Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman
Millbank Tower
Millbank
London SW1P 4QP
6 September 2011

Dear Sir

Complaint of Maladministration by the Press Complaints Commission.

1
2
3
failure to follow reasonable rules in procedures and administration
delay in taking action or failing to take action
treating someone unfairly compared to others
Please find enclosed: -
  1. My complaint to the PCC dated 4/5/2011 following a request for an apology and a correction to an article published by the Guardian on 25/03/2011 which had ignored twelve emails for six weeks.
  2. An email dated 16/05/11 I sent to the Press Complaints Commission listing my 'dissatisfactions'.
  3. The PCC's 'Decision' (received 13/06/2011) made prior to a satisfactory resolution being agreed; "A complaint is deemed to be resolved when the PCC has been able to negotiate a resolution with the publication concerned that is satisfactory to the complainant" (as stated by the PCC, see enclosure 6).
  4. My Appeal dated 23/06/11 to Lt Gen Sir Michael Wilcocks, Chartered Commissioner, Independent Reviewer.
  5. My second letter dated 13/08/2011 to Sir Michael, after waiting nine weeks for his decision on my Appeal, telling him I was referring my complaint to the Ombudsman (delay in taking action and failing to take action).
  6. Parts of the Codes of Practice, PCC and the Guardian's.
  7. A complete file of all relevant documents from my first emails dated 30th March to the Journalist and the Guardian asking for a correction to an article that was published by the Guardian.
  8. Websites that still carry the 'erroneous' story months later and will be there for years to come. Plus Google Searchengine results clearly showing the wrong website suffix index which shows the Guardian "didn't take reasonable care in relation to the publication" (Mr Justice Tugendhat).

Enclosure 1
Explains all the basic facts in relation to my complaint, (4) and (5) will help to show why I am referring this complaint to the Ombudsman's department. Below are the reasons/points that show the Press Complaints Commission has not investigated my complaint solely within the confines of the 'EDITORS' CODE OF PRACTICE' which they have not "honoured not only to the letter but in the full spirit".

Enclosure 3 The PCC's Decision.
The first point (second paragraph of the Decision) is that the Commission patted the Guardian on the back for their 'Prompt' action "The Commission was pleased to note that on 9 May, the day on which the formal complaint was passed to the newspaper via the PCC, the name was corrected..." When you read enclosures 1, 4 and 5 you will see this is a distortion of the truth and in fact there was a six week delay by the newspaper which allowed the situation to spiral out of control and although the commission say the 'link' back was to the correct website this was not the case of scores of other websites that had copied the story and most of which are still live on the internet today, some twenty-three or so weeks later (see enclosure 8).

"Clause 1 (ii) states that a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence". Of course when the 'Commission' make a 'distortion' of the facts to favour their newspaper members that then becomes acceptable and the Commission will covertly add it to the 'EDITORS' CODE OF PRACTICE'.

The second point (fourth paragraph of the Decision) "The failure to respond to a direct complaint was, of course, regrettable..." Of course it was 'regrettable' but the Commission 'distorted' the facts by giving the impression the newspaper acted 'promptly' by saying they were "...satisfied that the action - taken on the day the complaint was received..." The Guardian and others received in all six emails on the 30th March a second set of six emails were sent again on the 15th April for which I received automated replies. I sent a complaint to the PCC on the 4th May and I understand Rebecca Hales contacted the newspaper on the 9th with my complaint and by clever use of wording the PCC disguised and 'distorted' the meaning of 'promptly' by saying "taken on the day the complaint was received" (six weeks after the complaint was actually made to the newspaper).

'Regrettable' is not part of the "Editors' Code", 'Promptly' is written in there which the Collins Dictionary states "acting or done at once or without delay; punctual". The "direct complaint" which the PCC advise you to do in the first instance was made to the Guardian and others on the 30th March the response came on the 9th May, six weeks later and not in 'response' to the "direct complaint" but was "via the PCC" to which I had been forced to make a complaint to get the attention of the newspaper.

The PCC say in the Editors' Code "1(i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information..." but when the Commission are defending the news media "inaccurate, misleading or distorted information..." is used by the Commission in their defence of the newspaper.

Third point (again, fourth paragraph of the Decision) "It accepted the newspaper's explanation that a genuine human error had resulted in an oversight..." As we know most complaints will stem from somebody's 'error' which was, in the first place, the Editor of the Guardian, Elisabeth Ribbans, let me quote Mr Justice Tugendhat "... you are a publisher and anyway you didn't take reasonable care in relation to the publication" and, in the second place, the Letters Editor at the Guardian, Chris Elliott, who ignored emails for six weeks because he thought the problem was 'more complex'.

Back to the Commission accepting "that a genuine human error had resulted in an oversight", you will find there is no mention of 'genuine human error' or any other type of 'error' in the "EDITORS' CODE OF PRACTICE", but what the PCC do say is; "It is essential that an agreed code be honoured not only to the letter but in the full spirit". You will notice when the Commission act within the 'Code', even when adding in a 'distorted' twist, they quote the 'Code' but when they 'step outside' there is no sign of it being quoted. I think it's quite clear the Commission want their cake and to eat it too.

Human Error! In my case a "genuine human error" was, in the opinion of the Commission, a legitimate reason/excuse for the Guardian's Editor to totally ignore a complaint, make an 'erroneous' publication and call an innocent party "The scourge of all lawyers, good and bad". Let us look at when a complaint by the Hampshire Constabulary v Aldershot News & Mail was referred to the Commission in which a 'human error' was made;
"The newspaper accepted from the outset that it was at fault, explaining that human error had led to the names of the women being included, and it expressed sincere regret that this had happened".
Publication: Aldershot News & Mail
Decision:
Upheld . . . . . . http://www.pcc.org.uk/news/index.html?article=NzI0Mw

'Human error' and a 'genuine human error', very confusing that the Commission find that one is a 'genuine' excuse and the other is not. In the Hampshire Constabulary complaint, mentioned above, against the Aldershot News & Mail the newspaper "expressed sincere regret that this had happened" through "human error" Decision: Upheld. The complaint I brought against the Guardian the Commission find it "was, of course, regrettable" and "It accepted the newspaper's explanation that genuine human error had resulted in an oversight" and "remained satisfied" it "represented a sufficient remedy to the complaint under Clause 1 (ii)". Ok, I'm in my mid 70's and to all intents and purposes a little 'senile' (some might think) and don't quite understand the younger generations thinking, the "EDITOR' CODE OF PRACTICE" needs writing in a language that I can understand i.e. it appears "genuine human error" is covertly hidden in the 'Editors' Code' and as we know by the Hampshire Constabulary that it is probably "regrettable", for the Commission, that "human error" is not part of the Editors' Code so the complaint could be 'Upheld'! Confused? Who wouldn't be?

One question that I believe needs an answer is 'is the Commission guilty of 'discrimination' when they look at who is making the complaint and then markedly treat one far less favourably than the other'?
In my opinion, clear 'discrimination' by the members of the Commission.

Let's get to the 'slap on the wrist' that is their standard grand finale of their 'Decision' making; "That said, the Commission trust that steps would be taken where possible to avoid similar oversights in future". That sentence alone, in anyone's eyes, clearly puts the Guardian's Editor at fault for not taking "reasonable care in relation to the publication" (Mr Justice Tugendhat) but not in the 'eyes' of the Commission. It sounds more like a Sid James's 'Carry On' comedy than a 'Complaints Procedure'.

At this point I must quote the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who said "that the Press Complaints Commission has to change", calling it "toothless" and a "complaints body at best run by the Newspapers for the Newspapers". This Press Complaints Commission is the biggest, loudest 'Rottweiler' you would ever want to meet which as Nick Clegg states is "toothless" and is only there to protect it's 'Masters'.

If I sound annoyed it is because I am very annoyed that the Guardian ignored me for six weeks and my twelve emails, allowing the situation to spiral out of control and the Commission distorted the facts to give the impression the Guardian acted 'promptly' when they responded to my request. Oh I forgot, they did not 'respond' did they, they only did that six weeks later after the PCC contacted them on the "9th May". Don't let us forget the fact of why I was ignored until the PCC contacted the newspaper was that the Letters Editor, Chris Elliott, who received two emails said he "...read it quickly and didn't realise he wanted a simple correction to a web address. I thought the issues were more complex and thought I would return to it". Of course Elisabeth Ribbans', the Guardian's Managing Editor, excuse for Chris Elliott was "that a genuine human error had resulted in an oversight" from which the members of the Commission decided "human error" should be part of the 'EDITORS' CODE OF PRACTICE' and "honoured not only to the letter but in the full spirit".

Don't let me forget Sir Michael Wilcocks sitting on his hands for nine weeks looking for some way to 'appease' the 'honourable' members of the Press Complaints Commission.

Finally, Rebecca Hales, Complaints Officer at the PCC, stated in her letter to me on the 25th May '11 "The Commission will now consider the matter formally under the terms of the Editors' Code". The 'Editors' Code' on the surface appears straightforward with no 'distortion' of the facts so one would believe, but the Commission adds in factors like 'regrettable', 'human error', 'oversight' and their interpretation of 'promptly' (which in the eyes of the Commission means at least a six week delay) rules that they covertly add to the Editors' Code so Complainants will not be aware of their relevance!

Yours faithfully

B R Gray

PS . . . . . Record of events from the 4th May to the 12th
Complaint against the Guardian and Journalist Jon Robins
PRESS COMPLAINTS COMMISSION

Halton House, 20/23 Holborn, London, EC1N 2JD (0207 831 0022)
complaints@pcc.org.uk
Sent: Wednesday 04/05/2011
my complaint was sent to the PCC

09/05/2011
I understand Rebecca Hales contacted the Guardian's Managing Editor, Elisabeth Ribbans.

To; brianrgray@msn.com<brianrgray@msn.com>;
Received: 09/05/2011
Press Complaints Commission
Halton House
20/23 Holborn
London EC1N 2JD
PCC acknowledge my complaint and from today Rebecca Hales, Complaints Officer, takes charge.

From: Jon Robins
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2011 10:34 AM
Acknowledging my email of the 30/03/11 over six weeks after I sent the email to him.
Journalist (Jon Robbins) emails me to say the article had been corrected, five days after I made a complaint to the PCC and over six weeks after I emailed him with, I'm led to believe, no prompting from anybody.

Received: 12/05/2011 16:54
The PCC email me to say they have received a response from the newspaper.
attached to the PCC's email is Elisabeth Ribbans email dated 12th May to the PCC saying; "This error was corrected... on 9 May 2011 after a direct request from the articles author" (Jon Robins).

In the email I received from the Rebecca Hales, PCC Complaints Officer, dated 9th May (enclosed) under "...points about our procedures..." two words stand out, 'Speed' and 'Transparency'.
I am expected to believe that on the 9th May the Journalist after six weeks contacted the newspaper's Managing Editor, Elisabeth Ribbans, to have her correct their erroneous publication which she managed to do that day. Elisabeth Ribbans, by coincidence, receives Rebecca Hales email the same day informing her of my complaint, Elisabeth Ribbans then carries out an investigation to find out why an 'erroneous' article had been published and why twelve emails had been ignored. In subsequent emails to the PCC they come up with a few varied excuses, Elisabeth Ribbans states "We have been unable to find a record of his first email..." When they realise I had received an automated reply to my first email Chris Elliott, Letters Editor, then decides "We were in the process of switching email packages". Elisabeth Ribbans' 2nd excuse "was received but unfortunately not actioned", 3rd excuse "that a genuine human error had resulted in an oversight" and her 4th excuse, "The failure to do so in this case was simply due to the high volume of correspondence and investigations during this period" and of course Chris Elliott's 2nd excuse was that he "...read it quickly and didn't realise he wanted a simple correction to a web address. I thought the issues were more complex and thought I would return to it", the 9th May was one heck of a day, I suppose, mainly looking for excuses why twelve emails had become lost, mislaid or ignored.

'Speed' it sounds like the Editor should be named "Usain Bolt" and 'Transparency' sounds a bit like "Collusion" to me.
Oh, yes, Usain Bolt - Daegu - World Championship - one false start - disqualification - rules complied with. Not that I agree with the 'disqualification rule' but two 'thumbs-up' to the Referees.

Just imagine if the Referees had 'distorted' the rules on the day to 'appease' the Sponsors', the TV companies and the Spectators who pay large amounts to see Usain compete in the final(s) I'm sure the Guardian would be the first to 'Shout' foul play. But due respect to the Referees, they applied the rules as they stood at the time, as all others should do.
Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail is already speculating on the ramifications if this happens in next year's Olympics i.e. if the rules are not changed will Sponsors reconsider, TV viewers hit the 'Off' button and will Advertisers then feel cheated, will people who have paid an exorbitant £725.00 for a Stadium seat at the Olympic final feel cheated if Usain was disqualified for one false start!

What am I 'Blabbering' on about? Well if the PCC want to legitimately make allowances for such as 'regrettable' - 'genuine human error' - 'oversight' - unfortunately not actioned - 'didn't realise' - 'issues were more complex' - 'high volume of correspondence' - 'in the process of switching email packages' - 'high volume of investigations during this period' - 'read it quickly' - giving 'promptly' a new meaning - 'distorting the facts', then the PCC must rewrite their EDITORS' CODE OF PRACTICE so Complainants know from the beginning that the 'Playing Field' is heavily tilted in favour of the PRESS COMPLAINTS COMMISSION's members of the news media. Then we can all remember "It is essential that an agreed code be honoured not only to the letter but in the full spirit".

Who is to blame for the 'erroneous' publication? Let me quote from the Rick Kordowski recent prosecutions and the finger certainly points at Elisabeth Ribbans the Guardian's Managing Editor, but why has a supposedly Independent Self Regulating Commission covered her arse!

.
Mr Justice Lloyd Jones said "Kordowski was responsible for all postings on Solicitors from Hell, even if he was not the author"

Mr Vassall-Adams QC said "...that Mr Kordowski appeared to be willing to publish very serious defamatory allegations without any prior check to establish their truth or accuracy".

Mr Justice Tugendhat stated: "... you are a publisher and anyway you didn't take reasonable care in relation to the publication".

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