The Press Complaints Commission (PCC), Ofcom and the BBC Trust are the watchdogs and/or regulators of their respective media sectors in the UK. All three accept complaints from dissatisfied media consumers or participants and, in the interests of transparency, publish such adjudications openly on the internet. Their websites thus serve as repositories of information on breaches of good journalistic practice and quality of reporting.

However, despite this transparency, few are prepared to trawl such vast repositories to extract the overarching themes. We present an investigation looking at all the adjudicated complaints dealt with by the media watchdogs during the last 5 years (up to mid-2011) for science and health-related content. Analysis of the number and nature of complaints as well the identities of frequent complaints and relevant media outlets will give an overview of the quality of science journalism from the point of view of the consumer and an indication of whether the watchdogs, who recently have come under scrutiny, are effective in their work.

Initial analysis so far of the 250 science or health-related complaints adjudicated or resolved by the PCC suggests this last question to be particularly important. Few complaints were received on matters (Climate Gate, MMR-autism) where the quality of scientific journalism could be called into question and there is some indication that lobbying groups are more likely to complain to the PCC than members of the public without vested interests. The work of specialist publications and indeed specialist science journalists is rarely subject to complaints, indicating perhaps both a higher quality of journalism from such sources and their reluctance to engage in the more intrusive “dirty work” of investigative journalism that is frequently the subject of complaints in other fields.

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Five years of science journalism complaints sent to uk media watchdogs
An indication of quality?

Connie Louis   City University London

James Brookes   City University London

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC), Ofcom and the BBC Trust are the watchdogs and/or regulators of their respective media sectors in the UK. All three accept complaints from dissatisfied media consumers or participants and, in the interests of transparency, publish such adjudications openly on the internet. Their websites thus serve as repositories of information on breaches of good journalistic practice and quality of reporting.

However, despite this transparency, few are prepared to trawl such vast repositories to extract the overarching themes. We present an investigation looking at all the adjudicated complaints dealt with by the media watchdogs during the last 5 years (up to mid-2011) for science and health-related content. Analysis of the number and nature of complaints as well the identities of frequent complaints and relevant media outlets will give an overview of the quality of science journalism from the point of view of the consumer and an indication of whether the watchdogs, who recently have come under scrutiny, are effective in their work.

Initial analysis so far of the 250 science or health-related complaints adjudicated or resolved by the PCC suggests this last question to be particularly important. Few complaints were received on matters (Climate Gate, MMR-autism) where the quality of scientific journalism could be called into question and there is some indication that lobbying groups are more likely to complain to the PCC than members of the public without vested interests. The work of specialist publications and indeed specialist science journalists is rarely subject to complaints, indicating perhaps both a higher quality of journalism from such sources and their reluctance to engage in the more intrusive “dirty work” of investigative journalism that is frequently the subject of complaints in other fields.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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