Wednesday, 30 March 2011

PCC agrees there is no Union Flag ban, 'requests' the Mail 'take heed'

In February, the Mail, Telegraph, Richard Littlejohn and others claimed that Suffolk Police were happily displaying the rainbow flag for LGBT History Month but were totally 'forbidden' from ever flying the Union Flag.

There was, as usual, no such ban on the Union Flag. It was completely untrue, and had any of the 'journalists' actually bothered to contact the police, they would have been told that.

The Press Complaints Commission received two complaints about the Mail's article. The PCC took the view that these were third-party complaints and so would not 'examine' them under the terms of the Code. But they had gone to the trouble of asking Suffolk Police if they wanted to pursue a complaint, but the constabulary decided against it.

Here's the PCC's full ruling (sent to this blog by one of the complainants):

The complainants were concerned that the claim the Union Flag had been banned by the Chief Constable of Suffolk was inaccurate. A spokesperson for the police had confirmed on Anglia TV that this was not correct and that both the rainbow flag and Union Flag were flown outside the police headquarters.

The Commission fully acknowledged the concerns raised by the complainants in regard to the accuracy of the article. However, the Commission generally only considers complaints from those directly affected by the matters about which they complained.

In this instance, the article related directly to the Suffolk Constabulary and as such, the Commission would require its involvement in order to come to a view on the matter. It had therefore proactively contacted the police force, which had been aware of the article but had decided not to make a formal complaint about it.

While it emphasised that the concerns of the complainants were indeed legitimate, it did not consider in the absence of the participation of the police that it was in a position to investigate the matter, not least because it would not be possible to release any information about the outcome of the investigation or resolve the matter without the input of the Suffolk Constabulary.

That said, it recognised that the complainants had provided information which had a bearing on the accuracy of the claim made in the article and, as such, it requested that the newspaper would take heed of the points raised in the complaints and alter the article accordingly. In light of the police’s decision not to pursue a complaint against the newspaper, the Commission could not comment on the matter further.

So clearly the PCC agrees the story is rubbish. It seems quite obvious it breaches the Code of Practice clause on accuracy. Yet all the PCC have done is to have:

requested that the newspaper would take heed of the points raised in the complaints and alter the article accordingly.

Given that the PCC said they were not going to deal with the complaint formally, that is, perhaps, more than they might have done.

But as yet, the Mail have not taken heed of this request. Hopefully they will - although there appears to be no sanction for ignoring it.

And would an 'alteration' (which would be difficult, given the whole article is about the Union Flag 'ban') to the story, done without fanfare, matter two months later anyway?

UPDATE: The Mail have done more than 'alter' the original article - they've removed it completely. They've also edited Littlejohn's column to remove his reference to the ban. Yet in neither case have they explained why - there appears to be no clarification or apology. This way, they can just pretend they never said it in the first place.


  1. I always feel that you should take the mail with a pinch of salt.

    Preferably one of those metal salts which catch fire with exposure to air.

  2. "This way, they can just pretend they never said it in the first place. "

    That reminds me a bit of Winston Smith's job in 1984.

  3. The Mail removing and editing this story out of existence makes me wonder why they bothered.

    They must think their readers care enough to check back on stories or follow the PCC close enough to see if their favourite newspaper abides by it's rulings.

    Have they also removed all comments related to the ban from the Littlejohn column?


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