By a Newsnet reporter
A respected Scottish musician has expressed her dismay after a newspaper, which depicted the St Andrews flag with a swastika superimposed over the cross, was cleared of breaching the Editor’s Code of Practice.
Singer/Songwriter Eddi Reader had complained to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) after the Scotland on Sunday newspaper published an image which showed the Scottish flag which depicted the traditional cross of St Andrew replaced with a Nazi Swastika.
Scotland on Sunday had published an article by Gavin Bowd, the author of Fascist Scotland. The newspaper’s coverage had included a picture of a Swastika superimposed over the Saltire and the headline 'Klan Alba'.
The image sparked outrage across Scotland and led to the newspaper removing it from its Facebook page. However, the PCC has now ruled that despite defacing Scotland’s national flag with the Nazi symbol, the newspaper did not breach any code.
The PCC had received complaints from people who believed the image was discriminatory and offensive towards Scottish people. A number of complainants were also concerned that the newspaper had linked the Scottish National Party to the racist organisation the Ku Klux Klan.
However the complaints were dismissed by the PCC, which in its response claimed that both the image and the phrase ‘Klan Alba’ accurately reflected the contents of the article by Gavin Bowd.
The PCC wrote:
"The terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) state that ‘the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures’. The body of the article had clearly set out the author’s arguments regarding the historical presence of fascism in Scotland and the country’s receptiveness to radical nationalism.
"The article had not suggested that that all Scottish people, or people who support Scottish Independence, endorsed or held views similar to those of the Nazis. The image had been used to illustrate the article in a provocative manner. Viewed in the context of the coverage as a whole, the Commission took the view that the use of the picture and the headline had not been significantly misleading."
Responding to claims that the image and term were offensive, the PCC added:
"The Commission acknowledged that complainants found the picture and the headline extremely offensive and distasteful; however, it made clear that the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice do not address issues of taste and offence."
The commission also dismissed claims that the contents of Mr Bowd’s article misrepresented Scottish Nationalism by conflating it to extremist groups like the BNP and several other Fascist organisations, saying the article represented the author’s opinion and was clearly not fact.
The Commission said: "The author had been entitled to express his views under the terms of Clause 1 (iii) which says that journalists are entitled to express their personal views and comments - however robust or controversial they might be - provided that they are clearly distinguished from fact. The author had written the article based on his research and he had clearly drawn his own conclusions about fascism in Scotland and the country’s receptiveness to radical nationalism."
It added: "Readers would have been aware that the article had represented only one opinion on the subject. The Commission took the view that the article had not failed to distinguish comment from fact."
The PCC also rejected complaints that the article was discriminatory against Scottish people saying the code "does not cover references or generalised remarks about groups or categories of people."
A clearly unhappy Eddi Reader has now responded to the judgement. In a written response, the musician says:
"I have issue with your judgement on complainants vs The Scotland On Sunday Newspaper. My issue is your sentence:
'The article had not suggested that that all Scottish people, or people who support Scottish Independence, endorsed or held views similar to those of the Nazis. The image had been used to illustrate the article in a provocative manner.'
"The St Andrews Saltire is the flag that represents the ENTIRE nation of Scotland. I am certain you are aware of this fact. The choice of using that flag is now documented forever. It is and always will be deeply offensive to all Scots. Not only those who fought against fascism.
"The singer/songwriter added: "I appeal to your better judgement. Are you suggesting that a swastika superimposed on the St George cross would not be deeply offensive to all English persons?
I await your response."
The PCC has come in for heavy criticism following its role in the recent phone hacking scandal after its former chair Baroness Buscombe said the body lacked the power to deal with the issue. It is now in a transitional phase until a new regulator can be set up.
Lord Hunt, chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, pledged that the replacement body will be "a robust, independent regulator with teeth".
At Westminster, Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have agreed that an independent regulator should be set up by royal charter with powers to impose million pound fines on UK publishers and demand upfront apologies from them. However many leading newspapers are reported to have refused to sign up to such a set up.