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UK press watchdog criticizes race comments blog

UK press watchdog criticizes race comments blog

Britain's press watchdog has criticized a magazine columnist for comments about race and crime in an online article _ the first time it has censured a blog.
The Press Complaints Commission said Rod Liddle, a columnist for right-wing newsmagazine The Spectator, was inaccurate when he said "the overwhelming majority" of violent crime in London is committed by young Afro-Caribbean men.
A reader complained and the watchdog upheld the complaint, saying the statement was opinion presented as fact.
Complaints commission director Stephen Abell said Tuesday that the ruling showed that the blogs of newspapers and magazines have to maintain the same standards as their print editions.
He said blogging "is a very healthy medium for robust comment, but it is not a free-for-all."
"Blogging is a very good way of having a conversation with various people where opinions can be freely exchanged," Abell told the BBC. "But the code deals with accuracy, and if you make a statement of fact as a journalist on a newspaper or Web site, you would be expected to be able to substantiate it."
The commission said it had rejected the magazine's argument that blog posts are different from articles because they are "often provocative and conducive to discussion." Although several readers posted comments on the site disagreeing with Liddle, the commission ruled The Spectator could not "rely on publishing critical reaction as a way of abrogating its responsibilities" to accuracy.
The British media is self-regulated through a code of practice that includes commitments to accuracy and avoiding "pejorative reference" to an individual's race, color, religion or disability.
The Press Complaints Commission can criticize publications that breach the code, but has no power to take stronger measures. It has no authority over publications and blogs that have not signed up to its code _ so the decision has no impact on the wider blogosphere.
However, Roy Greenslade, a professor of journalism at City University in London, said the decision was significant because it gives the Web sites of news organizations greater legitimacy if they adhere to the code, since their sites must stick to the same rules as the editions printed on paper.
"I think that gives credibility for the average surfer or user across the net," he said. "They know that what they read will be something accurate and fair and balanced and that's good."
He said bloggers need not fear _ the commission has no control over them. Had Liddle written the same comments on his own personal blog, he would face no sanction, Greenslade said.
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Associated Press writer Danica Kirka contributed to this report.