The Press Complaints Comission (PCC) has censured a blogger for posting unsubstantiated comments on the website of a print publication, The Spectator. This is the first time that the PCC has censured a newspaper or magazine over a journalistic blog.
The PCC regulates the behaviour of the press in the UK and holds them to an Editors’ Code of Practice which includes accuracy, respect for privacy, non-payment of criminals, etc.
In this case, Rod Liddle made comments about the ethnic background of criminals in London, namely that the “overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London was carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community.” Although The Spectator tried to justify the comments partly through statistics and partly through the comment being an opinion, the PCC found that Code of Practice, Clause 1 (Accuracy) had been breached.
The director of the PCC, Stephen Abell, said: “This is a significant ruling because it shows that the PCC expects the same standards in newspaper and magazine blogs that it would expect in comment pieces that appear in print editions. There is plenty of room for robust opinions, views and commentary but statements of fact must still be substantiated if and when they are disputed. And if substantiation isn’t possible, there should be proper correction by the newspaper or magazine in question.”
Before all the UK’s bloggers get worried, first of all, there’s no danger of the PCC going round censuring bloggers. To start with, the PCC is only concerned with newspapers and magazines who subscribe to its funding body. Secondly, it can only censure, which is largely name-and-shame, and it cannot impose fines.
However, while Britain has always had libel laws, it would appear that it’s just become a bit harder to defend (inaccurate) commentary by saying that it was an opinion and not a fact. You have been warned.