The ‘myth’ of newspapers burying apologies, and a bit of praise for the Independent and the Guardian

I don’t visit the Independent website often, which is perhaps why I’ve missed this until recently:

Featured very prominently on the website’s homepage is a link to a “Corrections” section. This section contains all of the corrections that the Independent publishes, along with the following statement:

This newspaper adheres to the system of self-regulation overseen by the Press Complaints Commission. The PCC takes complaints about the editorial content of publications under the Editor’s Code of Practice, a copy of which can be found at www.pcc.org.uk

In my opinion, the Independent deserves a great deal of praise for this. Newspapers rarely mention the PCC and what it does. Roy Greenslade has said before that papers should do more to publicise the PCC.

But there’s another reason why I think the Independent deserves praise… and here’s why:

Last week, the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee announced that they would be changing part of the code which newspapers agree to abide by, with the oversight of the PCC.

As the Press Gazette reported:

From next year the prominence of corrections stemming from a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, which oversees press self-regulation in the UK, will have to be agreed with the press watchdog prior to publication.

The Editors’ Code Committee has changed Clause 1ii of the code, which covers accuracy, to now say: “A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

“In cases involving the commission, prominence should be agreed with the PCC in advance.”

As Ian Beales, the Code Committee secretary, said:

This amendment is designed to help kill the myth that newspapers and magazines routinely bury corrections.

He added:

Research conducted by the PCC has shown this [that newspapers bury corrections] to be untrue – nearly 85 per cent of PCC-negotiated corrections and apologies appear no further back than the original transgression, or in a designated corrections column.

If this research is true, then this is very good news indeed. Except for one thing – the wording clearly demonstrates that the PCC is only talking about apologies or corrections made in print.

I know it’s something of a cliché but we now live in a digital age. An increasing number of people receive their news from online sources rather than from print versions. How would the research look if newspapers’ websites were included too?

Let’s look at an example from today.

In May, the Press Gazette published news that Sophie Dahl was going to sue the Daily Mail over one of Liz Jones’ columns, which she claimed was “defamatory” to her.

As Tabloid Watch has pointed out today, the Daily Mail has finally issued an apology, but:

There is no mention of this apology on the Mail’s homepage. Given how prominently the Mail always places links to Jones’ columns, this simply looks like yet another example of a newspaper burying an apology.

The online apology can only be found when you search for Sophie Dahl’s name on the website and order the entries by “most recent”. Who is going to do this, unless they are specifically looking for the apology?

An amendment seems to have been made to the original article to remove the passage that Sophie Dahl complained about, but the article carries no correction. Nor does it display a link to the apology.

I’ve only ever noticed an apology displayed prominently once on the Mail website and three times on the Express website. This is very unscientific “research”, I know, but as someone who visits most newspaper websites every day, surely I would have noticed more than this.

Then, there’s another problem.

Today, the Press Gazette is reporting the following:

The Daily Mail has apologised for the “over-zealous” actions of a reporter covering a story which suggested a Heathrow body scanner was used inappropriately on a female airport worker.

The Press Complaints Commission reports today that it has resolved a complaint by brought by airport worker Jo Margetson over a Daily Mail report of an alleged incident involving “lewd comments” and a body scanner.

They add:

The complaint was resolved after the Mail agreed to remove two articles from its online archive.

This is a popular get-out for newspapers. They agree to delete the offending articles and be done with it. However, this is merely covering up the crime, as it were. With a buried online apology and a few missing old articles, the paper has essentially got away with it.

The people who read the article online the first time and then return to the website later, would have no idea about it’s inaccuracies as the correction or apology is buried deep inside the website hierarchy. And anyone who tries to return to that article in the future would simply be redirected to the homepage, unsure about why.

For a good example of how I believe newspapers should deal with corrections, you’ll need to head over to Guardian.co.uk.

(By the way, the Guardian website carries two “readers’ editor” sections which work in much the same way as the “Corrections” section from the Independent. This is good but, in my opinion, it’s not prominent enough. They can only be found via the “About us” menu at the top of the site.)

When the Guardian discovers that they’ve made, or are found to have made, a factual error in one of their articles, they amend the article and include a note at the bottom, indicating the correction that’s been made.

For example, here’s a correction from the bottom of this article, World Cup 2022: Qatar won the bid, but now the real work starts:

And (with big thanks to Press Not Sorry for pointing this out) here is another correction from the Guardian displayed very prominently at the top of this article, Mounties stop Murdoch’s Sun TV News from shining:

Can you imagine the same thing appearing on the Mail, Express, Sun or Star websites?

This is simply a great idea. However, I’m not sure how the Guardian deals with articles that, rather than needing a few corrections, would usually be deleted.

I personally think such articles should remain available online, with the offending text either struck-through or removed with a short statement about why the content of the article was removed. This is far better than simply redirecting people to the website’s homepage, without an explanation.

Unless newspapers a) start publishing apologies with sufficient prominence online, b) host a prominent “corrections” section on their websites, c) add messages to amended or removed articles, and d) mention the PCC and their commitment to self-regulation somewhere on their site, then I believe that apologies will continue to be buried and inaccuracies in articles will remain unchallenged.

To part-quote Elvis Presley, we can’t go on like this.

1 Comment

Filed under Media and journalism

One Response to The ‘myth’ of newspapers burying apologies, and a bit of praise for the Independent and the Guardian

  1. James

    As far as I recall if the Guardian has ever had an article cause offence they have a link to the related "apology" article in the "related articles" on the right of the article, or else a link at the bottom where the corrections would normally go. I can't bring an example to mind right now but as a long-time reader of Guardian.co.uk I thought I'd weight in what I remember.

    I was quite pleased to see an article on The Death of Irony (which is very old, now) which even included all citations and sources, which was surprising.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>