Press Complaints Commission
London EC1N 2JD
Cc. Rt. Hon. Ben Bradshaw MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
Cc. John Whittingdale MP, Culture, Media and Sport Committee
17 November 2009
Dear Lady Buscombe
Re: Extension of PCC regulation to UK Blogs/Blogging
We write in regards to your apparent proposal that the PCC should consider extending its remit to the ‘blogosphere’ as reported by Ian Burrell of the Independent on 16 November 2009 (1).
While we are grateful for your interest in our activities we must regretfully decline your kind offer of future PCC regulation. Frankly, we do not feel that the further development of blogging as an interactive medium that facilitates the free exchange of ideas and opinions will benefit from regulation by a body representing an industry with, in the main, substantially lower ethical standards and practices than those already practiced by the vast majority of established British bloggers.
Although we would not wish you believe that this criticism relates to all your members – The Guardian, in particular, has adopted a number of practices, not least the appointment of a Readers’ Editor to deal with complaints, which we consider to be the current gold standard in ethical journalistic practice amongst national newspapers – It is nevertheless the case that the vast majority of national newspaper titles routinely fall well short of both those, and our own, standards and that our direct experience of dealing with the Press Complaints Commission shows the organisation to be, in the main, complicit in those failings.
To give but one recent example of bad practice, of the many that bloggers have documented in over the last few years, an article published by the Tabloid Watch blog in October, covered documented, in some considerable detail, the tortuous process that one of its readers had to go through in order to get the News of the World to retract a manifestly untrue and inflammatory statement by one of its regular columnists, Carole Malone. In this particular column, published in July 2009, Malone made use of an all-too-common and utterly racist myth that ‘immigrants’ (meaning asylum seekers) receive free cars on arriving in the UK (2), a myth that is most closely associated with the propaganda output of the British National Party.
All you have to do to get everything Britain has to offer is to turn up illegally with some sob story of how your own country is too dangerous or that you’re a lesbian who’ll be shot if you stay there and Hey Presto, it’s like you’ve won the lottery! And, in effect, they HAVE.
Free houses, free cars, free healthcare and free money. Hell, they don’t even have to work or speak the language. Even the suggestion they should is seen as racist in Brown’s Britain.
They can just live as they did before, only with a whole heap more money and zero responsibility to the country providing it. (3)
What we find most striking about the process documented by Tabloid Watch is the extent to which the PCC actively sought to facilitate the News of the World’s efforts to avoid undertaking practices that we, as bloggers, take for granted as being standard practice in our corner of the Internet; i.e. the prominent publication of an honest and open correction of a factual error on the original article in which the error, itself, was made. Instead, as we invariably find to be standard practice amongst, particularly, tabloid newspapers; the correction and cursory apology (4)– when it was grudgingly issued after what Tabloid Watch described as ‘two months of wrangling’ – appeared in a location other than that of Malone’s column in the newspaper’s print edition and on its website on a page utterly divorced the article to which it relates, which was removed its entirely, and in such a way that only someone searching specifically for the retraction would ever be likely to find it. (5)
To all intents and purposes, the retraction might as well not have been issued, for all that it would apparent to visitors to the News of World’s website that it had ever been made.
This is but one clear example of a practice that would be unacceptable amongst established bloggers and one of many that bloggers who specialise in monitoring the national press for accuracy have documented in recent years. For a blogger to engage in such practices, which include ‘stealth editing’ of articles, after publication, to avoid owning up to factual errors and removing and/or refusing to publish critical comments from readers, especially those that highlight and correct factual errors.
For an established blogger to adopt such practices would do incalculable damage to their public reputation; this being, after all, all that we have to trade on.
To the vast majority of national newspapers such conduct is no more than standard operating practice.
Consequently we would suggest that before your even consider turning your attention to our activities, you should direct your energies towards putting your own house in proper order. Should you succeed in raising the ethical standards and practices of the majority of the national press, particularly the tabloids, to our level then we may be inclined to reconsider our position. Until that happens, any attempt by the Press Complaints Commission to regulate the activities of bloggers will be strenuously resisted at every possible turn.
Unity – Ministry of Truth (6) and Liberal Conspiracy (7)
I suggest everyone signs it!