Trouble is, that announcement looks a bit weird. The third party rule doesn't always apply. Sometimes, third party complaints are looked at. A few weeks ago, a reader of TabloidWatch complained to the PCC about one of Richard 'Smellyface' Littlejohn's standard off the cuff lies - this time one that said that most robberies in the UK were carried out by Eastern European gangs. Surprisingly, the complainant wasn't given the brush off. They even managed, via an exchange of comments, to get the original apology, which was rubbish, amended to something at least approaching acceptable. Kind of makes the 'no third parties' rule look a little arbitrary doesn't it?
That's not the only odd thing about the Smellyface apology that makes things look a bit slipshod at the PCC. Earlier, 'Don't Get Mad, Get Accuracy' complained to the PCC about columnists repeatedly claiming that overwhelming academic evidence shows that being raised by two homosexual parents has negative effects on children. The reply was, well, odd. The PCC said
While the column had been phrased in stark terms - the journalist had made one claim that was prefaced by "the fact is", for example - the author's claims would nonetheless be recognised by readers as comment rather than unarguable fact. the columnist was entitled to present her particular views on the issue of gay adoption in robust language.So, even though the columnist (Melanie Phillips) had said 'the fact is' before saying something that wasn't a fact, that didn't matter because readers would know it wasn't a fact because a columnist had said it. Perhaps the Commission overestimated how much newspaper readers understand about how newspapers actually work, but why didn't this apply to Smellyface's crap joke?
It seems as though the PCC's code ends up justifying the practice of throwing out ad-hoc justifications for inaccuracy whenever the papers don't fancy apologising for their rubbish journalism. What else explains the Commission deciding it was okay for the Express to lead with the front page headline 'BOMBERS ARE ALL SPONGEING ASYLUM SEEKERS' about the July 2005 failed suicide bombers,when the police only knew the identity of two of them and neither was an asylum seeker?
Plus, the PCC are not waiving the third party 'rule' because of anything to do with the article itself. Sarah Ditum's article, linked to at the top, shows that the initial reaction of the PCC was to dismiss any complaints with that very rule.
But what else could you expect of a code of practice for a Commission who's committee is chaired by Paul Dacre than a system that can just chuck out whatever complaints newspaper editors don't fancy dealing with. As I said in 'Whatever happened to 'SACK THEM!'?' the PCC's actions are now likely to be seen by a much wider audience. It's not long before the public start smelling a great big rat.