Saturday, 28 April 2012

My clash with the Daily Mail - what happened next

Back in September I wrote this article about the way Unite members and I had been disgracefully misrepresented by the Daily Mail

Nobody encouraged me with my decision to take a complaint to the PCC, a typical comment being that there was no point, it was a toothless organisation, and that it's impossible to stop the Mail distorting the truth to suit it's own agenda.

Well, I can't claim a glorious victory.  But the process - which took five months (!), involved many exchanges of letters between myself, the PCC and the Editor of the paper.  I certainly put them to a lot of time, trouble, and ( I suspect ) cash.

I did eventually manage to extract a virtually meaningless form of apology from the Daily Mail, which they printed in their corrections column.  They were..."Very happy to confirm that the use of "Human Rights abuse" in quotation marks was not something that anybody had said, but rather had been used to summarize the story"

The Mail insist I was wrong to say they invented the "Human Rights abuse" angle.  They claim that they bought the story from Cavendish.  If this is true, then there is an issue of press agencies twisting the news so that newspapers will want to buy the story from them.  My response - that the Mail had a journalistic duty to check it's own sources and not simply take what Cavendish said at face value - was brushed aside.

The reason I pushed the complaint all the way to the PCC full committee stage was that I object to this paper routinely using quotation marks in headlines, and prominently in the opening paragraph of a story, when nobody at all has said the quote, and where no source is given or could be given as none exists.

The PCC decision on this point was to defend the Daily Mail. The PCC agree that it is reasonable for quotation marks to be used to summarize a story.  I can't accept that the public would agree with this - most people expect that if something appears in quotes, it means that somebody has actually said it!

But I'm glad I pursued the complaint.   For me the positive outcome is that it's highlighted a major journalistic tool of distortion used by the paper to twist the news to suit it's political agenda. This tool is just one of many. But it's also something of a favourite, and is used every day by the paper.  The more readers are educated to spot it, the more difficult it becomes for them to use it.

This is what I was getting at back in September when I argued we need to start nailing these distortions.

The next thing we need to do is to figure out each of the tactics used to twist and distort, then educate people about them.  Once people are wise to these tactics and can see them for themselves, more people will start filing formal complaints or use social media to highlight the distortion.   The Mail's journalism is far from reputable, and once more people start to realise this and start to complain, it could damage the brand and force them into a more balanced direction....

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