After 105 days of unanswered emails, complaints to the PCC, long waits for responses, several articles and slow progress in negotiations, the Sun and Daily Mail newspapers have finally corrected their articles in print about a report produced eariler this year by the Government's 'troubled families tsar' Louise Casey.
This is the reality of the complaints process which PCC Chairman Lord Hunt told the Leveson Inquiry was "very effective."
Ms. Casey's report highlighted aspects of the lives of 16 families - the kind "who will be targeted as part of the Government's commitment to turn around the lives of 120,000 troubled families by 2015". However, the report was careful to state:
"It must also be noted that this is not formal research and that these interviews and the information they gave us is not representative of the 120,000 families that are deemed as troubled'." [emphasis added]
Full Fact has also cast doubt over whether these '120,000 families' are in fact causing trouble, as is often suggested. Despite this, the Sun and Mail claimed the report "reveals 120,000 problem households" or "exposes 120,000 worst households".
This not only misreported the Government's findings, but also further established a questionable figure in the public consciousness.
So why did it take so long?
1) Neither newspaper responded to Full Fact's initial requests for the articles to be clarified to make clear that the research was "not representative" of the 120,000 families.
2) During the PCC complaints process, the Sun newspaper ignored the PCC, forcing the complaints body to suggest to it an inadequate correction wording that had already been proposed by the Daily Mail.
3) Once corrections had been offered, establishing adequate wording occasionally took two or even three weeks between emails going back-and-forth. This often involved negotiating for individual words to be included or excluded.
Full Fact is one of the most frequent users of the PCC and, from experience, this is nothing new. The PCC is good at providing prompt, friendly and easy-to-contact customer service, but is powerless to prevent tenacious newspapers from stalling the process if they choose to do so. This can leave the most serious and pressing of inaccuracies uncorrected for months before action is taken.
We've made these points clear in our submissions to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards, which is expected to report imminently. This is undoubtedly a crucial and rare opportunity to fundamentally improve the way in which newspaper inaccuracies are regulated, and we need Lord Justice Leveson to make the most of it.