The National Union of Journalists has condemned the press regulator’s decision to reject complaints about Katie Hopkins’ Sun column which described migrants as “cockroaches”.Last week, the Independent Press Standards Organisation rejected all complaints that the column, which sparked widespread anger by suggesting that Europe should use gunboats to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean, was discriminatory on the grounds that it did not refer to a specific individual.The NUJ said that by rejecting the complaints IPSO has “thrown further doubt on its own legitimacy” as the successor to the Press Complaints Commission.Only two complaints out of more than 400 have been referred to the Sun, both under clauses of the editors’ code dealing with accuracy rather than discrimination.NUJ condemns regulator's decision on Katie Hopkins 'cockroaches' column (Mark Sweney, Guardian, 2015)
Whilst reluctant to further Hopkins' rather crude career plan - be loudly objectionable, become the subject of media debate, be a known talking head for hire - this is a useful case study from IPSO, one which can very usefully be compared to one of the PCC's most contentious decisions. Despite being the most complained about story in the PCC's history, they found no case to case to answer from Jan Moir's (another ... delightful columnist) piece on Stephen Gately, marking the Boyzone singer's funeral by linking homosexuality with drug-taking, promiscuity and the assumption that he had AIDS!
A reminder of the Gately ruling, one which did little to bolster the public view of the PCC:
The Press Complaints Commission has rejected a complaint from the partner of Stephen Gately, the Boyzone singer who died suddenly in October, over an article by the Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir.The PCC received more than 25,000 complaints, a record number, after Moir wrote about Gately's death, describing events leading up to it as "sleazy" and "less than respectable".The article, published on 16 October, six days after Gately's death, provoked outrage, with many readers expressing their anger on Facebook and Twitter. Gately's record company, Polydor, also complained.In a ruling, the commission said it was "uncomfortable with the tenor of the columnist's remarks" but that censuring Moir, and the paper, would represent "a slide towards censorship". It added: "Argument and debate are working parts of an active society and should not be constrained unnecessarily."The PCC's director, Stephen Abell said the article contained flaws, but the commission had decided: "It would not be proportionate to rule against the columnist's right to offer freely expressed views about something that was the focus of public attention."Gately's civil partner, Andrew Cowles, said he was disgusted by the article and claimed the Daily Mail had broken the PCC's code of conduct on three grounds, arguing that it was inaccurate, intruded into private grief and contained homophobic remarks.The code says that the press must avoid making pejorative references to a person's sexual orientation, but the commission said that Moir did not use any abusive or discriminatory language."While many complainants considered that there was an underlying tone of negativity towards Mr Gately and the complainant on account of the fact that they were gay, it was not possible to identify any direct uses of pejorative or prejudicial language in the article," it said.Taken from Robinson, 2012 Guardian article.
Clearly there is a VERY high barrier indeed to having any complaints on this clause upheld. As ever with the PCC and now IPSO, it is worth trying to step back and noting the point about freedom of speech; you may agree or disagree with its application here, but it is an important principle.
The NUJ are notable here ... their voice has been near-invisible in the ongoing 'debate' over press regulation.
The earlier Moir case also provides an example of commercial advertiser pressure not working to impact press content:
16 October 2009 The day before Gately's funeral, Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir writes an article that describes events leading up to his death as "sleazy" and "less than respectable". "Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one," she writes. The article provokes outrage on Twitter, with Derren Brown urging fans to complain to the Press Complaints Commission. More than 1,000 complaints are made by 7pm, causing the press watchdog's website to crash for most of the afternoon. In a highly unusual move, the Daily Mail issues a statement from Moir defending her views, while brands such as Marks & Spencer remove ads from the online version of the article.The quote above is from a Guardian timeline of the controversy. The Mail would not be budged!