A month ago the Daily Mail ran a story that began:
A hard-working cafe owner has been ordered to tear down an extractor fan - because the smell of her frying bacon 'offends' Muslims.
The same tale appeared in the Daily Telegraph: Cafe fan banned in case smell of bacon offends Muslims and in the Metro: Beverley's Snack Shack offending Muslims with bacon smell .
There had been a complaint about the smells emerging from Beverley Akciecek's Stockport cafe from a non-Muslim neighbour, Graham Webb-Lee, who claimed that his Muslim friends were refusing to visit him because, according to him, they couldn't
stand the smell of bacon.
There was not a shred of proof that Webb-Lee's allegation had any basis in fact (because, as we shall see, no reporter checked with him). It also became clear that Mrs A had been required to remove the fan by the council because she had never
obtained planning permission for it.
Three people were moved to complain about the piece to the Press Complaints Commission, but Tabloid watch reports today that the complaints were rejected.
The PCC's response to the 3 complaints was:
The Commission made clear that, given the brief and limited nature of headlines, it considers them in the context of the article as a whole rather than as stand alone statements. In this instance, the Commission noted that
the headlines reflected Mr Webb-Lee's testimony that his Muslim friends would not visit because of the smell of bacon that came from the fan.
While it acknowledged the complainants' argument that this was not the specific reason given by the council for the refusal of the application, it noted that this was indeed an aspect of Mr Webb-Lee's complaint which had
led to the refusal of retrospective planning permission.
The Commission was satisfied that the body of the articles in the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail made clear the situation and that, when the headline was read in conjunction with the article, readers would not be
misled as to the circumstances surrounding the refusal for planning permission. In regard to the Metro's article, the Commission acknowledged that it had not included specific details of Mr Webb-Lee's complaint.
However, given that his complaint had referred to his Muslim friends' refusal to visit his house on account of the smell given off by the extractor fan, the Commission was satisfied that the sub-headline A café
boss has been ordered to change her extractor fan because the smell of frying bacon offends Muslims next door was reflective of this complaint. The body of the article also made clear that the council's decision was based on the smell being
unacceptable on the grounds of residential amenity .
While it considered that the newspaper could have included further details about the complaint, it did not, on balance, consider that the absence of such details were misleading in such a way as to warrant correction under
the terms of the Code. It could not, therefore, establish a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.
Under the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) newspapers must avoid making prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's religion. However, the clause does not cover generalised remarks about groups of people.
Given that the complainants considered the article to discriminate against Muslim people in general, the Commission could not establish a breach of Clause 12 of the Editors' Code of Practice
The PCC decided that readers would not be misled as to the circumstances surrounding the refusal for planning permission. Really? How wrong can the commission be? Did it not read the 544 comments appended to the Mail's online version of
the story? Plenty of them appear to have taken the Daily Mail bait.
To build a story based on one man's unsupported statement when it involves the delicate matter of religious intolerance shows a reckless disregard for the pubic interest and social cohesion.
Let me finish with a comment on the Mail website from someone who knows all about the matter:
I am the neighbour who complained! Well done DM for asking for my comments on the matter, but if you had there would be No Story To Print! This vent is affecting my children's health and that is why the council denied
Yes, I have some Muslim friends who it offended, but nothing was said about my English friends who avoid my house within opening hours of the shop!
Shame on you Daily Mail. You have stirred up lots of racial tension in my area now, so for you its 'mission accomplished.'
Adam Sheppard complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined Muslim-only public loos
, published in the Daily Star on 15 July 2010, was inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The complaint was upheld.
The front-page article reported that a Rochdale shopping centre had installed Muslim-only squat-hole loos , and that the local council had wasted YOUR money on them.
The complainant said that it was inaccurate to say that the toilets were Muslim-only : the facilities, which were common to many countries, would be available to all. In addition, the decision to pay for the nile pans was taken by the
shopping centre itself, rather than the local council. It did not therefore involve taxpayers' money.
The newspaper said that - while non-Muslims could have used the loos - they were designed with Muslims in mind. Nonetheless, it accepted that the headline was inaccurate in that non-Muslims would be free to use the toilets. It also accepted that the loos
were paid for by a private developer.
In this prominent story, there were two clear errors of fact which, in the circumstances, would have misled readers in a significant manner: the toilets could not be described as Muslim only ; and were not paid for by the local council. While the
newspaper had accepted that the article was wrong - and offered to correct the item - the Commission was particularly concerned at the lack of care the newspaper had taken in its presentation of the story. This led to a breach of Clause 1 of the Code
which makes clear that newspapers must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information . The complaint was upheld.
Sports presenter Clare Balding's official complaint over an article in the Sunday Times that mocked her sexuality has been upheld.
In July, she complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) over AA Gill's review of her new TV show, in which he called her a dyke on a bike .
The paper defended its columnist on freedom of expression grounds, saying he was well-known for his acerbic and sometimes tasteless sense of humour.
Balding took exception to Gill's review of her show, Britain By Bike , claiming his comments were irrelevant to the programme.
But the newspaper argued the term dyke had been reclaimed by various groups as an empowering, not an offensive, term. The paper also drew attention to two organisations, which are both called Dykes on Bikes.
The PCC ruled that the use of the word dyke in the article - whatever its intention - was a pejorative synonym relating to the complainant's sexuality . The context was not that the reviewer was seeking positively to 'reclaim' the term,
but rather to use it to refer to the complainant's sexuality in a demeaning and gratuitous way . As such, it represented a breach of the Code.
Stephen Abell, director of the PCC, said: Freedom of expression is a key part of an open society and something which the Commission has defended robustly in the past. While the commentator is clearly entitled to his opinion about both the programme
and the complainant, there are restraints placed upon him by the terms of the Editors' Code. It said the clause was very clear that newspapers must avoid prejudicial, pejorative or irrelevant reference to an individual's sexual orientation and the
reference to Miss Balding plainly breached its terms .
The presenter has also asked for the newspaper to apologise.
The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) upheld a complaint against the Sunday World over two articles which exposed a shocking new sex craze
(known as bukkake ) which was taking place in Ulster.
The complainant was the organiser of sex events. He was concerned that the newspaper had used subterfuge as part of its investigation into his (legal) business activities: the newspaper's coverage included stills from footage shot using a hidden
camera by an undercover reporter who had attended part of one event. He also said that various claims made by the newspaper (including that he charged an entrance fee for people to attend the events and made big money from them) were
The newspaper argued that the coverage could be justified in the public interest: a senior medical officer had claimed that the participants were at risk from sexually-transmitted infections. The complainant disagreed, and said there were no
public health issues.
In its ruling, the Commission made clear that, although the newspaper was entitled to report on, and comment robustly about, the sex industry in its local area, it was not free to pursue any journalistic approach to do so . The filming and
the published images constituted a serious intrusion which required a high level of public interest to justify. In the Commission's view, the defence put forward by the newspaper did not justify the use of the hidden camera: the newspaper
could have exposed the existence of bukkake parties (and any attendant health risks) without undercover footage of this type.
The Commission also found a breach of Clause 1 on the basis that the newspaper had not provided sufficient evidence to support its assertion that the complainant was making big money from bukkake events; nor had it provided any evidence for
two further claims related to the complainant and his wife.
PCC Director Stephen Abell commented: The Editors' Code of Practice enforced by the PCC contains strong provisions to protect people's privacy, especially in regard to the use of images taken in private places. The Commission has always rightly
set a high bar for the use of material from hidden cameras, and the newspaper's justification did not reach that level here .
Paul Smith complained to the Press Complaints Commission that articles headlined Town website publisher's porn business , The sickening porn behind this man's veil of respectability and Town website: the sordid truth ,
published in the Hull Daily Mail on 4 March 2010, were inaccurate and misleading.
The complaint was upheld in part.
The articles reported that the complainant - who was responsible for publishing a local community website
which had been promoted by the local council - had designed thousands of hardcore pornography websites (at one point giving the specific figure of 3,991 for sites he had designed ) and owns the domain names to almost 4,000 sites
. The complainant said that this was incorrect: he had only ever designed a hundred or so websites, including some adult sites, across a number of fields; and he had bought just over 100 domain names, nearly half of which were dormant.
The newspaper said that, at the time of its investigation, a web registration search showed that the complainant owned 3,991 domains under the name Smiths Media Solutions, the majority of which could be categorised as adult. Following publication
of the articles, the relevant server was disconnected and it was unable to prove this figure conclusively. The precise claim was put to the complainant before publication: the complainant was unable to confirm the number of sites in which he was
involved and did not deny the allegation.
PCC Decision: Upheld
The Commission accepted that there was a legitimate public interest in the newspaper examining the business activities of the complainant, given his role in publishing a local community website. However, such high-profile scrutiny carried with it
the responsibility to be accurate.
While it was not in dispute that the complainant had designed some pornographic websites in the past - and owned a substantial number of domain names - the newspaper had not been able to corroborate the significant claims that the complainant had
designed thousands of such sites (as many as 3,991) or owned the domain names to almost 4000 sites . These were crucial allegations and the newspaper should have been able to substantiate them fully (and been in a position to provide
concrete evidence to the PCC).
Based on the available material, the Commission considered that readers would have been misled as to the scale of the complainant's involvement in adult websites. The result was a breach of Clause 1 of the Editors' Code.
Legal Adult Website Design
The complainant had raised a number of other points under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code. These aspects of the complaint were not upheld.
The complainant said that he built websites for a living and had, in the past, designed pages for the adult industry (in addition to the gaming, finance, retail and pharmaceutical industries). The front page headline wrongly suggested that that he
owned a porn business ; this was not the case. In addition, the coverage misleadingly suggested that he was personally involved in the creation of pornographic content, rather than legitimately designing the layout for those sites. Finally,
the coverage stated that that he had agreed to design a website for a newspaper journalist posing as an escort girl when, in fact, he had merely discussed her requirements.
The newspaper defended its coverage: its readers had a right to know about the activities of the complainant who was responsible for running a prominent local website which covered a range of community issues and had been supported by the local
authorities. It had sought to obtain the complainant's comments on the allegations and his position had been published at length (together with positive comments from members of the community). The coverage made the nature of the complainant's
involvement with pornographic websites clear, outlining that there was no suggestion that any of the websites contained illegal material. It was willing to publish a clarification on this point, which was rejected by the complainant.
The newspaper maintained that the complainant had agreed to build a website for the journalist posing as an escort girl and had quoted between £150 and £250 for doing so. It provided emails to support this position.
PCC Adjudication: Not Upheld
The Commission has consistently stated that headlines can only be fully understood in the context of an article when read as a whole. On this occasion, the article made plain to readers the level of the complainant's involvement with pornographic
websites: he had designed websites that hosted legal adult content. It was clear that the complainant's role was as a designer, rather than a producer, of web content. He had also been quoted at length on the matter setting out his position. The
nature of the complainant's discussions with the journalist posing as Sarah was also sufficiently clear, in the Commission's view. No breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) could be established on these points.
The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) have just published their annual review of 2009.
Chairman Baroness Buscombe defended the PCC decision not to censure the Daily Mail over a Jan Moir story suggesting was nothing natural about the death of gay Boyzone singer Stephen Gately.
Gately died of natural causes at his holiday home on the island of Majorca in October last year.
Writing in the PCC's annual review, chairman Baroness Buscombe said it had been a difficult but important case that attracted 25,000 complaints: In the end, the commission considered that newspapers had the right to publish opinions that
many might find unpalatable and offensive, and that it would not be proportionate, in this case, to rule against the free expression of the columnist's views on a subject that was the focus of intense public attention. This was a difficult
decision to make but I believe we made the right one.
Parliament's Culture, Media and Sport select committee inquiry into press standards, privacy and libel, issued a report in February. It criticised some of the work of the PCC, singling out coverage of Madeleine McCann's disappearance in Portugal
in 2007 as an example of a lack of teeth , and recommended increasing its powers.
However, Baroness Buscombe said: An upheld complaint is a serious outcome for any editor and puts down a marker for future press behaviour. The fact that breaches of the code can lead to public criticism means that editors have to consider the
key ethical issues before publishing.
The total number of investigations initiated by the commission increased from 949 to 1,134 in 2009, with those that raised a possible breach of the editors' code of practice rising from 678 to 738.
The PCC ruled there had been a breach of the code in 129 cases, but in 111 of those remedial action by the publication was considered sufficient by the commission. Public censure was seen necessary in 18 cases, compared with 24 the previous year.
A woman complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined Wanted! The Epic Boobs girl! , published
in the February 2010 edition of Loaded , intruded into her privacy. The complaint was not upheld.
The article featured a number of photographs of the complainant - who was said to have the best breasts on the block - taken from the internet and offered readers of the magazine a reward of £500 for assistance in encouraging her to
do a photo shoot with it.
The complainant said that the article was intrusive: the magazine had published her name and the photographs, which had been uploaded to her Bebo site in December 2006 when she was 15 years old, had been taken from there and published without
The publication of the article had caused her upset and embarrassment. The magazine said that that it had not taken the photographs from the complainant's Bebo site; rather, they were widely available on the internet. The complainant's photograph,
for example, came up in the top three in a Google image search on the word boobs . At the time of complaint, there were 1,760,000 matches that related to her and 203,000 image matches of her as the Epic Boobs girl. Moreover, the
complainant's name had been widely circulated and achieved over 100,000 Google hits, including over 8,000 photographs.
PCC Decision: Not Upheld
This case raised the important principle of the extent to which newspapers and magazines are able to make use of information that is already freely available online. The Commission has previously published decisions about the use of material
uploaded to social networking sites, which have gone towards establishing a set of principles in this area.
However, this complaint was different: the magazine had not taken the material from the complainant's Bebo site; rather it had published a piece commenting on something that had widespread circulation online (having been taken from the Bebo page
sometime ago by others) and was easily accessed by Google searches.
The Commission did not think it was possible for it to censure the magazine for commenting on material already given a wide circulation, and which had already been contextualised in the same specific way, by many others. Although the Code imposes
higher standards on the press than exist for material on unregulated sites, the Commission felt that the images were so widely established for it to be untenable for the Commission to rule that it was wrong for the magazine to use them.
That said, the Commission wished to make clear that it had some sympathy with the complainant. The fact that she was fifteen-years-old when the images were originally taken - although she is an adult now - only added to the questionable
tastefulness of the article. However, issues of taste and offence - and any question of the legality of the material - could not be ruled upon by the Commission, which was compelled to consider only the terms of the Editors' Code. The Code does
include references to children but the complainant was not a child at the time the article was published.
The test, therefore, was whether the publication intruded into the complainant's privacy, and the Code required the Commission to have regard to the extent to which material is already in the public domain . In the Commission's view, the
information, in the same form as published in the magazine, was widely available to such an extent that its republication did not raise a breach of the Code. The complaint was not upheld on that basis.
Spectator columnist Rod Liddle has become the first blogger to be censured by the Press Complaints Commission.
On the Spectator's website, Liddle wrote that the overwhelming majority of London's violent crime was carried out by young, Afro-Caribbean men. But the PCC ruled the former BBC Radio 4 Today editor's words breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of its code.
It said the significant ruling showed publications' websites would be held to the same standards as print editions.
Liddle had written that 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 .
Although the Spectator had provided some evidence to back up Liddle's assertion, it had not been able to demonstrate that the 'overwhelming majority' of crime in all the stated categories had been carried out by members of the African-Caribbean
community , Stephen Abell of the PCC said.
He added that the ruling was significant because it demonstrated 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.
Offsite: Liddle censure a plus for serious newspaper and magazine websites
A US reporter calls to ask whether I think the Rod Liddle censure by the Press Complaints Commission amounts to a constraint on the freedom of the press.
It is a natural consequence of America's journalists being appalled by the fact that we subject our newspapers and magazines to a self-regulatory regime that conflicts with their own constitutional right to freedom of expression.
So I reply that it is, of course, a constraint. But with freedom comes responsibility and it is surely irresponsible to present an opinion as a fact.
By showing that a magazine website cannot get away with publishing an inaccurate statement, the PCC has reinforced the public perception that British online journalists cannot put up any old rubbish online.
But really...you only have to read about how many 'trafficked' sex workers there are arriving in Britain every year, or how many will be coming to the London Olympics, or how many children have been 'harmed' by watching post watershed programmes on
iPlayer, to realise what a load of bullshit is published by major newspapers.
Tougher powers for the Press Complaints Commission and an end to the right of companies to sue for libel will be proposed next week in
a long awaited report by MPs. But the much criticised press watchdog will escape calls for its abolition or for any form of state regulation of the press.
The PCC needs a radical shake-up to turn it into a body that is proactive, rigorous and is taken seriously by the public, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee will say. New powers could extend to halting the printing of a newspaper
edition. John Whittingdale, the committee's chairman, says the watchdog should also have the ability to impose large fines.
The commission has come under fire this week for failing to uphold complaints about a Daily Mail article into the death last October of the Boyzone singer Stephen Gately. The column attracted 25,000 complaints from readers who perceived it to be
homophobic. But the PCC said it should be slow to prevent columnists from expressing their views, however controversial they might be . It was a point of principle that newspapers could print views that might offend people, it said.
The complaint made to the PCC that the Daily Mail's column on Gately's death was inaccurate, intrusive and discriminatory was not upheld. Gately died at his holiday home on the island of Majorca. His civil partner Andrew Cowles made a complaint to
the PCC about what had been written by the columnist Jan Moir. The PCC said that it could fully understand why Cowles and a record number of complainants were upset, but ruled that Moir's comments had not breached press guidelines.
In a second move that will please media organisations, the committee is expected to reject calls by Max Mosley, the former Formula One chief, for victims of media exposés to be notified in advance. There are fears that a requirement for prior notification
will lead to judges imposing injunctions that would prevent many investigative stories going to print.
A third key recommendation expected in the report, to be published next week, is that businesses with more than ten employees will lose the right to sue for defamation.
The wideranging report by MPs will cover press standards, privacy, libel and libel tourism , super-injunctions and costs in defamation cases.