Tag Archives: PCC

Due prominence

The Leveson inquiry examining the culture, practices and ethics of the press concluded with a printed report on the 29th November 2012. It recommended that the press – having failed to effectively regulate itself, despite being given more than one chance to do so – be regulated by a truly independent regulator with some form of statutory underpinning. What this meant in simple terms: because the press so clearly cannot be trusted to a, behave appropriately and b, punish any misdemeanors through the PCC, some formal system is needed to ensure that appropriate sanctions would actually be applied.

The press took this as the ‘end of press freedom’ and has been fighting against any form of regulation (again) ever since. What is interesting, though, is that whilst this fight has been ongoing the press has still been completely ignoring the PCC code of practice – which, as I have commented before, is actually not bad. What the PCC code of practice (both the shortened quick bullet points, and the longer, more detailed examination of how a modern press should behave) demonstrates is that newspaper editors understand the kind of behaviour that a decent, moral press would engage in, and what is unacceptable. It clearly isn’t ignorance of what a good press should be that is holding editors back, it is rather that they understand that they can completely ignore such a code as there are no sanctions for doing so.

Think of the PCC code of practice as being exactly the same as the New Year’s Resolutions you might set yourself: sure, you understand that eating healthy is a good thing to do and you could even right a perfectly logical rationale in support of it; this doesn’t mean you have any intention of sticking to the resolution and nor is there any external reason why you should. Most New Year’s Resolutions end in abject failure; just like the PCC and press self-regulation.

In terms of the Leveson report and the ongoing press struggle against any form of regulation you’d think it would be in the interests of the press to abide, strictly by the code to demonstrate to everyone that they are capable of self-regulation without statutory underpinning.

Yet they haven’t changed their practices at all.

One of the clearest examples is the PCC code of practice stating that:

A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

This, to my knowledge, has never happened – either before or after the Leveson report was published. The latest example is provided by the Sun:

I’m pretty sure that this story (having done the rounds on the Internet very effectively) wasn’t published in a tiny corner on page 2 (the page which is the least read in the newspaper format according to what I’ve read in the past).


The image was taken by Giles Goodall, you can follow him on Twitter if you’d like.


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‘obtained from a news agency in good faith’

From the Press Complaints Commission’s ‘resolved’ case list today:

Jennifer Stevenson complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the newspaper’s coverage of a fatal horse riding accident was inaccurate. The complainant was among the first people at the scene and, contrary to what had been reported, there was no indication that the rider’s injuries were the result of becoming impaled on a fence post. The complainant was particularly concerned as her teenage daughter had also witnessed the aftermath of the incident and, in her view, the piece was both sensationalist and upsetting for her and members of the deceased’s family (who had given their consent for the complainant to pursue the matter on their behalf).

The Daily Mail response:

The newspaper accepted that there were inaccuracies in the copy which was obtained from a news agency in good faith.

As usual though, this is not the whole story, as the PCC make clear:

The complainant felt strongly that newspaper should have taken greater care when relying on agency copy and could have acted quicker to address the concerns raised.

The complainant probably did not realise until now that this is standard practice for newspapers, simply taking news agency copy at face value. As for the complaint that the Daily Mail could have acted quicker, this is a common complaint against a newspaper that does as much as possible to avoid taking any kind of responsibility for its actions. The resolution continues:

She asked that a correction appear at the start of the online article and rejected the newspaper’s explanation that its house style would not allow for this.

Again, the Mail Online is notorious for burying corrections in its US section and they always insist on putting corrections at the end of their articles. This is only an ‘house style’ issue inasmuch as it is standard practice to bury any truth at the bottom of a Mail article. In the end the persistence of the complainant led to the following actions:

it republished the corrected article with the complainant’s comments included in the readers’ comments section; it provided private letters of apology for the complainant and members of the deceased’s family; it removed the phrase “freak accident” from the headline and URL; and it appended a correction and apology to the online piece.

The original article appeared on the Mail Website on the 5th June 2011. It has taken nearly four months for the Daily Mail to acknowledge that it made distressing mistakes that sensationalised a tragic accident. It has obviously taken a lot of persistence and effort from the complainant to pursue the complaint to this ‘resolution’, a resolution that could have been arrived at as soon as the Daily Mail realised the agency copy was inaccurate – why not simply correct the article and add the apology immediately? However, they stalled, ignored or flat out refused to do the decent thing even though they were so clearly in the wrong.

To further compound matters the PCC have once again demonstrated – through the back-and-forth gentle requests sent to the Mail and forwarded back to the complainant – that their slogan – ‘Free, fast, fair’ – is as sick a joke as the industry it supposedly regulates.

Crime and _________?

One of the things that has always struck me about the Press Complaints Commission is that it rarely seems able to punish newspapers even when they make serious errors – or worse they are caught out deliberately lying. Very often this means that the only way a member of the public can feel like any kind of justice has been achieved – or to even get any compensation for any distress they may have suffered at the hands of a newspaper – they must go through the expense of hiring lawyers.

Take this example from the PCC website posted on the 7 July this year:

Adjudication – Hampshire Constabulary v Aldershot News & Mail

Hampshire Constabulary complained to the Press Complaints Commission on behalf of two women that an article published in the Aldershot News & Mail in August 2010 identified them as victims of sexual assault in breach of Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld.

The PCC in their adjudication noted, in very strong terms:

This was a truly shocking case in which two alleged victims of sexual crimes had been identified by name. There was simply no justification for naming them – as the newspaper itself had recognised – and the women, who were in a clearly vulnerable position, should have been protected as the Code required. The newspaper’s mistake was an appalling one, and the Commission had no hesitation in upholding the complaint.

So, what would the punishment be? Well, here is what the PCC did:

Given the exceedingly serious nature of this case, and the catastrophic failure of the editorial process, the Commission agreed to refer the terms of its adjudication to the Chief Executive of Trinity Mirror, the owner of the Aldershot News & Mail, so that action could be taken to prevent this ever happening in the future. It requested that the response be referred back to the Commission.

They contacted the owners so that they could ensure it never happened again. All well and good you might think, but imagine of this kind of adjudication happened in any other walk of life. Would the tabloids be happy if a teenager found guilty of doing something ‘exceedingly serious’ was not punished in any way, instead the judge just passed on his thoughts to the parents in the hope that they could take the appropriate action?

What if the Chief Executive of Trinity Mirror doesn’t do anything? What would the PCC do in that case? What could they do in that case?

In reporting cases like this every single journalist, editor, sub-editor and so forth should have it drummed into them that they can never, ever reveal the identify of victims or alleged victims of sexual assault. Yes, mistakes do happen, but they cannot be undone and anonymity cannot be returned to these two women and therefore some sort of statutory punishment must be handed down to newspapers as a start reminders to others.

Just imagine the outrage of our spiteful, tawdry and hateful press if any other form of regulation was as woolly, powerless or self-serving as theirs.

Is the Press Complaints Commission corrupt as well as useless?

The Press Complaints Commission are absolutely certain that they are an effective regulator and recently released an incredibly rose-tinted statement about how their ‘important work’ will go on and that:

Members of the public will still come to us for help, and our staff will offer it to them. Intrusions will be prevented and inaccuracies corrected. Newspapers and magazines will still be held to account by the Commission. We are pleased that all sectors of the industry (national, regional and magazines) have pledged their renewed commitment to adhere to the Code enforced independently by the PCC. Our work will go on.

You only need to read any of the well-established media blogs or indeed open any copy of a tabloid newspaper to see that the Press Complaints Commission has utterly failed in its role – and with the freedom from redress that the press currently enjoys it is no wonder the PCC still receives the backing of media organisations. As ever – like the PCC Twitter account that never acknowledges a single word of criticism but instead exists in some kind of bubble in which everything is hunky-dory – the PCC is completely out-of-touch with reality. They are supposed to work for and satisfy the public, not the industry they are supposed to be regulating. If they were doing their job properly the press would hate them, not pat them on the head like a loyal dog.

However, putting the uselessness of the PCC to one side for a moment, what if things were even darker, what if the PCC itself was inherently corrupt?

Cannabis Law Reform (CLEAR) is a political party registered with the Electoral Commission under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA). They recently contacted the PCC over an article in the Burton Mail that ‘published the wholly false statement that cannabis causes mental health problems’ – CLEAR argue that:

The issue is the old chestnut of whether cannabis causes psychosis. Those who are acquainted with the science will know that while there is clear evidence that cannabis use is a risk factor, there is no proof at all that it actually causes mental health problems.

So far, so straightforward. Where it gets interesting is that when CLEAR received a response from the PCC they got more than they were expecting:

A few days ago I received a letter from the Press Complaints Commission. However, when I opened it I realised it wasn’t intended for me. It was for the editor of the Burton Mail against whose newspaper I have recently made a complaint. It had been mistakenly sent to my address.

Inside the envelope was a covering letter, a copy of my complaint, a print out of the article concerned and one final item which has left me reeling in shock and disappointment. It was a page from the Lancet with a paragraph highlighted, clearly offered to the editor as ammunition with which to contest my complaint.

This is an astounding development which goes straight to the integrity of the commission. I have considered it carefully but I can interpret it in no other way. It is cast iron proof of corruption and dishonesty.

As Richard Peppiatt commented on Twitter after reading the CLEAR blog post: ‘This only backs up my belief that the PCC is a press pressure group masquerading as a regulator…’.

I will be Tweeting this blog post to the PCC’s Twitter account but I doubt I will get any kind of response from them. In the meantime I will keep an eye on the CLEAR blog and will keep you updated on whether they get a response to the follow-up letter they sent to the PCC on this matter – read their full blog post for details.

How modern editors define ‘in the public interest’

For those of you not familiar with the Press Complaints Commission’s Editors’ Code of Practice, here is what it says about privacy:

*Privacy

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals in private places without their consent.

Note – Private places are public or private property where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy…

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
i) Detecting or exposing crime or serious impropriety.
ii) Protecting public health and safety.
iii) Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
3. Whenever the public interest is invoked, the PCC will require editors to demonstrate fully that they reasonably believed that publication, or journalistic activity undertaken with a view to publication, would be in the public interest.

4. The PCC will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain, or will become so.

5. In cases involving children under 16, editors must demonstrate an exceptional public interest to over-ride the normally paramount interest of the child.

So, it would be interesting to see the Mail Online editor justify this ‘story‘ [istyosty.com link] about Billie Piper taking her son to the park – complete with 6 photos, 4 of which contain the 2-year-old child.

It seems to me that the moden editor has subverted the meaning of what is in the ‘public interest’. Originally a story would be in the ‘public interest’ when it had some kind of meaningful impact upon their own lives – i.e. it would be in their personal interest to know the contents of the story. For example, the ‘public interest’ defence is designed to be used to justifiably invade the privacy of politicians. As they are elected by the public it is often deemed in the public interest that voters know as much as possible about who they vote for. I.e. the politician selling themselves as a trustworthy family man who has an affair can expect for this information to be released by the press, his public standing makes it in the public interest – voters want to make an informed decision.

However, the modern editor seems to believe that ‘public interest’ means anything that the public might want to look at and anything that will direct more traffic to a website. Therefore whilst seeing pictures of Billie Piper’s 2-year-old son is in no way defensible under the real meaning of the public interest clause, it is serving up the seeming need for the public to know as much as possible about the mundanities of celebrities. It seems to me that because the PCC is a passive regulator (and regulator is here used in the loosest possible sense) such stories will only be challenged on an individual basis. If Billie Piper simply accepts that this is what being famous entails, then the PCC will not remind editors of the real meaning of public interest, nor the real meaning of privacy. As far as I can tell such invasive journalism is now standard practice because it is never formally challenged by the PCC – see the numerous creepy stories about Suri Cruise as a case-in-point here.

Then again, even if the PCC thought such practice was unacceptable, what action could they take? They are a regulator only in name.

Latest PCC resolutions and adjudications

The Press Complaints Commission upheld a complaint against the Scottish Daily Mail under clause 4 (Harassment) of the Editor’s Code of Practice. The newspaper persisted in ‘approaching a man who had repeatedly made clear to the newspaper that he did not wish to comment on a story about his son':

The complainant’s son was a Scottish university student who had attended the demonstrations about tuition fees in London. The newspaper published two articles about his son’s involvement in the protests, including a photograph of him allegedly attempting to take a police officer’s hat. Reporters and photographers representing the newspaper had attended the family home in Scotland four times within 24 hours seeking a comment. On each occasion, the family made clear they did not wish to speak to journalists, and asked them to leave the property. There was one additional approach to the complainant near his home, which led to him contacting the police.

The newspaper’s sole punishment was having to publish the adjudication on page 6 of the Scottish Daily Mail, but:

Following the complaint, the newspaper was willing to write a private letter of regret to the complainant and circulated an internal note making clear that the family would have no comment on future stories.

A complaint was ‘resolved’ by the Scottish Sun:

Councillor Paul Rooney complained to the Press Complaints Commission through Glasgow City Council that an article was misleading when it implied that he was responsible for a Christmas tree being put up by the Council near his home.

Resolution:

The complaint was resolved when the PCC negotiated the publication of the following clarification:
In an article, dated November 26, we reported that Glasgow City Council had erected a Christmas tree near the home of Councillor Paul Rooney. Although we reported at the time that Cllr Rooney had no involvement, it was not stated by us that the decision to plant the tree there pre-dated his election to the council in May 2007 and that he had explicitly asked for it to be moved away from his home. We are happy to make this clear.

So, the resolution is an appalling piece of journalism is corrected four months after the original article was published, by which point none of the original readers would probably care about the correction. Isn’t the PCC fantastic?

Another councillor (Peter Langdon) complained about the Daily Telegraph which had reported that:

Gosport Borough Council sent ninety-three delegates to Madrid on a waste collection contract visit at a cost of £17,350. In fact, four people went on the visit, which cost £988. The newspaper had subsequently published an inaccurate correction to the article.

The Daily Telegraph published the following correction:

Our reports (25 Jan and 4 Feb) gave the wrong details of Gosport Council’s trips to research future waste management services. In fact, the total cost of 23 visits across the UK and in Spain was £7,350. This included £988 for sending four people to Madrid.

Quite a substantial difference from the original claims.

The Scotsman reported that someone’s partner was a sex offender – they weren’t – and had to issue the following clarification:

This article was amended on February 11. Our original report stated the partner of Child D’s mother was a convicted sex offender. This is not the case and his conviction was for common assault only. The Scotsman apologises for the error.

PCC responds to Mac swastika cartoon

You might remember the recent court case in which a gay couple won their discrimination case against the hotel owners who turned them away because they were gay. Daily Mail cartoonist ‘Mac’ covered the story by drawing the two men as burly thugs covered in tattoos, one of which really did appear to be a swastika. It seems that many people complained, and one of the complainants has now added his response in the comments which I will reproduce here:

In regard to the concern that it was inaccurate to depict a gay man displaying a swastika tattoo, the Commission emphasised that the cartoon was depicting figurative characters and not specific individuals. While it acknowledged the assertion made by many complainants that, given the treatment of homosexual people by Nazis, a gay man would not have this insignia tattooed on his arm, it did not consider that readers would be misled by the cartoon into understanding that homosexual people in general had an affiliation or association with Nazism or that they held similar views.

Virtually all of the complainants considered that the portrayal of the couple in the cartoon, and especially the depiction of a swastika, was in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code. The terms of this clause state that the press must avoid making a prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s sexual orientation. However, the clause does not cover general concerns over the discrimination of groups or categories of people. Given that the majority of complainants considered that the cartoon discriminated against homosexual people in general, the Commission could not establish a breach of Clause 12 of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

An interesting response, claiming that the cartoon covered ‘figurative’ characters, rather than specific individuals when the cartoon was essentially coverage of a real case featuring two real human beings. The general thrust of the argument is that you cannot insult an individual’s sexuality, but mocking or discriminating against ‘homosexual people in general’ is not a breach of the code. Which I guess suits the right-wing press just fine. Which of course it would, given that the code is written by newspaper editors for newspaper editors.

The PCC limps on, but for how much longer?

Journalists and the Code

In my last post I suggested – based on what I had read on the PCC website and in the various communications that they put out – that journalists should be punished more frequently because the PCC code is often written into their contracts of employment. Thanks to a reader getting in touch I stand corrected and was directed to a recent bulletin issued by Mediawise in response to the independent review of ‘The governance of the Press Complaints Commission’. This bulletin made it clear that:

Contrary to a myth popular at the PCC for many years, the Code is not written into most journalists’ contracts, especially the increasing number who are freelances. And why should it be – they have no say in its compilation, nor in editorial decisions, nor in the PCC. And there is the rub. For the moment the Code of Practice policed by the PCC is indeed the Editors’ Code (they write it, agree to be judged by it and their publications pay the PCC to adjudicate on alleged breaches).

According to the logic employed throughout the review to justify the current system of self-regulation, if working journalists are to be disciplined under the Code – they should have a say in how it is compiled and moderated. If it is to be used to initiate disciplinary procedures at the behest of an external body, then working journalists and their organisations should be represented not just on the PCC but also on the industry’s Code Committee. Nonetheless MediaWise has argued that self-regulation would be enhanced among working journalists if they were to supplement, not replace, editors on the PCC.

The point is a good one and perhaps implies that because journalists do not form part of the regulatory process, or are necessarily contracted to abide by the code, more accountability lies ultimately with the editors in charge of journalists. It is reasonable to expect editors to take full responsibility for any breaches in the code because they are the ones who write it and agree to abide by it; whilst the journalists are not strictly subject to its ‘rules’ – such as they are. Presumably the role of the editor – whilst diminished in certain aspects of rolling news publication (online for example) – is still crucial in determining what is and what isn’t fit to print. In reality a journalist writes a story, a breach can only occur if the editor sees fit to publish it.

Once again the spotlight shines brightly at the likes of Paul Dacre who Chairs the Editor’s code committee, yet is editor of the most complained about newspaper in the UK. If his journalists are not part of the regulatory process then it is his job to apply the code to his editorial decisions. Something he seems pathologically against doing, considering the current output of his newspaper.


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Back to the Tabloid world of fear

Well I’m back after a few drunken days away in a tent. At no point during these few days was I made angry by the rubbish published by the Tabloid newspapers and somehow, life seemed all the better for this. The sun shone, people smiled, I wasn’t raped, mugged, stabbed, shot or abused for being a ‘poor indigenous white’. I didn’t catch swine flu and far as I can tell my trip didn’t cause or cure cancer either. Life really is a wonderful thing, if only we all take a step back and enjoy it once in a while the world might be a better place. Nonetheless, I cannot escape from the clutches of the tabloid papers for too long and regrettably tabloid lies and hypocrisy are getting harder and harder to ignore. For example, Twitter provided me with a link to this gem on the Mail website today: ‘Scared to death? The REAL worry is today’s culture of fear‘. Essentially the author of the piece opens with: ‘Do you ever feel as if The Authorities are doing their damnedest to scare us all to death?’. This is said without any irony; no acknowledgement that Tabloid newspapers exist to whip up baseless fear. As commentators point out:

Ahem, it`s not “the Authorities”, it`s the MEDIA….- Sherry, Kent, 27/7/2009 9:08 Click to rate Rating 60 Agreed with Sherry in Kent – the media makes more of these ”panics” than anyone I know – I haven’t met anyone who’s panicking about swine flu, for example, but the media manage to make it sound like we’re all in a terrified frenzy and losing sleep over it. There is no culture of fear outside the media, which keeps trying to whip it up. – Ruth, Glasgow, Scotland, 27/7/2009 12:09 Click to rate Rating 24

The reason why The Daily Mail can spread fear and panic one minute, then accuse ‘The Authorities’ of doing the same the next is that they have no accountability and therefore no need to even pretend to be consistant. It isn’t just a matter of hypocrisy though, the Daily Mail has no accountability when it comes to facts either, as the Enemies of reason points out

:

The Mail gets it wrong again, and again, and again, and again. They’re not the only newspaper to do so, but they do pop up in the PCC adjudications time and time again. Sometimes it’s not too serious, merely entirely misrepresenting a scientific study for example; sometimes it’s really serious and unpleasant, for example making peaceful Muslims out to be rowdy protesters, or smearing the good name of someone who has recently been through a terrible tragedy. The PCC says this is all perfectly fine so long as they make tiny amends afterwards, and then everything’s tickety-boo, isn’t it? And there you have it. This is the redress available to those who can’t hire the top legal lawyers. A tiny correction shoved away in the middle of nowhere, and no apology at all.

Tabloid newspapers are consistently lying, hypocritical and utterly inconsistent yet somehow people still exchange their ‘hard-earned’ money for this. People look to newspapers to confirm their worst fears, and the newspapers are only happy to oblige. If, for example, you have a fear of foreigners and you stupidly believe in spite of facts that immigrants get free houses, free cars and a massive wad of cash as soon as they set foot on British soil, you can find a journalist that will agree with you completely. I can understand why an individual might believe that immigrants receive such things, they might not be that bright, they might not be terrible literate and therefore they do not have the ability to assimilate information or differentiate fact from fiction. Such a person might turn to a newspaper, where a journalist is paid to present them with a piece of opinion that should be factual – after all they are paid and have time to assimilate information and establish what the facts are. But they don’t. The poor misinformed person struggling to find out the truth might unfortunately pick up a newspaper like The News of the World (once edited by shit-stain Andy Coulson) and read a column by an utter piece of shit like Carole Malone. Thankfully Tabloid Watch has taken this apart – so I don’t have to try to engage my brain with such an ignorant tabloid turd:

In today’s News of the World, she has written a column so bereft of intellect or evidence or sound argument, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting paid for such crap. And not just crap – full of wild exaggerations and lies – but noxious and inflammatory crap.

Go read the rest here. A while ago I argued that Andy Coulson didn’t deserve a place in politics because he had edited a tabloid newspaper. My reasoning was that how can anyone be responsible for fuck-n-tell stories, lies, racism and the general cultural abyss that is a tabloid newspaper and then be responsible for running the PR campaign of a political party? How the hell is he supposed to help redress the apathy of voters, given his own shameful treatment of the general public when he edited a tabloid paper. I argued that anyone who had edited (or is editing) a tabloid newspaper should be ostracised from society, for they are the lowest form of human being. I’d now like to extend this to the majority of the shit-for-brains tabloid columnists who profiteer from increasing ignorance and hatred when they have the perfect platform to dispel it.

To paraphrase Bill Hicks, I bet they sleep like fucking babies to.