Tag Archives: PCC

Guest post: Do we need moderation guidelines for dealing with mental health issues?

Last month the Press Complaints Commission made a judgement in a case involving discriminatory comments on a newspaper article. The case highlighted the issue of journalism on mental health and how it is treated by publishers alongside similar considerations such as sexuality, gender, religion and ethnicity. The complaint also led to a change in The Guardian’s moderation rules.

In a guest post for the Online Journalism Blog the person who brought that case, Beatrice Bray, writes about her experiences of comment abuse, and the role she feels publishers should take in dealing both with comments relating to mental health, as well as writers with mental health issues.

Last April I wrote a rallying cry for the Guardian for all who have endured taunts about mental ill health. In my reply article Cartoonists should be careful how they portray mental health (23/4/10) I reclaimed the word “psychotic”. Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson had used the word to abuse Mrs Thatcher. I put him right.

I am a long-standing reader of the Guardian newspaper but I did not know the website audience. Being a proud campaigner I told Guardian readers that I had bipolar disorder and had experienced psychosis.

I expected a civil hearing. Newspaper readers did oblige but many online readers were foul.

The Guardian’s managing editor Chris Elliott did not warn me about the impending abuse. That was a mistake. I think Mr Elliott knew I would face hostility but I do not think he realised how badly I would be hurt.

Those insults made me physically sick. My head was sore for many weeks. This was all so pointless. If Mr Elliott had given me a chance to discuss the risks involved we both could have taken precautions. Instead there was a row.

Guardian staff gave me an apology but told me to grow a “thick skin”. That jibe spurned me into going to the Press Complaints Commission. It is free. It is also less adversarial and less costly than a disability tribunal.

I was not asking for anything unprecedented. The BBC has guidelines on working with vulnerable people. We need to extend this to new media.

Working with vulnerable people

For example when dealing with discussion sites moderators need to deal swiftly with abuse. They also must facilitate discussions so that they do not turn nasty.

Staff should appreciate the reasons for this action. This is not prima donna treatment. This action is necessary because the writer and many of the readers share a common disability. They all have mental health problems.

Section 2 of the PCC Editors’ code promised fairness to complainants. I thought it only fair to ask for warning of abuse but in my PCC ruling the Guardian and the PCC disagreed with me. The PCC did not say why.

However, I did score other points.

Before the PCC ruling the Guardian at my request did add the word “disability” to its moderation rules.

The PCC and the Guardian and did apologise with regard to the abuse.

Guardian online readers called me, amongst other things, a “nutter” and a “retard”. Unfortunately both the Guardian and PCC refused to accept that this was discrimination as defined by the terms of section 12 of the Editor’s code of the PCC.

This is not just semantics. To me the word “discrimination” is a word with power. It holds the abuser responsible but the PCC fights shy of doing that online.

I now know that you can only complain to the PCC if a staff member makes a discriminatory remark about you. Comments made by non-staff members do not fall within the PCC’s remit. My abusers were not Guardian staff.

It is a shame. By being discrimination deniers both the Guardian and the PCC cut themselves off from a store of knowledge on handling disability and mental health in particular.

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Serene Branson: The Sun changes its story – but not the URL

Serene Branson Grammys Stroke story 3am

It appears last week’s guidance from the PCC on correcting URLs as well as the contents of stories has not reached The Sun. Serene Branson’s on-air slurring was initially mocked by the tabloid with the headline “Grammy’s reporter goes gaga”. When it emerged that the presenter may have* suffered from a stroke the article was rewritten – but not the URL:

sun_SereneBranson_URL

The Daily Record, meanwhile, have changed their URL as well as the headline (or their content management system has done it for them). 3am haven’t changed anything (see image at top).

A further issue occurs here too: comments posted on the original Sun story remain, but now – under a now more sober report – these appear insensitive.

More recent commenters can be seen criticising these older comments, and without any notice on the article that it has been updated, those commenting under their real names could argue that their reputations are being damaged as a result.

Certainly there’s an ethical issue here: if you change a story so substantially that original comments now no longer apply, should you remove them?

Via Dave Lee, whose post ‘Serene Branson: The disturbing viral that shames us all‘ should also be read.

*UPDATE: The station website says she was examined by paramedics but not hospitalized. “Her vital signs were normal” and “she says that she is feeling fine this morning”.

PCC gets SEO in new ruling on online corrections


Mirror URL which could land them in court

More from the PCC following yesterday’s Twitter ruling: new guidance on online corrections shows a surprising awareness of search engine optimisation techniques.

Among other points of the guidance are that:

  • “Care must be taken that the URL of an article does not contain information that has been the subject of successful complaint. If an article is amended, then steps should be taken to amend the URL, as necessary.
  • “Online corrections and apologies should be tagged when published to ensure that they are searchable.”

The guidance addresses a recurring problem with news reports which are corrected after subs see sense – but whose HTML and URL continue to display information which could land the publisher in court – for example that shown in the image above (from here) and below, from this post.(Thanks to Martin Belam for finding the main image) – if you can recall the others, let me know.

UPDATE: Thanks to Malcolm Coles for pointing me to some prime candidates at the end of this Robots.txt file

UPDATE 2: Here’s another one from Malcolm: even newspapers who change their URL can still be found out.

Daily Mail article - corrected text, but original HTML

How private is a tweet?

The PCC has made its first rulings on a complaint over newspapers republishing a person’s tweets. The background to this is the publication in The Daily Mail and the Independent on Sunday of tweets by civil servant Sarah Baskerville. Adrian Short sums up the stories pretty nicely: “We could be forgiven for thinking you’re trying to make the news rather than report it.”

The complaint came under the headings of privacy and accuracy. In a nutshell, the PCC have not upheld the complaints and, in the process, decided that a public Twitter account is not private. That seems fair enough. However, it is noted that “her Twitter account and her blog [which the Independent quoted from, along with her Flickr account] both included clear disclaimers that the views expressed were personal opinions and were not representative of her employer.”

The wider issue is of course about privacy as a whole, and about the relationship between our professional and private lives. The stories – as Adrian Short outlines so well – are strangely self-contained. ‘It is terrible that this civil servant has opinions and drinks occasionally, because someone like me might say that is it terrible…’

Next they’ll be saying that journalists have opinions and drink too…

Complaint over attack on hyperlocal blog upheld by PCC

You may remember ‘investigation’ by The Hull Daily Mail into HU17.net, a hyperlocal publisher that was operating on its patch back in March, and the resulting backlash against the newspaper by observers who saw this as a commercially motivate hatchet job. Now the Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint on the basis “that readers would have been misled as to the scale of the complainant’s involvement in adult websites. The result was a breach of Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code.”

More at Journalism.co.uk (which points out that one of the articles is still online) and Press Gazette.

Epic Boobs are fair game, says PCC

Fascinating decision by the Press Complaints Commission today on a privacy complaint against Loaded magazine that involved images of a then-15-year-old girl’s breasts taken from the social network Bebo.

Web User puts it more succinctly than the decision itself, but for publishers it boils down to this: the complaint was rejected because the image had been circulated widely on the internet over the past four years – in fact, the decision says there were over 200,000 matches on an image search on this particular person as the “Epic boobs” girl.

Beehive City puts it this way:

“In other words – if it’s everywhere online, you’ve lost your right to privacy and in the case of the picture taker, perhaps to copyright too. Which is why everybody was last week furiously spreading the David Cameron Shepard Fairey image produced by The Sun, and why perhaps with enough spreading that Bullingdon Photo will be impossible to suppress too.”

What complicates the decision even further is that, while the girl was 15 when the images were published, she is now an adult – and was an adult when Loaded published the images:

“Issues of taste and offence – and any question of the legality of the material – could not be ruled upon by the Commission, which was compelled to consider only the terms of the Editors’ Code. The Code does include references to children but the complainant was not a child at the time the article was published.”

The distinction here is between harming a vulnerable person, and an image of a vulnerable person; or between the thing and the person. Publishing that image now does not harm an unprotected 19-year-old adult; publishing it 4 years ago would have harmed a vulnerable, and therefore protected, 15-year-old. But taking the picture 4 years ago would, I imagine, have constituted exploiting a vulnerable person and someone taking that picture could still be prosecuted now that she is 19.

Still with me?

Also on Press Gazette.

The Press Complaints Commission consultation: respond by January 25th

The Press Complaints commission, which is the industry body which attempts to regulate the printed media, and now the corresponding websites, is engaged in a “Governance Review” – and is wanting responses by January 25th 2010.

The commission last had the attention of bloggers when a proposal was made by the PCC Chairman Baroness Buscombe that they should be regulated by the PCC. Unity, at Liberal Conspiracy, organised a response which drew expressions of support from perhaps 300 bloggers over the following 3 days.

At that point I also commented on some problems with the PCC itself :

Baroness Buscombe, the Press Complaints Commission and the Internet: Hard Questions

Firstly, the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission is a position which surely depends on political and commercial neutrality. (Baroness Buscombe takes the Tory Whip in the Lords)

Secondly, despite the Chairman of the PCC clearly needing to be a neutral figure, Baroness Buscombe used her speech to the Society of Editors to make party political points.

Thirdly, the PCC’s level of knowledge and understanding about the Internet is open to question; they appear not to understand News Headline Aggregators.

Fourthly, the PCC needs to defend vigorous investigative journalism. The Baroness – as current Chairman and a Peer herself – has suggested that the Lords should not be subjected to the same scrutiny as the Commons has been in the last 12 months.

Tim Ireland has been organising an excellent response , based around these five specific proposals:

SUGGESTION ONE: Like-for-like placement of retractions, corrections and apologies in print and online (as standard).

SUGGESTION TWO: Original or redirected URLs for retractions, corrections & apologies online (as standard).

SUGGESTION THREE: The current Code contains no reference to headlines, and this loophole should be closed immediately.

SUGGESTION FOUR: Sources to be credited unless they do not wish to be credited or require anonymity/protection.

SUGGESTION FIVE: A longer and more interactive consultation period for open discussion of more fundamental issues.

And he has done an excellent (and noisy) video involving space invaders, which you can see here .

The PCC has a special website set up, from where you can send your submission.

The closing date is January 25th 2010.