Storm in a sosban fach?

Perhaps the only interesting thing about Rod Liddle’s recent post on his Spectator blog, is the range of responses it’s evoked from us Welshers. I wasn’t going to bother joining the fray, but since it’s raining…

For the record, in a post about how S4C should be put out of its misery, Liddle describes its audience as miserable, seaweed munching, sheep-bothering pinch-faced hill tribes.

Meh. Unimaginative troll trolls unimaginatively. If this had been on some UKIP mouthbreather’s blog I wouldn’t have even bothered leaving a comment. Life’s too short.

But it’s still raining.

I first heard about Liddle’s comments via a Facebook post by Mabon ap Gwynfor, who announced that he had reported Rod Liddle to the North Wales police for “racism”. I understand Mabon’s anger, and have no doubt that Liddle fits most reasonable people’s definition of a racist, but I don’t imagine that much good will come of involving the police. Being a racist isn’t actually against the law, and unless the police think that Liddle’s comments are likely to incite racial hatred, I don’t see what they can do about the situation.

Having said that, Liddle is a professional journalist, and the comments appear on the website of a nationally distributed magazine, so he is clearly in contravention of the Press Complaints Commission’s Code of Practice, specifically Clause 12, Discrimination:

The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

When the subject of complaining to the PCC came up in the comments section of Liddle’s blog, the classic Spectator reading sophists’ response was “the Welsh aren’t a race, so we can be as hateful as we want”.

This is nonsense. It’s tiring nonsense, and engaging with crap like this is boring. On maes-e, otherwise militant voices are choosing not to feed the troll, usually good advice which I have dispensed myself more times than I care to remember. A regular reader of this blog advocates blocking the Spectator’s website completely, although if we did that every time a English language newspaper or magazine published a trollish article we’d soon be left with very few sources of news from beyond the dyke. (The Guardian would be long gone, for instance.)

Liddle isn’t the problem, he’s just a symptom. It’s a cliche to say that “the Welsh” are the only ethnic-type group, if that’s a vague enough definition, that an English journalist can attack in print with impunity, but cliches don’t emerge sui generis, and this one’s been snowballing along for centuries. We turn the other cheek so fast sometimes that our heads spin. When we react to having pins pushed into our flesh we’re told that we shouldn’t be so thin-skinned.

How’s this for a solution? You stop pushing pins into our flesh, and we’ll stop complaining about it. Really, just fucking stop it, it’s annoying.

Until then, if it sounds like racism, if it looks like racism, and if it smells like racism, then it very probably is racism. And racist journalists should be reported to the Press Complaints Commission.


(edit, 3/12/10)

Received an email from the PCC, giving their response to the “over 40” complaints received.

Commission’s decision in the case of Various v The Spectator

The Commission received over forty complaints that the article discriminated against Welsh people. Some complainants were also concerned that the article included a number of inaccuracies, including the wording of the headline and the reference to the viewing figures of S4C.

The Commission understood that the columnist’s reference to Welsh people as “miserable, seaweed munching, sheep bothering pinch-faced hill tribes” had greatly offended many readers. Under the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) columnists are entitled to express their opinions – however robust or controversial – provided that they are clearly distinguished from fact. The Commission acknowledged that the views expressed in the article about Wales and Welsh people would be upsetting to many readers, however it was satisfied that readers generally would be aware that the article reflected the columnist’s personal and, indeed, robust opinions rather than statements of fact about residents of Wales. The Commission was therefore of the view that readers would not be misled on this point.

Several complainants expressed concern about specific points of accuracy in the article – predominantly the wording of the headline and the reference to viewing figures of S4C. The Commission acknowledged the complainants’ argument that the correct spelling of the quotation used in the headline was “Sosban fach yn berwi ar y tan”. However, while more care could have been taken to ensure the correct spelling of the words, the Commission did not consider that the error was significantly inaccurate or would mislead readers in such a way as to constitute a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.

The Commission noted that the piece was commenting on a survey which found that “almost 200 of its [S4C] programmes had zero viewers”. This indeed appeared to be an accurate reflection of the report, which had stated that 196 programmes had attracted “zero figures”. The Commission acknowledged that any number of viewers fewer than one thousand was officially rated as zero, and that children under 4 were not included in viewing figures and, as such, it understood the complainants’ objections to the phrase “LITERALLY nobody” to describe the number of viewers. However, it considered that, in this context, the term “literally” had been used in relation to the official viewing figures – which were recorded as “zero” – especially given that any other figure of viewers below the threshold of one thousand could not be established. With this in mind, on balance, it considered that readers generally would not be significantly misled in such a way as to warrant correction under the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.

One complainant considered it inaccurate to make reference to HTV (Cymru), which no longer existed. The Commission acknowledged that the channel was no longer named this, however, given that this was the channel’s previous title, it did not consider that the reference was misleading in such a way as to amount to a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.

The majority of complaints were made in regard to Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code. While the clause prevents newspapers and magazines from publishing pejorative or prejudicial references to an individual’s race, it does not cover generalised remarks about groups or categories of people. Given that the article did not make reference to a particular individual but rather to Welsh people in general, the Commission could not establish a breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

One complainant also looked to engage Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge), although he did not make clear on what grounds he felt the clause had been breached. The clause was designed to prevent journalists from using clandestine devices to obtain material for publication and to ensure that they did not engage in misrepresentation. Given that there did not appear to be any suggestion that the columnist had used such apparatus or engaged in misrepresentation, the Commission could not establish a breach of Clause 10 (i) or (ii) of the Code.

The Commission understood the grounds on which the complainants found the article highly offensive; however, it made clear that the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice do not address issues of taste and offence. The Code is designed to address the potentially competing rights of freedom of expression and other rights of individuals, such as privacy. Newspapers and magazines have editorial freedom to publish what they consider to be appropriate provided that the rights of individuals – enshrined in the terms of the Code which specifically defines and protects these rights – are not compromised. To come to an inevitably subjective judgement as to whether such material is tasteless or offensive would amount to the Commission acting as a moral arbiter, which can lead to censorship. Furthermore, any possible issue relating to incitement of violence is a legal matter which does not fall within the remit of the Code and could not, therefore, be addressed by the Commission. It could not, therefore, comment further on these aspects of the complaints.

Finally, one complainant had expressed concern that the magazine had not published his comment directing readers to the PCC website. The Commission made clear that the selection of comments for publication was a matter for the discretion of individual editors (provided that the terms of the Code were not engaged) and, as such, it could not comment further on the matter.

Reference No. 105049/105207

So remember, English journalists, you can be as “robust” as you like when having at go at Welshes, just so long as you don’t name one of them while you’re at it. This presumably holds true for Jamaicans and Pakistanis too, but I doubt that even Liddle would dare to be quite so “robust” about those two “groups”.

About Nic Dafis

Yn wreiddiol o'r Waun, Wrecsam, bellach yn byw ger Llangrannog, Ceredigion. Gweithio fel tiwtor Cymraeg i oedolion.
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12 Responses to Storm in a sosban fach?

  1. Carl Morris says:

    Syniadau would prefer to call it nationality rather than race for good reasons I think.

    One reason I gave out instructions on how to ignore a website completely (any website you don’t like) is money.

    When you read something like the Spectator online, you are NOT its customer. Its advertisers are its customers. You, the reader, are what is being sold.

    “Paying attention”, if you will.

    Spectator racks up page views then charges accordingly. So linking and commenting helps to boost the attention – and the income for them.

    As far as commenting goes, it doesn’t matter what you write. If it’s funny or inflammatory then you’re helping even more.

    The net value of Spectator to me is negative so it went on my ignore list.

    Since you mention it, The Guardian’s net value is above zero. But I can always change my mind.

    Ignoring is the only method which is compatible with their free speech and my control of my time – and occupying my mind with things that are of more value. Of course if everyone did it…

  2. nicdafis says:

    The Comedians would still be on the telly of a Saturday night, and we’d still be able to enjoy jokes about thick Paddies?

    The distinction between race and nationality is important, of course, but a xenophobic rant against the Welsh is of a kind with a xenophobic rant against any other “other”. The only difference, as far as I can see, is that the Welsh are the only “other” who are expected to feel guilty if they react to provocation, with the possible exception of Liverpudlians. (Although, if I remember correctly, even they got an apology out of Boris Johnson.)

    There’s always the possibility that The Spectator’s advertisers will start to feel uncomfortable with paying for their products to be advertised alongside such bilge, but that’s hardly likely if we all choose to look the other way.

    Anyway, what kind of “blog about attitudes towards Wales and the Welsh in the English language media” would this be, if I were to ignore the most obvious contemporary example of Taffy-bashing?

  3. Sara says:

    That this really unimaginitive crap was reported to the police gave me a shudder. Brace yourself for the second wave of anti-welsh cliché: “they take it all so *seriously*”!
    The man is suffering some serious Victorian delusions which we would best be off mocking. As Carl points out, though, writing that kind of ‘baity’ text turns out well for the publishers either way, whose main aim, it would seem, is selling ad space rather than furthering discourse. Would it be fair to suggest that if we all flock to voice our dissent on the site, the Spectator has reason enough to print this kind of stuff again, since they know we’ll bite?

  4. nicdafis says:

    /turns off ad-blocker on spectator.co.uk

    /reloads page

    /writes quick email to the Ford Motor Company

    • nicdafis says:

      To Ford:

      I came to your website from an advertisement on The Spectator’s website (http://www.spectator.co.uk/rodliddle/6392643/sosban-fach-yn-berwi-ana-tan.thtml). I wonder if the Ford Motor Company agrees with Rod Liddle, the Spectator columnist, when he says that Welsh speakers are “miserable, seaweed munching, sheep-bothering pinch-faced hill tribes who are perpetually bitter about having England as a next door neighbour.”

      I realise that you can’t (and shouldn’t) take a position on every column written in every publication you support with your advertisements, but since I’m currently in the market for a new car [true! well, kinda], I thought it’d be worth asking in this specific case.

      Many thanks,

      Nic Dafis

  5. nicdafis says:

    To ba.com:

    I came here from a BA advert on http://www.spectator.co.uk/rodliddle/6392643/sosban-fach-yn-berwi-ana-tan.thtml – do you agree with The Spectator’s columnist Rod Liddle that Welsh speakers are “miserable, seaweed munching, sheep-bothering pinch-faced hill tribes”? I’d appreciate a response before I book my next holiday.

  6. Carl Morris says:

    I’d be curious about the responses you get Nic, if any.

    Sometimes ad space is sold through brokers but it’s possible that advertisers can choose to opt out of specific publications.

    More mirroring suggestions.

  7. Nic Dafis says:

    Realistically, I don’t expect anything to come of it, and it feels a bit icky, to be honest. We’ll see.

  8. Nic Dafis says:

    Had a (stock) response from the PCC, which I’ll paste as an addendum to the blog post.

  9. Aran says:

    Not surprising, unfortunately – the Press Commission with all its inbred ways is a classic example of ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’.

    Their attempt to justify the misleading use of ‘literally nobody’ is arrant nonsense. The word ‘literally’ exists precisely in order to make the kind of distinction they claim it does not (between viewing figures, and the actual truth). Only dishonesty could be responsible for the suggestion that readers would have thought this meant those programmes had some viewers.

    The most interesting part is the revelation that their discrimination clause specifically exempts comments about ‘groups or categories of people’. This is against the spirit of the Equality Act that came into force in October, but unfortunately the Act does not deal specifically with the press. In Scotland, the new hate crime laws make it very clear that ‘abusive name-calling’ and ‘ill-will against a group as a whole’ are breaches of the law.

    The Equality Commission should be (and may well be) lobbying for similar protection for groups under English law – they should also discuss this specific exemption of ‘groups or categories’ with the Press Commission. The Equality Commission can be emailed at CEO@equalityhumanrights.com.

  10. Aran says:

    Oh, my bad, they seem to have killed that address. I’ll dig out another one.

  11. Pingback: BBC enlist anti-Welsh troll for Question Time panel – Daily Wales

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