Sorry we said you had sexsomnia

The PCC’s website currently lists no less than 11 resolved complaints from Stephen Davies and Eleanor Parker.

According to the complaints, each paper had wrongly reported that Mr Davies, who was standing trial for rape, had defended himself by saying he was suffering from sexsomnia (otherwise known as “sleep sex”) at the time of the alleged incident.

In reality, however, Mr Davies’s defence was that the incident had not happened.

As the full text of each complaint states:

Stephen Davies and Eleanor Parker complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the newspaper’s [online - in the case of the Guardian] report of Mr Davies’ acquittal for rape was misleading. The complainants’ said that the piece suggested that Mr Davies defence was that he was suffering from sexsomnia at the time of the alleged attack when, in fact, his position was that the incident did not take place. The jury’s decision was not “Not Guilty by reason of Insanity” (which would have been the case if his sexsomnia was an issue) but a straight-forward “Not Guilty” verdict for all charges faced.

Ten of the papers that Davies and Parker complained about published clarifications, including the Newmarket Journal:

Correction: Stephen Lee Davies

ON July 4 2011, we carried a national Press Association report of the acquittal at Swansea Crown Court of Stephen Lee Davies, who had been accused of rape (1 COURTS Sexsomnia, which ran at 17.31 on 04/07/11). The report stated that Mr Davies was cleared after arguing that he was suffering from the condition known as sexsomnia. Although the court heard evidence that Mr Davies may have suffered from the condition, his defence was that he did not have sex with the alleged victim. We are happy to clarify this matter.

The Press (York):

Stephen Lee Davies: Clarification

On July 4, 2011, we carried a report on this website supplied to us by the Press Association of the acquittal at Swansea Crown Court of Stephen Lee Davies, who had been accused of rape. The report stated that Mr Davies was cleared after arguing that he was suffering from the condition known as sexsomnia. Although the court heard evidence that Mr Davies may have suffered from the condition, his defence was that he did not have sex with the alleged victim. We are happy to clarify this matter.

The Belfast Telegraph:

Stephen Lee Davies

On July 4, 2011, we published a Press Association report of the acquittal at Swansea Crown Court of Stephen Lee Davies, who had been accused of rape. The report stated that Mr Davies was cleared after arguing that he was suffering from the condition known as sexsomnia. Although the court heard evidence that Mr Davies may have suffered from the condition, his defence was that he did not have sex with the alleged victim. We are happy to clarify this matter.

The Daily Mirror:

Stephen Davies

Further to our article “Sexsomniac cleared of raping teen girl” on 5 July we have been asked to point out that the jury found Stephen Davies not guilty of rape and, although he did admit to having sex with partners previously while asleep, and denies having sex with the alleged victim, the jury did not make a specific finding that he had sex while suffering with sexsomnia.

The Guardian:

An agency report of the acquittal at Swansea crown court of Stephen Lee Davies, who had faced an allegation of rape, stated that he was cleared after arguing he was suffering from the condition known as sexsomnia. Although the court heard evidence that Davies may have suffered from the condition, his defence was that he did not have sex with the alleged victim. We are happy to clarify this matter. The article has been deleted (Sexsomnia sufferer cleared of rape, 4 July 2011).

The South Wales Echo:

Stephen Davies: Clarification

Further to our article of 5 July headlined “‘Sexsomnia’ man found not guilty” we have been asked to point out that the jury found Stephen Davies not guilty of rape and, although he did admit to having sex with partners previously while asleep, and denies having sex with the alleged victim, the jury did not make a specific finding that he had sex while suffering with sexsomnia.

The Metro:

Stephen Lee Davies

On July 4, we reported the acquittal at Swansea Crown Court of Stephen Davies, who was accused of rape. Our report said Mr Davies was cleared after arguing that he suffered from sexsomnia. Although the court heard evidence that Mr Davies may have suffered from the condition, his defence was that he did not have sex with the alleged victim. We are happy to clarify our report, which was based on information supplied by the Press Association.

This statement was also appended to the online version of the article:

Correction

In the above story we reported the acquittal at Swansea Crown Court of Stephen Davies, who was accused of rape. Our report said Mr Davies was cleared after arguing that he suffered from sexsomnia. Although the court heard evidence that Mr Davies may have suffered from the condition, his defence was that he did not have sex with the alleged victim. We are happy to clarify our report, which was based on information supplied by the Press Association.

The Eastern Daily Press:

On July 5 2011, we published a Press Association report of the acquittal at Swansea Crown Court of Stephen Lee Davies, who had been accused of rape. The PA report stated that Mr Davies was cleared after arguing that he was suffering from the condition known as sexsomnia. Although the court heard evidence that Mr Davies may have suffered from the condition, his defence was that he did not have sex with the alleged victim. We are happy to clarify this matter.

The Western Mail:

Correction

Further to our article of 30 June headlined “Sleep expert tells court that rape accused has ‘sexsomnia’ condition” we have been asked to point out that the jury found Stephen Davies not guilty of rape and, although he did admit to having sex with partners previously while asleep, and denies having sex with the alleged victim, the jury did not make a specific finding that he had sex while suffering with sexsomnia.

And the Yorkshire Post:

Stephen Lee Davies

ON July 5 we carried a report of the acquittal at Swansea Crown Court of Stephen Lee Davies, who had been accused of rape. The agency report stated that Mr Davies was cleared after arguing that he was suffering from the condition known as sexsomnia. Although the court heard evidence that Mr Davies may have suffered from the condition, his defence was that he did not have sex with the alleged victim. We are happy to clarify this matter.

The Daily Telegraph, however, didn’t accept that they had breached the Code:

The newspaper argued that the article under complaint – one of two online pieces published on the hearing – made clear that Mr Davies had been acquitted by the jury and did not state that he had raped or otherwise had sex with the alleged victim. While the newspaper did not accept that there had been a breach of the Code, it was mindful of the complainants’ position and the matter was resolved when it arranged for the permanent deletion of both articles on the subject and undertook never to republish them.

This scenario demonstrates one of the main problems of churnalism – because the PA’s original report contained inaccuracies, each subsequent article based on it reproduced these inaccuracies verbatim.

8 Comments

Filed under Media and journalism

8 Responses to Sorry we said you had sexsomnia

  1. Another victory for churnalism where a press release is regurgitated without basic fact checking eh?

  2. Tom

    Minor point, but I think an important one – PA copy is not ‘a press release’, it is a paid-for subscription service which makes it feasible for newspapers to report on a wider range of stories than they otherwise would. For example, if the defendant in the above case is from Aberdeen but the trial is taking place in Southampton, and the local paper in Aberdeen has no way of getting a reporter to Southampton to cover the case in person (as is sadly the reality for newspapers these days, cost is an ever-present limiting factor) then they would be quite entitled, one would think, to rely on the PA to supply accurate, factual copy.

    Heavens above, if newsdesks checked every single fact submitted to them by their reporters – be they staff or agency-based – then they would have no time to edit the newspapers (and no need for reporters). You have to, at some stage, trust a fellow professional to get the facts right. Whichever PA reporter produced that copy will have been absolutely carpeted for their error, and rightly so – the PA’s hugely successful business model relies on newspapers being able to trust the factual content submitted by its reporters.

    Churnalism is a massive, all-pervading problem, the extent of which is rightly highlighted by this and similar blogs. And there is a problem when newspapers run PA copy unedited on certain types of story – their reporters do not question, they do not dig and they make no attempt to ascertain the truth, they merely report what is said. But in court copy, where the law prohibits journalists from doing any more than merely reporting what is said (for obvious reasons), newdesks really should be able to trust what the PA reporter writes.

    I’m all in favour of basic fact-checking, but sometimes it’s not feasible and, more importantly, a newsdesk will have no reason to suspect the facts might be wrong.

    • I wasn’t trying to claim that the PA’s report was a press release, but the newspapers using their report for their coverage still constitutes churnalism, as wire copy is included in the definition of the term.

      I understand why papers use wire copy and I appreciate the point you’re making, but the issue is in fact a much larger one. The reason newspapers have to be so reliant on wire copy in the first place is that, due to cost-saving measures and proprietors who value profit more than proper journalism, the number of reporters they actually employ has been massively reduced.

      Because of this reduction in manpower, there are fewer journalists (often none, in fact) who are able to actually go and report on events like court cases and gather information first-hand.

      And the journalists that are left, have barely any time free to do the basic fact-checking that used to required of them. They are reduced to simply rewriting wire copy, and if that wire copy is wrong, the story they produce from it will be wrong too, as the above case demonstrates.

      Even if they couldn’t have sent their own reporters, they could have contacted other, local reporters who were present during the trial to cross-reference the information. Or even made a quick phone call to the court’s press office to verify the information.

      This whole problem is described in much better and greater detail in Nick Davies’s book, Flat Earth News, which comes very highly recommended.

      PS: Sorry if you were bombarded with e-mails just then; my comments didn’t seem to be posting correctly.

  3. Tom

    The previous commenter said it was a press release.

    All fact-checking requires, at some stage, a person to trust another person. If a newsdesk contacts a local reporter (who, if they don’t work for the same parent group, would not be expected to share their work) and the reporter gets it wrong, is that the newsdesk’s fault? Most people would say no. I would say no. But we’re expected to tut and shake our heads at them trusting an agency reporter in the same way? Why?

    As for calling the courthouse to check the facts – where does that end? Do newsdesks have to check the name of the judge, the barristers, the length of the sentence? Court staff would be run off their feet. And they might make a mistake too.

    Yes, I’ve read Flat Earth News too. And my point above about the uses and limitations of PA copy is similar to that made by Davies – that PA is very good at reporting who said what to whom, but no good at proper journalism. In a court report, who said what to whom is all you’re allowed to say.

    • “The previous commenter said it was a press release.”

      OK, fair enough. I apologise for the confusion there.

      “All fact-checking requires, at some stage, a person to trust another person.”

      Indeed. But humans are not infallible and are liable to make mistakes. Fact-checking and cross-referencing reports from various sources – rather than 11 newspapers relying on the same reporter – mitigates against this risk and ensures that the truth is reported as faithfully as possible. This is a clear bottleneck and one that wouldn’t have existed if our courts were properly covered with a sufficient number of reporters.

      As good as the PA are, there are always going to be mistakes. What’s wrong with expecting newsdesks to understand this fact and try and mitigate against it as much as they can?

      “As for calling the courthouse to check the facts – where does that end? Do newsdesks have to check the name of the judge, the barristers, the length of the sentence? Court staff would be run off their feet. And they might make a mistake too.”

      In short, yes. But all those examples (except perhaps for the length of the sentence) are relatively minor details. In this particular case, the PA’s report was wildly off the mark over quite an important detail – Mr Davies’s defence. If they’d misspelt the judge’s name, I think we could let them off.

      If the court staff make a mistake then, quite obviously, that’s their mistake and not the newspaper’s. My point is that the newspapers above clearly didn’t even bother to go that far!

      “In a court report, who said what to whom is all you’re allowed to say.”

      Indeed. But the PA reporter clearly made a mistake in reporting who said what to whom in this case. I didn’t say at any time that I expect them to investigate and dig out the truth of what actually happened with regards to the rape. I just expect the PA to faithfully report the events of the court case (something which they failed to do in this case) and for the newspapers to double-check their facts, especially when they didn’t source them themselves, before they publish (something which they also failed to do in this case).

  4. Tom

    The trouble is, newsdesks would not know which facts needed checking. Using agency staff as a cost-effective way of covering far-flung events is not the modern, post-recession way of doing things. It is often the only realistic way, and always has been.

    I work on the sports desk of a large provincial daily newspaper. Last night, Chelsea were playing in Valencia. This game would have been of interest to the people who read our sports pages, even though Chelsea are nowhere near our patch. What are our options?

    1. Send a reporter and photographer out to Valencia to file a 200-word report to fill a gap on page 47.
    2. Not cover the game at all.
    3. Use agency copy and pictures.

    (Let’s assume, to make this scenario more like the court case one, that the match was not on TV or radio, and not coveted online, so the only way we’d know about it is from the agency report.)

    It should be obvious that 1 is unrealistic. And 2 benefits nobody – not the readers and certainly not the paper. Which leaves us with 3.

    So we get the agency copy. Are we then expected to phone Valencia, Chelsea or a local journalist to check that it really was 1-1? That Lampard really scored first, that Kalou is a bit thick? What about the other details – the chances, the saves, the yellow cards? The reason we don’t do any of this isn’t that our owners have cut us to our bare bones, it’s that to do so would be a ridiculous waste of resources in any climate.

    I know a football match doesn’t matter, while a court case does. But my point is that the newspapers were not necessarily negligent just because the reporter was.

    • Firstly, I never claimed that newspapers using agency copy was the “modern, post-recession way of doing things”. The increasing reliance on churnalism has slowly developed over many decades; it’s by no means a recent development.

      Secondly, I appreciate your football analogy and, if we were talking about something similar, I would agree with you and would have perhaps excused a churned report.

      But this wasn’t a football match in Valencia. It was a court case in Swansea. It isn’t inconceivable that the papers could have sent a reporter there. Or at least it wasn’t before the number of reporters working for papers were severely cut back, with the reporters left behind expected to produce more output with less time.

      “So we get the agency copy. Are we then expected to phone Valencia, Chelsea or a local journalist to check that it really was 1-1? That Lampard really scored first, that Kalou is a bit thick? What about the other details – the chances, the saves, the yellow cards? The reason we don’t do any of this isn’t that our owners have cut us to our bare bones, it’s that to do so would be a ridiculous waste of resources in any climate.”

      You’ve admitted it right there – your paper’s owners have cut you down to your bare bones, so you don’t have enough time to do basic fact-checking, which, I’m afraid, you won’t get me to agree is a “waste of resources”. Ever. The example I blogged about demonstrates what should be obvious, that as soon as fact-checking is removed from the whole process, mistakes start slipping through.

      (By the way, assuming you were given enough time, it surely wouldn’t have been hard to prioritise which facts would have needed to be checked – the score, who scored, who was sent off etc.)

      I am not criticising journalists for not doing this fact-checking. That would be absurd. If you did the kind of research and fact-checking that used to be required, you’d probably be fired for not being “productive” enough. I am criticising the situation journalists have been put into, whereby they’re required to write more copy, with less time and less resources, thereby resulting in more errors.

  5. Eleanor Parker

    A very interesting piece…. I was there, and the reporters account is wholly inaccurate. He was not in the court-room the whole 6 days, he was flitting in and out over the time… He didn’t report that the alleged victim and her mother were found to be lying under oath and not just once, on several ocassions. Also the fact that she refused forensic testing 5 times, she made 4 or 5 staetments and all said different things and accounts of the alleged incident. Her mum put her in a bed with a 40 year old man whom she hated!!! This is the same lovely mother and daughter who not 6 weeks before, were heard to be plotting on how to get Mr Davies out of his own home. What do these things tell you. These are only a few short pieces of the actual facts. These things were said in court, an open court at that, but because the truth obvioulsy doesn’t sell papers and make media groups wads of cash, they like to print lies and what they think the public wants to hear. The main fact of the whole court case was Mr Davies did not do it. His line of defence was he didn’t do it. The jury took less than an hour to find him not guilty, NOT guilty on all 3 charges and this included the sexomnia charge..i.e it didn’t happen and he didn’t do it. The girl and her mum didn’t attend court for the verdict, she was too busy planning her boyfriends’ 21st birthday!! Mr Davies has been pulled through the mill and back again because of these lies, and the press made it worse and made his life a living hell. The lies, the awful pictures and the hassles he had at home. Thankfully the Press Association did a fantastic job and have helped him put the wrongs right, but it doesn’t sort it all.

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