a derogatory way, as long as you dont single someone out?

  6. It's thoroughly brilliant!

    You can't say this or that homosexual is a paedophile, but you can say they all are.

  7. I don't think I've ever been as baffled reading your blog as I am now. How the hell is it possible that the Code doesn't refer to discrimation against groups? How the hell is it possible that if someone were to write "all Muslims are terrorist baby eating scum" it would be perfectly alright as far as the PCC is concerned? Well and truly stunning. They might as well completely give up now.

  8. This is crazy! That is contrary to the spirit of all recent discrimination legislation. Isn't it?!

  9. The PCC's code was written to allow those who wrote the code to write whatever they want in thier papers. They make it as hard as possible to lodge a complaint with them that they will actually follow up!

    So they are saying that there is nothing wrong with Littlejohn (for example) saying "Don't vote for Black Politicians" but if he said "Don't vote for Black Politician, Dianne Abbott" then that crosses the line?

    Also, am I right in thinking that unless Diane Abbott herself complained then the PCC would totally ignore any other people who raised an issue?

    Whoever decided that the Papers should self regulate needs thier head examined.

  10. The PCC is not saying that slurs on a group of people are 'fine', merely that such slurs are not within its remit. It was set up to provide a line of complaint for individuals who felt they'd been harrassed, misquoted or otherwise wronged by the press. It was never meant to be an all-purpose bullshit-correction commission. One of those should exist, though the name might need a little work.

    I'd be all in favour of an expansion of the PCC's role in this direction. But until this happens, it's not for the commission's members to do it off their own back.

  11. You're right, Tom, but the fact Is the PCC ws set up by those it is meant to challenge. They essentially made it ok to discriminate against groups of people and made it outwith their remit to stop It to ensure they always get away with it.

  12. Anon 8.28 - that's correct. so, in the gately case, although 25,000 people complained, they would only take the complaint forward when gately's widower complained.

    i withdrew my complaint to the PCC when a newspaper called me 'sour faced' because i knew that it would be justified as an 'opinion piece' and therefore it is ok to be offensive, rude and inaccurate about someone, because it is his 'opinion'. i felt that it would be more hassle, upset and abuse coming my way if i followed up my complaint.

    i'm saying this just to point out how hugely ineffective the PCC is, in that i had reasonable grounds for complaint under 2 of the code's clauses, but didn't because i knew it would be unresolved because of the 'opinion piece' argument.

  13. "The PCC and Littlejohn (cont.)"

    Did anyone else initially misread the word "cont" in the title?

  14. Littlejohn writing about "love thy neighbour"?!?

    Yeesh, next thing they'll give McDonald's an influential platform in health policy! Oh, hang on...


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