Tuesday 15 December 2009

PCC rules in favour of columnist who portrayed Jackson as a paedophile

The Press Complaints Commission last week responded to ten complaints made about a Guardian article in which writer Tanya Gold strongly insinuated that Michael Jackson was a paedophile.

Perplexingly, the PCC ruled in favour of the Guardian.

The PCC listed two main reasons as to why they had not ruled against the offending article. First, that Michael Jackson's family had not complained directly. The PCC said:

"Many of the concerns raised rested on the impact of the coverage on the Jackson family and the singer's memory. Two complainants were concerned that Clause 4 (Harrassment) had been breached and two individuals argued that the article was discriminatory. In this instance, the Commission felt that it must be for the Jackson family to guage such issues as this and to make clear whether they have found that there has been an incidence of harrassment or discrimination, as alleged by complainants. They had not done so."

So in other words, it is perfectly acceptable for a newspaper to strongly insinuate that an innocent man is a paedophile, unless his family complains directly to the PCC.

How and why, exactly, would the Jackson family - who live in Los Angeles - be reading the Guardian? The newspaper is published on the other side of the planet.

This rule is absurd, placing the onus on the families of well known figures to scour thousands of newspapers on a daily basis in case a libelous comment has been printed about their loved one. It is ludicrous to expect the Jackson family to dissect the world's media on a daily basis in case somebody has called their son/brother/father a paedophile. What kind of rule is that? The onus should clearly be on the newspapers not to print the libelous comments in the first place.

The family is essentially left in a catch-22 situation; either spend their entire lives scrutinising national and international newspapers on a daily basis, or simply turn a blind eye to the systematic portrayal of their loved one as a predatory paedophile. The ruling is utter nonsense.

The second get-out clause that the PCC pointed to was that the article was an opinion piece, not a news article. The PCC ruling states:

"The Commission noted that the article was an opinion piece clearly identified as such in the 'Comment is Free' section of the newspaper in line with the erms of Clause 1 (iii). The piece contained the journalist's personal impression of Michael Jackson's lifestyle and talents."

This section of the ruling is totally irrelevant. Complaints relating to Tanya Gold's editorial did not pertain to her opinion. In my own blog on the subject I stated that Ms Gold clearly has the right to an opinion. But the article did not only contain Gold's opinion. It contained a number of factually inaccurate statements.

While a writer of course has the right to his or her opinion, they do not have the right to misstate crucial information or twist facts in order to suit their agenda. Gold used numerous inaccurate statements to support her opinion.

The publication of inaccurate information most certainly is within the PCC's remit. However, in a lazy attempt to dismiss the complaint as quickly and easily as possible, the Commission has skirted around the issue of factual inaccuracies entirely.

The PCC ruling in this matter is a joke. The Commission purports to protect the victims of inaccurate reporting but in this instance it has condoned the publication of a bigoted editorial which used inaccurate statements to support the notion that Michael Jackson was a paedophile.

The PCC has ruled and it isn't pretty. Let it be known; It is perfectly acceptable to use inaccurate information to portray an innocent black man as a paedophile. The onus is on his elderly mother, as trustee of his estate, to scour newspapers on a daily basis looking for allegations that her son molested children. That the article was printed on the other side of the planet is irrelevant; it's still her responsibility.