Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Media Watchdog

The BBC’s weekly Watchdog tv programme has been a well known consumer champion for many years and, while I don’t watch it regularly, I would suppose it to be reasonably fair and balanced in its exposure of suppliers of goods and services which fail to meet expectations, as well as the occasional complete chancer.

I was interested therefore when, at the end of last night’s programme, a long judgement from Ofcom was read out. Ofcom is the independent UK agency which investigates complaints against the media.

Ofcom had upheld a complaint by Erich Reich of Classic Tours about an item concerning his company which Watchdog had featured - broadcast on 7th December 2004.

It seems to have taken 15 months for Mr Reich to get some form of public retraction. How many viewers would have bothered to stay tuned as the text of the finding scrolled up the screen, accompanied by a low-key voiceover? How would this compare with the number of viewers in December 2004 who made a mental note never to use his company?

I went to the trouble of looking him up on the internet and, thankfully, his company seems to be still in existence. He’s lucky, because Watchdog would undoubtedly have damaged both his reputation and his business.

This is typical of the approach of media - a major “exposé” turns out to be incorrect and results in a small apology printed on an inside page, weeks or even months later. In the meantime, the damage to someone’s reputation has been done.

It seems to me that a fairer approach, where substantial damages have not been paid, would be to make available to the aggrieved party the same amount and prominence of media space as was allotted to the original article or programme. This space to be used as the recipient sees fit, as long as it avoids libel etc.. So it might be used to rebut the original story, or to promote the recipients business or any other cause or topic s/he chooses.

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