Complaining to editors

“I am an old hand at this game. When a newspaper gets a complaint you can tell in 30 seconds flat whether or not it is any good. If it is going to stick it goes on a circuitous route. It is called ‘kick it about until you lose it’.” (Neil Bentley, former deputy managing editor of The Daily Mirror, in evidence to the special parliamentary hearings on Freedom and Responsibility of the Press, 1992.)

Despite such cynical attitudes, don’t be afraid to contact the editor of the offending publication or programme at once. They may not like admitting to mistakes, but they don’t like making them either. Even if you make a complaint via the media regulators it will be sent straight to the editor for comment.

Alternatively, if you find the prospect of talking direct to such a person somewhat daunting – or cannot reach the man or woman at the top – contact us and explain the problem. As professional journalists ourselves and able to “talk the language,” we may be able to gain a more sympathetic hearing and a positive result.

If you do make the complaint yourself, please remember that abusive or threatening language is likely to be counter-productive. You are going to be upset, but the chances are that this was not a deliberate act on the editor’s part. A reasonable attitude gets better results. Editors are only human.

If you have evidence to back up your complaint, tell them what it is – but remember you are under no obligation to supply personal documents or information that others have no right to see.

Be clear about what you would like to see done about the matter you are complaining about. You may wish to have a correction or apology published. If so, and the editor agrees, make sure that you confirm the wording of the correction and when and where it will appear.

If you are not satisfied with an Editor’s response – including the length of time it takes to get a reply – refer your complaint to the regulator. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) expects to hear from complainants within two months of a story being published, or of your last communication from the editor.

Ideally Ofcom and the BBC Complaints Unit expect to receive complaints about offending items as soon after the broadcast as possible. If there is a good reason for a delay in contacting them, explain it or your complaint may not be entertained.