Newspapers are now required to agree with the PCC the prominence of corrections before they are printed – after changes introduced by the editors code committee. This could be a small change to alleviate complainants concerns when a correction lacks due prominence. Implemented a different way, it could be a significant step for the PCC to demonstrate the strength of self-regulation.
Editors’ code committee secretary, Ian Beales, said of the change:
“This amendment is designed to help kill the myth that newspapers and magazines routinely bury corrections. Research conducted by the PCC has shown this to be untrue – nearly 85% of PCC-negotiated corrections and apologies appear no further back than the original transgression, or in a designated corrections column.”
There are a number of ways the PCC could use this to ensure a more effective regulatory regime. The PCC could routinely record on which page the original story appeared (or where the headline and hyperlink appeared) and then where the correction appeared (or where the headline and hyperlink appeared). It could put this data in a consistent format to enable the public to compare the data. The PCC could even measure the column inches of both, to provide further explanation of what it means by “due prominence”. ‘Any ways in which the PCC can record where an apology/correction appeared and with how much prominence would help substantiate the Commission’s claim that 85% appear no further back than the original transgression.
An apology in the Sun reveals one of the challenges around the ‘due prominence’ debate. The apology appears on page 2, correcting a frontpage story that was basically entirely untrue. This is a similar approach to a Daily Star correction of a false frontpage story. So in the end of year statistics, these will both look like acceptably prominent corrections. A more constructive debate would enable the PCC to defend a page 3 apology for a frontpage correction, on the basis that page 3 is more read than page 2 – for example.
The PCC could also use the data of apologies in order to produce a league table of which newspapers have broken the code most frequently – and on what issues. This would enable the public to compare the performance of newspapers and lead to a more informed debate whenthe next frontpage story appears about an Al Qaeda threat , for example, And in the interests of fairness, the PCC could also log those stories where there was no breach of the code, in defence of the freedom of expression.
Currently, despite playing the leading role in negotiating corrections in the Sun and Heat magazine, the PCC has not ruled whether either newspaper breached the code. So there appears to be no sanction against the newspaper.
Self-regulation needs to remain flexible and responsive – as the governance review process highlighted. And this very approach enables the PCC to institute an effective regulatory regime – but only if it interprets its role in the wider public interest rather than the narrow interpretation of the satisfaction of each complainant.