Is media accountability a level playing field?

In regulation on July 17, 2009 at 4:49 pm

One contentious story. One complaining MP. Two different approaches to self-regulation.

In May, top Tory blogger Iain Dale broke an exclusive story about Tory MP James Gray, a member of the defence select committee. His report ‘James Gray and the photo of the dying soldier’ told the story of a delegation of MPs visiting Afghanistan. The MPs were at an airbase as a:

“very poorly soldier was wheeled across the tarmac to the plane. It was a very sombre moment. Suddenly, James Gray took out his camera and proceeded to take photos of the soldier. His colleagues looked on aghast. . . .The MPs were then summoned into a sideroom by the Brigadier in charge who yelled at them and told them that taking photos on such an occasion was totally unacceptable. He ordered whoever was taking the photos to delete them from their camera. Needless to say, Gray failed to step forward and own up. Whether he did delete the photos is not known.”

Iain Dale then followed this up with a claim that James Gray MP should have the whip withdrawn. Both stories remain on Iain Dale’s blog.

Iain updated the first post on three occasions so readers can see how the story unfolded. One update includes the rebuttal from James Gray, a second source coming forward and notification that the Daily Mail was running the story.

Today, the Press Complaints Commission published the outcome of James Gray’s complaint to The Sun regarding its story:

“ which contained the inaccurate claim that he had taken photographs of injured British soldiers while on a visit to Afghanistan.”

The newspaper said that claim came from “several sources” but published the following letter from the MP.

“Further to your report that I “had taken photographs of a dying soldier on a recent trip to Afghanistan” (Sun, 12 May), allow me to set the record straight.

“My colleagues and I had taken photographs of the C-17 cargo plane onto which some wounded soldiers were to be transferred but at the time we were 500 yards away in the pitch black. Any photographs would have been impossible and there is no evidence any of the soldiers were “dying.”

“I assure your readers I took no such photographs and as an active member of the Royal British Legion, Chairman of the Parliamentary All Party Group for the Army and a former TA soldier myself, I hope they will be ready to accept that assurance.”

The article is not available on The Sun’s website.

Iain Dale is accountable because he clearly updates his blog so you can track revisions, enables comments and trades on his reputation – though it costs nothing to read.

The Sun is accountable through the formal process of the PCC, because it publishes a rebuttal and trades on its reputation – which is dependent on sales and advertising revenue.

Both compete for readers online. One is self-regulated and the other is subject to no regulation. Is that fair? Which system is more preferable?

  1. Iain Dale is NOT accountable because he can (and does) delete critical comments and even bans critical users for ‘abuse’ (while allowing anymous users of his site to abuse his critics). Accountability is an illusion on his site.

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