Saturday, 10 April 2010

Sun falls for April Fool, and other mistakes

April did not begin well for the Sun.

On 2 April, it ran an 'exclusive' story under the headline Cambridge to strip BNP boss of degree. It said:

BNP leader Nick Griffin is set to be stripped of his degree by Cambridge.

It would be the first time EVER an ex-student's qualification has been revoked.

Bigot Griffin, 51, graduated from the university's Downing College in 1980 with a 2:2 honours in law. But chiefs want to cut all ties with the extremist.

The BNP rushed out an angry press release blaming not Cambridge University but (surprise) them Muslims:

Bosses at Cambridge University are trying to take away the 2:2 honours degree in law gained there by the British National Party’s Chairman Nick Griffin because they believe it might be losing them fees from foreign Muslim students who could be put off coming to the university.

But, as Matthew Weaver revealed in the Guardian, the story was an April Fool put out by Cambridge student paper The Tab.

Both the Sun and the BNP removed the story from their websites once they realised it was a joke.

But it raises two points. Firstly, the lack of fact-checking from journalists who re-heat stories (which they label 'exclusive'...) without bothering to find out if it's true or not, and secondly, the ease with which the BNP will blame anything - even things that aren't happening - on Muslims.

Also on 2 April, the Press Complaints Commission upheld (in part) a complaint against the newspaper:

A married couple complained to the Press Complaints Commission through the charity Mermaids that two articles headlined "Boy, 12, turns into girl" and "Now boy, 9, is girl", published in The Sun on 18 September 2009 and 19 September 2009 respectively, contained inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and intruded into their daughter's private life in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld.

Separate complaints under Clauses 3 (Privacy), 4 (Harassment), 6 (Children) and 12 (Discrimination) were not upheld.

In explaining its decision, the PCC said:

The Commission agreed that the cumulative effect of the inaccuracies served to give a misleading impression of the girl's appearance and behaviour at the school. This was unacceptable and the newspaper should have taken greater care when publishing details of such a vulnerable child. This raised a breach of Clause 1 of the Code.

In addition, the newspaper had passed on the family's details to a third party - therefore identifying the child - at a time when it had been specifically informed that further contact from the media was unwelcome. Given that the newspaper had recognised the need to avoid naming the child publicly, the decision to identify her to a third party (who would not otherwise have known who she was) was clearly an error.

The paper had shown a failure to respect her private and family life in breach of Clause 3 of the Code.

The Sun has printed this part of the adjudication on its website but it hasn't had to apologise and, strangely, it hasn't removed the original article either, which also appears on Mail's website.

And although the original stories were published on the front page, the adjudication did not. So it buries that, doesn't apologise and doesn't remove the originals.

That's what an upheld complaint amounts to.

Two days later, the Sun was forced to print an article about Mohammed George's libel victory against the paper - which it had conveniently forgotten to mention. It blamed an:

unfortunate internal communications breakdown.

Yeh. Right.

Their lack of interest in correcting the record is reflected in their grudging language:

Former Eastenders star Mo George has been awarded £75,000 libel damages over a Sun article which a jury ruled wrongly branded him a woman beater.

The actor's lawyer, Ronald Thwaites, QC, told the High Court the article left Mr George depressed and unwilling to go out.

After the case, Mr George, 26, said: "I want to thank all my friends and family who have supported me through all of this."

Publishers News Group Newspapers had denied libel, claiming justification and maintained the article was true.


  1. Proves that unless you can afford a fortune in legal fees, the papers can print virtually whatever they like. The sanctions are minimal. Maybe a small column with an apology months later.

    If you are lucky.

  2. Oh no! What an internal misunderstanding!

    Ahh, Amiga Power. They should have been put in charge of news.


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