Its verdict? It isn't going to adjudicate:
The Commission generally only considers complaints from those directly involved in the stories about which they are complaining. This is for reasons of co-operation, information and consent: often it will not be possible to come to a view under the Code without the input of a first party. In addition, any remedial action as a result of the complaint – or any decision issued by the Commission – would require consent. In this case, the Commission had contacted the BBC following receipt of the complaints in order to establish whether it wished to complain about the accuracy of the coverage. It had made clear that it did not wish to complain.
The Commission understood the position outlined by the complainants; however, it had to decide whether it was able to pursue the matter without the consent and co-operation of the BBC. It decided that it was unable to do so: it was for the BBC to complain about the coverage. In addition, the BBC’s position had been outlined in the article (albeit not with the prominence that one complainant had wished). Again, this was an issue that the Commission considered required direct involvement. It was not able to engage with the newspaper – or arrange for any remedial action – without the organisation’s consent. Ultimately, the Commission considered that it was unable to take the matter forward without the involvement of the BBC.
There were some outstanding concerns about the follow-up coverage in the Daily Mail on 29th and 30th September. The Commission noted that the coverage in these articles sought to summarise the basic premise yet had become increasingly reductive as the BBC’s position had not been included. However, while it acknowledged the complainants’ concerns, it ultimately considered that it could not take the matter forward without the involvement of the BBC. The Commission took the opportunity of this decision to bring the matter to the newspaper’s attention; furthermore, it trusted that the newspaper would, in the event of any further coverage on the issue, take greater care to clearly present the position of the BBC, as per its public statement. Nonetheless, in the absence of a complaint from the BBC, the Commission was unable to pursue the matter formally.
In some cases, it is understandable that the PCC would decided a third-party complaint is not enough. However, in this case, given the repeated and very clear public denials from the BBC of the original claims, it seems odd, if unsurprising, that the PCC felt unable to fully consider the complaints.
It took a similar line when Suffolk Police refused to complain about the false 'Police chiefs fly gay pride flag...but are forbidden to put up the Union Jack' story. But the PCC acknowledged public denials from the police and asked that the Mail 'take heed' and 'alter the article accordingly'. This was a far-from-perfect outcome - the Mail deleted the original article without ever having to explain why or print a correction. But it was something.
This time, the PCC's line that:
it trusted that the newspaper would, in the event of any further coverage on the issue, take greater care to clearly present the position of the BBC, as per its public statement
is worthless. After all, the Mail on Sunday had the BBC's very clear position in its original article but relegated those words to the end and ignored what they said. It chose to run its misleading story in the way it did anyway.
Incidentally, Peter Wright, the Mail on Sunday's editor, sits on the PCC but we are assured editors leave the room if a complaint about their paper is up for discussion.
(See also Nothing Special)