Reply from PCC about Rod Liddle on fibromyalgia and ME

A few weeks ago I made a complaint to the Press Complaint Commission about a blog post written on The Spectator website by Rod Liddle. (Blog posts are covered if on a website of a print publication.) He asserted that fibromyalgia

“is another one of those imaginary afflictions claimed by malingering mentals.”

He went on to say

Things Which Definitely Are Not Illnesses or Diseases: 

Fibromyalgia
Addiction to alcohol
Addiction to drugs
Obesity
Being a bit odd
M.E.
Hepatitis contracted when behaving in an inappropriate manner
Stress
Wearing spectacles
Addiction to sex

This is the complaint that I sent in to the Press Complaints Commission. (And I must thank them for providing me with a copy as I had lost mine.)

Explanation : The article breaches the code of practice as it is inaccurate and misleading.

The article lists Fibromyalgia and M.E. under the heading “Things Which Definitely Are Not Illnesses or Diseases”

It is factually incorrect to state that these are not illnesses. Fibromyalgia is listed in the World Health Organisation’s Internationa l Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems under M79 Other soft tissue disorders, not elsewhere classified, as M79.7, Fibromyalgia. Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.) is listed under G93 Other disorders of the nervous system as G93.3 Postviral fatigue syndrome – Benign myalgic encephalomyelitis.

The article states “[Fibromyalgia] is another one of those imaginary afflictions claimed by malingering mentals.”

The author has no grounds to claim that fibromyalgia is imaginary, as it recognised as a real physical illness by the WHO. He also has no grounds to use the phrase “malingering mentals.” Fibromyalgia is not a mental illness, and even if it were, a mental illness is a real illness and is not “malingering.” This phrase is incorrect and is disablist hate speech. The errors in this article contribute directly to hate crime, abuse, and verbal abuse against sick and disabled people, of which there has been a significant increase in rece nt months. (As reported by Scope at http://www.scope.org.uk/news/matthew-parris-and-times)

Clauses : The article breaches clause 1 part 1 of the code of practice.
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

And here is their response.

Commission’s decision in the case of

Various v The Spectator 

The complainants considered that an article that stated that Fibromyalgia (FM) was not a real illness and that sufferers were “malingering mentals” was inaccurate and discriminatory.

The Commission acknowledged that the article was controversial and that many readers would not agree with its content, however, it made clear that columnists are entitled to express their personal views and comments, provided they are clearly distinguished from fact. It noted that the column was written in the first person and as such, the views expressed were clearly attributable to the columnist.

The Commission considered first the complaint under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. The Commission acknowledged that the complainants considered that the article’s reference to the columnist being a doctor and the statement that Fibromyalgia (FM) and other recognised diseases were not “real” was inaccurate. The Commission considered that readers in general would understand that the reference to the columnist being a doctor was intended to be a facetious reference rather than a statement of fact that he was a qualified medical practitioner. As such they would not be misled. Furthermore, the Commission considered that the categorization of the illnesses clearly represented the columnist’s opinion on the conditions – indeed he clearly qualified his views on Fibromyalgia by asserting he “may be wrong”. The Commission considered that readers would understand that it reflected the personal, albeit caustic views of the columnist and would not be misled by the article; as such it did not establish a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code.

The Commission then turned to the alleged breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code. It appreciated the reasons why the complainants considered the article was distasteful and prejudicial and acknowledged that many readers would take offence at the article; however this did not render a breach of Clause 12. The Commission made clear that under Clause 12 (i), newspapers must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s physical or mental illness or disability; the clause does not cover references to groups or categories of people. In this instance, the article did not make reference to the physical or mental illness or disability of a particular individual but rather referred to Fibromyalgia sufferers in general. While the Commission understood the concerns raised by the complainants, it did not establish that Clause 12 (i) of the Code had been breached.

Finally, the Commission considered the complainants’ concerns that the magazine published offensive material. It acknowledged that the complainants found the article highly 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.  To come to an inevitably subjective judgement as to whether such material is tasteless or offensive would amount to the Commission acting as a moral arbiter, which can lead to censorship. It could not, therefore, comment on this aspect of the complaint further.

 

Author: Ellavescent

The world is broken and I can't fix it because I am broken. I can, however, rant about it all and this is where I do that when I can get my thoughts together. Most of the time you'll find my words on Twitter rather than here though. I sometimes write for Where's The Benefit too.

  • Absurd in many regards. Not obviously opinion, not obvious to a first-time reader at least that claim of authority is facetious. It’s almost like they’re claiming it’s a Poe, on one hand, and valid expression of opinion on another.

  • Wendymackenzie147

    Talk about ‘weasel words’ – what a hopeless response to a truly poisonous article!

  • Pathetic, and especially in regard to the use of the word “mentals”. That is hate speech. No question.

  • So sorry they didn’t take this seriously. A 75% rise in disability hate crime fulled by ignorance and prejudice doesn’t need people like Liddle making it worse by spreading more misinformation.

    Thank you for taking a stand & putting a complaint x

  • Maybe someone at the PCC could read the UN Convention on the Rights of the Disabed

  • Shendot

    ‘I may not agree with what he says, but I defend to the death his right to say it’. Don’t seek to shut down free speech.

    • I am a very strong advocate of free speech. I am also unhappy with the concept of hate speech laws in the UK, however I can see that there are limits on speech where it breaches someone else’s rights. In the case of Rod Liddle’s latest article I think what he has said is not an opinion but a complete lie, and one that is harmful to a great many people as it will influence millions of Sun newspaper readers and direct them towards hatred and discrimination against sick and disabled people. Does free speech extend as far as writing lies to be seen by millions of people that will cause harm to millions of others?

      • Anonymous

        Yes, it is an inconvenient truth that free speech DOES extend that far. Unless someone is directly inciting acts of violence against a group or individual.
        What I find frustrating about the whole M.E. / CFS / Fibromyalgia situation is it has become a sacred cow like Islam where any debate is shut down with claims of hate-speech. Did you hear that great piece on the Today programme a few months back where Jonathon Shepherd feebly tried to defend the death threats sent to researchers ‘daring’ to study a psychological cause rather than viral? I can try to find it for you if not?

      • Anonymous

        Yes, it is an inconvenient truth that free speech DOES extend that far. Unless someone is directly inciting acts of violence against a group or individual.
        What I find frustrating about the whole M.E. / CFS / Fibromyalgia situation is it has become a sacred cow like Islam where any debate is shut down with claims of hate-speech. Did you hear that great piece on the Today programme a few months back where Jonathon Shepherd feebly tried to defend the death threats sent to researchers ‘daring’ to study a psychological cause rather than viral? I can try to find it for you if not?

        • I heard it at the time. I certainly don’t agree with people issuing death threats. (Side question: Is that suppression of free speech?)

          • Anonymous

            Eh? Is issuing death threats ‘free speech’? You’re not seriously asking that are you? Free speech becomes a secondary right, when the right to exist is being threatened clearly. But like those who are most vehement against homosexuality are secretly homosexual themselves, so I feel that those with M.E. are afraid of a psychological diagnosis because it takes away their excuses and need for personal responsibilty.

          • It was a rhetorical question. Death threats are not free speech. Lying about M.E. and Fibromyalgia which can lead to a rise in hate crimes is. Where is the line?

            “I feel that those with M.E. are afraid of a psychological diagnosis because it takes away their excuses and need for personal responsibilty.” Sorry, what excuses? Mental illness is illness too, as debilitating as plenty of other illnesses. But that’s irrelevant because Liddle isn’t claiming it’s a mental illness, he’s claiming that it’s fake in order to get money.

          • Anonymous

            Ah, fair enough. Yes, on that we agree. No-one would fake mental illness to get free money unless by definition they were insane themselves, thus deserving of the money anyway.
            Rod Liddle is a bitter little fucktard who makes HIS money by being provocative. At least we can agree on one consolation, that at night when he turns off the light and has to live with himself all the money in the world couldn’t make him love himself. With his polemic he certainly hates himself more than the public can hate him.

          • Anonymous

            Ah, fair enough. Yes, on that we agree. No-one would fake mental illness to get free money unless by definition they were insane themselves, thus deserving of the money anyway.
            Rod Liddle is a bitter little fucktard who makes HIS money by being provocative. At least we can agree on one consolation, that at night when he turns off the light and has to live with himself all the money in the world couldn’t make him love himself. With his polemic he certainly hates himself more than the public can hate him.

  • Jo_kday

    SO many parts of this article were untrue. I am a Fibro sufferer and in the middle of a flare up, i call for rod liddle to come and see me and then tell me what i am going through is not real. I call for him to talk to my friends and family and then tell me what i am going through is not real. I work i do not claim benefits because i am one of the fortunate ones who is able too. He obviously does not know anyone effected by these conditions and is therefore not educated enough to make this many judgements. FYI Fibromyalgia was first written about as early as the 1800’s. I feel The very least the sun could do is get a sufferers story published now.

  • Well, what do you expect – complaining to the government about government propaganda!

  • USA

    Yes, a reporter that doesn’t report fairly, or look at the newest research,…surprised he isn’t on Fox News. An ethical reporter, reports both sides of an issue, without using their personal opinion,…which makes him a blogger,…not a reporter

  • Joanna

    Really PCC,  who are you trying to impress or protect.  Mr Liddell has made a major Faux Pas here and insulted a number of vulnerable people here (myself as someone unfortunate enough to suffer from Fibromyalgia included).

    Fibromyalgia Patients go through enough without a prominant Tabloid Journalist voicing such bile.  It is an extremely painful condition and robs normally hard-working people of the way they used to live.  A life of medication and smiling through adversity is the best you can expect.  Mr Liddell’s atitude is typical.  Patients can be viewed as crackpots, attention seekers, or skivers when in reality all they want to do is feel well enough to hold down a full time job and be an asset to society.  Even when you can it is still tricky as you have to convince those around you that you are mentally tough enough to cope with the demands of a job you love and the obvious pain you are in.

    This was insensitive, and the best thing for Rod Liddle to do under the circumstances would be to print an apology.  I do not know, and cannot comment about anyone else, but I am no skiver.

  • FFS so what do we have to do –
    sue him personally because, according to them, he was stating a
    ‘personal’ opinion? Sorry but this doesn’t wash – His articles are
    nothing less than hate speech, personal opinion or not, it’s defaming an
    entire section of society IN PUBLIC!!

  • Bodmin11

    I think this is terrible we have enough people saying fibro , M.e is not real. Good for you for complaining

  • Wendywalsh Cv

    Much of the response puts the owness on the reader to have the capacity to understand that the article & its comments are made in the 1st person by an individual. 

    As the reading age for The Sun is 8 years old,(according to the Guardian 1 million Britons have the reading age of a 7 year old and 16 million less than a 10 year old), I disagree that all readers will understand what the PCC thinks they can. Also there is not enough content in the article to assist in a balanced debate.

    Fibromyalgia has destroyed my life, I did not choose to get it. I have lost my job, my mobility, my freedom, my mind & many other things due to this horrible, horrible illness. I have not DLA, I have no blue badge & I have not hope of replacing the job I lost a few months ago and the career I have worked hard for since leaving school.

    Rod Liddle had made me feel worthless.

  • sharrone

    Hi ,I am 48 and have been medically diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease ,and the (totally miserably) Fibromyalgia.
    All i can really say ,is when first told i had this condition ,i was a l,ittle achy ,finding it hard to get about ,and couldn`t sleep ,even though i was permanently tired.
    Can i add ,at that point i had a husband with a severe congenital heart disease and 3 young girls to care for.I was active ,always walking ,cycling ,swimming etc..
    Then one day i had a swelling appear on my upper chest..It hurt like crazy ,and i thought right awy it was breast related and saw my gp.I was examined thoroughly ,told ,whilst he could find nothing ,i was to return in a fortnight.
    By the time my apt came around ,i ached/hurt almost everywhere you can think of.
    The gp again checked the area ,then asked me to stand..He pushed on various points on my body…some had me yelping in pain.
    The exam lasted aprox 15/20 mns ,and when he finnished ,he asked had i ever heard of fibro(myalgia)??I said no ,so he went on to explain the condition ,and that ,to rule out anything else ,i`d need more tests ,proceedures.
    I think i`ve been poked ,prodded and pulled every which way and finally a specialist came to see me ,and confirmed i did have fibro..(they already had done mRI`s to confirm my disc problem.
    Well ,i was relieved then ,but little did i know how much my life would change!..
    Now i`m no “quitter” ,or a “sitter” ,and extremely stubborn!!.NO way was this condition going to affect me ,or the way i lived!!!..Oh ,how totally wrong can you be??
    Within i guess the 1st 6 months i went from being midly affected ,day to day ,to gradualy finding any small chore in the house ,or a short walk with my family ,would leave me shattered ,and in the most hottible pain.
    Today ,about 11/12 yrs later i am unrecognisable as the young active woman who walked into the drs office..
    I am on large doses of high strength medications..(increased ,and monitored by my gp ,gradually)…These make me feel exceedingly sick ,EVery day.When i wake i`m unable to move any of my joints ,and i hurt..i hurt BADLY:(…I rely on my partner to help manouvre said joints to keep them mobile..But anyone thinking this condition ,or the dla i was awarded is a “picnic” ,please think again.IF I could go back,.give back my benefit ,work ,and live with even mild pain ,i`d do it in a heartbeat….But I can`t..
    My future scares me ,as i`m becomming worse…The pain is no longer relieved for long by the medications ,and my muscles are constantly seized ,my joints “locked” ,my bones in the kind of pain which makes you want to tear out your hair!
    I wish anyone who thinks us suffers are “malingerers” ,”faking” disability ,would spend a week in my ,or anyone with the condition s shoes….I think you`d soon have a change of heart ,when you found yourself GRATEFUL for an hour without real chronic ,constant pain..
    the other thing i should mention is how much i .oathe having to be reliant on help…As an independant ,and afformentioned stubborn individual ,i want to “do” for myself..Not need to yell for assistance ,when unable to move those seized up ,stiffened muscles and joints ,to drag myself to the bathroom…
    This “picture” of my ,and many ppls daily lives truly saddens me…We`d love to leap out of bed each am ,run down for a much longed for cuppa ,and begin our day ,planninng whatever ,and keeping the home nice ,etc etc…None of us asked for this ,nor expected anything like it…:(..That`s all..thankyu for letting me have my say..

  • What a waste of time. The Press Complaint Commission look after their own. In other words they are supporting the inaccurate and inflammatory nature of Rod Liddle’s hate campaign against disabled people. They are not interesteed in the truth it does not sell papers.  I know what I feel as a Fibromyalgia/CRF sufferer and I don’t need a brain dead idiot speaking on my behalf about a subject he knows nothing about.  Rod also blows hot and cold and plays games.  He is basically jealous, bitter and twisted that Disabled people get support.  Let him go and do what he should be doing debating about the the millions in Aid that is going to India when it should be supporting those in need in our society.  Investigative Journalism would be beyond his limited brain so I suggest he goes and cleans the toilets in Tesco as he has not got the mental capacity to debate Disability, fairly and accurately.

  • Arty

    a 15 yr old girl burns an islamic holy book and is arrested for it. I don’t think that everyone gets away with expressing an offensive opinion so why does Rod Liddle, the ugly fat toad – just my opinion.

    • Shendor

      That’s just a silly thing to say Arty. We live in a free country thank Allah