The Sun gets regulator reprimand and publishes correction for misleading on European human rights
26 June 2013
Updated | Remember Inhuman Rights, The Sun’s garbled reporting of this Court of Appeal decision on Criminal Record Bureau checks? In February, I wrote this: No, The Sun, the Human Rights Act is not the EU. My complaint was about the headline, which screamed “Now EU could let fiends like him prey on your children“. This was obvious nonsense, since the judgment had nothing to do with the EU.
Well, I am delighted to report that following my post, the European Commission, which represents the interests of the European Union, complained to the Press Complaints Commission and the complaint has now been upheld. There was a “clear failure to take appropriate care over the accuracy of the coverage and a breach of the Editor’s Code, which was particularly significant at a time when the roles of both the EU and the Convention were a matter of major public debate“.
It is an important role of newspapers and magazines to publicise and analyse judicial rulings, but this public interest is served only insofar as such reports inform rather than mislead. While a headline, by its nature, can only ever summarise, it was inaccurate for the subheadline of the article to have attributed to the European Union responsibility for a decision by domestic courts based on the European Convention on Human Rights. The newspaper did not dispute that it had been made aware of similar errors on other occasions. This is a clear failure to take appropriate care over the accuracy of the coverage and a breach of the Editors Code, which was particularly significant at a time when the roles of both the EU and the Convention were a matter of major public debate.
The newspaper was required under the terms of Clause 1( ii) to correct the inaccuracy promptly and with due prominence, and it had offered to do so in terms that – in the view of the PCC – constituted a sufficient remedy to the initial breach. Nonetheless, the PCC noted that future repetition of the inaccuracy will be a matter of particular concern. It welcomed the newspaper’s proposals to alert its staff to the issue and incorporate it into its training program and trusted that these would be implemented at the earliest opportunity.
The second part of the complaint, that the newspaper was wrong to state the opinion that the ruling would lead to greater public danger from paedophiles, was not upheld. The PCC ruled that this aspect of the article was “appropriately presented as speculation based on the terms of the judgment“.
The Sun was told to publish a correction, which can be read here. Note that it makes no mention of having been forced to do so by the PCC. The newspaper has also suggested it will incorporate the issue into its staff training programme. If anyone from The Sun is reading this, I would be delighted to provide that training programme.
I have been banging on about misreporting of human rights for some time, and it is gratifying to see official recognition of the problem which was referred to in strong terms by Lord Justice Leveson in his report into press ethics. He observed at paragraphs 8.48-8.49:
It is one thing for a newspaper to take the view that… the asylum and/or human rights system should be reformed… It is another thing to misreport stories either wilfully or reckless as to their truth or accuracy, in order to ensure that they support those political views… there are enough examples of careless or reckless reporting to conclude that discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting in relation to ethnic minorities, immigrants and/or asylum seekers is a feature of journalistic practice in parts of the press, rather than an aberration
The point is that newspapers have every right to express views on human rights, even if they are polemical and misguided. But they often go beyond this, exploiting misrepresentation and inaccuracy to promote political views. This is not the first time that a complaint has been upheld against The Sun on its human rights coverage, and in fact searching for “human rights” on the PCC website unearths some interesting decisions, although they seem mostly to have been resolved by negotiation rather than an official reprimand.
Hopefully, this determination will embolden those who spot other bad errors in media coverage of human rights in particular and legal reporting in general. It is easy to make a complaint online – just click here if you see something amiss. This blog will of course continue to highlight the worst cases of misreporting.
So well done to the European Commission. Whether The Sun’s approach to reporting about the “Hated Human Rights Act” will get better in future remains to be seen. Given the extent of the problem, I am not too hopeful.
Update, 26/6/13, 18:13 – Here is the correction, on page 2. Don’t blink, you may miss it! Is this with “due prominence“?