Is this the best human rights correction ever or the worst? – Adam Wagner

29 09 2014

screen-shot-2014-09-29-at-13-11-53Even by the usual brazen standards of human rights reporting, this correction  which was published today by The Daily Mail stands out:

“A comment article on 13 August about the European Court of Human Rights said that the supply of heroin and gay porn to prisoners was now a ‘right’. We are happy to clarify that this was not meant to be taken seriously and is not the case”.

Obviously, we weren’t meant to take Richard Littlejohn’s August 2014 comment piece seriously, it being semi-rabid comment bait, but surely the article should have included a health warning to that effect?

In ”seriousness”, the Mail’s response to the false claim that “Others have won the ‘right’ to heroin and gay porn behind bars” is pathetic. The claim which has been corrected was not presented as a joke and it would not have been understood as one.

As it happens, Littlejohn was probably referring to the longstanding human rights myth that a serial killer, Dennis Nilsen, was allowed to receive hardcore gay porn in jail thanks to human rights law.

His case was in actual fact refused permission to proceed in the High Court – page 30 of this government report gives  more detail:

“Dennis Nilsen’s application was refused by the single judge at the permission stage. He did not establish that there was any arguable case that a breach of his human rights had occurred, nor that the prison’s rules were discriminatory. He also failed to receive any greater access to such materials as a result. The failure of his application at the first hurdle was not widely reported, nor his further failure on renewal. On the contrary, the case is now often cited as the leading example of a bad decision made as a result of the Human Rights Act, with the Shadow Home Secretary himself asserting that Dennis Nilsen had been able to obtain hard-core pornography in prison by citing his “right to information and freedom of expression” under the Act”.

Although the Mail has now confirmed that we are not supposed to take Richard Littlejohn seriously, he might be forgiven for not knowing the full story about Nilsen given that the Daily Mail itself still reports on its website that:

’Uman Rights, innit

The Human Rights Act 2000 allowed:

•  Serial killer Dennis Nilsen to win a case to look at hardcore pornographic magazines in his cell. He successfully argued that existing rules, which allowed him to look at soft porn magazines, infringed his human rights.

As I have said before, human rights myths are sticky and the damage is usually done and the myth well spread before a newspaper is forced to correct its story. Well done to lawyer Shaoib M Khan for getting some kind of response from the newspaper. If you are interested in the media’s monstering of human rights, see my recent paper.

This post originally appeared on the UK Human Rights Blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks.


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