"For more hate, turn to page 8." The UK's top newspaper editors vote to retain the privilege to print prejudice

They've rejected calls to change the Editors’ Code of Practice to ban press discrimination against specific communities. I wonder why...

Satire isn’t just dead. Its body has been consistently dug up and defiled by the necrophile denizens of British politics and media. The latest vile act of post-mortem pounding occurred yesterday when the British Press Awards named The Daily Mail as the inaugural winner of its ‘Public Service Award’, which it compares to a Pulitzer.

Not only is the notion of The Daily Mail being a ‘force for good’ ludicrous — it’s like making Emperor Palpatine politician of the year for his efforts to ‘unite’ the galaxy — but the specific campaign which the British Journalism Awards has honoured was found to involve purchases of PPE from Chinese factories that use forced labour.

The Press Gazette, which runs the British Journalism Awards, even reported on the questions around the Mail Force campaign. Robert Hardman, the Mail columnist who helped coordinate the endeavour, told it:

We are very proud of what we have done. We delivered more than 40m pieces of PPE, most of them were made in the UK… We are adamant that this has been a force for good… No good deed goes unpunished.”

Of course, the Chinese government denies that there is any forced labour whatsoever in its country but then, to borrow and mildly mangle the famous words of Mandy Rice-Davies during the Profumo Scandal, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

The holding up of the Mail as a “force for good” (subs to check) was among many utterly unbelievable claims at the British Media Awards, which included describing Jan Moir as “laugh out loud funny” and Marina Hyde as “to comment journalism what Daley Thomson was to the decathlon in the 1980s”. The logical conclusion of the second comment is that you’ll soon be able to play a game where you bash buttons to make a pixellated Marina Hyde write a column but, if your rhythm is off, you’ll be left with a John Crace piece.

On the same day that the circle jerk awards show was happening, the Press Gazette was also reporting on the latest lack of updates to the Editors’ Code. The committee of poachers pretending to be gamekeepers which decides on changes to the code is made up predominantly of newspaper execs and editors, including Chris Evans of The Daily Telegraph (the worst of all Chris Evanses), Emma Tucker of The Sunday Times, Ted Young of The Metro, and Gary Jones of The Daily Express.

The Editor’s Code, which is theoretically enforced by the toothless Independent Press Standard Organisation (IPSO), is reviewed every three years. This time there was one small change to the privacy-focused Clause 2 to insert a specific reference to mental health. It now reads:

Everyone is entitled to respect for their [changed from his or her] private and family life, home, physical and mental health [currently only ‘health’], and correspondence, including digital communications.

However, a major change around discrimination was rejected by the committee. Last year, IPSO’s former chairman Sir Alan Moses said discrimination against specific groups was “the greatest issue” the regulator was grappling with. Well, the grappling will continue for at least another three years…

As the Press Gazette reports, 13 of 35 submissions to the code review consultation were directly related to Clause 12 (Discrimination), with 11 wanting greater explicit protections added for groups.

Currently, the Code says the press must…

“… avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability…”

… and that such those kinds of details must only be mentioned if they are genuinely relevant to the story. Of course, what is or isn’t ‘genuinely relevant’ is in the eye of the beholder and when the beholder is a British newspaper editor everything becomes relevant. Think about how many newspaper reports note that the accused individual is a “Jamaican man” or a “Black woman” versus those who note that someone is white.

The use of the word “individual” also means that IPSO usually rejects out of hand complaints submitted by religious, racial, or gender groups who are the subjects of pejorative stories. In 2017, IPSO upheld just one complaint out of 8,000 submitted on discrimination grounds. It’s a busted flush, but the turds of the British press prefer it that way and won’t be fixing it of their own accord.

Neil Benson, the chair of the Editor’s Code Committee and a former executive editor at Trinity Mirror group (now Reach) told the Press Gazette:

“The code committee concluded that accepting complaints about generalised comments regarding groups would limit freedom of expression and prevent a free press examining and debating key issues. It noted that incitement to hatred is already a criminal offence and the code seeks to supplement the law, not to echo or replace it.”

The truth is that the British press is absolutely addicted to making generalised and spiteful statements about groups of people. Consider the way The Times and Sunday Times write about trans people or Gypsy, Romany and Traveller communities, or how the press, in general, writes about Muslims, and you’ll see why they have no desire to see discrimination more clearly highlighted in the Editor’s Code.

While quoting no representatives of groups that would have liked to see the Editor’s Code strengthened, the Press Gazette did find space for the view of “The Insitute for Civil Society” which it assured its readers has “insisted that press freedom should be protected” and says “fears of being accused of Islamophobia may impact journalistic reporting and editorial decisions”.

The way the Press Gazette’s piece is written gives no context on who these freedom fighters at the ICS are and there’s probably a good reason for that. They are not independent — in the same way, that the ‘independent’ in IPSO’s name is ridiculous — but are, in fact, a think tank whose full name is Civitas: The Insitute for Civil Society.

Civitas is a spin-out from the right-wing Institute of Economic Affairs and, like many other ‘think-tanks’/astroturfing outfits is based at 55 Tufton Street. Its research was drawn upon heavily by Vote Leave, and while it considers itself “non-partisan”, The Times and The Daily Telegraph — which its director occasionally contributes to — called it a “right-of-centre think-tank”. Whyever would such a palace of free thinkers want to ensure that discrimination isn’t properly covered by the Editor’s Code?!

Demonising particular groups while defining other within those groups as “acceptable” or “good” is one of the British press’ favourite tactics. Even if the Editor’s Code had been updated there’s little chance that the newspapers would stop attacking those they consider “un-British” or “abnormal”. The pursuit — particularly by the most nakedly right-wing papers — of an agenda that is stuck firmly in the early-1980s is a long-term and ongoing project. Bullying is the business model and if you’re really good at it, you get a British Press Award.