Data shows Leveson was just a bad dream – for the Press.

By Tom Rowland

Analysis of the performance of the UK Press through the number of successful complaints handled by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) reveals significant evidence of a sharp decline in standards this summer compared to the same period last year.

The number of resolved complaints handled by the PCC was up nine per cent in the three months to the end of July 2014 compared to the same period in 2013.

These are all instances where the Press admitted it broke its own Editors’ Code and offered some form of redress. The figures illustrate how some newspapers are slipping back into their bad old ways as Leveson becomes, at best, a distant memory for them.

Trends in 2014

Strip out the regional and local titles and the trend is even more pronounced for some of the nationals.

The most extreme case is The Daily Mail group where the figure for “resolved complaints” – in plain English misrepresentations and inaccuracies that the newspaper concedes happened – was up 23 per cent year-on-year.

resolved complaints 2013 vs 2014

The data set is a significant one because the original plan was that it should never have been available. The PCC was supposed to have closed down at the beginning of May this year to be replaced by the new but still non-Leveson compliant Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

Then the IPSO launch date slipped, May came and went, so did June followed by July and the rickety, wheezy bad joke that is the PCC remained in business as the only place those turned over or abused by sections of the Fourth Estate had to go.

At least it means we have the opportunity to do a like-for-like comparison covering the same period last year; and the results are revealing.

Leaving aside the regionals and focusing just on the national newspapers we see that nearly half, 47 per cent, of all the resolved complaints were generated by just one newspaper group, The Daily Mail and that the figure is up by nearly a quarter on last year, 27 for 2014 compared to 22 in 2013.

Pic 2

At the same time the number of resolutions at The Sun has collapsed, down by 56 per cent to just seven this summer compared to 16 last year.

In fact The Sun has been overtaken in this respect for the first time in many years by The Daily Mirror, where the number of resolutions went up to nine in 2014 from six for the same period in 2013.

With a circulation down 7.4 per cent to less than 1 million now from January to June this year, the Daily Mirror has just under half the circulation of The Sun: 963,685 for the Daily Mirror, compared to 2,082,898 for The Sun.

Sailing closer to the wind when it comes to compliance with the Editor’s Code hardly seems to translate into improved sales, although it would probably point to the even steeper decline in circulation at The Sun of about nine per cent.

The Guardian recorded six resolutions in 2014 compared to none in the period last year. They covered a rag bag of issues from how much clothing has to be removed during a Police strip search (not necessarily all apparently) to a rogue quote from a doctor who was reported as saying he was “stopped by pro-Ukrainian Nazi radicals” which turned out to come from a suspect Facebook page.

Sometimes The Guardian did not accept a breach of the code had taken place but published a clarification anyway, as in a case involving The England and Wales Cricket Board.

In other instances it adopted a trick beloved of The Daily Mail in amending the online data base but not acknowledging the breach in the print version, as happened in a report of a strike ballot by the University and College Union (UCU) that was amended so that it correctly reported that members of the union voted by 89 per cent on a 72 per cent turnout for an indefinite strike.

The most prolific successful complaint

And then there was the most prolific successful complaint of the period in 2014…

When Dr. Kate Stone nearly died after being gored by a stag, media coverage elsewhere led not on her ordeal but on the fact that she had undergone gender reassignment. After a resulting PCC negotiation that will have a dramatic impact, six newspapers admitted they were wrong and reference to her gender status was not relevant; they were The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Telegraph, The Scottish Sun and The Daily Record. The Guardian did not feature.

She complained that all these newspapers had breached the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.


“Resolved” complaints

17 of the 27 complaints “resolved” by The Daily Mail between May and July 2014 resulted in correction of the online database alone. Only seven got a correction into the print edition of the newspaper, the remainder were one letter of apology without print correction, one charity donation without print correction and one staff reprimand without print correction – the last was after a photograph had been doctored.


Embarrassing Cases this Quarter 

PUBLICATION: Times Literary Supplement

COMPLAINT: Dr A.D Harvey complained that the newspaper had published an inaccurate account of an “alternate” ending to Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, which did not in fact exist, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

RESOLUTION: The complaint was resolved after publication of the following correction:

On February 21 we published a Commentary article, “The invisible robe”, that described a draft translation of Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” by Mary Howitt; the source cited was the Hackney archive. It has come to our attention that the archive holds no such document.


COMPLAINT: Mr Joseph Giles complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, that an article headlined ‘Colony of killer snakes ‘capable of crushing small children to death’ on the loose in London’ inaccurately reported the danger posed by the snakes. The complainant said that Aesculapian snakes are harmless to humans and have lived in London for a number of years without injuring a human.

RESOLUTION: The complaint was resolved when the PCC negotiated amendments to the online article. The headline was revised so that it read “Colony of 6ft snakes on loose in London”. The newspaper offered to append a footnote to make clear that the article had been amended.


COMPLAINT: Mr Simon Li complained on behalf of Ms Nia Price under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, that the newspaper had used a stock image to illustrate an article about students’ sexual, drinking and drug taking habits. The complainant was concerned that the article gave the misleading impression that the individuals featured in photograph were relevant to content of the story.

RESOLUTION: The complaint was resolved after the removal of the article from the newspaper’s website. 

PUBLICATION: The Sun on Sunday

COMPLAINT: Ms. Annabel Giles complained that the newspaper published an article, which included private information about her personal life in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy), and included discriminatory and irrelevant references to her sexual orientation in breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

RESOLUTION: The complaint was resolved with removal of the online article and an assurance from the newspaper that it would not reprint the article. The newspaper also offered the complainant an ex gratia payment.


COMPLAINT: Mr John Rogers complained that the newspaper had misleadingly altered a photograph of a football match, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

 RESOLUTION: The newspaper explained that it had apologised to the agency which provided the photograph, reprimanded the staff member concerned and issued a reminder and warning about the alteration of images to all staff.

Please see Tom’s results here

We rely on people like you to make a difference.

Give now to support the campaign for a free and accountable press.



Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Robin Khanreply
August 26, 2014 at 12:24 pm

When are the political parties going to stand up and show some courage against these liars of the press. It does not mean closing down freedom of speech it means reporting fairly, accurately and if mistakes are made where there could be serious repucussions (i.e. Chris Jefferies) a front page apology is required. All three main partis continue to appear terrified, especially of that idiot Paul Dacre of The Mail. The only way to defeat bullies is to stand up to them.

August 26, 2014 at 4:13 pm

I was impressed by Ed Miliband when he became the first party leader to have the courage to speak out against the Murdoch tyranny, but he has been conspicuously silent on the matter recently, as has Cameron of course: with a General Election less than a year away, neither wants to upset The Sun and the Daily Heil. Plus ca change… But they fail to realise that no one votes for craven politicians who use big words and robust phrases in public while in private they just permit the discredited status quo to continue.

Dave clarksonreply
August 29, 2014 at 9:01 pm

It has become obvious that the whole Leveson thing achieved nothing except enrich a lot of already rich QCs. It is a distant memory. Long live a free press.

Lucky Britain, long live free speech.

Leave a reply