Yesterday, i spoke to someone editorial at the Telegraph about some inaccuracies in a piece they had put up about Lucy Meadows. 24 hours later, guess what: the inaccuracies are still there. And no-one has come back to me.
So much for freedom. It is, of course, no more than the freedom of the powerful to print what they like with little or no recourse to accuracy. And this episode, in a nutshell, encapsulates what disrespect the mighty Telegraph has for the truth.
In a blog yesterday by one Brendan O’Neill, the Telegraph included one outright inaccuracy, one dubious, perhaps tasteless assumption, and one complete misrepresentation of what someone else had written. I mention this here because I am interested not just in what they did in the first place, but in how they have reacted to any suggestion that they shouldn’t.
First off, the task of doing the rounds of their various desks is ridiculous. Editors out, at lunch or not responsible. In the end, i spoke yesterday to an individual who appeared to hold some position of editorial responsibility. Well, i thought she did. But 24 hours on, i might as well have been screaming into the wind, for all the difference its made.
I outlined each of the above points: was particularly focused on the inaccuracy – the statement that Lucy Meadows had undergone grs – which could and ought to be quickly, easily sorted. Much the way any fact is tested by an editor before it is published: where did you get that information from? How would you stand it up? Answer: the author can’t. So why not just remove it?
The second point related to whether or not Lucy had committed suicide. That’s part style, part respect: i do know that several of the papers i have written for in the past week would not make such a statement because…well, because until the coroner reports, we don’t KNOW how she died. Which makes such jumping the gun both tasteless and potentially, also, inaccurate. Yet the Telegraph piece repeats this assertion several times.
Last up is how the piece springboards off my own and then certainly implies that i am in favour of sacking Littlejohn. Hello: i didn’t write that and – read my lips! – I’m NOT calling for that. Which is why i didn’t sign the petition calling for same. And why i said as much in interview on Radio 5 on Monday.
Still, so far, this is just an ordinary everyday tale of Telegraph inaccuracy. What is revealing is the (non-)response.
First, as i’ve said many times before: when inaccuracy is alleged, the press needs to have in place a quick, simple process for checking. I know: they could employ a fact-checking team whose job would be, simply, to look at what was written, ask the journalist how they could substantiate ditto, and if they couldn’t, to amend.
But no. First try, from the Telegraph: would i put that in writing. No. That’s NOT my procedure. I’ve pointed out something they can’t stand up. I don’t, shouldn’t need to say anything more. They can just ask their journalist. Sorted.
Second, for some reason, their legal department must be consulted. Er, why?
The best i can suggest is that maybe the Telegraph response to someone yelling “Fire!” would be first to demand it in writing and then, as the flames licked around their toes, not to move until an official response came back from their fire warden.
As it is, we are where we are now. The Telegraph have been told. According to Leveson, in a civilised world, that should be good enough.
We shouldn’t now need processes and e-mails and appeals to the PCC.
But, no. They have been told that their paper contains an inaccuracy. Which is what it is when they aren’t aware.
But now that they ARE aware, then their paper contains a lie.
And the bottom line is: they don’t care whether they print lies or not.