The Case Against Coren
Last year, the Post reported on the remarks made by restaurant critic Giles Coren in The Times on July 26, 2008. In an article that has since become notorious amongst the Polish community, Mr. Coren wrote: “We Corens are here, now, because the ancestors of these Poles now going home used to amuse themselves at Easter by locking Jews in the synagogue and setting fire to it.”
He goes on to write, “My sympathy for the plight of the modern Polack is thus limited, and if England is not the land of milk and honey it appeared to them three or four years ago, then, frankly, they can clear off out of it.”
The article, titled “Two waves of immigration, Poles apart,” has since set off a wave of responses, from dozens of comments on the actual article, to an article titled “Unacceptable prejudice” published on the 14th of August in The Economist criticising Mr. Coren’s piece.
However, as The Economist noted, “The real issue is why The Times, a respectable mainstream newspaper, permitted the slur to be published; and why, once it had been printed, nobody felt the need to apologise.”
That issue has since attempted to be addressed. First, a petition to the editor-in-chief of The Times was begun by Polish Professionals in London requesting that “the newspaper publishes an apology for the false accusations levied in the article and for the derogatory terms used by Giles Coren.” At the time of printing, the petition had over 3,000 signatures.
In his own defence, Mr. Coren wrote in The Times on August 2nd, “Last week, in a piece about the persistence of far-right populist politicking in Central Europe, I wrote in passing that the Poles remain in denial about their responsibility for the Holocaust. How gratifying, then, to see so many letters in The Times in the subsequent days from Poles denying their responsibility for the Holocaust.” He went on to mention the Kielce pogrom of 1946 as proof of Poles’ anti-Semitism.
When The Times dismissed the petition and did not offer an apology, a formal complaint was made by the Federation of Poles in Great Britain to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) on the 8th of August, stating that Mr. Coren’s comments were “intentionally inflammatory and based on a surprising level of prejudice and ignorance shown by the columnist and that The Times should not have allowed it to be published in that form.” The complaint argued that the article in question had violated two clauses of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination), which state that the press cannot publish inaccurate or misleading information, and must not be prejudiced, respectively.
Ms. Sally Baker, Feedback Editor of The Times, responded to the complaint by stating that while Mr. Coren’s comments were “highly controversial and indeed prejudiced,” he is “entitled to be [prejudiced]” because his “column was clearly identified as Opinion” and because “the views in it were his, not those of The Times.”
Furthermore, “[Mr. Coren] feels that his single use of the term “Polack” was not out of context in a column whose overall tone was highly critical of Poland and its people; Mr. Moszczynski [spokesman for the Federation of Poles in the UK] asserts that the term is now deemed unacceptable in American national media, but here in Britain, so far at least, we are not so fearful of spurious litigation or so in thrall to so-called political correctness.”
On the 10th of November, the PCC made its final assessment on the complaint, stating that “a sufficient response to the complaint had been made” and found no breaches of either Clause 1 or 12. While the decision provided ample support for why Mr. Coren’s article did not violate Clause 1, it would seem that its violation of Clause 12 was dismissed on the basis of a technicality, as “this clause was designed to protect the rights of the individual and was not applicable to groups of people.”
In response, Stephen Pound MP and Greg Hands MP contested this verdict by posting Early Day Motion 2529 ? Press Complaints Commission and Giles Coren in late November, which states: “That this House notes with great sadness the decision of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) to refuse to take action in the case of Giles Coren’s article of 26th July 2008 published in The Times and supports the Association of the Foundation of Poles in Great Britain that… [it] should most certainly be condemned and fall within the remit of the PCC; and… acknowledges the great pain and distress caused by this article to the Polish community in the UK and beyond.”
However, while the PCC has given its ruling, many Poles and non-Poles alike continue to fight the decision. Two groups have been set up on the social networking site Facebook (“The Times newspaper needs to take a history lesson” and “Fight the falsehoods being told about Poland and the Holocaust”) which encourages users to write to their MP in support of Early Day Motion 2529. The first group had nearly 2,200 members at the time of printing, and its members hope that with enough parliamentary support, the PCC’s ruling may be overturned.