The Guardian has amended an article which alleged The Sun had run a ‘public countdown’to the day when singer Charlotte Church reached the age of sexual consent.
It is the fourth time since July that The Guardian has been prompted to publish a retraction, amendment or apology after stating as fact damaging allegations about the conduct of journalists at The Sun or the News of the World which have later turned out to be untrue.
The opinion piece by columnist Laurie Penny originally began:
Charlotte Church was 15 years old when Britain’s best-read daily newspaper began a public countdown to the day on which she could be legally fucked.
The singer, now 25, told the Levenson [sic] inquiry into press ethics and standards that the feature made her “feel horrible”, and described over a decade of bullying by the Murdoch media group and others.
Penny was alluding to claims made by the singer when she gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in November.
The Heresy Corner blog said:
I suppose it’s easy to think badly of the tabloid press, given some of the revelations. Almost any claim, in the present atmosphere, seems plausible. But it’s possible to exaggerate their villainy.
And there is no evidence whatever that The Sun (or for that matter any other tabloid newspaper) ran a “countdown clock” around the time of Charlotte Church’s 16th birthday. There’s no evidence because (almost certainly) it didn’t happen.
There was such a clock, but it was not (so far as anyone can tell) associated with any newspaper or media organisation. “Charlotte Church Countdown” was an anonymous website.
The site also reports that the site was closed down on 2 January 2002 after Church’s management took legal action.
The first paragraph of Penny’s article has now been removed, and the following paragraph added to the end of the story.
This article was amended on January 1 2012 to remove reference to News International publishing a ‘countdown clock’ to Charlotte Church’s age of consent, an allegation that NI denies.
The amendment comes just over a week after The Guardian published an editorial in which it admitted that claims journalists deleted voice messages that gave Milly Dowler’s parents false hope their daughter might still be alive should have been qualified with the words: ‘reliable sources claim that”.
On 23 November The Guardian apologised to News International after claiming on its front page that a reporter from The Sun was sent to doorstep a barrister involved in the Leveson Inquiry.
In July it apologised to The Sun after claiming, again on its front page, that journalists for the paper had accessed the medical records of the infant son of former prime minister Gordon Brown.
Last month The Sun’s managing editor Richard Caseby accused the broadsheet of ‘sexing up’its coverage of the hacking scandal and of pursuing an anti-tabloid agenda.