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Your guide to the CMS report on press standards, privacy and libel

February 24th, 2010 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Legal

It’s been going on for a year, but the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has finally published its report into press standards, privacy and libel in the UK.

You can read the 169-page report in full below, but we’ve highlighted some of the most interesting points in the report in this post.

Background:

The committee’s hearings and subsequent report cover a lot of ground: self-regulation of the press; libel law in the UK; privacy and the press – in particular the News of the World and Max Mosley; standards of journalism – in particular in relation to the reporting of suicides in Bridgend and the Madeleine McCann case; and allegations of phone hacking at News of the World.

In the committee’s own words:

This report is the product of the longest, most complex and wide-ranging inquiry this committee has undertaken. Our aim has been to arrive at recommendations that, if implemented, would help to restore the delicate balances associated with the freedom of the press. Individual proposals we make will have their critics – that is inevitable – but we are convinced that, taken together, our recommendations represent a constructive way forward for a free and healthy UK press in the years to come.

Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report into press standards, privacy and libel

Page guide and key quotes:

  • p10: the questions/issues that provoked the inquiry by the committee are set out.
  • p18: recommendation for “a fast-track appeal system where interim injunctions are concerned, in order to minimise the impact of delay on the media and the costs of a case, while at the same time taking account of the entitlement of the individual claimant seeking the protection of the courts”.
  • p18: report says Lord Chancellor, Lord Chief Justice and the courts should collect data on number of injunctions refused or granted and the impact of Section 12 of the Human Rights Act on interim injunctions.
  • p23: On Max Mosley and the News of the World: “We found the News of the World editor’s attempts to justify the Max Mosley story on ‘public interest’ grounds wholly unpersuasive, although we have no doubt the public was interested in it.”
  • p27: Focus on Justice Eady “shaping” UK privacy law is “misplaced”.
  • p31: Recommendations for the PCC to include guidance to newspapers on pre-notification.
  • p33: On Trafigura/Carter-Ruck and reporting parliamentary proceedings.
  • p40: Defendants in libel cases should still be required to prove the truth of their allegations, says the report.
  • p45: On the cost and difficulties of mounting a Reynolds Defence and whether this should be put on a statutory footing.
  • p54-55: The committee asks for better data collection on cases of ‘libel tourism’.
  • p59: On the single-publication rule and newspaper archives: “In order to balance these competing concerns, we recommend that the government should introduce a one year limitation period on actions brought in respect of publications on the internet.”
  • p72-76: On Conditional Fee Arrangements (CFAs) and After The Event Insurance (ATE) in defamation cases.
  • p82: Recommendations for better headline writing to improve press standards.
  • p91: Criticism of the press and the PCC for the handling of the Madeleine McCann case: “The newspaper industry’s assertion that the McCann case is a one-off event shows that it is in denial about the scale and gravity of what went wrong, and about the need to learn from those mistakes. In any other industry suffering such a collective breakdown – as for example in the
    banking sector now – any regulator worth its salt would have instigated an enquiry. The
    press, indeed, would have been clamouring for it to do so. It is an indictment on the
    PCC’s record, that it signally failed to do so.”
  • p95-6: On moderating comments on websites and user-generated material: “The Codebook [upheld by the Press Complaints Commission] should be amended to include a specific responsibility to moderate websites and take down offensive comments, without the need for a prior complaint. We also believe the PCC should be proactive in monitoring adherence, which could easily be done by periodic sampling of newspaper websites, to maintain standards.”
  • p101-3: On NOTW and phone hacking: “It is likely that the number of victims of illegal phone-hacking by Glenn Mulcaire will never be known.”
  • p114: Guardian articles on phone hacking did contain new evidence, but committee has heard now evidence that such practices are still ongoing.
  • p121: On the PCC: “The powers of the PCC must be enhanced, as it is toothless compared to other regulators.”
  • p123-5: Recommendations for a more independent PCC.
  • p126: Peter Hill’s resignation from the PCC.
  • p128: Criticism for how the PCC reports statistics of complaints it receives: “In particular, contacts from members of the public which are not followed up with the appropriate documentation should not be considered as true complaints.”
  • p129: A new system for “due prominence” of corrections and apologies by newspapers?
  • p130: Proposals for the PCC to have the power of financial sanctions.

In-depth coverage on Journalism.co.uk:

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Liverpool Daily Post: Madeleine McCann keywords in every main local news story was ‘oversight’

July 1st, 2009 | 8 Comments | Posted by in Newspapers, Online Journalism, Search

It was an ‘oversight’ that Madeleine McCann related keywords were included in the metadata for every main local news story on the Liverpool Daily Post site, a Trinity Mirror spokeperson said, after Journalism.co.uk informed the company that the terms were present in the ‘hidden text’ of a series of unrelated news items.

The automatic inclusion of the keywords “madeleine mccann, madeleine mcgann, kate mcgann, kate mccann” in the HTML for Liverpool news stories has now ceased.

Journalism.co.uk learned in May that specific keywords, including those above, were used in the metadata for the ‘Liverpool News Headlines’ section on the Liverpool Daily Post site, regardless of the story’s relevance. This continued for at least one month before it was drawn to the Post’s attention on Monday (June 29).

Use of unrelated ‘hidden’ metadata is commonly known as ‘keyword stuffing’, a practice which Google firmly discourages. Using popular keywords can help improve a site’s SEO performance. [Update: Google and most other search engines are no longer believed (Wikipedia link here) to recognise these tags: see Lammo.net post at this link.]

Google search results for “Madeleine McCann + Liverpool” shows that the Post and its sister site, the Liverpool Echo, have top rankings for related Madeleine McCann stories. [Update: but lower rankings when a simple Madeleine McCann search is performed. It's unlikely the addition of the keywords aided the LDP's Google ranking. Google says: "While accurate meta descriptions can improve clickthrough, they won't impact your ranking within search results."]

A Trinity Mirror spokesman said: “The metadata was inserted some time ago when the Madeleine McCann story was at its height and was the most-searched item on our web sites. It was inserted to make it easier for our users to access a huge story of national and local interest. The fact that it wasn’t removed is an oversight, which has now been put right.”

The evidence (before Liverpool Daily Post corrected the error this week):

A story about Len Williams, a well-known waterfront manager who recently died.

Waterfront

Keywords in the HTML version:
LENkeywords1
LENkeywords2

livpostlen

The section of the site which used these keywords for all stories:

livnews

Google’s  definition:

“‘Keyword stuffing’ refers to the practice of loading a webpage with keywords in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google’s search results. Filling pages with keywords results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.

“To fix this problem, review your site for misused keywords. Typically, these will be lists or paragraphs of keywords, often randomly repeated. Check carefully, because keywords can often be in the form of hidden text, or they can be hidden in title tags or alt attributes.

“Once you’ve made your changes and are confident that your site no longer violates our guidelines, submit your site for reconsideration.”

A definition by Nathan Campbell on SEO.com:

“Some unethical SEOs choose to employ renegade tactics such as keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing is overloading the content or meta tags of the web page with every possible keyword or phrase that relates to the site in many different forms.”

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Greenslade: Peter Hill’s ‘mistakes’ to parliamentary committee

April 30th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism

Roy Greenslade challenges several points made by Daily Express editor Peter Hill at Tuesday’s Commons select committee meeting on press standards, privacy and libel.

The committee did not push Hill hard enough on the ethical issues surrounding his paper’s coverage of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, writes Greenslade.

Full post at this link…

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BBC Two Daily Politics – Greenslade and Meyer on regulation

April 2nd, 2009 | 3 Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Journalism, Legal

In the latest public debate surrounding regulation of the UK press, Sir Christopher Meyer, former chairman of the UK Press Complaints Commission (PCC), today argued that the current self-regulatory system was ‘robust, quick and satisfying.’

Meyer, who has now been replaced as PCC chair by Peta Buscombe, was a guest on today’s Daily Politics show on BBC Two, and said that the process worked for many reasons – the body’s discreet handling of complaints was just one, he said.

Meyer defended the PCC’s role, using the fact that they received a record number of complaints from newspaper readers last year as evidence that the principle of self-regulation was firmly established in the industry.

He added that the number of complaints to the PCC had doubled during his tenure.

During the debate, however, Roy Greenslade, professor of journalism at City University in London, said that the body was not advertised widely enough. He said: “Most of the public aren’t aware of the PCC, and the newspapers certainly don’t publicise it.”

The show’s presenter, Andrew Neil, asked Meyer where the PCC was during the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Neil also asked why the body didn’t do more to protect Kate and Gerry McCann from the accusations made by newspapers.

Meyer said that Gerry McCann felt that the publicity and coverage of his daughter’s disappearance would aid the search for his daughter. “We told them we were there for them if they wanted help, but they were too busy,” Meyer said.

He added that the McCanns were focused on finding Madeleine at the time.

Greenslade argued that a PCC statement should have been issued at the time, warning the newspapers to adhere to the PCC code of practice.

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MediaGuardian: Commons committee hears from Mosley and McCann

“Formula one boss Max Mosley today attacked the Press Complaints Commission and the newspaper industry’s system of self-regulation while criticising the Daily Mail editor, Paul Dacre, chairman of the PCC editors’ code committee,” reports MediaGuardian here.

During the same hearing of the culture, media and sport committee currently looking into UK press regulation and media law, Gerry McCann “called for more stringent regulation of the press and slammed coverage surrounding the disappearance of his daughter in Portugal in 2007, calling it some of the most ‘irresponsible and damaging’ in press history,” MediaGuardian also reports here.

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MediaGuardian: Sky News apologises to Robert Murat over Madeleine McCann story

November 14th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Editors' pick

Sky News publicly apologised in the High Court today for a libellous web story and video that linked Robert Murat with the Madeleine McCann disappearance, and likened him to an ‘infamous child murderer,’ the Guardian reports.

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Guardian was wrong to buy Madeleine McCann keywords on Google

August 8th, 2008 | 4 Comments | Posted by in Search

The Guardian has admitted it mistakenly bought the keywords Madeleine McCann from Google.

By wrongly purchasing the keywords a link to the paper’s coverage of Madeleine’s disappearance appeared in a column of sponsored results when a search for her name was made on Google.

The newspaper has now taken down the link and has reviewed the list of keywords it owns, Marc Sands, marketing director for the Guardian, told Journalism.co.uk.

The paper’s purchase of the words Madeleine McCann was criticised by Justin Williams, assistant editor at Telegraph Media Group, on his personal blog, who said the practice showed the paper was ‘desperate’ to hold onto its position as the UK’s most popular newspaper website according to the most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronic (ABCe) traffic figures.

“The purchase of terms is a way of getting your stories, at a cost, in front of people. It’s absolutely what everyone does all the time,” said Sands.

[advert]A search for the terms shows the Mirror currently owns the keywords McCanns cleared, while a Google search for other keywords, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, show the the Sun and Times have also purchased phrases from Google.

“It is a way of getting it [news] distributed to people who have expressed an interest in that subject,” he added.

“The issue with the Madeleine McCann keywords is an interesting one. It’s like advertising, but not really: the only reason you and I search for a term is because we are interested in that term.”

The practice had been criticised in the blog post, he said, because of the Guardian’s previous stance on the coverage of the McCann story.

“The Guardian in the past has been very critical of the coverage of Madeleine McCann, saying it has been salacious and misleading. What the person in the blog post is saying is that Madeleine McCann is not to be treated in this way, so what on earth are they doing buying keywords?”

The issue led the paper to review its list of current keywords to assess ‘what news is okay to do it with and what isn’t’, he said.

The Guardian buys thousands of Google keywords relating to current news stories every week, he added. It currently owns the keywords ‘stamp duty’, ‘university league tables’ and ‘post office closures’.

“Madeleine McCann slipped through the net. You don’t approve all these [keyword purchases] every day. We would have had to say to the company that buys the keywords for us: never buy the keywords for Madeleine McCann,” he said.

Search engine marketing and search engine optimisation of newspaper websites is a ‘new area’ for publishers, added Sands.

“Everyone is working their way through and trying to remain true exactly to the principles of what they’re doing, but also to ensure that they’re getting read.”

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Press Gazette: Express editor Hill leaves PCC after McCann libel payout

May 15th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers

Daily Express editor Peter Hill has left the Press Complaints Commission.

The move follows two months after his newspaper (along with its sister Sunday and the Star and Sunday Star) published front page apologies and paid the parents of missing child Madeleine McCann £550,000 in libel damages.

He’s replaced on the 17 strong commission by Mail on Sunday editor Peter Wright.

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Sky News creates multimedia timeline to mark disappearance of Madeleine McCann

May 2nd, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Multimedia

Sky News has produced a multimedia timeline detailing the events and news coverage of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance over the last year.

The timeline incorporates videos, pictures and analysis from Sky’s crime correspondent Martin Brunt. Users can scroll through the timeline, which offers over 100 screens of multimedia.

Screenshot of Sky News’ multimedia timeline of Madelein McCann’s disappearance

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Express and Daily Star newspapers’ online apology to Madeleine McCann’s parents – comments turned off

March 19th, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Newspapers, Online Journalism

UPDATE: Were the papers right to turn their comments off on these stories? – take the poll

The Express and Daily Star newspapers both printed front-page apologies today to the Kate and Gerry McCann – the parents of missing toddler Madeleine McCann.

The two Richard Desmond-owned newspapers both issued short, almost identical stories.

“We now recognise that such a suggestion is absolutely untrue and that Kate and Gerry are completely innocent of any involvement in their daughter’s disappearance,” they both stated.

Another similarity, both newspapers turned the comments system off on the online versions of these stories ‘for legal reasons’.

image of express websites comments turned off message

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