The Sun’s aggressive, then submissive, response to my complaint on its human rights reporting
17 September 2014
The Sun have printed another correction today in relation to its misleading human rights reporting. The correction, on page 2, can be read online or to the right of this post.
The correction was the outcome of a complaint I made about this article – I posted on it here. The main part of the correction relates to the entirely false claim that “The European Court stopped a British judge imposing a whole-life tariff on Ian McLoughlin”. The reality is that although judges were unsure whether they could impose the orders following Vinter v UK in the European Court of Human Rights, the Court of Appeal clarified in February 2014 that they definitely could. The Sun have now admitted that was the case.
I am happy that the correction has been made although as I have said before, the damage has to a large extent been done as – let’s be honest – how many people read the clarifications and corrections box (which is located immediately adjacent to the eye-catching Page 3…).
But what I found most interesting about the process, which was started by the Press Complaints Commission and concluded by its post-Leveson successor, the Indepenndent Press Standards Orgaisation (IPSO), was the initial response to my complaint (PDF here) by The Sun’s Ombudsman, Philippa Kennedy OBE, which I thought was needlessly aggressive and demonstrates a worrying approach to this issue. I will select a few choice quotes:
First, a couple of unnecessary digs at me:
It took me 10 days to complain. I didn’t realise there was a limitation period (there isn’t). And that dastardly EU Commission! Which doesn’t exist. I think she means the Council of Europe, which took the unusual step of complaining about the Daily Mail last year. Or maybe the European Commission. Anyway, potato potato. Another dig:
The human rights “industry”? That wasn’t mentioned in the article but I think there is an implicit accusation here that I am part of that “industry”. Anyway, on to the substance:
This is my favourite bit. The judge did refuse to impose a whole life tariff… then maybe some stuff happened afterwards. Overturned on appeal. Whatever – no space! In my response to letter, I said this:
The Sun accepts that it only provided part of the story: that the ECtHR stopped a judge imposing a whole life tariff. The fact that the decision was later overturned is not just an “intricate detail” about a legal case but an essential one: the decision was reversed meaning that the ECtHR has in fact not prevented the whole life tariff being imposed. It is a bit like reporting that Arsenal lost a match 0-1 because that was the score at half time, but neglecting to report that at full time the score was 2-1 to Arsenal.
In other words, the account was so brief that it missed out the ending of the story, which entirely changed the picture. Then, on the damages/costs figure for Massey v UK:
Massey personally got just over half of the figure they quoted. But the truth was “telescoped”.
I responded to the ombudsman’s response and, like magic, a much more contrite response arrived in my inbox from the Ombudsman:
I have posted a number of times in recent months about The Sun’s misleading reporting on human rights. The newspaper is often “telescoping” the truth, despite regular reprimands by the PCC.
I am awaiting the outcome of two other complaints, in relation to HEUman Rights [sic] and this on the number of cases which the UK loses before the European Court of Human Rights. On the first, the newspaper have offered to put the correction online but I have responded that it needs also to be in print as per the Editor’s Code (1(ii)).
I have republished the Ombudsman’s response above to give a flavour of the newspaper’s attitude to complaints. I suspect that their policy is to initially take a robust line in order to try to scare away the complainant – hardly in the spirit of the post-Leveson era. I argue for a living so I don’t mind getting into a fight, but I imagine many people would be cowed.
It may be that IPSO take a stronger line on persistent offenders. Let’s hope so. In the meantime, this is a good story for me to take to Friday’s conference at Liverpool University on Human Rights in the UK Media. Come along and say hi if you can make it.