Sunday 15 February 2009

The Sun defends its Baby P reporting

On 29th January a blogger on the Community Care site sent this open letter to the editor of The Sun, Rebekah Wade. Excerpted below:

You said that the campaign was a fight for justice and that it sought to expose the lack of accountability and responsibility for his death. You went on to emphasise the importance of expressing public opinion.

This being the case, you will no doubt be interested to hear about some important omissions and biases in The Sun's reporting of this case.

The most important omission, given your crusade for accountability and responsibility, is The Sun's failure to mention the involvement of the General Social Care Council - social care's equivalent of the General Medical Council.

The GSCC regulates the social care workforce in England. It has a duty to investigate concerns about social workers and can remove or suspend them from the register or place an admonishment on their registration. The GSCC has barred 28 social workers from practising in England since its conduct system was launched in 2006. Six social workers have been struck off in Scotland and seven in Wales.

The practitioners involved in the Baby P case are subject to the same scrutiny: the GSCC is currently investigating several of them. Your coverage has on numerous occasions referred to the General Medical Council but unfortunately made no mention of the General Social Care Council, giving the impression that there was no system for regulating the social care workforce.

Instead of telling your readers about the fair, balanced and evidence-based system in place to judge the social care practitioners involved, your coverage implied that The Sun's campaign was filling a void by demanding justice and accountability.

Meanwhile, you treated the other professions involved in the Baby P case quite differently. You almost entirely overlooked the police officers who twice arrested Baby P's mother on suspicion of child cruelty and released her without charge. You were content for the GMC to pass judgement on the medical professionals.

Your efforts were focused squarely on social workers to the exclusion of others: your petition asserts that "Baby P was allowed to die despite 60 visits from Haringey social services", when in fact he was seen 60 times by health and social work professionals.

Informed public opinion is undoubtedly important. Unfortunately, your coverage misinformed your readers. And in considering their views ahead of the facts and the informed opinions of the social workers who struggle with the realities at the frontline everyday, you have risked more children's safety and maybe their lives.

In 27 consecutive editions following the conclusion of the trial of Baby P's killers, you singled out Maria Ward, the social worker allocated to Baby P's case, over and above the other professionals involved. She was named 55 times, in 31 articles, editorials, opinion columns and readers' letters. Your editorials labelled her "lazy" and "useless", while one story speculated on her mental health.

This pursuit was unnecessary - Ward will be investigated in the usual way - and it marred the whole profession. It alienated talented social workers nationwide. Since your campaign, evidence has already begun to emerge from our readers and elsewhere that some social workers have decided to stop practising and vacancy rates in London are approaching crisis levels. It is also likely to discourage bright students from entering the profession, undermining efforts to recruit much-needed social workers into children's services.

Social work is one of the most high-pressure jobs and when there are not enough staff, team members are left to struggle with unreasonable workloads, leaving less time for each case. Ultimately, it is the children who will suffer.

I could summarise the reply very neatly with the use of this image* but we're a bit more grown up than that here at Tabloid Lies, so here is the Suns' full reply from Graham Dudman, the Suns' Managing Editor:

Dear Daniel,

Thank you for your letter to Rebekah Wade which has been passed to my office.

I am sorry you believe The Sun’s campaign for justice for Baby P is irresponsible and biased .

You are, of course, entitled to that view. Although The Sun plus the 1,500,000 people who signed our petition disagree with you.

We are proud to have campaigned successfully to have those responsible held accountable, especially as they continue to refuse to apologise.

I agree social work is a difficult job at the best of times but make no apologies for the way we highlighted the appalling catalogue of mistakes that led to Baby P’s death.

Yours sincerely

Graham Dudman

Managing Editor

The Sun

No explanation as to why the reporting wasn't biased, or indeed irresponsible, when the other services involved were barely criticised and of course, subtley calling for a lynch mob is the height of responsibility.

The use of the 1.5 million people and the patronising affirmation of the letter writers', Daniel Lombard, entitlement to a different view means that it is not a valid view as oh so many people disagree with him and they're all so much better qualified to judge the case and decide whether the appropriate regulating bodies are going to adequately punish those responsible.

As for the apology. Why should the social workers make an apology to anyone other than, in my view, their bosses and Baby Ps' remaining family. Why should they have to make a public apology? Why should they apologise to the Sun? The social workers involved may very well have apologised already.

And finally the Sun makes no apology for the way it reported something.

No change there then.

*image from here
h/t Jon Slattery


Five Chinese Crackers said...

I particularly like the way the 1.5 million people who signed the petition are thrown in as if they decided all by themselves to disagree with the letter they've never even seen.

It's so brazen. The exchange goes:

Community Care: We think you were unfair to social workers and misled your readers.

The Sun: Yeah all the people we misled don't think we were unfair.

If anything, the fact that 1.5m people signed the Sun's petition should be used as evidence against the paper.

Daniel Hoffmann-Gill said...

Oh dear.

I do worry that such an influencal news source is so unaccountable.

Anonymous said...

You can read about the latest in the Sun's misinformed coverage of the Baby P case here