Opinion: The Sun’s correction to “benefit tourists” claim goes viral

sun benefit tourists correctionLast month, the Sunday Telegraph ran a scurrilous story claiming there were ‘600,000 unemployed EU migrants living in Britain’. On closer inspection, it turned out that the real number of (non-British) EU citizens claiming jobseeker’s allowance was just 38,000, according to DWP estimates. But the story had in the meantime been replicated by the usual suspects (the Sun, Mail and Express), leading me to write a piece to correct some of the most common myths about EU free movement.

I’m pleased to report that in a minor victory for journalistic standards, the Sun recently published a small correction, appearing in the bottom left-hand corner of page 2 in the edition published on 31 October. Though tiny, the correction was pretty damning, admitting that the ‘benefit tourists’ claim was ‘not accurate’ and had ‘no evidence’.

Doubting that many of the Sun’s readers (or others who subsequently picked up the story) would have actually spotted the correction, I tweeted the piece (thanks to a photo by my friend Stuart Bonar). After I was retweeted by comedian Russell Brand to his 7 million followers, the correction went viral, potentially reaching many more readers than the original print edition did.

The Sun’s chief political correspondent, who wrote the original piece, did take the trouble to ‘clarify’ on Twitter that ‘the correction was for the headline, not the article’. Nevertheless, the Sun does deserve some credit for actually issuing a correction, more than can be said for some of its rivals. The paper’s managing editor has since blamed the headline on a ‘subbing error’.

The question now is whether this episode is just a flash in the pan, or whether it marks a real change in direction for the Sun & co, post-Leveson. My own hunch is that the press is rather keener now than in the past to show that self-regulation can work. But the message from the replies I received on Twitter has been pretty unanimous: virtually all called for such corrections to be as prominent and in the same format as the original article. Only time will tell if we ever get that far.

* Giles Goodall is a Lib Dem European Parliamentary Candidate for South East England.

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6 Comments

  • And they wonder why we don’t trust them to self-regulate….

  • Evan Harris 21st Nov '13 - 8:26am

    Actually the issue of prominence of corrections is exactly why the Royal Charter system (which incentivises press self-regulators to comply with Leveson’s requirements) is so important and relevant. The “alternative” PressBof Royal Charter did not require press self-regulators to have the power to INSIST on equal prominence for corrections, nor to demand, let alone insist on, any apology at all. The cross-party Charter in contrast would require the self-regulator to be able to direct the prominence of corrections and apologies. It is all here http://mediastandardstrust.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/06/Charter-vs-Charter-23-05-13-PDF.pdf

    Sure enough, IPSO (the “son of PCC” self-regulator) promulgated by The Sun, The Mail and the Telegraph (among others) has no power to enforce equal prominence of corrections, nor to require apologies – page 16 here http://mediastandardstrust.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2013/11/MST-IPSO-Analysis-15-11-13.pdf

    That is why, without the Charter, it would business as usual in terms of “buried” corrections, and so much more.

    Declaration: I am the associate director of Hacked Off

  • Well done. It is only one small victory in the grand scheme of things, but it shows the power of the press is decreasing, slowly but surely decreasing.

  • exactly why the Royal Charter system (which incentivises press self-regulators to comply with Leveson’s requirements) is so important and relevant.

    Ah yes, Leveson. What happened to that bloke? Was he ‘disappeared’ with Chilcot ?

  • peter tyzack 21st Nov '13 - 11:40am

    .. this is a small achievement, but we have an immense distance to travel yet. We need a non-partisan press, with a pledge to produce factual, or reasonably reliable reportage.. until we achieve that the idea of living in a ‘democracy’ is some far off mythical place.

  • Nick Tregoning 25th Nov '13 - 10:18am

    Unsurprisingly, the Tories are still using the original figure in their migrant smear campaigning.
    Priti Patel MP was oh so happy to repeat this figure on the Westminster Hour on R4 last night. I’m sure it was simply an oversight brought on by too much Sun, and she’ll want to apologise now.

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