Friday 9 December 2011

PCC upholds complaint against MailOnline over wrong verdict in Amanda Knox appeal case

The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint against MailOnline after it published an article which reported the wrong verdict in the Amanda Knox appeal case for 90 seconds.

It investigated the case following a number of complaints from members of the public made under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The online article reported that Knox had lost her appeal against her murder conviction, when in fact she had been successful. The article was live for 90 seconds, after which it was replaced with an article reporting the correct outcome.

The PCC said: "In addition to the main thrust of the complaint, the complainants were also concerned about additional elements of the reporting, including quotes attributed to the prosecutors apparently reacting to the guilty verdict and the description of the reaction in the courtroom to the news (stating that Ms Knox ,'sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably while her family and friends hugged each other in tears', while the family of Meredith Kercher 'remained expressionless, staring straight ahead, glancing over just once at the distraught Knox family')."

The Mail apologised for the mistake. It said that it was standard practice in such high-profile cases for two alternative stories (plus supporting quotes) to be prepared in advance, and cited the fact that other news outlets had also initially published the wrong verdict due to some confusion in the courtroom.

It had also: published an online apology and explanation to readers; published the correct verdict in print the following day; launched an immediate internal inquiry (and subsequently changed its practices regarding such ‘set and hold' stories); and disciplined the person responsible for the error.

Although the Commission said it recognised that the newspaper had acted swiftly and proportionately to correct the breach of Clause 1 that had occurred - and acknowledged that the story had only been live for a short period of time - it nonetheless remained "particularly concerned" about other aspects of the report, most particularly the account of what had apparently happened in the courtroom. The attempt to present contemporaneous reporting of events in such a manner was "clearly not acceptable".

Stephen Abell, director of the PCC, said: "This was a common-sense decision from the Commission. The article described reactions and behaviour that had not taken place, which is a clear breach of the Code. We are pleased that MailOnline has undertaken to change its processes as a result, which should stop this happening in future".

  • To read the adjudication, click here.

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