28 Feb Lord David Hunt – A Chance to Put The PCC Straight

The Daily Mail’s “Killed By Cannabis” story about David Norkett’s death was part of a rearguard action by Paul Dacre to advances in the war on prohibition. All of informed opinion now sees the Dacre hysteria about cannabis as the nonsense that it is. In response to Sir Richard Branson, the Home Affairs select committee inquiry into drug policy and virtually unanimous editorial opinion elsewhere, the Mail newspapers went on the attack. Peter Hitchens, Kathy Gyngell, Melanie Phillips, Amanda Platell – they were all rolled out to rant and mislead as best they could. “Killed by cannabis” was perhaps the most crass attempt at disinformation of them all.

Full details of the PCC complaint and decision are here. It seems the commission has learned nothing, even after all the comment and discussion, it seems to want to dig itself further in. Radical action is needed to sweep away the corruption that is inherent in it. Lord David Hunt, who took on the poison chalice that is the chairmanship of the PCC has a chance here. I hope he will rise to it.

Dear Lord Hunt,

PCC Complaint no. 120401. “Killed by cannabis: Boy, 17, dies falling down stairs while high on skunk … and proves Sir Richard Branson is wrong about drugs”, The Daily Mail, 25-01-12

I am writing to you about the decision issued by the commission on 27th February 2012 in respect of the above complaint. It is a disgrace. It shames the whole of the British newspaper industry and all the many honourable journalists who work hard to report the truth accurately and fairly. Please take the time to investigate this personally. This decision cannot be allowed to stand.

I regret that there is no longer any point in writing to the Independent Reviewer about the way the commission handles complaints. I have written to Sir Michael on 12 occasions since October last year and not received a single response despite also speaking to Tonia Milton on several occasions and sending reminders.

However, this complaint has not just been badly handled. The decision is plainly wrong. The reasons advanced for failing to censure the Daily Mail for this disgusting article are ludicrous. It seems that despite all the criticism and debate the commission has learned nothing. If anything it is getting worse.

It is self-evident that the first three words of the headline are a breach of the code as they are directly contradicted by the coroner. That the headline itself goes onto clarify that David Norkett died “falling down stairs” is proof that those first three words are deliberately inaccurate, designed to mislead, distort and sensationalise. The only reason that clarification is needed is because of the false impression first created.

The decision goes on to say “The commission was satisfied that …readers…would not be misled”. This is appalling Lord Hunt. I cannot believe that anyone of integrity can be prepared to put their name to this nonsense. The headline manipulates language in order to deceive. The commission becomes complicit in that deceit if it fails to act.

The absurd leap of logic that the headline then makes to disparage the views of Sir Richard Branson is also excused by the commission as an “editorial opinion”. It’s not an opinion about anything. It’s a misleading association of a death with an opinion about drugs policy which is entirely unrelated. It is another shameful deception that the commission endorses with weak excuses. The commission is being used to licence inaccurate, misleading and distorted reporting.

The article is in breach of clause 1.iii) of the Editors’ Code in that it fails to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. It weaves a deception of opinion, hyperbole and innuendo with reporting of a coroner’s inquest. It is a disgrace and the failure of the commission to deem it a breach of the code on these grounds alone is unconscionable.

The commission picks and chooses when to make judgments entirely to suit itself. It evades the question of intrusion into Mr Norkett’s family’s grief in a cowardly and shameful way. It demonstrates that it is even more irresponsible than the newspaper itself because it exists to defend victims of press intrusion without mealy mouthed excuses.

This decision encapsulates everything that is wrong, corrupt, weak and irresponsible about the commission. It demonstrates perfectly why it is unfit for purpose. I urge you Lord Hunt to grasp this nettle. The construction, intent, tone and purpose of this article is to mislead. If the commission is incapable of reining in such conduct by the press then it has no future.

I shall be copying this correspondence to the Leveson Inquiry because it is important evidence of how the press and the commission conduct themselves.

Please take the time to investigate this complaint. It goes right to the very heart of what is wrong. I hope to hear back from you.

Kind regards,

yours sincerely,

Peter Reynolds