Blind Eye to Racism

23 05 2011

Category: Anti-semitism

Fraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson thinks the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) does a great job. His endorsement comes just as the PCC has rejected a complaint against the Spectator, which he edits.

Here’s what Nelson has had to say about the PCC:

As an Editor of a magazine, the PCC come onto us all the time; it takes it very seriously. If you contravene their code you’ve got to apologise for it. They hold you to account…it works.
Fraser Nelson, Newsnight 13 May 2011

You have to what? Oh, apologise.

He won’t even have to do that in relation to that recent complaint about a piece in his magazine. I have been shown the complaint and the PCC’s response. The complaint related to a restaurant review published in a supplement of the magazine in April 2011. I wrote about the article – in a post here.

The Spectator’s review – click here to read it – was written by distinguished historian Sir Alistair Horne, and this is what he had to say:

Our conversation was beaten down by the nasal tones of Finchley Road entrepreneurs, boasting their latest high-powered deals.

The voices carried me back to the last time I was treated to ‘Henry’s table’ in the Grill. It was June 1940, a party to cheer up my cousin, Cecil, who had just been given the DSO (on top of a WWI Military Cross) for bringing his battalion out of Dunkirk.

He was a man as brave as a lion, who rather alarmed me as a child, and that day was gaunt and hollow-eyed as if he had escaped from hell. He Had. He talked of German ‘secret weapons. Then, as we rose, he looked around the room and asked scathingly: ‘Are these really the people we fought for?’ He might possibly have posed the same question today, except that he was killed two years later at the head of his brigade in the desert.

The magazine didn’t publish any letters commenting on the review. A complaint was made to the PCC on the grounds that, well here’s the relevant bit of the complaint:

The phrase ‘nasal tones of Finchley Road entrepreneurs’ is code for Jews. It is coupled with a suggestion that his cousin who fought in the war may have speculated whether it was worth fighting for such people. Given the fate of European Jewry in the Second World War it is an especially repugnant line of thought.

The remarks are in breach of Clause 12 – Discrimination. They are in contravention of the stipulation contained in part i) that “…the press must avoid prejudicial or perforative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion…” and also contravene part ii) in that the references were not “genuinely relevant” to the review.

The PCC rejected the complaint in the following terms:

The Commission fully understood the complainant’s concerns in regard to the reviewer’s reference to his fellow diners; however, it noted that the reference had not been made to any readily identifiable or named individual. Given that the reference had not been made about identifiable individuals, but rather anonymous people, the Commission could not establish a breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code.

If the Code were a legal document or code of practice there would be grounds to argue with that ruling. But the Code, though written in a legal style, is a voluntary code judged by the industry. It is their practise to uphold complaints of this sort only in relation to readily identifiable individuals.

The effect of that is:

a) think of the vilest description of a member of any ethnic group,
b) couple it with a prejudiced stereotype of that group, and
c) add any fate for them you wish, expressed in the crudest terms possible.

Then have it printed in a national newspaper or magazine. Whatever you have come up with is acceptable under the PCC Code, because the individual in question is not immediately identifiable, and that is apparently all that matters.

Given the articles he selects and publishes, no wonder Fraser Nelson thinks the PCC works just fine.



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