PCC: UK Sun's Undercover Reporting at Dale Farm in the Public Interest

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The PCC rejected complaints about this UK Sun undercover report. (Credit: the Sun, screenshot)

The UK Press Complaints Commission rejected a complaint over The Sun’s 2011 undercover reporting, according to an adjudication on the PCC’s website.

For their Oct. 22 article, “The Sun Goes Undercover for Dale Farm diary,” two reporters’ spent “eight days” at Dale Farm “when a number of its residents were resisting attempts by Basildon Council to evict them.”

Dale Farm is “Britain’s biggest illegal travellers’ camp,” and in late 2011, its “400 residents” were evictedAccording to The  Telegraph’s live blog at the time, 34 activists were arrested during the eviction.  The Essex Police wrote that arrests were for “various offences including violent disorder, breach of the peace and obstruction.”

The complainant was “an activist representing Dale Farm Solidarity,” whose grievances were multifold, according to the PCC adjudication:

  • Undercover reporting was “unnecessary” because “Dale Farm had an open media policy.”
  • The undercover reporters “posed as legal observers, whose role was to collect evidence in case of injury or illegal activity by any party” but “although they had witnessed controversial incidents, they had filed no reports”
  • Because the undercover reporters stayed so long, they violated residents’ privacy.
  • The Sun’s reports had errors.

In response, The Sun defended its undercover reporting as in the public interest, and said its reporters “had simply been accepted as volunteers and told to record the actions of police and bailiffs.” Further, in response to the complaint, The Sun said its reporters had to go undercover to get “a true insight” because “there was strong hostility towards the national press,” the PCC wrote.

The commission rejected the complaint because it found “there was a strong public interest” in Dale Farm at the time,  enough so to “justify the level of subterfuge on this occasion.”

As the commission wrote:

“The Commission also had to have regard for the type of subterfuge employed, which in essence amounted to a failure to voluntarily identify themselves as members of the press and the acceptance of roles as legal observers, affording them greater access to activities within the camp.”

Further, the PCC noted that residents’ privacy wasn’t invaded because at the time, Dale Farm had “no requirement for visitors to fully identify themselves” and media were allowed at Dale Farm.

We have written to The Sun seeking comment about the PCC ruling and will update with any response.

We’ve previously written about coverage of the Dale Farm eviction.  In December, the BBC apologized for bias its report on the Dale Farm evictions.

In March, the police called for the BBC, ITN News and Sky News to turn over their unaired footage from “the first two days of the Dale Farm eviction.”   The three news outlets appealed the order, and in May, the UK High Court rejected the police order because it didn’t satisfy a three-pronged “burden” for “evidence.”  Those three requirements were: “(i) what the footage sought is likely to reveal, (ii) how important such evidence would be to carrying out the investigation and (iii) why it is necessary and proportionate to order the intrusion by reference to other potential sources of information.”


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PCC: UK Sun’s Undercover Reporting at Dale Farm in the Public Interest

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