Guardian apology for error-filled Aung San Suu Kyi piece

The Guardian today published a lengthy apology and correction over an article about Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi which contained more than a dozen errors.

The original 2,800-word piece by freelances Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy appeared in G2 in November last year and was strongly critical of Suu Kyi, who is one of the most famous political prisoners in the world and has spent most of the past 20 years in prison or under house arrest.

It was originally headlined: “Not such a hero after all”. But, after a legal complaint, the headline online has been changed to “Can Aung San Suu Kyi lead while captive?”

Guardian reader’s editor Siobhain Butterworth has written a 22,000-word decision dealing with 64 allegations of inaccuracy and other issues raised by Suu Kyi’s legal representative Jared Jenser, from DLA Piper in the US.

A summary of that decision appears on The Guardian website. In addition to today’s apology, The Guardian has agreed to print a 1,000-word response to the piece from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Among the points corrected in the original piece are the statement that Suu Kyi has been “mute since 2003” when in fact she has spoken out on the need for political reform in Burma.

It also incorrectly stated that she had been “unable or unwilling to meet with the ruling Burmese junta or anyone else”.

The article wrongly quoted an anonymous source as saying that Suu Kyi had called for NGOs to quit Burma.

Butterworth also said that some of the eight anonymous quotes in the article were pejorative, so should have been approved by a duty editor, or paraphrased.

In her decision describes the article as “polemical” and says: “In usual circumstances a political figure is expected to take even harsh criticism as part of the job but this situation is exceptional.

“ASSK is under house arrest and she was extremely unlikely to be in a position to respond to the article herself either before or after publication.

“Given these circumstances the tone of the article (which was extremely hard hitting) and the headline (which was sensational) were misjudged.

“These matters should have been addressed in the editing process.”

The Guardian issued a statement today saying: “The readers’ editor is appointed by the Scott Trust and is therefore entirely independent of the newspaper. It was a long and complex complaint to resolve.

“We entirely accept the readers’ editor’s findings and will be reviewing our editorial processes to see what we might do to try to ensure such a mistake does not happen again.The Guardian is the only daily national newspaper to have an independent system to deal with complex editorial complaints.”

• Summary of the Guardian readers’ editor’s decision
• The Guardian’s apology to Aung San Suu Kyi
• The amended Guardian feature about Aung San Suu Kyi

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