High standards are needed, everywhere

The other week we had to complete our annual report for the new Press watchdog, Ipso.

Thanks to the criminal acts of a small number of “journalists” working for a handful of prurient titles in London, we now have to have a “responsible officer”, run an Ipso panel on the same page every week and compile an annual report, showing we take complaints seriously.

It didn’t actually make much difference in a practical sense: we do take complaints seriously, we readily apologise, we place corrections to prominent stories in a prominent place and we run a periodic column explaining why the mistakes occur and apologise again — probably unique in UK newspapers.

Everyone makes mistakes at work and we’re no different. It’s just that we print ours and everyone reads them, often to the annoyance of whomsoever the mistake is about.

The extra work compiling the report is a little annoying. What’s more annoying is when national newspapers breach the code of conduct to which we all abide, and nothing happens — and it’s more annoying still when that editor is chairman of the very committee that sets the code.

The story of course is PM David Cameron and the tale of the pig’s head. The general consensus is that it is untrue. The club had a ceremony involving a pig’s head, Mr Cameron was in the club, so by an illogical deduction, he must have performed the ceremony.

Even if it’s true, there’s no evidence for it. If we ran a story about a local politician that was possibly made up and certainly unprovable, we’d be justifiably hauled before Ipso and made to apologise.

“All members of the Press have a duty to maintain the highest professional standards”, says the Ipso code, article one of which says: “The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information,” for which there is public interest defence.

Unless you’re Paul Dacre of the Daily Mail of course, chairman of the Editors Code of Practice Committee, in which case it’s ok when, as the latest Private Eye puts it: “An anonymous source swears blind he’s seen a photo of the prime minister (and) a pig”.

Not only does Private Eye not believe the PM pointed his plonker at a posthumous porker, but the American political podcast we listen to declared the story untrue.

Still, it’s not the only untrue story that will pass into national mythology: David Mellor never got frisky in a football shirt and Freddie Starr never ate a hamster.

***

Sticking with standards, we recently commented on the fact that at least one councillor on Congleton Town Council had not correctly completed his declaration of interest, an issue raised by Congleton resident Graham Goodwin and, as far as we know, still unresolved.

In the light of that, hats off to Coun J Smith, a member of Hulme Walfield and Somerford Booths Parish Council.

According to its latest minutes, which should be in this week’s Congleton edition, he declared an interest in the neighbourhood plan discussion because he was previously employed by Wardle Armstrong, one of the companies making a tender to implement the plan. That’s previously employed, not even currently employed.
That’s what we call transparency. Other councils take note.

***

Hats off, too, to Ruth Benson, of Congleton, who has written in this week to apologise over her role in the Vale allotments story.

For those who don’t know –— and we’d better tread carefully here, as it’s been contentious — the land used by the allotments was bought by local businessman Rob Minshull, who planned to turn it into houses. An outcry ensued and various points were made, some of which upset other people.

The honourable Mr Minshull has now agreed to sell the land to Congleton Green Space Trust, to be used as allotments in perpetuity for the benefit of the people of Congleton. Mrs Benson has written to the Chron to apologise for her role in the misunderstanding, which was to appear to represent Congleton and District Horticultural Society when she did not.

It takes courage to apologise in public, and of course people generally think better of you because of it.

Local politicians should take note: thus far we have had little in the way of apology from Cheshire East Council and nothing in the way of explanation for the catastrophic failure of the local plan, which is causing so much harm to the local countryside. We’ve not even had the names of those involved in the Lyme Green disaster, again Cheshire East. We had a grudging apology from Congleton Town Council when it wasted £20,000 of tax payers’ money on a non-existent display unit by failing to follow its own rules, though it appeared more annoyed that the investigation actually happened than apologetic at losing the money.

Councillors would do well to look to members of the public when it comes to transparency in public life, it would appear.

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