Commission’s decision in the case of
Various v Daily Mail
A number of complainants expressed concern regarding a cartoon which had accompanied an article about Disability Living Allowance (DLA). The cartoon had depicted a man with a blister, saying “it’s a bad blister, but a bit of Disability Living Allowance should make it better”.
Complainants considered that the newspaper had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) by inaccurately suggesting that DLA could be claimed on the basis of such a trivial injury. They also considered that it had been misleading to imply that people in receipt of DLA do not have genuine need for the benefits they receive.
The complainants considered that the cartoon had been discriminatory towards the disabled, in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination). A number of complainants also said that they had found the article offensive.
The Commission considered the cartoon to have been a satirical commentary on the availability of disability benefits. Cartoons are a well-established method of newspapers making satirical comments about current affairs, and the Commission would be reluctant to compromise the ability of publications to pass commentary in this manner. Nonetheless, regardless of whether the cartoon’s message was satirical, the newspaper was required to observe the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice. Clause 1 (Accuracy) states that “the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures” and “the press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact”.
The Commission was satisfied that readers generally would have recognised that the cartoon expressed the robust, and even controversial, opinion of the newspaper about the general availability of disability benefits, rather than a statement of fact about the precise circumstances in which benefits can be claimed. While the cartoon had suggested that benefits are too readily available, it had not implied that everyone on DLA was receiving it unnecessarily. The newspaper had not failed to distinguish comment from fact. There was no breach of the Code.
Under Clause 12 the press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s physical or mental illness or disability and details of an individual’s physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story. The Commission made clear that Clause 12 does not cover references to groups or categories of people. The article had not made discriminatory reference towards an individual. In the absence of reference to a particular individual, the Commission did not establish a breach of Clause 12.
The Commission acknowledged that a number of complainants found the cartoon 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. It could not, therefore, comment on this aspect of the complaint further.
I am not satisfied with this response. Does anyone know if there are further steps I can take?