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Lies, Damned Lies, and Daily Mail Headlines

Every so often I receive an email from the Press Complaints Commission with a list of its latest adjudications. As a tech journalist it’s not as useful as the ASA’s list*, but it is interesting reading nonetheless. And last week, while scrolling back, I came across a really remarkable bit of work. Witness this headline and lede, from the Daily Mail:

Most Britons still oppose gay marriage. Simple enough. And the footer to the piece:

The Daily Mail is happy to clarify that only a minority of Britons support gay marriage. But, hang on, it’s a larger minority (46%) than those who oppose it (45%). So it’s not correct to say that a majority of Britons oppose gay marriage. So the headline is utterly wrong, and so is the lede paragraph. Call the Press Complaints Commission!

Except that, well, somebody already did. Credit to Will Knock, who saw the original piece back in September, elegantly pulled apart its lies, and registered a formal complaint. The PCC duly considered his complaint and, according to its notes, arranged for the ‘correction’ quoted above to be published:

RESOLUTION:

The matter was resolved when the PCC negotiated the publication of the following correction:

A recent article based on an Office for National Statistics report stated that most Britons still oppose gay marriage. While the ONS report did show that only a minority of Britons are in support of gay marriage, the more detailed statistics from the EU pollon which it was based suggest that the percentages for and against are about the same – 46% and 45% respectively – with a further 9% who ‘don’t know’. We are happy to clarify the position.

And thus, to everybody’s relief, it’s all sorted out. Except that the article itself remains unchanged. And except that the Mail has published only a pathetic, contorted get-out statement (Jane has three apples, John has two apples – so I am happy to clarify that the number of apples held by John and Jane – two and three respectively – are about the same) which does its utmost to conceal the relative size of the figures, and which is buried below the piece.

And of course except that the headline, which is still as wrong as BREAKING: EARTH FLAT, ORBITED BY SUN, ELVIS LIVES IN LEWISHAM still stands there, lying to every person who reads it. Well, that’s a ‘resolution’ of sorts, I suppose.

Good journalism strives to always be correct, even if the result looks silly (witness the NYT’s 30/12 My Little Pony clarification, for example). Even lazy journalism attempts not to be wrong because journalists don’t generally like to be seen as stupid (witness all the hastily amended ‘Wendi Deng joins Rupert Murdoch on Twitter’ pieces of the other week).

Episodes such as this prove, once again, that the Daily Mail sits some distance below even that standard, and the PCC evidently lacks either the will or the ability to make it do better.

(Original DM piece, with unchanged headline, still available here.)

* ASA adjudications redux: Broadband company X (BCX) complains about claims of advert from broadband company Y (BCY). BCX complaint upheld, declares it a victory for transparency and the consumer. Next week, BCY complains about similar advert from BCX. Complaint upheld, declared as victory for transparency etc. Repeat until death.

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Copyright 2019 Tom Royal