Friday, 9 December 2011

PCC upholds complaint about MailOnline's 'Knox guilty' article

The Press Complaints Commission has ruled against MailOnline for their 'Guilty: Amanda Knox looks stunned as appeal against murder conviction is rejected' article, which included invented details about an event that didn't happen.

To recap:

In addition to the overarching complaint that the article had reported the wrong verdict, the complainants also drew the Commission's attention to: the inclusion of quotes attributed to prosecutors, apparently reacting to the guilty verdict ("justice has been done" although "it was sad two young people would be spending time in jail"); a description of the reaction in the court room to the supposed verdict ("Knox...sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably while her family and friends hugged each other in tears"; Meredith Kercher's family "remained expressionless, staring straight ahead, glancing over just once at the distraught Knox family"); and the claims that Ms Knox was "taken out of court escorted by prison guards and into a waiting van which took her back to her cell" and would be "put on a suicide watch".

The Mail's response was:

The newspaper apologised that the wrong verdict had been published on its website for around 90 seconds. It explained that - in high-profile cases such as this - it was standard practice for newspapers to prepare two stories in advance. There had been confusion in the court as the judge had initially found Ms Knox guilty of slander; he had then found her not guilty of murder. As a result, several news sources had initially published the wrong verdict. The quotations had been obtained from the prosecution in advance of the trial, to be published in the event that the appeal was rejected. In addition, the Italian authorities had advised the reporter that all those found guilty of murder were placed on suicide watch as a matter of course.

The newspaper said that the individual responsible for the error had been disciplined. Moreover, it had published an explanation online apologising to its readers for the error. The correct verdict had been reported in its print edition the following day. The newspaper also made clear that it had launched an immediate internal inquiry to examine its procedures in the light of the complaint. As a result, ‘set and hold' stories would now be commissioned to include only the basic verdict and factual background material: there would be no colour and no quotes based on possible outcomes.

The PCC - rightly - upheld the complaints and said:

the Commission was particularly concerned about other aspects of the report, especially the account of the reaction by those in the courtroom to the apparent verdict, and to the subsequent actions of Ms Knox. In the Commission's view, the article had sought to present contemporaneous reporting of events (describing, in colourful terms, how individuals had physically behaved) which simply had not taken place. This was clearly not acceptable.

The Commission did not see any difficulty in newspapers writing ‘set and hold' articles. It understood that there were, at times, pressures to ensure that readers were informed of current affairs at the earliest opportunity. However, it is also vitally important that descriptions of events, especially trials, are published in a manner which complies with the Editors' Code. Describing reactions and behaviour that have not taken place, in a factual manner as if they had, must always raise a breach of Clause 1 of the Code.

The punishment for MailOnline? They have to publish the full adjudication on their website:

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