Corrections and clarifications

By Grant Jacobs 19/08/2011

Should all media have a Corrections and Clarifications page on their websites?

My previous article followed Peter Griffin’s lead on a kerfuffle over a local Broadcasting Standard Authority (BSA) ruling on an error in a television news popular science item.

Should the BSA to ask/encourage broadcasters to have corrigenda pages on their websites–less formally, ‘we goofed’ pages–that they would be encouraged to self-report errors on? (Linked from their top home page, lest the page be ‘buried’.)

Some (if not most) newspapers have a Corrections & Clarifications column* for a similar purpose. We could debate what fraction of errors are in fact self-corrected! – but it’s the principle of the thing and a mechanism for reporting errors that I’m after here. If newspapers can do this, why not television companies?I can imagine a web page that allows people to file errors, with a corresponding list of errors accepted and a brief note as to their cause.

The precise source and nature of the error matters, something I don’t recall the BSA ruling asking or touching on. For example, if the error was with the newsreader missing a word from the prompt we could all sympathetise. (It’d still be an error, however.) By contrast, if the error was in the journalism, that would be a deeper problem.

The solution would have to be sensible, there’s no sense or value in creating an unreasonable amount of work. What would be needed is a relatively lightweight solution that can cope with reporting modest errors, not just the (hopefully!) rarer major bloopers. The BSA might hope this defers smaller complaints from escalating to their panel.

A problem raised in my earlier article was accepting that factual errors in science reporting, or more generally news reporting, will more-or-less invariably matter. It wouldn’t be much of an advance if they self-reported the errors, only to still consider that the errors ‘immaterial’ (as was the case in the ruling discussed).

At least in self-reporting them they are owing up to it to more than just the original complainant, and the public has some way of gauging how frequently they err and their response to these mistakes.

When I wrote about links in on-line newspaper articles, a point I touched on was to build the readers’ trust in the material offer by the publisher by showing the sources to be reliable. In a similar way, reader or viewer confidence can be gained by showing the errors are promptly acknowledged and put right.


* Or an irregular equivalent. A prominent example is at The Guardian. Some of the corrections can be reasonably described as pedantic, too, e.g. –

• Camper killed by fumes was corrected because the original referred to Ysbyty Gwynedd hospital. This is tautologous, “Ysbyty” means hospital in Welsh.


• Surgery can’t fix Ed Miliband’s voice was corrected because it referred to its subject as having a sort of “‘hypernasality’ — a constantly bunged-up timbre’. That should have been described as hyponasality.

I have to admit I like the gently tongue-in-cheek humour of a few of the corrections. It’s a classy act to pull off, one that reflects well on them.

A little coding should allow any pages presenting on-line videos of items to pull any corrections onto a section of the page hosting the video.

Other articles on Code for life:

Writing a popular science book; links and writers’ warnings

Autism genetics, how do you copy?

Finding platypus venom

Coiling bacterial DNA

Haemophilia – towards a cure using genetic engineering