Wednesday, 17 June 2009

When is a factual claim not a factual claim?

A correspondent has been in touch regarding an earlier complaint to the PCC regarding the Mail's coverage of same sex adoption. They had complained about the following passage from a column by Melanie Philips in late January:

"Such people routinely claim that research shows there are no adverse outcomes for children from same-sex adoption. These claims are totally untrue. The fact is that there are virtually no studies of children adopted by gay couples – or raised by male same-sex couples. In general, studies of same-sex child rearing are in turn extremely thin on the ground and methodologically too unsound to be authoritative." (To place children with two gay men when an adoptive mother and father are available, just to uphold a brutal dogma, is a sickening assault on family life, Daily Mail, 28th January)

The grounds for the complaint were essentially the same as for ours regarding Amanda Platell - that there are factual inaccuracies that need to be corrected.

The PPC's adjudication (not yet available online, sadly) was interesting:

"While the column had been phrased in stark terms - the journalist had made one claim which 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. Complaints about the accuracy of the columnist's claims had t be viewed in this context."

The adjudication goes on to say that the passage makes readers aware that contrary research exists (the claims which are "totally untrue") and makes claims regarding the methodological soundness of research which are obviously subjective and which would not be assumed by readers to be universally accepted. The PCC did feel that

"the bald statement that it was a 'fact' that there were 'virtually no' studies of children adopted by gay couples was questionable"

however, the newspaper offered to publish letters worded by the PCC or themselves (but not the complainant) highlighting this, and the PCC felt this was sufficient as a resolution. The Commission cited the fact that the Mail was able to point to "some evidence in support of its position", specifically the paper by Morgan, as the reason why a printed clarification would not be appropriate in this case.

This adjudication is an interesting one and I look forward to being able to link to it online. It doesn't bode well for our complaints - for one the Commission appears to be treating all claims in opinion pieces as opinions, 'the fact is' seemingly going from being a paradigmatic factual claim to being a merely subjective one purely by virtue of the page it appears on. The Commission also appears to be viewing the ability to cite anything as a sufficient reason for accepting the robustness of a claim and marking the distinction between needing to publish a clarification and being able to bury a correction on the letters page.

In light of this, while I'm still hopeful that the Commission will see assertions of 'repeated academic studies' and 'an increasing weight of academic evidence' as inaccurate and misleading, I'm no longer confident. Hopefully we will have some news from them soon.

1 comment:

  1. I've tried a number of times over the years to lodge complaints with the PCC over various stories where the Male asserts 'fact' over issues such as gay and lesbian adoption, same-sex marriage, their obsession with trans people and 'sex change', and every time I come away thinking that the PCC is not only utterly ineffective, but then I learn't that Dacre of all people is on the committee of the PCC ( - so much for independent complaints commission!