The decision by Katie Hopkins to tweet an apology at 2am to a British Muslim family for suggesting that they were al-Qaeda extremists was aimed at ensuring (to quote Stella Creasy MP) it be "tucked away". However the attempt to bury the bad news of her vicious brand of journalism coming unstuck has been picked up elsewhere.
Ms Hopkins once tweeted that she was, "the only straight-talker never to apologise". It is remarkable, however, that she appears thereby to be claiming either infallibility or – despite the titles that she has written for (The Sun and The Mail) – adherence to the Ipso code, which requires errors to corrected with apologies where appropriate – she treats even this inadequate degree of regulation with contempt.
This comes at a time when Barack Obama has expressed his concern about the prevalence of "fake news" during the course of the recent US presidential election. He was referring to what was once called propaganda being packaged up and sent out via social media. However, in the UK we have a greater problem; which is the prevalence of "fake news" in Fleet Street titles – on such key political issues such as the Brexit referendum.
The warning signs with regards to Katie Hopkins emerged some years ago when – during the course of a TV interview – she launched an attack on those who choose names for their children of which she does not approve, saying; "I don't like geographic names, like Brooklyn or London!". When it was pointed out to her that she had a child called India she justified herself by saying; "that's because it's not related to a location...". So we learned that she has neither a filter for hypocrisy, and nor for accuracy prior to statements emerging from her mouth or her laptop.
It is the daubings of journalists such as Katie Hopkins which comprise the most dangerous "fake news" because they masquerade as true journalism. They also purport to come from a title which is properly regulated; which should mean that a filter is applied to material which appears on websites such as those published by The Sun and The Mail, but when in fact little filter is applied. There seems to have been no basis, whatsoever, for the claims made by Ms Hopkins about the Mahmood family, and it also must have been clear to both her and The Mail for the best part of a year ago that there was no basis for the allegation. The Mail purports to comply with the Ipso obligation to correct inaccuracies "promptly". That means that the correction should have been published some 10 months ago.
Still the most dangerous form of fake news is material which is published on the front page of newspapers. The tweeting of Ms Hopkins' apology at 2am is mirrored by the refusal by newspapers ever to correct front page stories on their front pages – and Ipso's endorsement of that policy. Fake news printed there is particularly pernicious because millions of people read it who will never read the apology and correction unless it is also published on the front page. Apologies hidden inside the paper or tweeted in the early hours of the morning are also "fake".
The "Queen backs Brexit" headline, for which there was no justification, was read by millions, and just as in the US election fake news may be responsible for skewing the outcome, so may this headline be part responsible for the fact that we are now leaving the EU – which headline coincided with The Sun spending nearly a six figure sum on posters advocating Brexit.
Rupert Murdoch's open letter to the Guardian seeking to correct a quotation which he claims was misattributed to him ("When I go into Downing Street, they do what I say; when I go to Brussels, they take no notice.") could scarcely be richer in irony given the refusal of his titles to correct their own errors or submit to a form of regulation that would oblige them to. While papers such as his regulate themselves, journalists like Katie Hopkins are free to wreak havoc with the lives of individuals, and mislead the public at will with "fake news".
Jonathan Coad is a specialist media lawyer and partner at Lewis Silkin LLP. He acts for both claimants and defendants.