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.

PS: Clicking on the Angry Mob TV videos earns me money, so feel free to have a click on them before you leave the site to help pay for web hosting.

The PCC is a joke

This week Paul Dacre went on the attack at the Leveson inquiry by defending the PCC against what he called ‘myths’. One such myth he wanted to tackle was that the PCC was a toothless regulator because they could not issue sanctions against newspapers for wrongdoing. Dacre argued – as he has before – that editors feel a great sense of shame at having to publish an adjudication:

[the myth is that] Editors regard adjudications as a slap on the wrist: They certainly don’t. They are genuine sanctions. I, and other editors, regard being obliged to publish an adjudication as a real act of shame.

This does seem odd, given that Paul Dacre chairs the Editor’s code of practice whilst simultaneously editing the most complained about newspaper in the United Kingdom. Dacre wasn’t alone in attacking any idea of having real press regulation, he was joined by Kelvin MacKenzie – infamous for his front page lies about Hillsborough for which he has never faced any fitting punishment for – who in his Mail column today shows just how seriously he takes the PCC:

gypsy flag
Click to enlarge

Isn’t it about time we had a form of press regulation that wasn’t simply a cheap joke to morally bankrupt columnists?

‘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.

The Wriggling Begins

The News of the World has just published its last ever edition after an increasing number of revelations / allegations over the tactic of phone hacking and the expectation that worse behaviour is yet to be revealed. The story is so big and the behaviour of the NOTW so outrageous that the newspaper industry has turned its criticism inwards in a rare competition of which newspaper can seem to be the most disgusted by the behaviour of the NOTW – the Daily Mail for example leading with a front page assertion that the NOTW had ‘died of shame’.

This is unprecedented, but it has also been short-lived and entirely false. Already the newspapers are preparing their defence – and fittingly the defence, like so much modern journalism, is based on distortions, logical fallacies and scaremongering. The threat to the press after the closure of the NOTW is that it is finally being widely acknowledged that the Press Complaints Commission is an utterly ineffective regulator and that it must be replaced with something far more powerful – a complete move away from the heady days of press self-regulation. The press, therefore, are desperate to protect the PCC and their own freedom to lie, distort and bully with the impunity that they have enjoyed alongside the NOTW – for it must be remembered, repeated and shared that the NOTW are not an exception here.

And so it begins, the backlash, the warnings and the frankly insidious arguments that the proper and fit regulation of the press is dangerous to democracy and is motivated by devious politicians rather than a devious and dishonest press.

Andrew Gilligan writing in the Daily Telegraph [‘Phone hacking scandal: enemies of free press are circling‘] warns that:

The clear danger now is that they [politicians] will see the public anger about phone hacking as their chance to push through a “new and different regulatory system”…

That would be wrong…

As Iraq showed, Britain’s democratic institutions are relatively weak. But what makes up for that is the strength of our democratic culture – pressure groups, academia, and, above all, free, robust journalism: the very force that brought this latest scandal, and that of Iraq, to light. Be really careful before you let that go.

The Daily Mail have put their army of compliant columnists into action:

  • PETER HITCHENS: Politicians want Fleet Street to be tamed… you need to ask why
  • MAX HASTINGS: A very imperfect trade: British journalism has received a body blow but without a free Press we would all be poorer
  • STEPHEN GLOVER: Cameron can’t be allowed to shackle the Press

The message is a clear distortion of the reality of what regulation sets out to do – and why press regulation is desperately needed. No-one is attempting to ‘tame’, ‘shackle’ or diminish the freedom of the press. Regulation is merely trying to ensure that newspapers are properly accountable for their actions – and as the press feels that it is fit to hold us all accountable for our actions it seems only fair that we have satisfactory recourse to ensure they do so fairly.

Let’s just answer one question here, the indirect question asked by Peter Hitchens: ‘Politicians want Fleet Street to be tamed… you need to ask why’.

Ok, here goes.

Research carried out by Nick Davies in Flat Earth News discovered that over a ten year period the PCC had received 28,227 complaints. Over 90% of those complaints were rejected on technical grounds without the PCC even investigating their content. Out of the 28,227 complaints just 197 were upheld by an adjudication – that is just 0.69%. What’s worse is that the adjudications even when successful do not punish the newspaper in question satisfactorily (i.e. such punishment is not powerful enough to change the behaviour of the newspaper in the future). As Davies comments:

Since most complainants… find that the courts are closed to them by the sheer expense of suing, this leaves newspapers in a position of considerable security. The Daily Mail has a special place here.

Davies discovered that the Daily Mail had ‘been provoking justifiable complaint against unethical behaviour at just over three times the rate of the other national titles’ with the repeated invasion of privacy, inaccuracies or simply ‘taking the truth and distorting it’. Whilst the Mail has happily been attacking the NOTW over its journalistic malpractice there must be a lot of nervous journalists in Northcliffe house – including Paul Dacre – for how long will the Mail avoid damaging revelations about its own behaviour?

A report by the Information Commissioner’s Office titled ‘What price privacy now? The first six months progress in halting the unlawful trade in confidential personal information‘ [pdf] has a neat little table on page 9 showing the number of transactions positively identified for each newspaper alongside the number of journalists involved. The Daily Mail is top with 952 transactions involving 58 journalists. To put this into perspective: the News of the World is in fifth place with just 182 transactions and 19 journalists. The Mail on Sunday – the newspaper that Peter Hitchens is so proud to write for – is one place above the News of the World with 266 transactions involving 33 journalists. The Daily Mail ‘Weekend Magazine’ supplement and the Mail on Sunday ‘Night and Day’ supplement also feature in the table.

Furthermore the lawyers of Associated Newspapers haven’t contacted the New Statesman over the allegations made in a Hugh Grant article in which he bugs former News of the World executive Paul McMullan. Grant recorded McMullan claim that the Mail did use stories based on hacking:

For about four or five years they’ve absolutely been cleaner than clean. And before that they weren’t. They were as dirty as anyone . . . They had the most money.

Nor have the lawyers been in touch with Nick Davies who writes of the Daily Mail:

Looking back at these cases – at the PCC and in the courts – a pattern begins to emerge: facts are swept aside or distorted; the story is published; the subject of the story then complains and is confronted by the wealth and cleverness of the Mail which will fight them right up to the point of final defeat, when, if need be, it will surrender and offer some kind of deal. And the pattern repeats. It repeats because the penalty is no match for the rewards of the behaviour which is being penalised.

The Mail is deriving at least some of its commercial and political success precisely from the fact that it can play fast and loose with the facts and frequently have no fear of the consequences: the PCC bails them out; the victim can’t afford to sue’ or, if the victim does sue, the paper can live with the cost.

The focus at this moment is on the News of the World and what allegations will bear fruit, what fresh revelations will unfold and what punishment with be meted out to those involved – and how high up that punishment will be able to extend. As a consequence of the actions of the NOTW the PCC will now almost certainly be disbanded and replaced with some new form of regulation. This must happen in order for the press to have any motivation to change their behaviour. However, such changes should not take place until every newspaper is properly investigated to establish whether they were also guilty like the NOTW of illegal, unethical and shameful behaviour.

We know that the Daily Mail in 2010 was still attracting the most ‘resolved’ complaints through the PCC (66, compared to just 18 for the News of the World). We also know that the Daily Mail has a huge amount of political and social influence and its reporting serves not just to ‘mislead its readers about the state of the world but to distort the whole political process’ [NicK Davies, again]. And at the end of his chapter on Mail aggression Davies concludes:

It’s the aggression that makes the Mail powerful. I know of nothing anywhere in the rest of the world’s media which matches the unmitigated spite of an attack from the Daily Mail. And since it is part of an industry in Britain whose sole attempt at regulation is an organisation which rejects more than 90% of complaints without even considering their content, that aggression is free to cripple reputations, free to kill ideas, regardless of justice, regardless of truth.

He also quotes and unnamed senior Labour source in a book by John Lloyd:

‘The Daily Mail is an extraordinary product. It springs from the mind of Paul Dacre who has the kind of prejudices and beliefs no one knows about. I won’t go into them. But he is accountable to no one. He has absolute and unaccountable power.’

We cannot allow the Daily Mail or any other newspaper to turn the story of how journalism has routinely descended to the lowest depths of depravity to pursue the most inane or invasive stories into some kind of politically motivated attack on the free press. The press must take responsibility for their actions and realise that as – in the words of Paul Dacre – the ‘guardians of truth’ they must ensure that what they print is actually a fair and accurate reflection of the truth. Newspapers must no longer be allowed to print untruths or comment as news or have a virtual immunity from the ramifications of being caught doing so.

Good journalism will always be needed as a check on the rich and powerful. Good journalism has nothing to fear from any new regulator. Only the serial bullies and distorters of truth should fear proper, robust and proactive regulation. It is no wonder the Daily Mail is already attacking the very notion that the PCC should be scrapped. Proper and fit regulation will destroy the Daily Mail’s entire editorial outlook. Let’s do everything we can to make sure this happens, the world will be a brighter place without it.

Apologies for so liberally quoting Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News. Do please buy a copy; it is a revelation and essential reading for anyone just becoming interested in the state of the British print media.

David Cameron admits he was badly wrong about the PCC

Im May this year David Cameron – appearing on Radio 4’s Today Programme – defended the concept of press self-regulation and in particular he made sure he directed some praise towards the PCC. He said:

“I sense that there’s still more to be done to recognise that actually the Press Complaints Commission has come on a lot in recent years, and we should be working with that organisation to make sure that people get the protection that they need…. while still having a free and vibrant press.”

As Roy Greenslade noted at the time:

He added: “We don’t want statutory regulation of the press.” And, pushed further on the whether there was a need for a specific privacy law, he reiterated his support for the PCC.

Greenslade suggested that ‘it may be the only time’ that a prime minister had gone ‘in to bat for the PCC’. Perhaps his defence isn’t that surprising given that he had appointed Andy Coulson (director of NOTW from 2003 to 2007) as his director of communications and the PCC – along with the Metropolitan Police – had so convincingly failed to investigate the role of Coulson or properly challenge his denials of having any knowledge about what his journalists go up to during his time as editor. If Cameron criticised the PCC or gave the impression that it was failing to tackle the endemic problem of phone hacking then it might have opened up the can of worms that is only now being scooped out thanks to the Guardian.

As Greenslade noted, Cameron’s defence of the PCC was completely out-of-step ‘with the negative views on the PCC in recent reports by the media, culture and sport select committee, chaired by Tory MP John Whittingdale’. Furthermore, Cameron’s defence came at a time in which the PPC had ‘been under consistent fire’.

Suddenly, after the dramatic and ongoing revelations about the News of the World, Cameron has changed his tune, according to the BBC today:

He said the scandal showed the PCC was “ineffective and lacking in rigour” and there was a need for a new watchdog.


Mr Cameron said a second inquiry would look at the ethics and culture of the press and he also said the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) would be scrapped, adding: “I believe we need a new system entirely”.

If the News of the World revelations were really shocking – i.e. we hadn’t known for a significant period of time that phone hacking was a standard journalistic tool employed by many more newspapers than just the NOTW – then you could perhaps understand Cameron’s sudden change of heart.

But it’s not. His backtracking has only come about because his hand has been forced by the NOTW overstepping the line in terms of what the public find acceptable. What needs to be remembered is that hacking the phone of Milly Dowler is no more illegal than hacking the phone of any given celebrity. Isn’t it odd that it took moral outrage to force the police and the government to finally acknowledge that an illegal act should be properly and fully investigated irrespective of whom it is used against (although I would of course make clear that the public interest defence should always remain strong to protect genuine journalism).

One final point that must be made – and driven home – at this juncture is about censorship. Many people – including the hopelessly simple Jon Gaunt on BBC Question Time last night – equate regulation with censorship. When Hugh Grant argued that the Press Complaints Commission and along with it the notion of self-regulation for the media should be scrapped and replaced with a properly enforced regulator, Gaunt screamed that this simply meant Grant wanted to censor the press.

This is an moronic argument. There is a vast difference between ensuring that the press does not lie to its readers, libel or defame the innocent or break the law by hacking, blagging or otherwise pursuing individuals when there is no justifiable cause and censorship. There is a vast difference between breaking the law to pursue a corrupt politician or a corporate scandal when such actions are clearly in the public interest and hacking the phone of a missing girl.

Calling for proper regulation should never be confused with censorship, and the freedom enjoyed by the press should never be allowed to be abused by that press. With great freedom and power comes great responsibility and it is now proven – beyond all reasonable doubt – that self-regulation cannot enforce responsible journalism.

It is time for change. It is time for every newspaper lie – be it about immigration, the reporting of science, the European Union, gypsies, gays, single mums, those on benefits, the disabled or any other target group – to be properly challenged and for the press to finally have to take accuracy seriously.

Waking-up to the real state of our tabloid press

It is a huge story. The allegations that the News of the World hacked into Milly Dowler’s phone and not only listened to the messages but also deleted some of them to free-up space for new messages which, according to the Guardian, led to:

friends and relatives of Milly concluded wrongly that she might still be alive…

The Dowler family then granted an exclusive interview to the News of the World in which they talked about their hope, quite unaware that it had been falsely kindled by the newspaper’s own intervention.

For many people these allegations are genuinely shocking and many people across the UK and beyond are asking the question: ‘how could they do this?’

However, the real question should be: ‘how are so many people unaware that this isn’t an isolated incident of morally bankrupt journalism, but the norm?’

I’m pleased that people are sitting up and taking notice. I’m pleased that Ford are boycotting advertising with the News of the World and that other big companies are considering doing the same. But I also wonder as to why it has taken so long for public perception and big corporations to draw a line between what is merely accepted as bad journalism and what causes public outrage as being completely unacceptable journalism.

For instance, in September last year YouGov published a poll titled ‘Who do you trust?’ which was covered by Tabloid Watch at the time but failed to gain any significant mainstream coverage. The poll revealed that journalists on ‘mid-market’ newspapers (Mail, Express) only had the total trust of just 21% of the people surveyed (down from 36% in 2003); whilst 71% claimed to have not much/no trust in them. It was even worse for the journalists on ‘red-top tabloid’ newspapers who only had the total trust of just 10% of the people surveyed (down from 14% in 2003); whilst 83% claimed to have not much/no trust in them.

We appear to be in a situation in which the majority of newspaper consumers accept without protest that what they read each day is not or cannot to be trusted. Trust or truth in journalism does not appear to be significant in raising public levels of outrage against newspapers, nor in itself is the invasion of privacy. The general public don’t seem to be concerned with the phone hacking of celebrities or prominent politicians, but they are outraged at the alleged hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone (and the fresh allegations that the families of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman may have been targeted as well).

This, I think, is part of the problem. As consumers we can’t afford to be selectively outraged by an illegal technique depending on who it targets. We can’t keep buying newspapers or logging onto newspaper websites to lap up highly invasive articles / images of celebrities that were obtained through phone-hacking or aggressive journalism that borders on stalking, but then turn around and act shocked that they use the same techniques when dealing with bereaved families or missing 13-year-old girls. If any lesson can be taken away from studying the press it is that they cannot be trusted to regulate their own behaviour and the tools that once may have been used for legitimate investigative journalism are now just as likely to be turned on any unlucky individual who finds his or herself in their spotlight.

I can’t help but feel that the general public should have been outraged an awful long time ago – and not just about individual cases of press abuse, but the general expectations we all have when we pick up any paper. For example, how is it that we live in a society where we feel it is acceptable to routinely not trust what we read in newspapers? Why do even seasoned, loyal newspaper readers always feel the need to inform you – with a knowing nod – if you question their choice of newspaper that you shouldn’t worry about them because they take it all with a pinch of salt?

The Milly Dowler story – and the fresh allegations that will be breaking from now on – should be the catalyst that finally awakens the realisation that our press is no longer fit for purpose – and hasn’t been for an awful long time. This isn’t just the concern of media bloggers or the Guardian, it is the concern of all of us who care about the society we live in and the huge impact that media narratives have on influencing our daily interactions with those around us. Any one of us could be the next Christopher Jefferies, who has had to resort to the courts to pursue some form of redress for the smears he suffered for a crime of which he was found entirely innocent. As BBC Legal correspondent Clive Coleman points out:

It’s an indication of the significance of these contempt proceedings that the Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC has appeared in person to outline the case in front of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge.

Mr Grieve described the material published about Christopher Jefferies as being so exceptional and memorable in its impact as to risk prejudicing and impeding a fair trial.

He pointed in particular to suggestions that Mr Jefferies was a sexually perverted voyeur, that he had possibly been involved in a previous murder and that he was a close friend of a known paedophile.

For what it’s worth, the ‘Sun and Daily Mirror dispute Mr Grieve’s claims, and deny contempt’.

What should not be forgotten in all of this is that it is easy to humanise and sympathise with the victims of this latest alleged hacking. Whilst the majority might – and seemingly do – generally accept the hacking of politicians and celebrities for whatever dubious justification of misunderstood public interest, almost everyone seems to draw the line when the victim is a 13-year-old girl and her family. However, we must also face up to our responsibility to stand up and be counted not just when the victims are easily identifiable and real to us, but also when the victims are a much larger group who – although we cannot instantly identify with in the same way that we can do when we have names, ages, photos and context – are no less deserving of our collective outrage, action and support.

For example any Muslim or perceived Muslim who has suffered racial abuse or other actions as a result of a systematic smear campaign conducted by a range of newspapers. I don’t recall politicians calling for press reform when Radio 4’s excellent Face the Facts program so searingly covered Islamophobia in the media and the consequences for its victims. According to Roy Greenslade, Lord Rothermere – chairman of the Daily Mail & General Trust – was ‘appalled’ at the Milly Dowler hacking allegations and he felt compelled to make sure the Daily Mail doesn’t use hacking in its journalism. Apparently Paul Dacre – Daily Mail editor-in-chief – answered that (according to Greenslade) ‘the Mail has never done anything so disgusting’.

Although it is noticeable that the lawyers of Associated Newspapers haven’t contacted the New Statesman over the allegations made in a Hugh Grant article in which he bugs former News of the World executive Paul McMullan. Grant recorded McMullan claim that the Mail did use stories based on hacking:

For about four or five years they’ve absolutely been cleaner than clean. And before that they weren’t. They were as dirty as anyone . . . They had the most money.

Paul Dacre became editor in 1992. Who knows, perhaps all editors just do not know what their journalists get up to.

The important point is that Lord Rothermere sat idly by whilst Littlejohn attacked dead women and the rest of the Mail’s journalists go after just about every form of minority using a variety of lies to stir up racial and religious hatred in much the same way as the general public has.

Do we really value 13-year-old girls more than any other human beings? If we don’t then it’s about time we got a lot angrier about an awful lot more and we finally make it absolutely clear that the behaviour of our press is completely unacceptable. This means we boycott them, en masse, whilst pursuing the dissolution of the Press Complaints Comission and the formation of a proper regulator in the mould of Ofcom.

Twitter outrage guidelines

Yesterday the Mail website decided to run a story that even by its own very low standards was a shockingly insensitive and crude political attack. The Daily Mail is not afraid to use any excuse to attack public sector strikes and yesterday decided that the awful accidental death of a 13-year-old girl was the perfect chance to continue this attack. As reported by The Media Blog:

Daily Mail sinks to a new low

As The Media Blog comments:

[this] is surely a leap too far even for the Daily Mail, given it not only insults any notion of logic but also, more worryingly trivialises the death of a young girl for cheap political point scoring

What is becoming increasingly apparent each time a new Twitter storm arises from something the Daily Mail publishes online: nothing is a leap to far for the Daily Mail. The continued rise of the Daily Mail as becoming one of the largest ‘news’ websites in the world in terms of traffic does receive significant help from outraged individuals sharing such stories via social networking sites. This can be avoided quite easily if the following guidelines are followed:

  1. Never link to the Daily Mail website – instead use istyosty.com, copy the URL of the offending Daily Mail article into istyosty.com and it will store a cached version of the webpage for people to visit which means that the Daily Mail gets no additional visitors.
  2. Before clicking or sharing / retweeting a link, hover your mouse over it. If it is going to take you to the Mail website do not click it (unless to create an istyosty.com link). Tell the person sharing the link to stop linking to the Mail, tell them about istyosty.com or refer them to this page.
  3. Check to see if any bloggers have already covered the story. It is far better to link to link to a good blog on the subject because if the link is shared enough then that page can challenge the Mail article when it comes to Google searches for the given subject. Furthermore, this rewards the blogger for writing about the Mail and gives them some extra traffic which might help spread the message that the Mail is awful most of the time, not just on the isolated occasions when Twitter takes up a particular case.
  4. Don’t be afraid to share other links during the periods when Mail outrage is trending on Twitter. Use this as an opportunity to spread the word about good media bloggin sites who do deal with the really nasty narratives that are so often ignored on Twitter because they perhaps don’t fit into the narrow ‘outrage space’ that seems to be present in the minds of some Twitter users.
  5. Do share a link to the PCC if you feel that the article can be complained about legitimately. The more occasions the PCC in inundated with genuine, serious complaints the harder it will be for the media to continually justify self-regulation.

The Daily Mail article that was doing the rounds yesterday [istyosty.com link] no doubt generated a lot of traffic for the Mail website (it attracted 432 comments – a lot of them highly critical of the Mail’s angle) and eventually the Mail updated the headline of the article to remove the ‘because’ which directly attempted to blame striking teachers for the girl’s death and they remove a supposed Tweet that someone made blaming teachers for the death (people searching for it on Twitter couldn’t find this Tweet). However, the article still contains image captions which make the link between the death and the teacher’s strike even though the grieving family have been forced to issue a statement making it clear to the press that:

Our beloved daughter’s death was a tragic incident, which occurred only 24 hours ago, and we do not want it to be connected to any other events.

‘We politely ask that our privacy be respected at this time and we will not be issuing anything further.

This family have just lost their 13-year-old daughter as she innocently sat under the shade of a tree. As they attempt to deal with such a horrible sudden shock they learn that their daughter’s death had already been used by a national newspaper as a way to attack the teacher’s strike. How must they have felt? How could they even begin to understand how the Mail could print this?

As usual the absolute cowards working at the Mail gifted the byline to the ‘Daily Mail Reporter’ and the utterly supine Press Complaints Commission watch on, powerless to do a single thing about it.

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.


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.