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30 March 2010

Liddle censured by the PCC for blog

Spectator blogger is first to be censured for an online post.

By George Eaton

I see that Rod Liddle has just been censured by the Press Complaints Commission for the infamous blog he wrote, falsely claiming that the “overwhelming majority” of violent crime in London was carried out by young African-Caribbean men.

It’s amusing to think that, had things turned out differently, this ruling would have come in Liddle’s first week as editor of the Independent.

Here’s the key section of the PCC ruling:

[T]he magazine had not been able to demonstrate that the “overwhelming majority” of crime in all of the stated categories had been carried out by members of the African-Caribbean community. It was difficult to argue that the sentence in question represented purely the columnist’s opinion, which might be challenged. Instead, it was a statement of fact. As such, the Commission believed that the onus was on the magazine to ensure that it was corrected authoritatively online. It could not rely merely on the carrying of critical reaction to the piece. The Commission upheld the complaint under Clause 1 of the Code.

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I covered this affair at the time in a post that prompted Liddle himself to dive into the comment thread. Challenged to support his claim that vast bulk of crime in the capital was carried out by young African-Caribbean men, he produced “Met stats” showing:

62 per cent of London knife crime committed by African-Caribbean young men (2008). 90 per cent of gun crime similar (80 per cent black on black). 72 per cent of street crime similar.

Curiously, none of these particular stats was cited by the Spectator in its response to the PCC.

The magazine also attempted to defend the post by arguing that blogging is a “conversational medium” and that the “piece as a whole had been written by the columnist and those who had commented”.

Blogging certainly is a vastly different medium from the press, but this point should never be used to deny the ultimate responsibility of the writer for his or her own words. And it is clear that, in this case, prejudice was allowed to pose as fact.

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