Press told not to feed World Cup xenophobia

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The Independent Online
THE Press Complaints Commission yesterday fired a warning shot across the bows of the tabloids in the hope of averting a re-run of xenophobic Euro 96 for France 98.

The PCC chairman, Lord Wakeham, asked editors to ensure that, in the run-up to France 98, "their reporting and comment does nothing to incite violence, disorder or other unlawful behaviour, or to foster any from of xenophobia that could contribute directly to such incitement."

The statement was issued as the PCC ruled on a Daily Star headline in March which criticised the French authorities' allocation of World Cup tickets to English fans. The headline, "Frogs Need a Good Kicking", was described as "a misjudgement" but within the Code of Practice. The PCC received 300 complaints from readers over tabloid coverage of Euro 96, particularly in the build-up to England's semi-final clash with Germany.

Headlines such as the Mirror's "Achtung! Surrender" and war references were felt by many to have misjudged the mood of the nation and sparked fears of hooliganism in an otherwise peaceful tournament.

The PCC later said the tone of some of the reporting around Euro 96 was wrong but did not single out any newspaper. Yesterday Lord Wakeham appealed to tabloid editors not to incite violence among fans.

"We want to have robust reporting of the World Cup and we don't mind people being partisan - of course not, we want British teams to win.

"But I don't want any newspapers inadvertently, or in any other way, inciting fans to violence and to cause trouble. I thought a warning was the right thing to do."

The editor of the Sun, Stuart Higgins, declared the question to be one of "that terribly ill-defined word, taste", upon which the PCC is not able to rule. He backed the Star in criticising the French: "In many ways the French, in the way they've handled the ticket allocation, deserve a good kicking ... I mean, it is disgusting the way our fans have been deprived of getting tickets."

Speaking for tabloid editors, Mr Higgins added: "Our reporting will be geared by good headlines. There's going to be triumph, there's going to be joy, there's possibly going to be disappointment, and all our headlines have got to be eye-catching and sensational.

"It's of great personal interest to us to report it responsibly and to get behind our boys.

"We're not going to go out and say 'we're going to invade France', or encourage our fans to behave in a hooligan-type way.

"But the thing works both ways. The French have got to recognise that our fans want to go and see our team play, and play in the big tournaments and give us the right to actually get the tickets."

The PCC, a self-regulatory organisation, is made up of newspaper editors and representatives from outside the industry. Its Code of Practice deals primarily with privacy, opportunities to reply and corrections.

The Daily Star yesterday published the PCC's ruling and statement on its Frogs headline, in the spirit of self-regulation.