Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Express and Star: round 2

You may recall that I objected to our despicable local newspaper using the medical term 'plagued' to refer to a group of travellers in a news report.

I asked our local police to look at it: he said it didn't constitute incitement to hatred, but he was sufficiently concerned to advise the rag to moderate its language.

I also complained to the Press Complaints Commission, under the discrimination and accuracy clauses, as the piece seemed to ascribe criminality to membership of a particular group. It turns out, however that you can say what you like about groups (all West Bromwich natives are paedophiles, for instance, is perfectly acceptable; you can't say X is a paedophile because he's from West Bromwich). It also occurs to me that the Express and Star has made an appalling error due to lazy journalism: it hasn't proved that the many reports about traveller 'criminality' refer to the same people. In this sense, it has therefore fostered the belief that all travellers are antisocial criminals, which is disgraceful and deeply inaccurate.

Anyway, Faber - the editor - has come out fighting, mostly through distorting my argument, either by design or because he's not very bright. Click on it to enlarge.

I particularly enjoyed the suggestion that I'm against press freedom because I want the Express and Star to 'self-censor'. Actually matey, I'm calling for some 'editing'. And the idea that a publication as biased and reactionary as the Express and Swastika doesn't already self-censor by choosing to publish only articles which suit its rightwing agenda is ludicrous.

This is my response to the Press Complaints Commission:

Dear William, 
thanks for your e-mail, and for forwarding Mr. Faber's letter, which seems to consist of distortions of my complaint, which is essentially that the use of 'plagued' in a news piece is editorialising and inciting. I don't recall stating that the travellers definitely were an ethnic group, I enquired about the possibility (though Irish Travellers and Roma are distinct recognised ethnic groups). I was also struck by the collective abuse applied to these people, as though any criminal events were the responsibility of the entire traveller community: collective guilt is not known to the law. I am quite disturbed by the ad hominem and aggressive tone he uses in your letter.
I am fully aware of the PCC's remit: I drew the attention of the local police to the article. While they didn't feel it constituted incitement, they were sufficiently concerned to promise to have a word with the newspaper about its use of language. 
Nobody is asking the Express and Star to self-censor when it comes to reporting news (although given the poor quality and naked political bias of the publication in question, it seems that objectivity is in short supply there). All I would like is some editorial recognition that groups such as travellers are more than plagues: the medical terminology dehumanises them in ways familiar from twentieth-century history. Mr. Faber's list of articles about them doesn't demonstrate newsworthiness alone: it might easily be diagnosed as an obsession. 
I note that Mr. Faber's list of articles about travellers doesn't include any indication of whether the antisocial behaviour has been committed by exactly the same group of travellers or not. If not, then he is apparently claiming that all travellers are criminals, and therefore the pieces are inaccurate because they are unsubstantiated. Certainly the article about which I complained made no effort to discriminate between individuals or particular groups of travellers. How is Mr. Faber quantifying 'huge', by the way?
I would be happy to have a substantial letter or piece in the newspaper as right of reply: I note however that a letter I did write to the newspaper on this subject was ignored. I am prepared to settle the matter amicably: from Mr. Faber's letter, it appears that he is not. 
I am happy for you to forward this response to Mr. Faber. 

I also enjoyed his defence of 'we've published loads of articles about travellers which proves it's a plague'. Er, no. It proves that you've got some obsession with travellers.

The PCC have suggested I have a letter printed - I'll accept that if it comes off. Isn't this exciting?


Ewarwoowar said...

How is the quest for anonymity coming along, Voley?

Benjamin Judge said...

Best. Comment. Ever.

The Plashing Vole said...

Occasionally slips. However, my name isn't searchable within that document, as it's a jpg, so that's something.

neal said...

If you can be arsed you could open up the jpg in photoshop and blank out your name.