Decision of the Complaints Committee 00120-14 Wilson v Press & Journal
Summary of complaint
1. Douglas Wilson, acting on behalf of Highland Titles Ltd, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Press & Journal had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Clan attack ‘Glencoe’ plot sales”, published on 10 September 2014 in print and online.
2. The complainant’s company, Highland Titles, sells plots of land in Scotland to help fund conservation projects. Purchasers of the plots are then, according to the company, entitled to style themselves as “Lord, Laird or Lady of Glencoe”. The article reported critical comments made by “Clan Donald Worldwide” about Highland Titles, including a suggestion that the members of Clan Donald Worldwide, a Facebook group, should not associate themselves with the company.
3. The complainant said the article had deliberately confused the Facebook group with Clan Donald itself, and had suggested that the criticisms had been made by the Clan rather than the group. He explained that Clan Donald Worldwide was not officially associated in any way with the real Clan Donald; it was a page operated by a single individual. The suggestion that the real Clan Donald had criticised his company was misleading and damaging.
4. The complainant also denied that he had told the newspaper before publication (as had been reported) that Highland Titles was a charity. It was not a charity, and he had not made such a suggestion. By reporting otherwise, the article had implied that he had unlawfully misrepresented the company. He further objected to an accompanying box, which noted guidance issued by Trading Standards on buying “souvenir plots”. This inaccurately suggested, in his view, that Highland Titles had acted improperly, or that Trading Standards were investigating the company, particularly as the article quoted his denial that the company was a “scam”. This was misleading.
5. The newspaper accepted that it was inaccurate for it to have attributed the comments to a Scottish clan, and acknowledged that it would have been more accurate to describe the clan as a “Facebook-clan group”. It removed the online article and offered to publish a correction on this point on page five or six of its print edition; a note on its letters page, which appeared daily, made clear that its corrections and apologies are published on page five or six. The correction would also be published online for 48 hours. It proposed the following wording:
On September 10, we reported incorrectly that the company Highland Titles had been criticised by “a Scottish clan”. In fact, Clan Donald Worldwide, which was quoted in the story, is a Facebook-clan group which promotes interest in Clan Donald around the world. It has no formal connection with the official Clan Donald. We are happy to clarify the matter.
6. The newspaper did not accept that the remaining issues raised a breach of the Code. While the journalist did not have a clear note of her conversation with the complainant, she clearly recalled his having referred to Highland Titles as a charity or a charitable trust. While the newspaper accepted that there might have been some misunderstanding over the precise terminology, it did not regard this as significant in the context: it was accepted that Highland Titles was wholly owned by a charitable trust. The references to Trading Standards were not misleading.
7. The complainant did not accept the proposed correction. This failed to address all the points raised in his complaint and did not include an appropriate apology. The complainant was further concerned that the newspaper’s proposal for prominence was inadequate.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
(i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
(ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
9. Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
(i) A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Findings of the Committee
10. The newspaper’s failure to distinguish comments made by a Facebook user from a communication by Clan Donald demonstrated a failure on the newspaper’s part to take care not to publish misleading information. The complaint under Clause 1 (i) was therefore upheld. The distinction was significant in this context, and the article was therefore significantly inaccurate in a manner that required correction in accordance with Clause 1 (ii).
11. The newspaper had recognised its error promptly, and had offered the complainant a letter for publication, and then a clarification, prior to IPSO’s involvement in the complaint. The wording of the correction offered was sufficient to address and correct the initial error.
12. The Committee was concerned, however, about the newspaper’s proposal to publish the correction on page five or six, when the original article had appeared on page three.
13. An established corrections column serves several important purposes: it signifies a commitment to accuracy; it provides information to readers about how to make complaints; and if it appears consistently, it contributes to the prominence of corrections by ensuring that readers know where to find them.
14. In order to ensure that it serves these purposes, an established corrections column should, absent exceptional circumstances, appear in the same place in every edition of the publication and include information about the publication’s complaints policy.
15. The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s publication of information in each edition regarding the location of corrections. However, the regular placement of corrections on page five or six as standalone items did not, in the Committee’s view, amount to an established corrections column. The advertised location of corrections varied across two pages, and the statement recording the publication’s policy was published on a different page to that on which corrections appeared. Absent an established column, the Committee did not consider that the publication of a correction two or three pages further back in the publication than the original error constituted due prominence. The newspaper’s offer of remedial action on this point did not comply with the requirements of Clause 1 (ii).
16. The Committee next considered the complaint in regard to the complainant’s alleged claim that Highland Titles was a charity. While the Committee expressed concern that the newspaper had not been able to provide reporters’ notes to corroborate its position, it did not agree that the article had implied that he had acted unlawfully in his presentation of the status of the company. In light of the fact that Highland Titles was wholly owned by a charitable trust, it did not consider that any inaccuracy in the reporting of his comments was significant so as to breach Clause 1.
17. There was no suggestion that the information published in relation to Trading Standards was inaccurate. The article made clear that Trading Standards did not consider that there was anything wrong with the business practices of the complainant’s company; the information published was not misleading in the manner suggested by the complainant. Nor did the article’s report of the complainant’s denial that his company was “a scam” raise any breach of Clause 1.
18. Finally, the Committee noted that the newspaper had offered the complainant the opportunity to reply to the inaccuracies by way of a letter. There was no breach of Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply).
19. The complaint under Clause 1 was in part upheld. The complaint under Clause 2 was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
20. Having partially upheld the complaint under Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee has the power to require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication; the nature, extent and placement is to be determined by IPSO. It may also inform the publication that further remedial action is required to ensure that the requirements of the Editors’ Code are met.
21. In the circumstances, and taking into account the nature of the breach of the Code and of the publication, the Committee concluded that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction. In particular, the Committee had regard for the fact that, while upholding the complaint under Clause 1 (ii), the newspaper had sought to publish the correction in a location which it, in good faith, believed complied with the requirements of the Code.
22. In the Committee’s view, the wording proposed by the newspaper, which adequately identified the original inaccuracy and made clear the correct position, was sufficient. In order to remedy the breach of Clause 1, the newspaper was now required to publish this wording, in full, on page three or further forward, in the newspaper. The correction must also be published on the newspaper’s homepage for a period of no less than 48 hours, and then archived on the newspaper’s website in the normal way. In addition, acknowledgements must be added to both the print and online versions of this correction to explain that they have been published following a ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
Date complaint received: 11/09/2014
Date decision issued: 01/12/2014Back to ruling listing