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.
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.
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.