The Sun gets regulator reprimand and publishes correction for misleading on European human rights

26 June 2013 by

BCv-H7PCMAA_LNq.jpg-large 2Updated | 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“.

The newspaper has now published a correction. The full Adjudication can be found here. This is the main bit: 

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.

Quite right.

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“?

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17 comments


  1. Jo Yelland says:

    Forwarded a complaint to pcc regarding the lack of prominence of this sorry excuse for an apology. It barely even passes as a correction as it misses out the reason for its existence. Good article by the way, keep up the good work!

  2. Theo Hopkins says:

    Sadly, my impression is that UKIP are more than happy for the EU/ECtHR confusion to continue. Some stuff on their website is clearly ambiguous.

  3. Stephen Selby says:

    I believe that they knew exactly what they was doing, i also believe it is part of a wider strategy to get the people to vote out the EU and the human rights act so that the government may do anything they like to us and leave us no recourse, IE European courts of human rights, the more they misrepresent it to the British people the more likely it is to be voted out if this present government actually keep the promise they made for a EU referendum.

  4. Andrew Pell says:

    It should be and apology and it should be as big and positioned so it cannot be missed and a full explanation as to the ruling of the pcc and they should be fined.

    1. Theo Hopkins says:

      Pigs will fly.

  5. Theo Hopkins says:

    Can anyone tell me on which page and where in The Sun that this correction was placed? Was it easy to find or was it hidden away?

    1. James Lawson says:
    2. Theo Hopkins says:

      Just glanced at the Sun in the newsagent.
      Bottom right hand corner of page 2, with a typographic trick that means it doesnt catch you eye.

  6. I know on which expert in human rights law The Sun relied: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/02/09/human-rights-with-hollie/ , which makes your offer of a staff training programme even more understandable.

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      Didn’t Our Hollie disown that comment?

  7. James Lawson says:

    The Website of the European Commission’s United Kingdom Office is here:

    http://ec.europa.eu/unitedkingdom/blog/index_en.htm

    It contains a depressing number of examples of the way in which the United Kingdom Press has operated to exploit public ignorance and distort reality to create a ‘Monty Python’ view of the European Union and the Council of Europe, affecting not only the general public but a surprising number of constituency MPs who should know better.

    Que bono?

  8. Kushal Sood says:

    In the second reading of the UK Rights Bill in the Commons, extreme views were replete with outrage at the effects of human rights provisions. Minor apologies and discreet corrections cannot be celebrated. The key is educating the public about concepts like the margin of appreciation, qualified rights and swivel eyed lunacy. At the moment we’re just preaching to the converted.

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      Kushal – that is certainly a valid view and one which I have sympathy with. However, I also tend towards a “broken windows” approach to the issue. Minor corrections of major inaccuracies are important and make a difference. I know from my brief experience of writing this blog that journalists (contrary to what you might suspect) do take affront when they are shown up for getting something wrong.

      Obviously, going after the big misconceptions on rights is also crucial, but one approach need not negate the other. They compliment each other. Which is why I think this is important, even if a minor correction.

  9. Gavin Steele says:

    By the way, it’s rather sweet of you to offer to “provide a training programme” but I suspect there will be sniggers in the newsroom at that one. They know EXACTLY what they’re doing, these guys – their single-minded determination to rubbish the EU drips from every knowing word. Given a choice between the outside chance of a three-line “correction”, many months in the future, buried at the back of the paper, or a hum-dinger of a headline exactly calibrated to feed a prejudice you’re eager to stoke, which would you choose?

  10. Gavin Steele says:

    Adam, in my view that’s not an apology from the Sun, that’s a correction – and a minimal one at that. The furthest they go is “We are happy to clarify that…”. If the Sun was told by the PCC to publish an “apology”, do you think there might be grounds for complaining to PCC that this does not constitute an “apology”, and that therefore their ruling has not been fully complied with?

    1. Adam Wagner says:

      Gavin – you are right that they did not use the word “apology” and that this was a correction. On reflection, it is a bit weak of the PCC not to demand an apology given the “clear failure to take appropriate care over the accuracy of the coverage and a breach of the Editor’s Code“.

      I would be interested to hear others’ thoughts on this.

      1. Will T says:

        It’s a non-apology apology at best.

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