The government must back Lord Justice Leveson’s call for disabled people’s organisations to be allowed to lodge complaints with the press regulator about misleading and disablist newspaper coverage, say campaigners.
A letter published in The Guardian this week says disabled people, alongside other minority groups, have experienced “sustained levels of misleading, hostile and discriminatory reporting in the press”.
Activists say there is strong evidence that such reporting has caused an increase in disability hate crime.
The letter welcomes the conclusion by Leveson – in his report on press standards – that the presence of “a significant tendency” within the newspaper industry has led to the publication of “prejudicial or pejorative” references to disabled people and other minorities.
Leveson’s report says a new press watchdog would need to “address these issues as a matter of priority”, with the first step allowing groups representing minorities to lodge “third party complaints”, with the possibility of fines, corrections and apologies if the newspaper was found to have breached the relevant standards.
The “editor’s code” of the current press watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), says newspapers must avoid such “prejudicial or pejorative” references, but provides no protection for minority groups if no individual has been identified in a story.
This has given newspapers freedom to run articles portraying disabled benefits claimants as “scroungers” and “fakers”, with the PCC powerless to act.
The letter was written after a Conservative MP told the Daily Telegraph – one of the newspapers criticised by Leveson for publishing misleading stories about disability benefits – that third party reporting could lead to “sinister” and “politically motivated” complaints.
This week’s letter to the Guardian says third party reporting is “critical to ensuring a right of redress and a voice for minority groups”, and was “not a slippery slope to the press being ‘hijacked’ by ‘sinister’ pressure groups” but would “give those who are so often the victims of sensationalist and prejudicial headlines the basic right to make a complaint”.
The Guardian letter has been signed by disabled activists, disabled people’s organisations and hate crime campaigners, including Tracey Lazard and Kirsten Hearn, chief executive and chair of Inclusion London; Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education; Linda Burnip, a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts; journalist Katharine Quarmby, author of Scapegoat, a ground-breaking investigation into disability hate crime; John McArdle, a founding member of the user-led campaign group Black Triangle; Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network; and John Pring, editor of Disability News Service.
12 December 2012