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Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

February 12, 2007

No offence (3)

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On a chilly evening in Le Lavandou, we dined alone at L'Auberge Provençale. There were no other customers, the empty tables making a mockery of the owners’ efforts to create a bright, welcoming ambiance.


The meal – we both chose from a set menu, with rougets as starter followed by magret de canard – was simple but excellent, with a pleasant bottle of Provençal red, from the Domaine de l'Angueiroun just three miles away, to accompany it.

Every attempt was made to make us feel comfortable; the first question when we booked was whether we’d like to sit by the log fire. The bill – 79 euros, which also included a bottle of Evian and a shared dessert – was reasonable enough to send us away satisfied that we'd had value for money.

The owners would be pleased with the above words. If this blog were widely read in Le Lavandou, they might even print them out and stick them on the wall, though it would mar the decor.

But what if our experience of L'Auberge Provençale hadn’t seemed so good? What if the mullet had tasted rubbery and the duck slices been so hard you could have bounced them on the table, unconcerned about the risk of knocking over the wine bottle, so awful were its contents?

Would I be as entitled to say as much, in a newspaper or magazine or on line, as I clearly was to report more favourably?

Does anyone seriously believe the answer to that question is other than Yes?

Sadly, a jury of good men (and women) and true in Northern Ireland saw things a little differently. They have just awarded £25,000 in damages, plus m’learned friends’ costs, against the Irish News after a restaurateur complained that a review was defamatory, damaging and hurtful.

The Irish News, in my experience, is a decent daily paper. It is traditionally read by Ulster's nationalist population but is unrecognisable from the days when death notices for terrorists would be enclosed within thick black borders and few Protestants would think of buying a copy.

Its food critic, Caroline Workman, sounds as if she is something of an authority in her field, having had some training in London restaurants and edited the Bridgestone restaurant guide.

She described her visit with friends to the west Belfast pizzeria as "hugely disappointing". The pate did not have much flavour, the flesh of her squid was a grey, translucent colour and her cola drink tasted unchilled, watery and flat.

There was plenty more she did not like about the meal and her rating, one mark out of five, was said to translate as "Stay at home".

The restaurateur considered the review a "hatchet job" and warmly greeted the jury's verdict as evidence that justice had been done.

On the face of it, the verdict is no such thing.

For all I know, there may be no finer place to eat in Ulster than this pizzeria, whatever the reviewer felt.

Nor do I especially blame people for taking advantage of libel laws that are loaded so heavily against the press. Declaring what others might see as an interest, I should add that another Ulster jury did once award damages against my then employers over an article I had written.

The story is told so as to demonstrate that the human desire to censor is not restricted to Muslims who resort to French law in the hope of punishing a magazine for publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

That case should never have been allowed inside a courtroom. At least it now stands a good chance of being thrown out, after the prosecutor argued for the dismissal of criminal charges.

But what conclusion should we draw from the case of the pizzeria and the scathing food critic?

If we accept that Ms Workman is telling the truth when she says the review represented her honest opinion, the logic of the outcome is plain: only a dishonest opinion or none at all would have been acceptable in the eyes of Northern Irish justice. And that seems unacceptable in any part of the world that regards itself as a democracy.

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28 Comments:

At February 12, 2007 11:39 AM, Blogger Gigi said...

It’s one thing to give an honest opinion but I’m sure Ms Workman was not intending to provoke the restaurant owner whereas France Soir should not have been surprised at the extreme reaction that followed the publication of the cartoons.

That said, the victim mentality that seems to have infected our society means that nobody wants to take responsibility for anything anymore. I’m sure Mr Restaurant Owner was quite bewildered by what he saw as a personal and gratuitous attack and he should be force fed his own grey-squid-and-cola until he sees reason.

 
At February 12, 2007 1:12 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

To handle the restaurant issue, our society has developed codes of communication which allows one to express a lack of enthusiasm without being outright rude. For the newspaper to ignore these codes of conduct, for me, was not acceptable.

We are not talking about a fight amongst equals. The restaurant no doubt does not have the means to counter the negative publicity of the newspaper.Which is afterall just a difference of opinion between the reviewer and the regular customers.

I am very glad that the French Muslims decided to take their grievance to the court of law. I hope that the handling of the case will be sufficiently diplomatic in order to encourage the plaintifs to continue using our institutions.

I understand in Britain such grievances are handled by blowing up tube trains.But then subtlety is not the Brits strong case.

 
At February 12, 2007 2:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One must be ever watchful of "opinion".
Colin Randall's post gives the reader a sense of compromise has been crafted into his writing by the lack of mention where The Irish News story is in it's original form. So that we may judge for ourselves if the story is askew.

Where does censorship reside?
Occasionally in opinion.
An excellent example of censor was the gender issue yesterday pinned by Bill Taylor,that women reading military history was that they should be masculine if reading such topics.

It looks as if bookstores will have doors for women,another for men.

One must always be careful of the writer who lives by the wine bottle.

 
At February 12, 2007 3:16 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

This is such crap. (And I don't mean Anne "anonymous" Gilbert's misreading of what I said yesterday). The idea that a food critic can be held culpable for a negative review... by logical extension the time must come when the West End hosts only brilliant hit shows, every novel will have Nobel literary potential and anyone who can dip a brush into paint will be another Renoir. Who in the media will dare say otherwise?
We live in the age of the professional victim. One would like to hesitate before Shakespeare's "let's kill all the lawyers." But, really, it's a thought...

 
At February 12, 2007 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wine in one's veins.
Gives others a pain.
Intoxins remain(read the profane).
Water,water everywhere .
Crash dive alright!
Hold on tight.

 
At February 12, 2007 4:47 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

There has to be balance, the press is a powerful force. Murdoch has too much power in Britain.

If an individual journalist, feeling in a difficult mood, can seriously hurt an indivual's restaurant business, without trial, judge, jury, defense lawyer nor appeal then that is the justice of the wild west. On the other hand a 100m$ budget film can propbably defend itself.

 
At February 12, 2007 5:03 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

Anne if the wine is French and the quantity is reasonable then it is actually beneficial.

One's pleasure is so great and one's health so much better that one becomes most agreeable company.

 
At February 12, 2007 5:20 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

I don't know how restaurants are reviewed by the Irish News but standard practice on major newspapers here (which have highly experienced food journalists as their restaurant critics) is for the reviewer to visit the restaurant two or even three times. If the place, after three meals, looks as if it warrants a really bad write-up, generally a fourth visit is paid just to be absolutely sure. So it's never a case of "an individual journalist, feeling in a difficult mood."

 
At February 12, 2007 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Journalists reviewing restaurants in Toronto must keep up with the Toronto Star standard.

Which is: only establishments giving Military History menus to male patrons shall be given 5 stars.



.
.

 
At February 12, 2007 5:54 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

OK now why should I accept that your procedures are adequate? For example, before issuing a 'stay at home' recommendation I would like the guy to have a chance to turn it around. I don't ask you to print a glowing testimony, but say nothing and see if in 2 months, having been told that he qualifies for a 'stay at home' things are better. Maybe his wife is dying of breast cancer.

So there should be a standard deontologie which doesn't get decided by a bunch of journalists and contains some elements of natural justice.

If the deontologie is not applied then the restaurant owner can attack you for libel in a court of law.

 
At February 12, 2007 6:37 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Obviously, this is an extreme case. I've never seen an actual "stay at home" recommendation. And, yes, maybe the guy has personal problems or staff problems or whatever. But as long as he's charging full price for a meal, he should be providing full quality. I've heard the owners of new restaurants complain that a lukewarm review was unfair because they weren't yet into the routine. If they lowered their prices while they were getting into the groove, then they'd have a valid argument. But they never do.

 
At February 12, 2007 7:31 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

They probably can't reduce their prices because they are being screwed by banks, taxes, property developers etc., are working night and day and earning peanuts.

But that's not my point. Colin says that the Irish jury supports censorship and that the only acceptable reporting is lying. The journalist's argument is the Bushite one 'we are the good guys, you can trust us' Admittedly you are not all Bushies and Murdochs but the argument is flawed.

I can see perfectly good reasons why the journalist could have published her honest opinion but that she gets found guilty of libel and yet it is not censorship. You have to accept some rules and regulations before destroying somebody's business. And those rules and regulations should not be set by journalists.

Based on what goes on in the Sun and the News of the World the whole journalistic profession would benefit from standards being set. Failing to distribute a film of a woman who you just enticed into accepting £8000 for prostitution is not censorship.

 
At February 12, 2007 7:50 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Has she actually destroyed his business? I suspect not. And surely, in selling sub-standard food and drink, he must have some culpability in destroying his own business. The journalist also has a responsibility to keep her readers properly informed. It seems to me that this is what she did.

 
At February 12, 2007 8:31 PM, Anonymous Jules said...

But where does this leave someone like A.A. Gill, one of Britain's funniest and rebarbative restaurant reviewers? In the dock soon, I suspect.....

 
At February 12, 2007 8:37 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

I know nothing about the case except for what Colin has said. Perhaps the food was poison and the jury drunk on guiness.

Colin obviously feels that the jury's decision is censorship and sad because the journalist couldn't say what she 'honestly thought'.He is arguing the principle that the press cannot be 'censored'. Which in my mind is the argument that the press has to be all powerful and not even answerable to a citizens jury. And I can imagine several hypothetical situations when I would have voted the same way as the jury.

 
At February 12, 2007 8:42 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

"The journalist also has a responsibility to keep her readers properly informed."

That is the sort of line the SUN uses when they have had reporters up all night searching through peoples private rubbish to discover information on secret trysts.

 
At February 12, 2007 9:30 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Not to ascribe satanic motives to the tabloid press, but "the devil can cite scripture for his purpose" (as Antonio pointed out in "The Merchant of Venice").

 
At February 12, 2007 10:10 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

Very good. And if the devil can cite(poor old cornflake where is he?) the scriptures for his purpose he can also do it with the truth. So Colin's following conclusion is a little short on frankness as to the true nature of the wordsmiths trade.

"If we accept that Ms Workman is telling the truth when she says the review represented her honest opinion, the logic of the outcome is plain: only a dishonest opinion or none at all would have been acceptable in the eyes of Northern Irish justice. And that seems unacceptable in any part of the world that regards itself as a democracy."

 
At February 12, 2007 10:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We need to see the original article

Colin Randall has written an opinion on a subject.
We do not know that he has read the original article.
He perhaps wishes us to write opinions on his subject.(not the article)

Somebody could retrieve the original Irish Times writting,please?

 
At February 12, 2007 11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excusez moi.

Somebody could retrieve the original The Irish News writing,please.

 
At February 13, 2007 12:58 AM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

This isn't entirely off-topic but it is a digression. One worth noting, though: Could there be a Curse of Randall descending upon the Daily Telegraph?
Last October, a week after he'd been appointed Europe editor and briefed to move from Brussels to Paris, in place of Colin, David Rennie quit the paper.
Now, Peter Wilby and Stepehn Brook report in the Guardian that foreign correspondent Patrick Bishop has resigned. Con Coughlin -- under whose reign as executive foreign editor eight correspondents (including Colin) have either been sacked or have left -- wanted Bishop to go to Paris to cover the presidential elections, in place of Colin.
Not only that, Wilby continues, Coughlin "has been relieved of his duties, though not his title."
He speculates that this confusion may not signify "a lack of management grip. It is sometimes deliberate management policy to confront employees with unexplained and apparently whimsical decisions which often contradict each other. Opponents are confused and their morale undermined. They are too busy trying to make sense of the latest changes even to think of restoring the ancien regime. Unlikely as it may seem, the Telegraph is applying the Maoist doctrine of permanent revolution."
Or it could be the Curse of Randall.
As for the Telegraph's blogs -- among which Colin was an acknowledged star -- Wilby says they now "defy the first rule of blogging: do it often to build up a following. Nothing has been heard from the crime and religion correspondents, for example, since January 2 and 22 respectively. Those much-loved Telegraph columnists, Simon Heffer, Boris Johnson and Janet Daley, are nowhere to be seen."
Definitely sounds like the Curse of Randall.

 
At February 13, 2007 3:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dreams and Daemons has edited "Escape Routes".No longer do the names Colin Randall and Richard of Orleans appear on its list.
A shame.

 
At February 13, 2007 4:03 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Which robs Colin and Richard of a potential new readership of approximately....zero.

 
At February 13, 2007 4:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Zero would be the value of your comments,as we know you cannot speak for Dreams and Daemons' readership.

 
At February 13, 2007 6:47 PM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

It's a good job anonymous corrected the spelling mistake, otherwise a rewrite would have been called for.

The curse of Randall? Maybe, though I think David Rennie quit because he could never have handled his asignment in Paris.

After many years with an economist subscription I finally decided to let it lapse. A journal which made such a stuff up on Iraq and is unable to apologise,is worth nothing. They called and called to get me to change my mind. But I held firm. Then I found out almost all of the economist is free on the internet anyway.

 
At February 13, 2007 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You got a little economic with your subscription.
We know you meant to write Economist.

Have you prepared your Valentine cards yet?

 
At February 14, 2007 10:30 AM, Blogger richard of orleans said...

There are many friends but just one Valentine
A bouquet of jolies flowers will be fine

 
At February 14, 2007 4:18 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

Bill Taylor talked about "major newspapers here" and works for what anyone familiar with the Canadian press knows is one of them. He did not, however, refer to any paper by name. So while this doesn't come within a million miles of affecting my argument, I will correct the reference made hastily in - as I said - a flying visit to a screen.
I would be amazed if the reports I saw and quoted from did not include the comments to which the restaurateur took particular exception. It must have been clear that I was not pretending to give a verbatim account of the court hearing but for those who really thinks it matters, I am sorry that I omitted to say that I had not read the review in full.
I didn't want to post a fifth item on this subject, animated and interesting as the debate has been. But en passant, Gigi is right to say France Soir (which was not involved in the recent case in Paris) must have known that printing the cartoons would provoke a reaction, but that in itself was not in my opinion an argument for deciding against publication. And Richard might like "slurry" as the collective noun for journalists.

 

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