Clauses Noted: 12
Publication: Daily Star
Dr R Waller, of The University of Liverpool, and six others complained that a short leader comment, "Frogs need a good kicking", in the Daily Star of 2 March 1998 was discriminatory in breach of Clause 13 (Discrimination) of the Code of Practice. The comment said that the way in which the French had "grabbed the lion's share of World Cup tickets is typical of their slimy continental ways ... As we proved at Agincourt and Waterloo, a good kicking on their gallic derrieres is the only language the greedy frogs understand." The complainant said the comment was racist, offensive and likely to incite violence.
The newspaper responded that the comment had not been intended as an incitement to violence and should not have been interpreted literally. The leaders contained in the newspaper were traditionally punchy and outspoken - as this one had been. The rationale behind the leader had in fact been "not to incite violence, but to nip it in the bud by making the French play fair over the allocation of World Cup tickets." They would certainly bear in mind in future the comments of those who found the leader offensive, which they had not intended it to be.
The Commission had considered a number of similar complaints about discrimination and incitement of football fans to violence during 1996. Then, three newspapers had covered the Euro 96 football tournament in a way which many people found tasteless and offensive. On that occasion, the Commission did not censure any newspaper for a breach of the Code. It believed that a considerable amount of nationalist fervour and jingoism was inevitable at a time of any significant international sporting event, and that newspapers were reflecting those emotions. However, the Commission had believed the reporting shrill and poorly judged, and a far cry from the tradition of tolerance and fair play that had previously characterised reporting of such events: editors themselves had recognised much of it as in bad taste and rightly apologised for the offence they had caused. The Commission asked all editors to bear in mind the strong public reaction to this coverage in reporting in the future.
The principles which underlay the Commissions decision then remain unchanged. Sporting events - and matters relating to them, such as ticketing arrangements - are bound to excite considerable emotion. Newspapers will inevitably reflect that - even if they do so in a way which some people will find offensive.
The Code is not intended to stop such robust comment. Indeed, the purpose of Clause 13 is to protect individuals from prejudice - not to restrain partisan comment about other nations. The Commission has noted before on a number of occasions that the Clause is rightly defined in this way to allow the press to make pointed and critical comment, if necessary, about events and people in a variety of circumstances. The leader comment on this occasion - reflecting partisan concern in a clearly tongue-in-cheek manner - had not therefore breached the Code, although its tone had been misjudged.
The complaint was not upheld. However, the Commission did wish to take the opportunity of this adjudication to set out its wider concerns about the coverage of the World Cup this summer. These were published in a separate statement.
<< Go Back