A challenge to the Press Complaints Commission to improve its code

The Press Complaints Commission is currently reviewing its Editors’ Code of Practice so a group of bloggers, including myself, have got together to propose five changes – and we’re running an online petition which you can sign too.

Amongst any group of people, the exact reasons for supporting the suggestions will vary but for myself they are:

(a) All the suggestions are obvious and easy ones which ask no more of newspapers than to meet the sorts of standards many journalists and editors have long since said they should meet.

(b) They pass the “what if your kids asked…?” test, by which I mean imagine you had a child and they were going into journalism. If they asked you, “Can you give me a bit of advice on what’s right and wrong? Should I…” I think nearly all journalists and editors would say “Yes you should” to suggestions one to four. (I suspect some of the other bloggers may have a more cynical view on this :-))

(c) They are all suggestions which ask for standards that bloggers frequently meet already. So to any newspaper journalist or editor who looks down on bloggers: if bloggers can manage this, why not yourself?

(d) The media likes talking about the financial problems besetting many outlets in the face of free online news. But they should also worry about journalism’s rock bottom reputation in the UK. The only profession in the UK less trusted by the public than journalists is politicians – and even politicians came out better until the expenses scandal. If journalists want to persuade people to pay for their work, increasing the trust in them should be a top priority.

I want journalism to have a future and not just in the form of solo bloggers. The financial resources of larger media outlets are often vital to the successful investigative journalism which holds those abusing power to account. But I fear for that future if journalists collectively don’t rise to the challenge of earning the public’s trust.

But enough preamble, here are the proposals:

SUGGESTION ONE: Like-for-like placement of retractions, corrections and apologies in print and online (as standard).

Retractions, corrections, and apologies should normally be at least equally prominent to the original article, in both print and online editions. Any departure from this rule should only be in exceptional circumstances, and the onus on showing such circumstances should be on the publication.

SUGGESTION TWO: Original or redirected URLs for retractions, corrections & apologies online (as standard).

Retractions, corrections, and apologies in respect of online articles should always be displayed either at the original URL or at a URL to which the reader is redirected.

SUGGESTION THREE: The current Code contains no reference to headlines, and this loophole should be closed immediately.

Headlines should be covered by the same rules as the rest of a story. Further, headlines and titles for links should never be misleading in what they imply or offer and should always be substantiated by the article/contents.

SUGGESTION FOUR: Sources to be credited unless they do not wish to be credited or require anonymity/protection.

Sources should normally be credited. Any departure from this rule should only be when the source does not wish to be credited or if the source requires anonymity/protection.

SUGGESTION FIVE: A longer and more interactive consultation period for open discussion of more fundamental issues.

The last suggestion highlights that there is a wide range of views about what the future of the PCC should be – its remit, the idea of self-regulation and so on. Those should be looked at, but that requires a longer public debate – and is no reason not to plough ahead straight away with the other four simple steps.

Agree with the five? Sign the petition and add your voice to the call for the Press Complaints Commission to change the rules.

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8 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 18th Jan '10 - 9:06pm

    Certainly a good idea, but I can’t help feeling it would be more important to challenge the PCC to enforce its code. They’re notoriously lax about it, and mostly leave it up to the individual news outlets to decide how strictly to comply (which, in the case of the tabloids, is not very).

  • I think suggestion one sounds good but would be pretty impractical. Imagine a big front page story that was run in the genuine belief it was correct but there had been some minor errors (say a relatively inconsequential spelling error in someones name) in it. Would that really deserve a front page correction? I could just about see retractions (& apologies for them being needed) deserving this but (minor) corrections? Not really

  • Another obvious change would be for the PCC to allow complaints from people not directly affected by the article. There’d need to be some guidance on when this was acceptable, but to use a recent example it was ridiculous that so many people complained about Jan Moir’s piece on Stephen Gateley but nothing could be done by the PCC until his partner complained.

  • I think it is right that the PCC only investigated that shameful Jan Moir article once his partner complained. It stops people launching politically motivated complaints, and requires an element of personal impact to be considered. Quite right as well, there are far too many hypocritical self-rightious puritans around these days. That’s not to say that public outrage should be ignored, but it should not be an instigator of action in this case.

  • Jamie Neale 19th Jan '10 - 6:11pm

    I have experienced the abuse which the papers wrongfully can do first hand all in the name profits if you can get a bit more ethics in to the system more power to you.

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