In terms of online, we are working on getting some kind of online mark so the paper can say, “We adhere to the code of practice, which is enforced by the PCC.” In a world where everything is on the Internet and there is this fast, sort of horizontal dissemination of information coming from everywhere, this voluntary acceptance of a third party examining your work will be seen as a benefit, and a way of developing trust with readers.
How has the growth of online changed things? When you negotiate a correction or apology, there’s the print aspect, but what about online? Do you get involved in that?
The PCC last year set up an online working group in one of its commissions to constantly be looking at online issues, and one area they are looking at and considering the issue of guidance on is online prominence. Because if you have an issue where something appeared on page nine in the paper, there is a strong argument that the correction should appear on page nine. With online, all sorts of things come into play. Should you link to the original article? Should you remove the article? Should it be stand-alone? Should it be on the home page? What if the URL has the inaccuracy in it? Should that be amended?
We’re looking towards issuing some type of guidance on that to say, “Here are the facts.” It’s not as quite straightforward because people access papers in different ways online … It’s an area we will all become more expert in as the years go by, but for now we want to make sure these factors are considered at the point of negotiation.
At this point it’s kind of scattershot, isn’t it? I see a lot of U.K. newspapers that will completely remove the offending article and replace it, or replace the article with an apology but keep the URL as the old URL.
Yes, and you’ve got to respect the wishes of the complainant. They are sometimes reluctant to remove [offending articles] entirely and if the article is particularly intrusive then often the remedy they are seeking is removal from the website. What we do at the PCC is on our website we publish all of the resolved cases, making clear what actually has happened. That is another way of getting it into public domain that action was taken.
In a recent post from Roy Greenslade of The Guardian, he wrote that there is “new-found determination [at the PCC] to publicize its work.” Is that true?
I don’t know if it’s entirely newfound. But we are certainly emphasizing it more. We have 1,500 followers on Twitter and I like the idea that people can be updated with the work that we’ve done. We did some focus groups recently and people tend to be reassured if they know an organization exists and is doing these things
We have a responsibility to make people aware of the system, and that we are there to help them. The basic function of the PCC is to be a public service, so they need to know about us to use it more effectively. So we are conscious of the need to push ourselves out there, and Twitter is a good way of doing that.
Going back to online, you have a commission looking at the issue; is there an expectation they will come out with recommendations or guidelines?
I don’t want to prejudge what they’re doing, but the likelihood is they will be looking at giving guidance on online prominence. I think the other area they are looking at is Twitter—journalistic content on Twitter, not stuff from journalists who tweet as anyone can tweet; but branded, designated Twitter accounts where newspapers are putting up content and links to content. Does that become a regulatory issue for the PCC? People do have an expectation that if something is tweeted to 100,000 people that turns out to be wrong that should be dealt with on that Twitter account as well as in the paper.
Anything else you want to highlight for me?
We have this view of proactivity that when see people in the news who might need the PCC when they are the center of a major news story and may need the PCC, we contact them. We see if they need our help
So if they’re being dragged through the mud, you will reach out?
If someone is subject to a lot of press attention—particularly in areas of grief or major incidents—we reach out and say, “You might not need us and everything may be fine, but if you do, here are our mobile phone numbers, and you can call someone twenty-four hours a day.”