Preaching to the Press

Is the British press unintentionally aiding efforts to implement state-backed press regulation?

Last October, IMPRESS became the first Royal Charter-backed press regulator in Britain after its application was approved by the Press Recognition Panel (PRP), the government-funded body set up in the wake of the 2012 Leveson Report to oversee press regulation.

The decision to approve IMPRESS has proven controversial with the British press, with speculation about its motives and sources of funding.

What the press thinks of IMPRESS (source)

One particularly controversial area of concern is the involvement of motor racing tycoon Max Mosley, son of notorious wartime fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley.

British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley (source)

In 2008, the younger Mosley – who currently funds IMPRESS via two charitieswon a court case against disgraced British tabloid the News of the World (now defunct) after it reported about his participation in what it termed a “sick Nazi orgy” with prostitutes.

2008-news-of-the-world-max-mosley-story

Sleazy 2008 report by News of the World (source)

Critics claim Mosley has a vendetta against the popular press, and is bankrolling IMPRESS using his father’s money to serve a personal agenda – accusations he has repeatedly denied, albeit unconvincingly.

Another primary area of concern is Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act, under which publishers who are not a member of an approved regulator could soon face “exemplary” damages – for instance having to pay their opponent’s costs in libel and privacy cases, regardless of who wins.

Critics argue Section 40 could undermine a “vibrant local press” by “blackmailing” publishers into joining, otherwise face “draconian” sanctions.

These are fair and principled criticisms, and the British press is right to be concerned that state-backed regulation presents a threat to freedom of the press. However, critics would be wise to listen to and acknowledge pro-regulation arguments – if not to reconcile their aims with those of Leveson, then to save their own neck.

Lord Justice Leveson (source)

Take for example The Sun, one of several British tabloids to come under close scrutiny during the 2011 Leveson Inquiry. A fierce opponent of state-backed press regulation, it casually dismisses pro-regulation campaigners like Hacked Off as “leftie plotters.”

the-sun-2012-leftie-plotters-headline

The Sun’s gratuitous “leftie plotters” headline (source)

Are supporters of Leveson likely to find this sort of language persuasive? Or is The Sun merely preaching to the converted?

Another recent example, by way of the Daily Telegraph, perfectly illustrates the way in which the British press is carelessly sowing the seeds of its own destruction. As reported on this blog, last month the Telegraph published a sensationalist article about Steve McNought, whose Bristol-based publishing company Arkbound was recently approved by IMPRESS.

The January 21, 2017 article, “Armed robber turned publisher wins approval from state-approved Press regulator funded by Max Mosley” by the Sunday Telegraph’s chief reporter Robert Mendick, focused on McNought’s criminal past, namely a series of armed robberies he committed in 2007-08 for which he received a 12-year prison sentence.

the-telegraph-january-21-2017-article

The Telegraph’s January 21, 2017 article (source)

The details of McNought’s US crime spree would make for a compelling episode of True Crimes, but that’s not what the Telegraph intended; as McNought told me in a comment on this blog, the article was a clear attempt to undermine Impress, using me as a tool to do so, in the most nasty and underhand way.”

In other words, the Telegraph fulfilled the worst expectations of its critics, betraying the principles of ethical journalism – if not the “full spirit” of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) code of practice to which it supposedly subscribes. To boot, McNought says he is considering legal action against the Telegraph for allegedly falsely reporting about his crimes and infringing his privacy.

The “draconian” Section 40 is presently awaiting a final signature from Culture Secretary Karen Bradley. Question: Is the British press willing to risk its hard-won freedoms for the sake of a few cheap shots at its political opponents?

Let’s hope not.

See also: “Crime and Regulation,” my January 24, 2017 item re: Steve McNought’s full response to the Telegraph’s article about his criminal past.

And: “The Case for Regulation,” my October 31, 2016 item re: Members of IMPRESS answer criticism that state-backed regulation could undermine a “vibrant local press.”

And: “UnIMPRESSed,” my October 27, 2016 item re: Two publications are no longer applying to join IMPRESS – with another on the fence.

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State-Backed Regulation: A Pressing Issue

British journalism magazine the Press Gazette publishes article based on my blog post re: Magazine publisher’s claim the Daily Telegraph falsely reported about his criminal past in order to undermine state-approved press regulator

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The Press Gazette’s January 27, 2016 article (source)

Earlier this week, I blogged about Steve McNought, co-director of Bristol-based magazine publisher Arkbound, who suggested he was taking legal action against the Daily Telegraph for allegedly falsely reporting about his criminal past.

Yesterday, long-running London-based journalism/media trade magazine the Press Gazette published an article based on my blog post.

source

Via “Magazine publisher with criminal past says Telegraph used him to ‘attack’ Impress” by Freddy Mayhew, the Press Gazette, January 27, 2017:

The co-director of a Bristol-based magazine publisher has accused the Daily Telegraph of exploiting his criminal past to “attack” and “undermine” press regulator Impress.

[Steve McNought], co-director of Arkbound, has said he is considering legal action after a story headlined: “Armed robber turned publisher wins approval from state-approved Press regulator funded by Max Mosley”, was published on the paper’s website earlier this week.

The story details how McNought, formerly known as Stephen Jackley, was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to 18 offences, including armed robbery and possession of a firearm, carried out in 2007/8 and that his publishing firm is signed up to Impress.

McNought, who was 23 when charged, told Press Gazette the article was “an attack on Impress”, adding: “The Telegraph had a political bone to pick with Impress, and I was an easy target.”

Impress became the first Royal Charter-backed press regulator in Britain last year after its application was approved by the Press Recognition Panel, which was set up following recommendations made in the Leveson report.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which regulates the majority of UK news media publishers, has so far refused to apply for recognition under the Charter.

McNought, whose firm publishes Boundless magazine, told the Shooting The Messenger blog: “The Telegraph’s coverage is a clear attempt to undermine Impress, using me as a tool to do so, in the most nasty and underhand way.”

He also claimed there were a number of factual inaccuracies in the story, but would not go into detail about what these were.

McNought was quoted in the Telegraph story, written by chief reporter Robert Mendick, as claiming the piece had infringed his privacy.

Read the full article by clicking here.

See also: “Crime and Regulation,” my January 24, 2017 item re: McNought’s response to the Telegraph’s article about his criminal past.

Crime and Regulation

IMPRESS-approved magazine publisher issues legal challenge against the Daily Telegraph after it published article about his criminal past

Last week, the Daily Telegraph published an article about Steve McNought, whose Bristol-based publishing company Arkbound was recently approved by official UK press regulator, IMPRESS.

The January 21, 2017 article, “Armed robber turned publisher wins approval from state-approved Press regulator funded by Max Mosley” by the Sunday Telegraph’s chief reporter Robert Mendick, focused on McNought’s criminal past, namely a series of armed robberies he committed in 2007-08 for which he received a 12-year prison sentence.

McNought, then known as Stephen Jackley, was released from prison in 2015 with the help of the Prince’s Trust. He changed his name by deed poll later that year.

Arkbound Director Steve McNought in 2016 (photograph by Tom Jackson)

In October last year, I corresponded with McNought for an item I wrote about press regulation, of which he offered a strong defence.

Today, I asked him to comment on the Telegraph’s article. Here is his response.

“The Telegraph’s coverage is a clear attempt to undermine Impress, using me as a tool to do so, in the most nasty and underhand way. Aside from the factual inaccuracies, the article completely disregards my recent work – which includes getting personal commendations from Prince Charles, winning a series of awards, and being part of several respectable initiatives. The article implies that anyone with a criminal background cannot be a journalist, yet throughout history some of the greatest journalists have come from disadvantaged backgrounds that sometimes involved criminal conduct during their youth. Given that the Telegraph itself is run by people with not exactly ‘whiter than white’ backgrounds (any simple investigation will reveal the full details), and that it has been subject to numerous libel proceedings, with a proven political bias, their stance is deeply hypocritical. It is an ethos that implies no-one deserves second chances, and should never be allowed to move forward, no matter what positive steps they make.

“I have been informed that several people and organisations have written to The Telegraph in criticism of this article, though I doubt any remedial or corrective action will be taken. The libelous aspects of this article are currently subject to legal challenge.”

See also: “The Case for Regulation,” my October 31, 2016 item re: Members of official UK press regulator IMPRESS answer criticism that state-backed regulation could undermine a “vibrant local press.”

Unblurred Lines II

The Daily Telegraph publishes Page 2 clarification based on my corrections request re: Crown Prosecution Service’s skewed statistics on rape

Last month, I blogged about how the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) exaggerated the 2015-16 rape conviction rate.

Via a press release, the CPS claimed that it was “convicting more cases of rape…than ever before,” with “a rise in the rape conviction rate [from 56.9] to 57.9 per cent.”

Those figures were widely reported in the U.K. press, including The Daily Telegraph.

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The Daily Telegraph’s September 6 article

However, a close look at the CPS’ 2015-16 Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) crime report reveals that the rape conviction rate “includes cases initially flagged as rape [but] where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence” and “where a rape charge is subsequently amended.”

Last month, I made a corrections request to The Telegraph regarding “Sexual offences convictions in England and Wales hit record levels in the past year,” the paper’s September 6, 2016 article which stated that in 2015-16 the “conviction rate for rape cases rose to 57.9 per cent of the 4,643 cases brought.”

Last week, I received notification from the Telegraph’s Head of Editorial Compliance Jess McAree informing me that the article had been updated.

Dear Mr Jones

Sexual offences convictions in England and Wales hit record levels in the past year, 6 Sept 2016

Thank you for contacting us about this article.

The statistics cited in the article come from the CPS report you identify and were relayed to our journalist via a CPS press release; as an official authoritative source, it was one on which she was entitled to rely, and the information was published in good faith.

Regarding the disparity between CPS and MoJ figures that you highlight, the VAWG report makes clear that whereas the CPS rape figures are compiled over the financial year, the MoJ collects its figures for the calendar year. Moreover the latter represent cases charged and convicted for rape only; as you say, CPS figures include not only cases resulting in conviction for rape, but also those “initially flagged as rape where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence.”

This is clarified by the VAWG report on p49:

“From CPS data 2015-16, 4,518 (98.6%) of cases initially flagged as rape were finally prosecuted for the principal offence categories of ‘sexual offences, including rape’ or more serious principal offences of ‘homicides’ or ‘offences against the person’. Of these, 3,972 were for sexual offences including rape; three for homicide and 543 for offences against the person’. Only 1.4% were for offences less than ‘sexual offences, including rape’ ”.

Where most rape cases under the CPS definition were indeed finally prosecuted as ‘sexual offences, including rape’, it does not appear that the CPS conviction statistics cited in our article are likely to be significantly misleading. Neither are they clearly irreconcilable with MoJ figures, as you suggest. Following your complaint, we asked the CPS how many convictions in the category ‘sexual offences, including rape’  were ‘pure’  rape convictions. They told us that this information is not available.

We are content to clarify this, and we will publish the following in our Corrections and Clarifications spot in a forthcoming issue of the Daily Telegraph. A version appropriate for context has already been added to the foot of the online article:

Rape conviction rate
An article on Sep 6 reported on CPS figures showing that the conviction rate for rape rose in the year 2015-16 to 57.9 per cent of prosecutions brought. We wish to clarify that though these cases were initially flagged as rape, CPS data show that the majority were eventually prosecuted in the principal offence category of ‘sexual offences including rape’. A breakdown of outcomes in this category is not available.

I trust that this is satisfactory.

Yours sincerely

Jess McAree | Head of Editorial Compliance
telegraphmediagroup | 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London SW1W 0DT

Today, the following clarification was published in “Corrections and Clarifications,” Page 2 of the print edition of the Telegraph.

corrections-and-clarifications


Note: I included MoJ figures in my request to highlight a disparity in the rape conviction rate. I didn’t suggest that MoJ figures are “clearly irreconcilable” with CPS figures, merely that it is reasonable to assume that the 2015-16 conviction rate is lower than the CPS claims.

In his reply, McAree cites p49 of the VAWG report, which states that “98.6% of cases initially flagged as rape were finally prosecuted for the principal offence categories of ‘sexual offences, including rape’ or more serious principal offences of ‘homicides’ or ‘offences against the person.’”

However, McAree also states that the CPS was unable to provide The Telegraph with a breakdown of outcomes in the category “sexual offences, including rape.”

Why not? That may prove to be a question worth asking. Stay tuned.

See also: “Unblurred Lines,” my September 23, 2016 item about my corrections request to the Independent newspaper.

Blurred Lines

UK prosecution service fudges the statistics on rape

Earlier this month, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) released its annual Violence Against Women and Girls crime report.¹ Via a press release, the CPS claimed that it was “convicting more cases of rape…than ever before,” with “a rise in the rape conviction rate [from 56.9] to 57.9 per cent.”

Despite the CPS’ own admission that it “does not collect data which constitutes official statistics as defined in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007,” figures from the press release were reported in several mainstream newspapers, including the Guardian and the Telegraph.

the-guardian-violence-against-women-and-girls-crime-report

However, a close look at the report itself reveals that the rape conviction rate includes “cases initially flagged as rape [but] where a conviction was obtained for an alternative or lesser offence” and where a rape charge is subsequently amended.”

For example, the report states that there was a total of 2,689 rape convictions for the financial year 2015-16, yet according to statistics from the Ministry of Justice (MOJ),² there was only 1,297 rape convictions for the calendar year 2015 – a disparity of 1,392.

My questions:

• How many cases initially flagged as rape were later charged or convicted with a lesser crime? How many where the conviction was amended altogether?

• How many convictions were obtained in the period prior to the start of the financial year 2015-16? How many after the calendar year 2015?

Those are questions for a statistician better qualified than a C-grade maths student such as myself. In the meantime, I’ll ask the CPS about its methods of recording statistics and blog the results.

Stay tuned.

¹The report is also “inclusive of data on men and boys.”
²MOJ data “only includes cases where the final conviction was for rape.”