Complaining About Bad reporting in the Press

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About This Project

It seems like every day we see a story about cannabis in a newspaper that is either plain wrong, or worse, deliberately misleading. In addition we all know there is very little we can actually do about it.

Despite the outcry early in 2014 about press accountability and the promise by the government to act on the recommendations of the Leveson report very little, if anything, has actually changed.

So is it really worth complaining? The answer is defiantly yes – and we should all be doing a lot more of it.

The organisation that is supposed to hold the press – that is newspapers – to account is called IPSO – The ‘Independent Press Standards Organisation’ (formerly known as the Press Complaints Commission (PCC)). This was set up in response to – some would say to prevent – the recommendations of the Leversham report being enacted. The word “Independent” in the title is at best open to question as IPSO is actually run and overseen by representatives of the newspaper industry. In an unbelievable move the editor of perhaps the worst offending paper, the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, was appointed Chairman in 2014.

The role of IPSO is to uphold the “Editor’s Code of Practice” and this can be seen here

Newspaper reports are supposed to be accurate and not to mislead and the clause of most interest to us is accuracy.

To view CLEAR’s successful complaints and representations see this page

IPSO Clause 1 Accuracy
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

iv) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.

It would seem to be easy to prove a newspaper is not being accurate or deliberately making misleading statements, but remember, you are dealing with highly skilled writers who know exactly how far they can go in making claims most of the time.

When making a complaint, keep your submission focused on the specific issue. Do not make a complaint that can be dismissed as simply your opinion, so if the story is about a new study for example, reference to the original paper is essential.

Something to bear in mind is that a headline, which may be terribly misleading may still be acceptable given the content of the main story. While it is true that many people only read the headline and no doubt this trick is often used to mislead, it isn’t a sufficient cause in and of itself for a complaint.

If you do win don’t expect much to happen. A small apology will be made somewhere deep inside the paper and a legacy website article that will probably hardly ever be read again might be edited. Even these small steps will not happen quickly, but can take months of negotiating to achieve.

Despite this is is worth doing. The number of complaints against a paper is recorded and each complaint that gets investigated takes time and costs them money.