‘Green light’ for smears as PCC rejects Salmond complaint

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Newspapers have been given what appears to be a green light to print misleading headlines and smears after the Press Complaints Commission refused to uphold a complaint by the First Minister against the Scottish Mail on Sunday….

Newspapers have been given what appears to be a green light to print misleading headlines and smears after the Press Complaints Commission refused to uphold a complaint by the First Minister against the Scottish Mail on Sunday.

The complaint was lodged on behalf of the Scottish First Minister after the newspaper printed two articles relating to a constituents application to remain in the United Kingdom.

The articles were headlined “Salmond and the asylum fugitive” and “Salmond faces probe over case of illegal immigrant”.  Mr Salmond had been asked by the man’s employers to support the application and subsequently sent a letter to the home office on the person’s behalf.

It subsequently transpired that the man was facing drugs charges, a fact unknown to both Mr Salmond and the man’s employers.

Mr Salmond argued that the coverage had incorrectly suggested that – in writing to the Home Secretary – he had stepped outside the normal procedures. In addition, at the time of publication of the second ‘faces probe’ article, no complaint had been lodged with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. A complaint was only received on 18th February, over three weeks later.  It was untrue, therefore, to claim on 24th January that the complainant was “facing” a “probe” into his conduct.

The newspapers response was that they had quoted everyone accurately and that the articles had not accused Mr Salmond of breaking any rules, also they had afforded Mr Salmond the opportunity to make a response.

However, the justification given by the newspaper for their ‘facing probe’ claim is, to say the least ‘weak’.

We reproduce it here:
“The newspaper had been informed on 23rd January that a member of the public had sent a complaint to him [Parliamentary Standards Commissioner] requesting that the matter be investigated, and been sent a copy of this. It did not know why the complaint had not been received until 18th February.”

So, the newspaper appears to have accepted the word of a member of the public instead of initially contacting the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner before publishing their claims.  Moreover, the PCC seems to have completely ignored the lack of a complaint at the time of the ‘facing probe’ claim.

The reasons given by the PCC for their ruling are perplexing and will be seen by many as a licence for newspapers to print any spurious allegation and smear.  Offering the target of those smears the opportunity to respond to them can sometimes result in the smears being given a credibility that is undeserved.

In Scotland especially we are witnessing a decline in journalistic standards and a drop in newspaper circulation figures.  The temptation to create over dramatic headlines, given that censure appears unlikely, will do nothing to alleviate this situation.

It should also be noted that in Scotland we have a press that are less than enthusiastic in endorsement of all things SNP and independence.  Indeed it could be said that this lack of media support for the SNP can at times manifest itself in just such headlines and smear laden articles.

We all remember the appalling media coverage after Nicol Stephen proclaimed he ‘smelled sleaze’ over the Trump development.  We also remember the shockingly one sided reporting of the Megrahi release.

The PCC judgement will have done nothing to address these plummeting journalistic standards.

The complaint and the PCC ruling is explained here: