Looking through the Press Complaints Commission’s recently resolved complaints you become aware of just how unsatisfactory such resolutions often are for the complainant. The PCC and editors seem to think it is enough to merely remove offending articles, rather than actually attempt to offer any kind of redress or explanation.
Take the example of teacher Michelle Smith who complained to the PCC that the Daily Mail had:
published a story about a personal photograph that was uploaded to her school’s website by mistake. She said the article contained inaccuracies and was generally misleading to readers as it failed to explain the full circumstances behind the taking of the photograph
This complaint was resolved – according to the PCC – ‘when the newspaper removed the online article and photograph’. No mention of investigating the inaccuracies, no right of reply for the victim, merely the removal of the article. Is this really satisfactory? If you search for ‘teacher Michelle Smith’ on Google you can still find the outraged headlines from both the Daily Mail and The Sun (to whom Michelle Smith also successfully complained), complete with the first paragraph of each article. Should you then click on the link to either the Daily Mail article or The Sun article you end up with a 404 error page, stating that the content is no longer there.
You do not get informed that the article has been removed following an upheld complaint made to the PCC. You are not informed of why the offending article has been removed, nor given the right of reply from the victim. You merely end up with the conclusion that the page has been mislaid, rather than purposefully removed because of shoddy journalism.
Next up Amanda Platell writes the following about Heather Mills in November:
Why does she roll up one trouser leg to show her prosthetic limb, yet leaves the other one covered? Not still milking the sympathy vote, are we pet?”
Luckily Heather Mills was able to issue a response through other media outlets to this question:
“She says I kept my trouser leg rolled up to show off my prosthetic, UNTRUE, It was rolled up so Bob Watts the prosthetic could see the alignment and work out why i could not do crossovers without catching my blade and falling over.
“If the lazy woman did her homework she would understand how near impossible it is to skate with one limb to raise money for a needy charity programme.
“And she would know this was a private lesson, no cameras allowed, someone obviously sneaked a pic and she presumes the worst, how about a face to face Ms Platell?”
But even so, how many Daily Mail readers would have found this alternative media response, seeing as it was not covered in the Mail? The PCC say the issue was resolved when the Mail removed the offending article from its website and ‘sent a private letter of regret to the complainant’. Why is it that a public entity like a newspaper is allowed to apologise in private? Why was Amanda Platell not publicly rebuked for such a malicious, pathetic and completely untrue swipe at someone?
Organisations also receive the same treatment. Wellington College complained about Daily Mail coverage of an alleged assault at the college, claiming it was ‘inaccurate and misleading’. Again, rather than attempt to investigate and if necessary correct the coverage, they simply removed it from their website and ‘marked its cuttings library to ensure that there would be no future reference to it’. Is this really enough? To not publicly acknowledge the removal of an article gives the Daily Mail readership the impression that the Daily Mail is largely infallible as a source of news. In reality, things are very different, but you’ll only know that if you spend your time trawling the PCC website looking at just how many articles are removed without any sound at all from the Mail website. No explanation, no apology, no right to reply. The inaccuracies of purposeful misleading of its readership just disappears into the void.
It also again raises the issue of just why should editors bother to adhere to the PCC Editor’s code of practice, when the only result of publishing inaccurate articles is their quiet removal from the website? The original article still scored Internet traffic and raised advertising revenue, essentially archived content of low level attraction such as the above stories have no revenue value to the Daily Mail, so all the PCC really achieve is helping the Daily Mail prune past stories from their website.
It has been suggested by the excellent Mediawise (more about them will be appearing on this blog in the next few weeks) that newspapers should have dedicated places to post details of PCC rulings / resolved complaints etc against them, both online and in print editions, so that readers can readily find out what their newspaper has been up to recently. This seems more than reasonable and that editors do not voluntarily do this demonstrates still further how utterly unwilling the press actually is to even get into the spirit of self-regulation.