Tuesday, 4 May 2010

PCC is great as it is, says PCC poll

Peter Preston recently reported on a new 'public attitudes' poll which was conducted about, and for, the Press Complaints Commission.

The findings conveniently favoured the PCC's view of itself:

81% of Britons know it exists; 58% think it would be improper for the PCC to just go wading into inquiries or judgments without being requested to do so. Twice as many want it to respond to complaints as think it should try to monitor everything; 51% reckon the present commission make-up of majority outsiders and senior journalists is right; 77% prefer a quick public apology to calling in the legal eagles for trials and fines.

Oh! and only 14% join the PCC's more vociferous critics in dubbing the commission's work 'ineffective'.

This led Preston to arrogantly declare:

Case closed – until someone opens it again.

Martin Moore from the Media Standards Trust did just that, with an excellent analysis of those headline figures.

One question stood out immediately: why had the PCC used Toluna - which is not a member of the British Polling Council - to conduct the research? Its previous public attitude polls (in 2006 and 2008) had been done by Ipsos Mori.

Today, the PCC have published the full results (pdf) and some of the questions are dreadful because they are so leading.

Take question seven, for example:

Fining newspapers or magazines when they break the rules of the Code is likely to involve a lengthy legal process, whereas an agreement to publish an apology can be arrived at very quickly. If a newspaper or magazine had broken the rules in an article mentioning you, which would be most important to you?

Unsurprisingly, having been led to the water, the respondents drank - 77% favoured the quick apology.

As Moore pointed out, the idea that the PCC does 'quick' apologies isn't really supported by the facts. For example, here's two recent apologies - this one took five months to appear, this one four-and-a-half months.

Compare that to the three-and-a-half-months from publication to libel damages in this case.

In terms of the survey, a question about fines could, and should, be simple. But because the PCC and the majority of newspaper editors are against fines, they ask questions that give them the answer they want to justify that position.

In the 2006 survey, the question and answers were similarly leading:

Fining newspapers or magazines when they breach the agreed Code of Practice is likely to involve a lengthy legal process significantly delaying the publication of an apology. If a newspaper or magazine had breached the Code of Practice in an article mentioning you, which would be most important to you?

The publication of an immediate apology without the imposition of a fine
Publication of an apology and the imposition of a fine after a lengthy legal process

When do members of the public ever get apologies at all, let alone 'immediate' ones?

Back to the new survey and the PCC claims it shows 'Only 14% of the population feel that the PCC is ineffective'.

Well, yes and no. 14% did say the PCC was ineffective or very ineffective, compared to 46% who said it was effective or very effective. But 41% said 'no opinion' which is a large amount of don't knows - too many, you would think - to draw too many conclusions.

Two other questions raise eyebrows too.

Number three asked:

Imagine you have been featured in a newspaper or magazine article. A regulatory body feels that references to you may be inappropriate and in breach of the Code it enforces. It decides to publicise its views on this without contacting you first for information or consent. How would you view this unrequested decision by the regulatory body?

Question eight asked:

Newspapers (both national and regional) and magazines publish thousands of articles every day on and offline. There is an argument that the PCC should seek to monitor all articles in all press both online and offline for compliance with its Code. Another alternative is for the PCC to handle complaints when people wish to raise concerns about something they have read. Which do you think is a better solution?

But these two questions suggest these two issues are black and white when they aren't.

According to the former, either the PCC receives a complaint or it issues a statement without speaking to the subject of the story. It's totally false to pretend that those are the only options.

Moreover, it's not clear who has made the argument that the PCC should monitor every article going.

But they could certainly be proactive in so-called 'third-party cases' when groups of, say, immigrants or Muslims are targeted. And this blog has suggested that given the blatant lies that the Star puts on its front page on an almost daily basis, the PCC could (and should) act without a complaint.

The recent Select Committee report criticised the PCC for being slow to act in the Madeline McCann and the Bridgend suicide cases. For example:

there was extensive and sustained media coverage of a number of suicides, self-evidently a cause for prompt action and close vigilance by the PCC, yet months were allowed to pass before Commission representatives visited the area.

Yet the PCC repeatedly claims its critics have always:

'underrated the level of proactive work already undertaken by the PCC'.

Why claim to be oh-so-proactive while at the same time trying to get survey results designed to say they shouldn't be?

As usual, this is another piece of PCC puff, another set of figures to wheel out when anyone dares to suggest the system doesn't work.

Yet the only people they seem to convince are themselves.

1 comment:

  1. What hope do we have of a fair press when the regulator is as guilty of manipulation for its own benefit as the tabloids themselves?

    Its just ridiculous. Only hope left is to have faith in the public not to be fooled by the tripe they punt out every day.


Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

Comments are moderated - generally to filter out spam and comments wishing death on people - but other messages will be approved as quickly as possible.