In October I made my first ever complaint to the Press Complaints Commission over a xenophobic piece in the Daily Mail blaming foreigners for the summer riots. I have just had the response from the PCC, which has backed the Daily Mail in saying the code was not breached.
The ruling is below but my initial thoughts are that the code of conduct is worthless. I don’t know who the fellow complainants Upchurch and Bennett are but good on you!
Further to our previous correspondence, the Commission has now made its assessment of your complaint under the Editors’ Code of Practice.
The Commission members have asked me to thank you for giving them the opportunity to consider the points you raise. However, their decision is that there has been no breach of the Code in this case. A full explanation of the Commission’s decision is below.
Although the Commissioners have come to this view, they have asked me to send a copy of your letter to the editor so that they are aware of your concerns.
If you are dissatisfied with the way in which your complaint has been handled - as opposed to the Commission’s decision itself – you should write within one month to the Independent Reviewer, whose details can be found in our How to Complain leaflet or on the PCC website at the following link:
Thank you for taking this matter up with us.
Commission’s decision in the case of
Upchurch/Bennett/Hilton v Daily Mail
The Commission received three complaints regarding the article. All of the complainants considered that the implication that foreigners were to blame for the riots during the summer distorted the situation and was a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. One complainant considered that the publication of the article amounted to harassment, and two of the complainants considered Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code had been breached.
The Commission turned first to the complaints under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. It acknowledged that the complainants objected to the newspaper’s interpretation of Ministry of Justice figures and the subsequent implication that foreign nationals were to blame for the rioting over the summer of 2011. Under Clause 1(i) of the Code, the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. In considering the complaint the Commission consulted statistics from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which surveyed the birthplaces of the UK’s population. It noted that in the ONS statistics the overall population born outside of the UK was 11.5 per cent, and in England, the place where the majority of the rioting took place the figure was 12.6 per cent. The Ministry of Justice statistics stated that 14 per cent of those arrested in regards to the riots were foreign (non-UK) born; it was this statistic that the newspaper used to support its implication. The Commission acknowledged that the ONS statistics revealed that the riot “hotspots” of Haringey, Birmingham and Manchester had non-UK born populations that were higher than 14 per cent. The complainants considered that this proved that the article’s implication that foreign nationals were proportionately more likely to be involved in the riots than UK born residents was distorted and that “1 in 7” did not prove anything. While the Commission acknowledged that it might have been a reasonable assumption, it could not determine that those arrested for rioting in a specific area were drawn from and resided in that immediate area. As such, it could not establish that the article contained anything significantly misleading.
Furthermore, the Commission noted that the article had not stated that there were proportionately more foreign nationals involved in the rioting than UK born residents, it referred to the “sheer number” of foreign nationals “from different corners of the globe”. This represented the newspaper’s interpretation of the Ministry of Justice figures, which showed that looters from 44 countries had been jailed over the riots. The Commission acknowledged that the complainants did not agree with the interpretation, however, this did not render its use a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.
One complainant considered that the article had been editorialized to such an extent that there was no reference to a single rioter that was born within the UK, this was despite the corollary that 6 out of 7 rioters were born within the UK. This concern related to the selection of material for publication. The Commission made clear that the selection of material for publication was a matter for the discretion of individual editors, provided that such editorial decisions did not engage the terms of the Editors’ Code. Given that the Commission had not established a breach of the Code over the article’s use of the statistics, it could not comment further on this aspect of the complaint.
The Commission then considered the complaint under Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Code. Clause 4 relates to the conduct of journalists during the newsgathering process. It does not concern the manner in which the newspaper covered issues. While the Commission acknowledged that the complainant considered the publication of the article was intimidating, this did not engage the terms of Clause 4 (Harassment) of the Code. As such the Commission did not establish a breach of the Code on this point.
Finally, the Commission turned to the complaints under Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code. Under Clause 12 (i), newspapers must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability. However, the clause does not cover references to groups or categories of people. One of the complainants considered that detailing the nationality of two Polish men was not, in any discernable way, relevant to their crimes and was therefore discriminatory. The Commission made clear that in this instance, the article had not made reference to the race of a particular individual but rather reported that two “Polish” men had been arrested for looting a health food shop. While it accepted that in certain circumstances, a reference to an individual’s nationality could be caught within the terms of the clause, in this instance, it did not consider the reference to their “Polish” nationality was either prejudicial or pejorative. Another complainant considered that the allegation and implication that foreigners were to blame for much of the rioting was racist. The Commission made clear that Clause 12 does not cover groups or categories of people. The Commission did not establish a breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code in regards to either complaint.
Reference No. 114943
Press Complaints Commission
London EC1N 2JD
Tel: 020 7831 0022