In response to Mr Vasey's comments, a more detailed complaint has been sent...
Dear Mr Vasey,
There are two separate levels to the complaint. The first is about the use of language, the second about the content of the story. The former revolves around the use in the article of the terms ‘invasion’ in the headline and ‘nightmare’ in the body text.
Each of these terms is emotive and potentially offensive when applied to a distinct racial group or to members of that group. This is especially so when they are used in headlines or outside of direct quotations from people involved (which has allowed your sister paper some leeway when reporting the comments of BNP members and supporters). In such cases they imply it is the view of the publication itself that is being expressed. As I asked in my original letter, would you directly use such words about Asians, Jews, Black Britons or any other racial group than the Roma? As Sgt Hobbs suggested in her reply to my complaint the use of such terms is somewhat insensitive. Your comment that the Roma were not attacked because you did not use the word is entirely specious—akin to someone claiming Black Britons were not attacked by a story that used a more offensive epithet.
What I find more disturbing, as someone who worked as a journalist for many years, including on two nationals, is the way the article was constructed. There is some leeway allowed for inflammatory language in headlines where the language is directly lifted from a quotation within the story. Thus, your article would have been more acceptable journalistically, though still somewhat ethically questionable, if the use of ‘invasion’ in quotation marks was taken from someone quoted within the body text. It was not. Which rather begs the question of why it was placed within quotation marks? It suggests to me that the writer knew the word was inflammatory and desired some means of covering himself.
No such cover could be provided for the use of the word ‘nightmare’ within the body text. Again, this is an emotive term and no evidence is provided to back it up. The only person suggesting a nightmare is your writer (and yourselves again in the following week).
If Ilkley has been suffering a nightmare, it is odd that you have printed no letters in support of the actions of the Council on this affair, and only ones critical of it—I have to assume this represents the state of your postbag! How many residents of Ilkley actually feel that the presence of a small band of Roma for six weeks each year constitutes a nightmare? Not many; the term simply is not justified. At least, not within the terms of the article
You are, of course, quite correct in suggesting that the article did not break the letter of the PCC Code of Conduct as it did not attack specific individuals. It did, however, break the spirit, as enunciated by then Chair Lord Wakeham in 1996, 'Readers won't tolerate newspapers that treat racial minorities in an offensive manner. And nor will I. Contained within the newspaper industry's Code of Practice there is a clause that deals with race... If readers want to ratchet up standards as much as I do, to ensure that all journalists are foot soldiers with us in the battle against intolerance, then complain when something goes wrong. They will find my Commission ready, willing and able to assist.' Unfortunately I and many others feel the clause doesn’t tackle the issue (unlike the NUJ Code which perhaps is not relevant to your employees—I attach the relevant passage ).
On the substance of the article, I again would refer to the letters received. This band of Roma have been camping on and around the riverbank for many years (some claim up to 100 years). The previous owner of that ground was happy for them to stay and, as I understand it, purchase by the Anglers was a deliberate attempt to prevent occupation. Thus questions of trespass have now come about purely because of a purchase intended to provoke this situation! Most inhabitants of Ilkley seem at least sanguine about their presence. And, having run past the camp every morning for the weeks they are present, I have noticed considerably more abuse directed AT them than from them. Abuse supported by the language used in your article.
The notion that their presence constitutes a nightmare seems to be based on the amount of rubbish left. Yet, your article makes clear that most of the rubbish is cleared away. This seems in stark contrast to the amount of rubbish left EVERY weekend by our regular out-of-town visitors, including in areas not far from the Roma camp—the number of disposable barbeques this year floating on the Wharfe was disgusting. Yet this rubbish doesn’t seem to be a ‘nightmare’ in the same way as ‘bags of rubbish’—at least the Roma bag up THEIR mess. This minor problem is as nothing compared to the regular problems caused by tourists that rarely receive any coverage. It is also as nothing compared to the now permanent eyesore of an earthen bank that will prevent anyone using this space.
I don’t particularly want to over-extend this correspondence, and there is little point continuing if we are unable to find some common ground. I hope you will offer an apology for the offence caused by the language used, but fear this is somewhat unlikely, and we shall see a repeat next year.
NUJ Guidelines on mentions of travellers (ratified by the NUJ)
Only mention the word gypsy or traveller if strictly relevant and accurate.
Give balanced reports, seeking travellers' views as well as those of others, consulting the local travellers where possible.
Resist the temptation to sensationalise issues involving travellers, especially in their relations with settled communities over issues such as housing and settlement programmes and schooling.
Try to give wide coverage to travellers' lives and the problems they face.
Strive to promote the realisation that the travellers' community is comprised of full citizens of Great Britain and Ireland whose civil rights are seldom adequately vindicated, who often suffer much hurt and damage through misuse by the media and who have a right to have their special contributions to Irish and British life, especially in music and craft work and other cultural activities, properly acknowledged and reported.