Complaint about the Press Complaints Commission

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What a strange organisation the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is. They say that a press article is inaccurate, but consider it reasonable that the inaccurate headline remains uncorrected.

Brief Timeline

  • 12th july 2013. Keogh report on 14 hospitals is due out. Professor Sir Brian Jarman provides data and briefs journalists on above-average deaths in hospitals being investigated. He emphasizes that such deaths cannot be interpreted as ‘avoidable’.
  • 13th July. The Sunday Telegraph leads with headline ‘13,000 died needlessly at 14 worst NHS trusts’, in conflict with both Jarman’s advice, and what is said in the article itself.
  • 16th july 2013. Keogh review published, and explicitly states that “It is clinically meaningless and academically reckless to use such statistical measures to quantify actual numbers of avoidable deaths. Numerous criticisms of Telegraph coverage follow, including an article by me in the British Medical Journal. A number of complaints are made to the PCC.
  • 1st November 2013. PCC finally announces that “By attributing the number of “needless” deaths to a calculation made by Sir Brian Jarman, the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1 (i). As such, a correction – published promptly and with due prominence – was required in accordance with the terms of Clause 1 (ii).” This does not appear publicly. The Telegraph publishes a ‘clarification’, but the headline remains.
  • 4th November . I complain to PCC that the misleading Telegraph headline remains on their article, but am told that “Taken in context with the article as a whole, and in light of the additional footnote, the Commission did not consider that a significantly misleading impression of the investigation’s findings had been created by the headline.”. I find it very difficult to understand how they can come to this bizarre and illogical conclusion.

Another complainant has taken this to the independent reviewer of the PCC. But I am deeply unimpressed by the PCC’s feeble response to this ‘inaccurate’ (to be extremely generous) article.

Presumably the PCC will soon be abolished, and we can only hope that post-Leveson there will be a more effective body. But I haven’t put the bunting out yet.

18th November. Another grossly misleading headline, this time in the Daily Mail, “ Decade of Labour 'saw 50,000 too many die in hospital' “. They put the inaccurate statement in quotes, as if someone has actually claimed this. But nobody said it - this quote is purely a product of the imagination of the sub-editors.