Just under two weeks after doubts first emerged about The Guardian’s reporting of the Milly Dowler false hope claim – the paper has admitted that it should have reported the story differently.
Its mistake was to report unproven allegations as fact – and to repeat that mistake many times.
“That the Leveson inquiry has not been more full of surprises hitherto is down to the fact that there was such thorough and accurate reporting of the story in advance and from numerous civil court actions. Doubt has lately been raised about one key aspect of one story – whether News of the World journalists deleted the voice messages that gave Milly Dowler’s parents false hope that their daughter might still be alive. We should have qualified our original reporting with an additional four words: “Reliable sources claim that.” This would have been an accurate statement of the unchallenged position at the time, as opposed to the assertion of a fact that has, five months later, been questioned, if not actually disproved or denied. We doubt whether the inclusion of those words would have changed much. But not to have qualified the statement in this way was an error that we regret.”
While this was an error of journalistic craft, not comparable to the heinous crimes of some individuals at the News of the World, it does show that all journalists have something to learn from the period of collective self-scrutiny which has been prompted by the Leveson Inquiry into the hacking scandal.