IPSO Blog: Third party complaints made under Clause 1 (Accuracy)

Complaints Officer Katrina Bell explains more about how we deal with third party complaints made under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code.

As you can imagine, IPSO receives thousands of complaints a year from people concerned that there might be a breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the set of rules which we enforce. 

The most frequent type of complaint is made under Clause 1 (Accuracy), the section of the Editors’ Code which requires publications to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and to promptly and prominently correct an inaccuracy if they do. 

Many of the people who complain under Clause 1 are what we call a “third party” to the story – this means they don’t have a direct connection to the subject of the article. 

Our regulations make clear that IPSO can take forward complaints from third parties seeking to correct a significant inaccuracy. For example, we often take forward complaints from third parties about reporting of polls or statistics or where there is a general point of fact in dispute. 

However, we are not always able to take forward every accuracy complaint from a third party. As our regulations make clear, the position of the party most closely involved should be taken into account. 

IPSO assesses every complaint individually to decide whether it would be practical and appropriate for us to investigate the matter further. Some of the things we consider are: 

  • Is there a directly affected first party or does the complaint relate to a general point of fact? 
  • Is the alleged inaccuracy potentially significant? 
  • What is the position of any directly affected party and what would the impact of any investigation be on them? 
  • Would IPSO be able to investigate the factual position without their involvement? 

For example, a person might complain to IPSO that an article inaccurately reported that a celebrity is in a new relationship, following photographs of them leaving a nightclub with a “mystery companion”. For us to investigate and make a decision on the accuracy of an article, we need to know the correct position, and the person complaining to us would need to supply this. In this case, only the celebrity, the first-affected party, (or indeed the mystery companion) knows whether they are in a new relationship – a member of the public doesn’t know this. For this reason, we would not be able to take forward a complaint from a third party in these circumstances. 

All our investigated complaints are published on our website, and if our Complaints Committee upholds a complaint, a correction or adjudication can be published in the newspaper as well. These decisions and corrections will often repeat the information set out in the article; our decision about the celebrity’s new relationship would have to report what the article claimed and the publication’s reasons for publishing it. Aside for it being inappropriate for a third party to handle sensitive or private information, it would also be inappropriate for us to investigate and publicly rule on sensitive and personal matters, without the first-affected party’s knowledge and consent. It might also be that the first-affected party is corresponding directly with the publication, or is taking legal action instead. Not everyone wants to make an IPSO complaint, and we need to respect this. 

In summary, although we do take forward accuracy complaints from third parties on matters of fact, when a complaint relates directly to a person, we have to think very carefully about whether it would be possible and appropriate to investigate and publicly rule on an article’s accuracy without the knowledge and consent of the affected person. 

If IPSO is unable to take forward a third party complaint, we would always write to a complainant to explain why, and of course, this would never stop a first-affected party from making their own complaint to us. 

You can find out more about our complaint process and how it works here. 


Originally published 16 October 2019.