More bullshit from the Express *update II*

In a lovely coincidence, the Joint Committee on Human Rights produced their report that criticised the PCC at around the same time as I got a reply from them about my complaint. The two arriving together beautifully exposes why I agree with the JCHR that "[the PCC's] existing system is not sufficiently robust to protect asylum seekers and other vulnerable minorities from the adverse effects of unfair and inflammatory media stories".

Here's the background. I complained about this story in the Express. Not with the language I used in the posting, obviously, but I set out the most blatant exaggerations from the article one by one, with explanations of how each could be misleading. Like how using the word 'ban' might make people think the MCB called for something to be banned. You know, complicated stuff like that. It came to around eight pages, and I'd left some things out.

I got a reply a few weeks later, saying that the PCC only accept complaints from people not directly affected by an article in exceptional circumstances and requesting confirmation within ten days that I was officially representing the MCB. I replied saying it shouldn't matter that I don't represent the MCB and, "A newspaper has repeatedly and demonstrably misinterpreted the contents of a document, and in doing so has created ammunition for those who wish to demonise a section of the public, if not actually taken part in the demonisation itself. [...] Of course, the Commission might feel that this is not exceptional. That would say plenty about the state of the press in the UK."

I thought that was quite a decent zinger. Wasn't sure if it would make any difference to their deciding not to take my complaint any further, but I thought it had a chance.

I got a reply from the PCC late last week, saying that the MCB had sent an official complaint and:
The MCB is the clear first party in this complaint, as it is responsible for the document to which the article refers.

We will inform you of the outcome of the investigation. I do hope that this is acceptable.
Actually, it's not acceptable. And here's why.

The PCC's defence of its policy in the JCHR report 'The Treatment of Asylum Seekers' shows pretty clearly that they measure how successful they have been by counting the number of complaints they get and how many they uphold. There are two relevant sections in the JCHR report:
[The PCC said] The number of complaints (received by the PCC) does not reveal a huge groundswell of concern about them from people against the national press, given that they can complain about issues to do with accuracy, privacy, intrusion, discrimination about individuals and so on.
The PCC believes that the mechanisms in place work effectively. It provided two examples of upheld complaints concerning asylum seekers (issued in 1999 and 2000) which it says “gave an important signal to the whole of the press” and that “it has not been necessary to issue similar rulings for some time”
And on the PCC's website, it boasts of receiving 3,365 complaints in 2005 and only haviing to adjudicate 30 of them. So, for the PCC, a low number of upheld complaints equals success and proof that their mechanism works. But as their treatment of my case here demonstrates, they achieve the low number of successful complaints by throwing out as many as possible before they're even considered.

I'm pretty sure more people than just the MCB and I complained about this. I'm also pretty sure most would have been put off by the initial request to confirm they were officialy representing the MCB. I almost was. And now, anyone else who didn't take the PCC's original attempts at putting them off will have got another attempt to put them off. So, when this is all over, the PCC and the Express can claim that they only had to uphold one complaint about this article, when they may have received several perfectly good ones. Let's say five people, including the MCB complained about this, and the PCC put us all off except the MCB. That makes it look like the PCC got four frivolous complaints and one good one, when they were probably all good. If the MCB hadn't complained at all, and everyone else who did rolled over the first time we were put off (that first letter came before the MCB had put in their own complaint), the PCC could claim no successful complaints so the article was fine - job done. And that's not to mention the number of people who might have been fobbed off before and thought it wasn't worth complaining in the first place.

There's another reason this is not good enough. I might have mentioned things the MCB haven't, and the other complainants might have mentioned things we both missed. I'm sure the MCB complaint is better than mine, but it might have a different focus and not mention each instance of exaggeration in the same way. It might have chosen to focus more on the discriminatory nature of the article and comments like 'Taliban style'. In any case, two or more complaints are better than one.

The reason the PCC's, "existing system is not sufficiently robust to protect asylum seekers and other vulnerable minorities from the adverse effects of unfair and inflammatory media stories," is because the system eliminates as many complaints as possible without looking at them seriously. What makes things worse is that the Commission then claim that the low number of upheld complaints are a result of the system working, when in fact all it shows is that the PCC duck the majority of complaints it receives.

I'll be replying saying this isn't acceptable, and that I'd like my complaint taken further as well as the MCB's, but I don't reckon it'll do any good. In the worst case scenario, the MCB's complaint won't list each instance of a false claim and will be more general, so the PCC can ignore a lot of the things wrong with the article and return a negative result. Given the rumours about Peter Hill's threats to leave the PCC if complaints about the Express are upheld (scroll down to 'Slow and Shoddy Should be PCC Slogan), a rejection might not be as unlikely as it would seem.

How long before a Joint Committee on Human Rights report condemns press treatment of Muslims though, and who will the papers have moved on to by then?

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