The Leveson Report: Excellent News for Disabled People if Cameron and the Loony Right don’t smother it post-partum

Lord Justice Leveson wrote in his report:

2.61 Insight into issues of this sort was provided by Richard Desmond’s (Daily Express Editor – Ed.) candid evidence to the Inquiry, betraying a reluctance on his part to engage with what might be thought to be a basic questions that all those in journalism should be prepared to focus on. He said:

“Ethical – I don’t know what the word means, perhaps you would explain what the word means,” before adding, as noted above: “We do not talk about ethics or morals because it’s a very fine line and everybody is different”.

Thank God most people in our society don’t share in Desmond et al.’s particular brand of ‘ethical relativism’ and amorality!

Lord Leveson has come out in favour of providing disabled people with a forum for legal redress against the barrage of vile lies, libel and defamation which we as a community have been suffering incessantly at the hands of our amoral media élites these past few years; as Loony Right ideologues seek to cut us loose as a people from life and light in realisation of their psychopathic, neoliberal, market-fundamentalist utopia.

Many people have in the past contacted our campaign to ask why we don’t all join forces together to mount a ‘class-action’ lawsuit against our enemies in the media for discrimination and libel.

It has always been painful to have to explain to incredulous supporters that British law does not, at present, provide a mechanism for groups such as ours to bring such a case in the Tort of Defamation or a case for Discrimination because we lack locus standi ‘standing’ – that is that only a named, identifiable individual is competent to bring these cases as our legal system currently stands.

Lord Leveson explains this lacuna in the law below as it applies to the Press Complaints Commission Code in some detail below and goes on to recommend that any future statutory independent regulatory body must address this lacuna and furthermore for it to be able ‘to impose whatever sanctions or redress they would normally impose in respect of a breach of standards.’

So far, so good.

It’s good to pause for a moment to dream of a day when the so-called “free press” of our country will no longer be able to fabricate stories vilifying and scapegoating disabled people and benefits claimants with impunity!

A country where most of the stigma and often lethal hatred directed against us ceased to exist because people’s minds were not poisoned by the hatred and contempt engendered by the corporate media and their masters in government and elsewhere.

A country where the public were well-armed with the truth surrounding all the issues and barriers which we as disabled people face in our day-to-day struggles for life and full inclusion as equal members if our society.

If you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true, after all, as Captain Sensible once said!

But Hey!

Reality Check!

As seasoned campaigners we know that our enemies are not going to give up that easily.

There is too much invested in ensuring that the 1% control the strings that enable it to carry out devastatingly effective disinformation campaigns that ensure that the public acquiesces in the carrying out of unconscionable policies of cuts and austerity that amount to not much more than an active policy of passive euthanasia, Social Darwinism and eugenics for us disabled people in their name.

Policies that have seen 10,600 sick and/or disabled people perish within six weeks of their legitimate claim to social support ending in the last year alone, such is the price of these barbarous cuts that we above all other groups have been singled out to bear. 

They have an overarching interest in ensuring that narrative of blame for the crisis they have caused continues to be placed as firmly as possible on OUR shoulders as the true victims of this crisis, rather than upon their friends and masters controlling the banking and monetary system, big business and obscenely rich individuals.

Yes, you got it. Those folks you’ve read about who stash their £21 trillion away in offshore tax havens.

To maintain their position and privilege as ‘masters of the universe’ it is crucial that the public’s attention remains distracted from the real causes of our woes and for the population to turn in upon itself instead of demanding economic and social justice.

We have to keep believing their lies in order for them to prosper.

Cameron & Co. will use every trick in the book and every sleight of hand they know to ensure that the Leveson Report’s recommendations disappear or become as toothless as a paper tiger.

Puff and smoke will be created with tabloid campaigns in defence of our fabled ‘Great British Freedom of the Press’. Already Nick Robinson, the BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent, has reported as fact on the 10 o’clock news that Cameron refuses to go down in history as “the man who shackled the freedom of the press”.

The new standards body must be placed on a statutory footing.

It must be independent of the press and government and tough where required.

For many, this report has come too late and its recommendations, if implemented, will still come too late for many of us now fighting for our lives while drowning is a sea of vile anti-claimant, anti-welfare state, disablist propaganda.

‘Careless’ reporting costs lives.

We owe it to those who are no longer with us as a result to ensure that the Leveson Report is implemented in full. 

 

Fiona Pilkington (left), 38, had killed herself and her disabled daughter Francescca Hardwick, 18, after being constantly harassed by local youths. Photograph: Leicestershire police/PA

 

Karen Sherlock

 

Brian McArdle

 

(Note: Formatting, highlighting and links added by Black Triangle

LEVESON INQUIRY:

CULTURE, PRACTICE

AND ETHICS OF THE PRESS

 

‘It is essential that an agreed code should be honoured not only to the letter but in the full spirit. It should not be interpreted so narrowly as to compromise its commitment to respect for the rights of the individual, nor so broadly that it constitutes an unnecessary interference with freedom of expression or prevents publication in the public interest.’

1. Accuracy

The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

12. Discrimination

(i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any form of physical or mental illness or disability.

(ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.’

8.3 In the context of this section of the Report, in theory, it is possible to envisage three types of complaint to the PCC arising out of these provisions.

First, a complaint brought by an individual of inaccurate, discriminatory and/or pejorative reporting directly relating to him or her.

The vast majority of complaints of discrimination do not fall within this category.

Second, a complaint brought by a group relating to an individual directly identified in the offending article, where that individual does not wish to bring his or her own complaint.

Here, no issue arises on the Code as such, because the case clearly falls within the language of clause 12; the issue is the PCC’s policy.

Third, a complaint brought by a group, relating to alleged discriminatory treatment of the group as a whole, rather than any one individual.

This type of complaint does raise an issue on the terminology of the Code because clause 12 refers in terms to an individual’s personal characteristics, not to those of a group.

Put simply, the Code would clearly be breached if an article attacked Mr Y on the basis that he was a member of a particular religious group:

‘but it is far less clear that the same breach would occur if there were no mention, either express or implied, of Mr Y in the article and the attack were directed at the religious group in general.’

8.4 A reading of the Code which takes on board its spirit rather than simply the letter probably does not surmount this difficulty.

‘The only route to finding a violation of the Code in such a case would be by invoking clause 1, the requirement to be accurate.

‘Some discriminatory reporting is too subjective and loosely worded to fall foul of this provision, but it is not too difficult to envisage examples of reporting which would engage it.’

8.5 Those representing women’s and minority groups would be entitled to retort that if the Code as currently worded creates the kind of legalistic difficulties which have just been outlined, then the solution is a straightforward one: simply amend the Code.

The force of this point is noted, but it should be considered in depth by any future regulator, rather than by this Inquiry.

8.6 The argument has also been put that there is an important issue of free speech in play here, and that the press is entitled to be partisan.

Furthermore, matters of taste and decency are outside the Code, and properly should be. The force of these arguments needs to be recognised, but only in their proper context.

For example, (relating here to the rights of women – Ed.) putting to one side issues concerned with domestic violence, material which is pornographic and demeaning to women does not violate clauses 1 and 12 of the Code (i.e. accuracy and discrimination – Ed.), and is readily available in pornographic magazines subject to the general law.

This material is offensive to many, but an issue does arise for consideration as to whether a regulator of a free press which is entitled to be tasteless and indecent should be intervening in this sort of area.

8.7 On the other hand (relating here to the rights of minorities and disabled people – Ed.), most people would argue that obviously racially offensive material (or disablist – Ed.), which on one level might be said to be partisan in tone and content and therefore defensible as falling within the prerogative of a free press, should be capable of being the subject of regulatory comment notwithstanding the absence of an obvious first party (i.e. an individual) complainant.

It must be recognised, however, that there are many cases along the spectrum where reasonable people will disagree.

8.8 At the very least, the issue is both complex and sensitive.

The Inquiry heard from a number of groups who advanced powerful arguments in favour of greater regulation, in particular for greater balance.

Although the Inquiry received much evidence and submission devoted to the issue of the value of a free press in general terms, few came forward to advance the contrary case to that put forward by the groups I have mentioned.

Sunday Sport (2011) Ltd has recently filed a series of well-argued and sustained submissions emphasising the free speech issues and drawing attention to the fact that, in its view, the Inquiry has not received a representative spread of the available factual and opinion evidence.

Dominic Mohan, the editor of The Sun, made a spirited defence of Page 3.

He is not to be criticised for doing so, and many will feel that Page 3 of The Sun raises a taste and decency issue and none other.

The point I am seeking to make at this stage is that I am alive to all the arguments and to the fact that, on what might be called the central ground, there is room for reasonable, opposing points of view.

8.52 Overall, the evidence in relation to the representation of women and minorities suggests that there has been a significant tendency within the press which leads to the publication of prejudicial or pejorative references to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or physical or mental illness or disability.

Whether these publications have also amounted to breaches of the Editors’ Code in every case is debatable, but in the ultimate analysis is little to the point.

That failure has, in the main, been limited to a section of the press and may well stem from an undue focus on seeking to reflect the views (even if unsuccessfully) of a particular readership.

A new regulator will need to address these issues as a matter of priority, the first steps being to amend practice and the Code to permit third party complaints.

9. Inaccuracy

9.1 It is not by accident that the Editors’ Code begins with a requirement for accuracy: it is the foundation stone on which journalism depends.

For that reason, the extensive evidence heard by the Inquiry of problems with basic accuracy in parts of the press caused significant concern.

In what follows, that evidence is considered in five parts.

These are:

(a) evidence of deliberate invention and fabrication of stories by sections of the press, and/or a failure to check the truth of invented stories;

(b) evidence of deliberately misleading headlines;

(c) evidence of careless or reckless inaccuracy in particular when reporting fast moving and high profile stories;

(d) evidence of a tendency for sections of the press to report political and social issues inaccurately in order to fit into the worldview of the title; and

(e) evidence that scientific stories are reported poorly and often inaccurately by much of the press.

9.2 It is important to note that it is inevitable that inaccuracies will appear in newspapers, given the quantity of stories published and the speed at which they need to be written.

It is also inevitable that some stories will be defamatory.

But what is not inevitable is that the inaccuracies or defamations will be deliberate or the result of reckless or careless journalism.

The Inquiry heard many examples of inaccuracies in the press, and sometimes damaging inaccuracies which had led to successful defamation claims and serious criticism of the newspapers involved.

Although consideration was given to basing criticisms in this Report upon some of those examples, I decided that it would be unjustified to do so.

Unless the examples of inaccuracy manifestly fell into the categories of deliberate, reckless or careless inaccuracy, they have not been included in what follows.

Inaccurate reporting of political issues to fit the world view of a title

9.38 The Inquiry heard a great deal of evidence on the extent to which newspapers ought to distinguish between fact and comment in reporting; a requirement to do so is contained in the Editors’ Code.

It was almost universally accepted by the witnesses who appeared at the Inquiry that the distinction between fact and comment, particularly in respect of the reporting of political issues, had been substantially blurred in recent years.

Former Prime Ministers the Rt. Hon Tony Blair and the Rt. Hon Gordon Brown gave evidence of the corrosive effect that this blurring of news and comment could have on political life. To varying extents, others, including the Rt. Hon Kenneth Clarke and the broadcaster Jon Snow, agreed.

9.39 Although some consideration was given to whether this development justified criticism, it seems to me that the blurring of fact and comment, although prohibited in the Editors’ Code, is an inevitable part of press reporting in the 21st century.

That is so for two reasons.

First, because purely factual reporting devoid of all opinion is, to all practical purposes, impossible: the choice of stories to publish in a newspaper, and the facts chosen to include in a particular story, will necessarily be influenced by a newspaper’s agenda and opinions.

Secondly, because in a world of 24 hour television and online news, readers expect newspapers to provide something more than pure news: campaigns, opinions and comment are what a readership demands and it is not always possible or indeed desirable to divorce these from pure reporting of the news.

That is not to say that newspapers should not seek to identify, where possible, what is primarily news and what is primarily commentary.

But it is to say that that the fusion of news and comment in the press is not necessarily a practice that is harmful or worthy of criticism.

9.40 However, what is harmful and what is worthy of criticism is a practice identified in sections of the press of prioritising the worldview of a title over the accuracy of a story.

Mr Campbell, a supporter of what he called “agenda journalism” (where news and comment are necessarily fused), nonetheless argued that sections of the press had taken agenda journalism to a point where it transgressed into the realms of invention and/or reckless inaccuracy.

Mr Peppiatt’s evidence in relation to the top-down pressure experienced at the Daily Star to uncover stories that fit within a particular “narrative” is a prime example of this and is discussed above.

9.41 Full Fact has monitored press accuracy since April 2010.

It provided a comprehensive and extremely helpful submission to the Inquiry which identified a range of inaccurate articles, including many where the inaccuracy appears to be the result of the title’s agenda taking precedence or assuming too great a significance over and beyond the facts of the underlying story.

It seems that stories on political issues are most likely to suffer from this form of inaccuracy; examples are considered within the following categories:

(i) disability and social welfare benefits;

(ii) criminal justice issues;

(iii) immigration; and

(iv) Europe and Britain’s role within it.

9.42 In relation to articles on disability and social welfare benefits, Full Fact provided numerous examples of misleading articles about the transition from the old Incapacity Benefit (IB) to the new Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

Each article appeared to support an agenda of exposing benefit frauds and getting the ‘work-shy’ back into work.

Full Fact provided many examples, all of which could have been included in this Report: by way of illustration only, three are referred to.

9.43 First, the Daily Mail published an article under the headline ‘400,000 ’were trying it on’ to get sickness benefits: 94% of incapacity benefits [sic] can work’.

In fact the report on which the article was based had reported that, in the transition from IB to ESA, only 6% of sickness benefit claimants had been assessed as unsuitable for any kind of work related activity.

However, many of the 94% of people described in the headline as “trying it on” and “fit for work” were those assessed as falling with the ‘Work Related Activity Group’ (WRAG) for the purposes of ESA; that is, they were eligible to claim ESA, considered unsuitable for immediate work, but potentially suitable for work in the future.

That included people undergoing chemotherapy or dialysis treatment, hospital in-patients, and those suffering from uncontrollable and life threatening diseases, none of whom would ordinarily be thought of as “trying it on” to claim sickness benefit.

9.44 Second, The Sun’s article, ‘Fit as a Fiddler: ‘Sick’ spongers could start work right now’ suggested 1.8 million people on sickness benefit were fit for work, or would be fit for work within “a few weeks”.

The 1.8 million “spongers” described in the headline included the same group as those described as “trying it on” by the Daily Mail: those placed in the WRAG who were assessed as unsuitable for immediate work, but potentially suitable for work in the future, including cancer patients, those with renal failure, hospital in-patients and others suffering from serious diseases.

The suggestion that this group would be fit for work within a few weeks had no factual basis.

9.45 Third, the Daily Telegraph published an article reporting ‘Nine out of 10 sickness benefit claimants are judged fit to work’. That ‘nine out of 10’ judged “fit to work” included not only those in the WRAG, but also those who had withdrawn their claims because their condition had improved between application and assessment.

In that context, it was not only misleading to refer to the ‘nine out of 10’ as “fit to work”, but it was also misleading to include within the figures the category of people who had withdrawn their claims and were therefore no longer “claimants”.467

9.46 The House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee was critical of the press coverage of welfare reform in its 6th Report. It noted:468

“Sections of the media routinely use pejorative language, such as “work-shy” or “scrounger”, when referring to incapacity benefit claimants. We strongly deprecate this and believe that it is irresponsible and inaccurate.

“The duty on the state to provide adequate support through the benefits system for people who are unable to work because of a serious health condition or illness is a fundamental principle of British society. Portraying the reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants as some sort of scheme to “weed out benefit cheats” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Government’s objectives.

41. … In the end, the media will choose its own angle, but the Government should take great care with the language it itself uses and take all possible steps to ensure that context is provided when information about IB claimants found fit for work is released, so that unhelpful and inaccurate stories can be shown to have no basis.”

9.47 The Select Committee is right to acknowledge that the media is entitled to choose whatever angle on a story it wishes, particularly on matters of political importance.

Nonetheless, there is an important distinction to be made between “taking an angle” and plain inaccuracy.

It is vital that the press is cautious not allow the former to lead to the latter.

Conclusion

9.76 In their various submissions and representations to the Inquiry, the Press Core Participants and others with a similar interest have urged on me that factual error cannot be eliminated in press reporting, and that the evidence adduced to the Inquiry falls short of supporting the proposition that the problem is sufficiently serious or widespread to be classed as systemic, cultural or generic.

I have paid close regard to these submissions, and I have not lost sight of the point that the Inquiry is inevitably taking a snap-shot of a picture which is immensely complex and multi-faceted.

I have already made the point that the issue is not about quantity.506

Taking all these matters on board, and assessing the evidence as a whole, I have come to the conclusion that there DOES exist a cultural strand or tendency within a section of the press to practice journalism which on occasion is deliberately, recklessly or negligently inaccurate.

In other words, this is not simply a matter of accidental (or co-incidental) understandable human error.

9.78 As with other similar cultural problems which I have identified in this Chapter, the requirement is for the creation of a regulator with more robust powers, not to censor or control the content of press reporting but to set out firmer and clearer ethical and professional standards whose adherence would directly lead to far fewer (measured both qualitatively and quantitatively) of the types of sub-standard reporting this chapter has identified.

In that regard, the value of the work carried out by Full Fact is extremely important and I am pleased to recognise that Full Fact can claim to be one of the organisations that does seek to ‘guard the guardians’. 732

Later at p.1692 Leveson continues …

9.22 Further, in relation to complaints by groups, although I have recognised the concern expressed by Mr Dacre (Daily Mail Editor – Ed.) and would endorse a filter system to remove complaints that are ideologically motivated only to further the group’s objectives, I do not otherwise accept the argument.

As I have pointed out earlier 259 the current Editor’s Code outlaws prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability, but does not provide similar protection in respect of groups.

It is difficult to understand why there should not be some mechanism for representative groups to engage in challenges similarly based on the standards set out in the code.

9.23 In addition, I see no reason why representative organisations should not be entitled to raise a complaint in relation both to accuracy and prejudice where articles are discriminatory in respect of a group.

Where such articles are found to have breached the relevant standards to the level that can trigger a standards investigation, it should be possible for the standards body to impose whatever sanctions or redress they would normally impose in respect of a breach of standards.

 

Leveson Report: Criticisms of the culture, practices and ethics of the press

Pages 660-672: Chapter 6: ‘Criticisms of the culture, practices and ethics of the press’ at Section 8 ‘Representation of women and minorities’

 

https://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2012/06/22/joint-submission-to-the-leveson-inquiry-requesting-oral-hearing-by-disabled-peoples-organisations-sent-on-18th-june-2012/

http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Submission-by-Inclusion-London.pdf

http://fullfact.org/blog/NUJ_stop_calling_disabled_people_scroungers-3125

 

 

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