If you do, you might remember that I made some predictions about what the outcome would be after my complaint was rejected and the Commission decided to look solely at the MCB complaint. I said:
Only the most obvious and outrageous inaccuracies in the article will be found to be inaccurate by the PCC. That might only even amount to the claim that modesty rules say that boys should be covered from navel to neck while swimming. Everything else will be deemed unlikely to mislead. The Express will have to print an apology of a couple of lines long. That's it, and that's all.I was wrong on both counts. I got a summary in the post of the Commission decision over the MCB complaint.
Firstly, the Commission did rule that the article had the potential to mislead. Not in every case, and there were one or two weird decisions and mentions of the paper's 'robust' position on the report, but overall the decision was that the article was misleading. Funny that.
Secondly, I was wrong when I said that all that would happen would be that the Express would have to print a retraction a couple of lines long. It turns out that the Commission would have been satisfied with less than even that. It decided that all the Express needed to do was print a letter from the MCB.
Any of you unfortunate enough to have read this blog regularly will be familiar with the 'Withdrawn!' tactic, and know how it is sometimes used to create the impression that someone is lying. In brief, what happens is that a paper will produce an article that opens by telling readers what happened. Late on in the article, there'll be a quote from someone refuting what the article has said, but because the article has already said what has happened, it makes the person quoted look like a liar, even if they're telling the truth. This means the paper can create as false an impression as it wants, but the PCC will be satisfied because the truth is included somewhere in the article.
This can work on a wider level, with a paper producing article after article saying one thing - exaggerating immigration figures for instance - and then reporting official figures in the knowledge that their readers will be sceptical of them.
So in this instance, we have a paper that produces negative article after bad smear job after negative article about Muslims, the article this complaint is about being a case in point. Just look at the headline. and you can see the impression the paper has been trying for ages to paint of Muslims. Now, what do you think regular Express readers will think of a letter published by the MCB pointing out that the paper had lied about their report? Especially as part of that picture is of overly censorious people who do everything to stifle criticism.
So the paper will never have to apologise in its own words, and the only thing regular Express readers who bother to read the letters page will see is a complaining letter from the people they think complain unnecessarily all the time over things like pictures of pigs. Plus, those who only read the paper online would never see the letter and the article will remain online pretty much forever. So you can see why the MCB have rejected that offer. I certainly don't blame them.
The shame is though, that this means the paper doesn't have to do anything at all. It can get away with lying through its teeth, and all the MCB can do about it is play into its hands and reinforce its agenda.
Now, I don't want to look like I'm blowing my own trumpet, but I can't help wondering whether my own complaint was dismissed before being taken very far because it was a little more anal than the MCB's. From the Commission's decision, it seems that the MCB's complaint was more general, and only addressed one or two of the most glaring misrepresentations. Mine ran to eight pages of bullet pointed examples of each of the most obvious misrepresentations and explanations of how they might mislead. The only things the summary of the PCC's decision I've seen mentions are - use of the phrase 'Taliban style', mentioning boys covering the body from navel to neck while swimming (which the paper apologised for), over use of the word 'ban', with specific references to banning swimming, and over use of the phrase 'un-Islamic activities' in quotation marks. I can't help wondering if the PCC knew that a comprehensive list of every misrepresentation in the article would make the invitation to publish a letter look as woefully inadequate as it actually is.
In my original letter to the PCC, I asked where it would lead if papers were allowed to produce articles like this without censure. Since the PCC is made up largely of newspaper editors, it ought to know why the invitation to publish a letter is an inadequate punishment of the paper - and we can see where allowing this kind of thing can lead by looking at the Express's 'ethnic crisis' story.
To nip any strawmen in the bud - particularly the one bandied about by papers like the Express - I don't have any problem with papers having the freedom to take any kind of stance over immigration or race they like, short of incitement to violence. I do have a problem with papers lying and distorting information to reinforce their points. If the MCB really had issued demands to ban things left and right, the paper should have been able to report it. If there really was a shocking report that said that children were being held back at school because too many pupils can't speak English, the paper should be able to report it. If Sheffield City Council really had produced a report saying that there was an ethnic baby boom that constituted a crisis that would lead to riots, the paper should be allowed to report that, too.
The problem is that none of these things happened, but the paper pretended they did anyway.
What kind of people make stuff up to create a terrible impression of immigrants and ethnic minorities? Any of them very nice?