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March 02 2011

12:06

Guest post: Do we need moderation guidelines for dealing with mental health issues?

Last month the Press Complaints Commission made a judgement in a case involving discriminatory comments on a newspaper article. The case highlighted the issue of journalism on mental health and how it is treated by publishers alongside similar considerations such as sexuality, gender, religion and ethnicity. The complaint also led to a change in The Guardian’s moderation rules.

In a guest post for the Online Journalism Blog the person who brought that case, Beatrice Bray, writes about her experiences of comment abuse, and the role she feels publishers should take in dealing both with comments relating to mental health, as well as writers with mental health issues.

Last April I wrote a rallying cry for the Guardian for all who have endured taunts about mental ill health. In my reply article Cartoonists should be careful how they portray mental health (23/4/10) I reclaimed the word “psychotic”. Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson had used the word to abuse Mrs Thatcher. I put him right.

I am a long-standing reader of the Guardian newspaper but I did not know the website audience. Being a proud campaigner I told Guardian readers that I had bipolar disorder and had experienced psychosis.

I expected a civil hearing. Newspaper readers did oblige but many online readers were foul.

The Guardian’s managing editor Chris Elliott did not warn me about the impending abuse. That was a mistake. I think Mr Elliott knew I would face hostility but I do not think he realised how badly I would be hurt.

Those insults made me physically sick. My head was sore for many weeks. This was all so pointless. If Mr Elliott had given me a chance to discuss the risks involved we both could have taken precautions. Instead there was a row.

Guardian staff gave me an apology but told me to grow a “thick skin”. That jibe spurned me into going to the Press Complaints Commission. It is free. It is also less adversarial and less costly than a disability tribunal.

I was not asking for anything unprecedented. The BBC has guidelines on working with vulnerable people. We need to extend this to new media.

Working with vulnerable people

For example when dealing with discussion sites moderators need to deal swiftly with abuse. They also must facilitate discussions so that they do not turn nasty.

Staff should appreciate the reasons for this action. This is not prima donna treatment. This action is necessary because the writer and many of the readers share a common disability. They all have mental health problems.

Section 2 of the PCC Editors’ code promised fairness to complainants. I thought it only fair to ask for warning of abuse but in my PCC ruling the Guardian and the PCC disagreed with me. The PCC did not say why.

However, I did score other points.

Before the PCC ruling the Guardian at my request did add the word “disability” to its moderation rules.

The PCC and the Guardian and did apologise with regard to the abuse.

Guardian online readers called me, amongst other things, a “nutter” and a “retard”. Unfortunately both the Guardian and PCC refused to accept that this was discrimination as defined by the terms of section 12 of the Editor’s code of the PCC.

This is not just semantics. To me the word “discrimination” is a word with power. It holds the abuser responsible but the PCC fights shy of doing that online.

I now know that you can only complain to the PCC if a staff member makes a discriminatory remark about you. Comments made by non-staff members do not fall within the PCC’s remit. My abusers were not Guardian staff.

It is a shame. By being discrimination deniers both the Guardian and the PCC cut themselves off from a store of knowledge on handling disability and mental health in particular.

February 08 2011

11:43

How private is a tweet?

The PCC has made its first rulings on a complaint over newspapers republishing a person’s tweets. The background to this is the publication in The Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday of tweets by civil servant Sarah Baskerville. Adrian Short sums up the stories pretty nicely: “We could be forgiven for thinking you’re trying to make the news rather than report it.”

The complaint came under the headings of privacy and accuracy. In a nutshell, the PCC have not upheld the complaints and, in the process, decided that a public Twitter account is not private. That seems fair enough. However, it is noted that “her Twitter account and her blog [which the Independent quoted from, along with her Flickr account] both included clear disclaimers that the views expressed were personal opinions and were not representative of her employer.”

The wider issue is of course about privacy as a whole, and about the relationship between our professional and private lives. The stories – as Adrian Short outlines so well – are strangely self-contained. ‘It is terrible that this civil servant has opinions and drinks occasionally, because someone like me might say that is it terrible…’

Next they’ll be saying that journalists have opinions and drink too…

September 17 2010

10:07

Press Complaints Commission: Sunday Times columnist breached Editors’ Code

The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint from television broadcaster Clare Balding against language used in a television review by AA Gill, published by the The Sunday Times in July.

Balding complained that a reference to her in the article as a “dyke on a bike” was a pejorative reference to her sexuality, irrelevant to the programme and a breach of Clause 12 (discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The newspaper had defended its columnist on grounds of freedom of expression and said the word “dyke” had been reclaimed as “an empowering, not offensive, term” by two “Dykes on Bikes” organisations. But the PCC said in this case the term was used in a “demeaning” way.

In this case, the commission considered that the use of the word “dyke” in the article – whether or not it was intended to be humorous – was a pejorative synonym relating to the complainant’s sexuality. The context was not that the reviewer was seeking positively to “reclaim” the term, but rather to use it to refer to the complainant’s sexuality in a demeaning and gratuitous way. This was an editorial lapse which represented a breach of the Code, and the newspaper should have apologised at the first possible opportunity.

See the full adjudication here…Similar Posts:



September 07 2010

10:05

July 27 2010

12:49

Complaint over attack on hyperlocal blog upheld by PCC

You may remember ‘investigation’ by The Hull Daily Mail into HU17.net, a hyperlocal publisher that was operating on its patch back in March, and the resulting backlash against the newspaper by observers who saw this as a commercially motivate hatchet job. Now the Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint on the basis “that readers would have been misled as to the scale of the complainant’s involvement in adult websites. The result was a breach of Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code.”

More at Journalism.co.uk (which points out that one of the articles is still online) and Press Gazette.

July 01 2010

15:26

PCC director speaks out over Lord Puttnam’s criticisms of regulatory body

The director of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) Stephen Abell has come out fighting in an article on Index on Censorship after Labour peer Lord Puttnam said earlier this week that the regulatory body should be shut down.

Speaking in a speech on parliament and young people on Tuesday, Puttnam said the PCC should be scrapped if newspapers failed to improve their behaviour within a year. In comments made to MediaGuardian, he said the PCC should work to prevent “the slow reduction of politics to a form of gruesome spectator sport” and “ensure the general representation of young people is more representative of reality”.

Abell says Puttnam’s remarks were not based on “well-informed and considered comment” about the PCC’s role and work, but says they are a starting point for debate:

Lord Puttnam is keen to assert that the PCC “cannot” instruct newspapers to be nicer to politicians and young people (two items on his wish list) without pausing to ask the question: should it? There must be the argument that if any body – even a self-regulatory body like the PCC – were to dictate the tone of political coverage, or suggest that there should be more positive stories on youth issues, the result would be a very significant restriction on freedom of expression.

(…)

However, and this is very important, he is right that the PCC must be active agents in maintaining newspaper standards. The coverage of politics, or of issues affecting the young, are two important areas. The PCC must ensure that we hold editors to account for what they report and how they report it. We must ensure that inaccuracies are corrected, intrusions and distortions prevented.

Related reading on Journalism.co.uk: Stephen Abell’s first interview as the new director of the PCC.Similar Posts:



March 29 2010

21:46

UK press watchdog reprimands blog for first time

The press watchdog in the UK has ruled that journalistic blogs have to meet the same standards as content appearing in print.

The Press Complaints Commission upheld a complaint against a 92-word blog post by Rod Liddle published on The Spectator’s website.

In the entry, Liddle claimed that “the overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community”.

The PCC ruled that the entry “contained inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice”.

The Spectator had argued that blogging was a conversational medium in which readers were able to disagree with the writer’s opinion immediately. It sought to persuade the PCC that it should consider the comments, as well as the entry itself.

The press watchdog acknowledged that blog posts are often provocative and conducive to discussion. But it said that the magazine still had a responsibility to accuracy, even though people could comment and dispute Liddle’s assertion on the post itself.

It also insisted that the assertion could not be considered Liddle’s opinion, but rather a statement of fact.

PCC director Stephen Abell, said:

This is a significant ruling because it shows that the PCC expects the same standards in newspaper and magazine blogs that it would expect in comment pieces that appear in print editions. There is plenty of room for robust opinions, views and commentary but statements of fact must still be substantiated if and when they are disputed. And if substantiation isn’t possible, there should be proper correction by the newspaper or magazine in question.

The ruling is  a clear signal to the media in the UK that the same rules apply in journalistic blogs as in other published material.  Blogs are not an excuse for sloppy journalism, but rather a medium that allows for a more personal, informal and at times opinionated form of journalism.

(Via Journalism.co.uk)


17:09

PCC upholds complaint over Rod Liddle’s Spectator post; first ever blog censure

Just in from the Press Complaints Commission: its first ever magazine/newspaper blog censure – for Rod Liddle’s 92 word Spectator post on 5 December 2009, that claimed an “overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community”. A reader’s complaint of inaccuracy was upheld.

“This is a significant ruling because it shows that the PCC expects the same standards in newspaper and magazine blogs that it would expect in comment pieces that appear in print editions,” said PCC director, Stephen Abell.

“There is plenty of room for robust opinions, views and commentary but statements of fact must still be substantiated if and when they are disputed.  And if substantiation isn’t possible, there should be proper correction by the newspaper or magazine in question.”

Here’s the PCC’s statement:

The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint about an entry by Rod Liddle in his blog for the Spectator.  This is the first time that the PCC has censured a newspaper or magazine over the content of a journalistic blog.

The piece in question was published on 5 December 2009 and claimed that ”the overwhelming majority of street crime, knife crime, gun crime, robbery and crimes of sexual violence in London is carried out by young men from the African-Caribbean community”.  A reader complained that the statement was incorrect.

In concluding that the article was indeed in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the PCC recognised the magazine’s argument that the nature of a blog post is often provocative and conducive to discussion.  It was certainly true in this case, for example, that a number of readers had taken issue with Mr Liddle’s claim and had commented on the blog.

However, the Commission did not agree that the magazine could rely on publishing critical reaction as a way of abrogating its responsibilities under the Code.  While it had provided some evidence to back up Mr Liddle’s position, it had not been able to demonstrate that the ‘overwhelming majority’ of crime in all the stated categories had been carried out by members of the African-Caribbean community.

Nor could it successfully argue that the claim was purely the columnist’s opinion – rather, it was a statement of fact.  As such, the Commission believed that ”the onus was on the magazine to ensure that it was corrected authoritatively online”.  In the absence of such remedial action the Commission upheld the complaint.

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March 25 2010

10:21

Complaint to PCC raises further criticism of Sunday Times’ environment coverage

According to a report in the Guardian yesterday, Simon Lewis, an expert on tropical on forests at the University of Leeds, has filed a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) about an article in the Sunday Times.

The article published on 31 January, which alleged that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had made mistakes in a report on global warming, was “inaccurate, misleading and distorted”, according to Lewis, who says he contacted the newspaper before the story was published and has since written letters and tried to leave comments on the website.

Questions have been raised by several bloggers over the Sunday Times’ environmental coverage – particularly following reports that the title had been banned from receive pre-publication releases from some scientific journals for breaking embargoes.

The article at the heart of Lewis’ complaint and those that resulted in bans for the Sunday Times from PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) and JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) were written by Jonathan Leake, who recently responded on blog Embargo Watch, saying he was unconcerned about the bans:

As you can see, these press officers have claimed they have banned us from their embargo system but this is rather misleading because we have a policy of not signing up to these embargo systems. Since we are not part of them we can hardly be banned. The press officers in question do know our position and I would suggest their statements are knowingly misleading.

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March 23 2010

17:04

February 26 2010

16:25

February 24 2010

08:24
08:22

January 19 2010

12:33

December 24 2009

12:33

Argus apologises to BBC producer – a note on media transparency

UK local newspaper title the Brighton Argus has published an apology on its website to Martyn Smith, the Bafta-nominated TV director, producer and writer, after wrongly identifying him its story Brighton TV producer escapes jail for “repulsive” child porn collection.

 The Argus has offered an unreserved apology and to its credit published it online at 7:15pm on 22 December – just over 24 hours after the story was published. The original story also appears to have been taken down from the site, though a cached version remains in Google News.

Interestingly the story is (at time of writing) the third most popular story on the paper’s website – good news for the wrongly identified subject?

This, and an excellent post from Andy Dickinson, made me consider how online tools on newspaper websites (such as traffic counts and commenting systems) can be used for transparency in such cases.

Dickinson’s post refers to a recent apology by the Northumberland Gazette – a Johnston Press title that has a pay wall in place on its website. The apology in this case was published behind the pay wall.

Whether this was purposeful or an oversight, it suggests that pay walls will throw up problems for newspapers, transparency and the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) with regards to its recommendations for publishing apologies and corrections, says Dickinson.

If I am going to pay someone for this stuff then one of the things I should want to know is just how accurate their content is and how transparent they are.

I for one would like to see all corrections and clarifications made free and visible on all parts of media orgs websites before the paywall. That way I can make an informed choice.

What other simple tools or processes should online newspapers be using to encourage transparency?

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December 21 2009

10:09

Stephen Abell officially takes over as PCC director

It was an appointment announced in November 2009, but today Stephen Abell starts as director of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). In a release issued today, the PCC says:

He assumes responsibility for the day-to-day running of the Secretariat, succeeding Tim Toulmin who announced he was standing down from the role earlier in the year. Stephen was previously deputy director.

Background: PCC appoints Stephen Abell as new director

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December 19 2009

13:27

The price of transparency

The price of transparency is £5. At least that’s what it will cost you to see the whole of this clarification at the Northumberland Gazette.

£5 pounds will get you the full correction

£5 pounds will get you the full correction

Perhaps it’s an unforseen problem of paywalls or just an oversight on the part of the paper. But it does highlight an area for some rethinking. Particularly from the PCC who are supposed to regulate this kind of thing.

Due prominence

A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

So says the Editors Code of practice from the PCC. There have been many ways that newspapers have dealt with this – more often than not in a corrections and clarifications section buried deep in the middle of the paper.

But I suppose we also need to start thinking about these things being buried deep behind the paywall. And if paywalls are the future then perhaps the PCC needs to think long and hard about the way it requires those at fault to say sorry and correct mistakes. It also made me think that we should all maybe pay a bit more attention as well.

Show me how good you are

If I am going to pay someone for this stuff then one of the things I should want to know is just how accurate their content is and how transparent they are.

I for one would like to see all corrections and clarifications made free and visible on all parts of media orgs websites before the paywall. That way I can make an informed choice.

Thanks to Josh Halliday for pointing this little gem out on Twitter.

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December 15 2009

10:11

PCC should not regulate Council-run newspapers, says finance board

As part of its industry consultation,  the Press Standards Board of Finance Ltd (PressBoF) has decided that local authority publications should not be brought within the remit of the Press the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

“It has decided against doing so on the basis that such publications tend to be marketing material,” the board announced today.

PressBoF, independent of the PCC, is responsible for raising a levy on the newspaper and magazine industry to finance the Commission. Its industry consultation also decided that online-only publications – mainly magazine sites – should come under the PCC’s remit.

“It’s one of those things, we’re conscious there are a reasonable number of local authority publications out there,” PressBoF secretary, Jim Raeburn told Journalism.co.uk. “Should they be under umbrella of PCC or not?” The board’s decision, he said, was no.

PressBoF, independent of the PCC, is responsible for raising a levy on the newspaper and magazine industry to finance the Commission.

In late November, Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, told the House of Commons culture media and sport select committee that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has no remit on authority publications:

“This is a lacuna. If this is a serious issue from the perspective of (a) the use of taxpayers’ money and (b) the consequences for independent journalism in any given locality, I think it is something that Parliament has to decide what it wants to do about.

“Either the government needs to give some guidance, or give somebody else the responsibility to look at it, but at the moment, we [Ofcom] certainly do not, and nor do the OFT.”

Stewart Purvis, content regulation partner for Ofcom, who was also giving evidence, said: “I just feel there is a missing area, which is the regulation, if that is the right word, of what local authorities do and do not do.

“I am reminded of the case of the former Mayor of London who, if I remember, got into trouble with some supervisory body over what he should or should not have said to an Evening Standard reporter.”

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09:30

Media release: PCC remit to include online-only publications

After an industry-wide consultation, the Press Standards Board of Finance Ltd (PressBoF) has announced it will extend the remit of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) to include online-only publications. This will mainly apply to online magazines, it said in its release.

Pressbof, independent of the PCC, is responsible for raising a levy on the newspaper and magazine industry to finance the Commission.

The extension has been agreed on these terms:

1. Such publications must be recognisable as UK based newspapers or magazines which, if in printed form, would come within the jurisdiction of the PCC.

2. The publisher and editor must subscribe to the Editors’ Code of Practice.

3. The publisher must agree to pay registration fees to PressBoF.

“The internet is an increasingly important platform for publishers to reach consumers. While online versions of newspapers and magazines available in printed form come within the remit of the PCC, there is a gap to the extent that online-only publications do not,” said Guy Black, chairman of PressBoF.

“This decision is a logical development in self-regulation, recognising the moves in the magazine sector towards online-only titles, and underlines the effectiveness of our system.”

Baroness Buscombe, chairman of the PCC, said she welcomed the decision by the industry:

“The PCC needs this freedom to develop rapidly to meet the challenges and the opportunities presented by media convergence. One clear strength of the self-regulatory system is its flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances, while still providing a service that is free, fast, discreet and which involves the public in its decision-making.”

Full release at this link…

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December 07 2009

10:15
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