Press Complaints Commission decision
Tony Bennett 23.12.2009 at 7:55 am
Late yesterday I received by e-mail the text of the decision of the Press Complaints Commission regarding complaints we made about coverage in the 'Daily Star' of 15 August 2009 (the 'sickos' article) and 16 August 2009 (the 'stalker' article).From: Scott Langham
To: "ANTHONY BENNETT" firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Tuesday, 22 December, 2009, 17:19
Our references: 093429 / 09352722 December 2009
Dear Mr Bennett
Further to our recent correspondence the Commission has now made its assessment of your complaint under the Code of Practice.The Commission members have asked me to thank you for giving them the opportunity to consider the points you raise. However, their decision was that there was no breach of the Code and a full explanation appears below. If you are dissatisfied with the way in which your complaint has been handled - as opposed to the Commission ’s decision itself - you should write within one month to the independent Charter Commissioner, whose details can be found in our How to Complain leaflet or at http://www.pcc.org.uk/complaints/process.html
Thank you for taking this matter up with us.
Commission’s decision in the case of Bennett v Sunday Express/Daily Star
The articles reported that the Madeleine Foundation had distributed copies of their leaflet ‘What really happened to Madeleine McCann? Ten key reasons which suggest that she was not abducted’ in the McCanns’ home town of Rothley , Leicestershire.The articles variously referred to the leaflet as a “hate leaflet” and “highly inflammatory”, claiming that it contained “despicable lies” and that it was part of a “smear campaign”. The articles also claimed that the McCanns had been targeted by “sickos” and that the Chairman of the Madeleine Foundation was a “stalker”. The complainant said that all these claims were inaccurate and misleading.In this case, it was clear to the Commission that the references to a “hate leaflet” and to the leaflet being “highly inflammatory” represented the newspaper’s robust position on the content of the literature being distributed by the complainant and his organisation, which could reasonably be described as controversial. The newspapers had the absolute right to do so, within the parameters of the Code of Practice. Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code states that newspapers must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. The Commission considered that – given the nature of the references, which were plainly subjective – readers would have understood that they related to the newspapers’ own views of the leaflet, which they were entitled to take. Equally, the Daily Star had been perfectly entitled to offer its opinion of the individuals behind the campaign (“sickos”) which, it was said, had caused distress to the McCanns. It was difficult to see how such a subjective term could have been interpreted as verifiable fact. The complainant may have disagreed with such a description, but this did not make it inaccurate in breach of the Code. Similarly, the Commission was satisfied that the newspaper had been entitled, in the circumstances, to refer to the leafleting as part of a “smear campaign”, or, by extension, “stalking”. Both terms clearly represented the newspapers’ opinion of the activities of the organisation. The reference to “despicable lies” had, in addition, been attributed clearly to a “source close to the couple”, in the case of the Sunday Express, and a “family pal” in the case of the Daily Star. There was no breach of the Code on these points.The complainant had also claimed that the circumstances of the leaflet drop had been misrepresented. In the Commission’s view, however, the question of when the leaflets were distributed – at night-time or between 3pm and 6pm – and how many people were involved was immaterial to any general understanding of the matter. These references certainly did not amount to a significant inaccuracy under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). Finally, the complainant had said that it was not the case that the Madeleine Foundation had sent the leaflet to Brian and Janet Kennedy. Given that he had stated that he was unaware of their address, it was difficult to see how he knew that this was the position. In any case, there had been no complaint from Kennedys on the point.
Scott LanghamHead of ComplaintsPress Complaints CommissionHalton House20/23 HolbornLondon EC1N 2JDTel: 020 7831 0022