Complaining to the PCC

I just noticed my last post was number 100 - and it got more comments than I've had before. Hurrah!

Some of the comments asked about complaining to the Press Complaints Commission, which is something I've done once before, but it's not something I intend to make a habit of. I have written a lengthy complaint about this article though, and I may well post it here at some point, but I do want to say a couple of things about complaining to the PCC.

It's important to remember that the PCC is made up largely of newspaper editors. Although Peter Hill, the editor of the Express, won't be on the panel for a complaint about this article, the editor of the Mail will, and so will somebody from the Sun. Given these papers' love of negative comment about Muslims, do you think they'll be objective? After all, next week it might be them facing complaints and Peter Hill will have to serve on those panels.

From my experience and what I've read about other people's, the PCC are not exactly objective or helpful, and in my opinion, reading their replies shows that they tend to be eager to find ways to dismiss complaints without taking them seriously. The reply to my complaint contained some of the techniques I'd complained about the paper using in the first place. A good example of a weird PCC decision is this from the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, which I've linked to before, and another is from the chapter 'Still no redress from the PCC' by Julian Petley, which appears in the book "Muslims and the News Media." :
[...] when the Mail and Standard mounted a strident campaign to try to pressurise the British Board of Film Classification into banning Crash, I wrote to the PCC to complain that the numerous articles which constituted this campaign were factually wrong on just about every conceivable count. But although I repeatedly pointed out that I was specifically not complaining about these papers’ editorial stance, the PCC mulishly insisted on treating my complaint as if that’s exactly what I was doing, inevitably rejecting it on the grounds that: ‘The Commission acknowledges the right of newspapers to take a partisan stance on such matters’, thus rejecting a complaint I’d never made, and had indeed been very careful not to make, in the first place (Petley 1997: 72).
So, it seems that even complaints on the grounds of accuracy may well be rejected on the grounds that the paper should be allowed its partisan stance. Even though this would mean that the Express's stance is that neck is the same as knee.

Even if the PCC do take some of the complaints seriously, it's likely that they'll only do that with the most blatant inaccuracies, like the neck and knee one, the drawing people one and the one about prayer rooms with washing facilities attached. This could be just as bad, if not worse, than ignoring the complaints altogether. What this will mean is that months from now, when people will probably have forgotten this, the paper will print an apology a fraction of the size of the original article hidden in the darkest depths of the paper that only includes reference to those most blatant lies. This will obviously make it look as though the article was accurate but included a few little mistakes in the details, when in fact the entire thing is made up of outright false claims.

The Express might also get a little creative in the correction. There's a well known case from the eighties of the Sun reporting that Tower Hamlets Council had banned black bin liners for being racist. It was nonsense. The council hadn't even stopped using black bin-liners at all, let alone ban them for being racist. When the Sun was finally caught out, it printed a correction with the headline along the lines of 'Black bin-liners not to be banned after all', as if the council had reversed their decision rather than not make it at all in the first place. Corrections are pretty much always as mild as they can possibly be, and often ignore substantial facts.

For instance, the Sun recently apologised for a story that claimed that Muslims had tried to bully some soldiers out of buying a new house - because it was rubbish. Neither the police nor the army said Muslims were responsible. In fact, it was people moaning about bringing down house prices. Melanie Phillips quoteded it on her website (funnily enough) and when it was pointed out that the story had been retrected, she printed the retraction rather than altering her text because, she said, "the correction did not actually deny the original information."

If you do send in a complaint, remember that the paper is not acting in good faith. If it was, and it was really interested in telling the truth to its readers, it would not have produced this article in the first place. Also, the PCC seems to act only to defend papers wherever it can, unless there's a danger that the paper might get sued.

So, what's the point of sending in a complaint at all? For me, it's to show exactly how inadequate the process is, and to be able to demonstrate that the PCC is not toothless, as some claim, but is in fact the other bloke's attack dog. And the other bloke hates you.

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