"Comment is Free" Subject to PCC Jurisdiction

There’s been a positive development over at the Press Complaints Commission, the self-regulatory body which deals with complaints about the editorial content of newspapers and their websites.
In a case involving a Spectator blog post on the Benefits of multicultural Britain, Rod Liddle made the following statement which triggered a PCC complaint by a private individual, Mr. Oli Bird:

The overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community.

In its adjudication, the PCC upheld the complaint which was predicated on a claim that the offending statement above was in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors Code of Practice.

In finding for Mr. Bird, the PCC found that the Spectator was unable to demonstrate that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of crime in all the stated categories had been carried out by members of the African-Caribbean community.
Most significantly, the PCC opined that the nature of the blog post was one of fact rather than opinion even though blog posts are often of a provocative nature and despite the fact that the Spectator later published a separate blog post calling into question Liddle’s statement. As the PCC stated:

It was difficult to argue that the sentence in question represented purely the columnist’s opinion, which might be challenged. Instead, 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. It could not rely merely on the carrying of critical reaction to the piece.

The clear implication of this decision is that blog posts published in “Comment is Free” and in other blogs of the broadsheets are squarely within the jurisdiction of the Press Complaints Commission, an issue that up until now was the subject of some speculation.
Amplifying this point, PCC director, Stephen Abell, said:

This is a significant ruling because it shows that the PCC expects the same standards in newspaper and magazine blogs that it would expect in comment pieces that appear in print editions. There is plenty of room for robust opinions, views and commentary but statements of fact must still be substantiated if and when they are disputed. And if substantiation isn’t possible, there should be proper correction by the newspaper or magazine in question.

With the shoddy level of “journalism” in the Middle East section of “Comment is Free”, it will be interesting to see if there will be any heightened level of scrutiny in the editorial process as a result of this decision.

Of course, if “Comment is Free” continues to pay short shrift to facts and context in its one-eyed coverage of Israel, its my prediction that given the ease of filing a PCC case, it won’t be long before the PCC will be faced with a case against the Guardian resembling that of the Spectator.

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