Sometimes it’s surprising what triggers adverse comment from readers. Amid all the tragedies, follies and drama on our news pages, it can be the stuff from way out left field that gets up people’s noses.
A bit of background. The news these days has been fairly grim, with months of relentless economic onslaught and the frozen start to winter.
For the past few weeks, the Belfast Telegraph has attempted to lighten the mood, not least with a series of articles highlighting the ‘50 most eligible’ males and females in Northern Ireland.
A bit of light relief from the gloom? Er, no. Not, at least, according to some readers. Comments included “bizarre, pathetic, provincial” ... “all that's missing is a backdrop of Craggy Island” and “very, very sad”.
One stormed: “Note to author of this article: Please check your calendar. Make sure it says 2010 at the top and not 1950.”
One writer, commenting on the 25 Most Eligible Females, fumed: “OMG I can't believe this item has been given space to be published. I guess they are all trying to help us forget the cuts that are looming. Not doing a very good job of it with this article. I'd prefer for us to be celebrating the achievements of women, not those who are most eligible single females in Northern Ireland.”
In fact, the Belfast Telegraph does celebrate the achievements of women in Northern Ireland every year, with its acclaimed Women of the Year awards.
Telegraph editor Mike Gilson is quick to rise to the defence of the 50 Most Eligible series, however. “There's a lot of gloom out there,” he says. “This was simply about fun and not to be taken seriously.”
Actually, he points out, the articles became a huge talking point and featured on several radio station call-in shows. The critics, Mike insists, should “lighten up”.
On a more serious note, the Press Complaints Commission has moved to tighten up the amount of prominence given to corrections in newspapers. In future, in cases involving the PCC, prominence will have to be agreed with the commission in advance.
This is to stop the small number of occasions where some newspapers have ‘buried’ unfavourable corrections or adjudications.
PCC research revealed that 85% of commission-negotiated corrections and apologies appear no further back than the original transgression or in a designated corrections column.
However, in a bid to further strengthen the system of self-regulation, all will now have to be agreed under a new clause in the Editors’ Code of Conduct.