If you haven't already been following it, I recommend you head over to Don't Get Mad, Get Accurate and read the story from start to finish. But for those of you who are up to speed, the decision has finally been revealed - it's perfectly OK for Melanie Phillips to present a complete load of tosh as the truth.
Now I don't mind that. I don't mind that she can say that things which aren't the truth are the truth. But what I do mind is the veneer of accountability the PCC gives to the press, implying that somehow if they get something wrong then you can do something about it. You can't. They're allowed to talk tosh and they know it. At the very most, if you don't have the finances to get on the blower to Schillings or Carter-Ruck, the maximum redress you will get is a letter in the paper - or they might print a clarification the size of an atom. Well whoop de doo.
Melanie Phillips is allowed to say "the fact is" and the PCC considers that it's fairly obvious she's not talking about facts. It also considers that when she says something is 'totally untrue' that she says that something is true:
I've started to reconsider my position on the feasibility of the PCC as a forum for resistance to the inaccuracies of the Mail and print media in general. The moment came when the adjudication reached 'The column had made it clear that there was research which concluded that gay adoption did not affect children negatively'. What the column had said was, in fact, 'Such people routinely claim that research shows there are no adverse outcomes for children from same-sex adoption. These claims are totally untrue.' The PCC took a statement denying the existence of evidence to be 'making it clear' that evidence existed. Reading that rather tortuous re-imagining of the text, it strikes me that the PCC is not so much a body to hold the Press to account as one to justify their actions within the Code. It becomes a way of legitimising press coverage, rather than scrutinising it.
The PCC is a complete cargo cult construction. Sure, it looks like the kind of self-regulatory body that might be able to do something on behalf of punters who are pissed off by something. But it isn't. It really isn't. Now in the case of the Phillips article it's just something that is generally inaccurate and wrong, and which won't be clarified, but which doesn't upset or injure someone else's feelings personally. It upsets people in general because they know she's talking drivel, but it doesn't upset them personally.
But then there are other stories, where the PCC claims to be working on behalf of the general public who can't afford big-shot lawyers, allowing them a form of redress. What then? Can we expect the same form of consideration? And the same form of dismissal of any valid complaint on the grounds that saying something is a 'fact' means it's an opinion and saying something is 'untrue' means you acknowledge it to be true?