Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00333-22 Bunting v Sunday Life
Summary of Complaint
1. Peter Bunting complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Life breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’Give New IRA cash if they turn their backs on terror’…says Ex union boss Bunting”, published on 7 November 2021.
2. The article was an interview with the complainant – a former assistant general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions – about his views on initiatives which aim to help paramilitaries move away from criminality. He was quoted throughout the article discussing relevant mechanisms which would need to be in place for those who wish to transition away from violence. The complainant was quoted saying: “If they are serious about transitioning [away from violence], there has to be a model to encourage that transitioning, but there has to be a ceasefire first”; “If there are people who are genuinely committed to transitioning from conflict to peaceful political activity, we have to have the route for that to happen” and “There should be some degree of a route map for those who may well be tempted at some stage in the future to transition”. The front page was headlined “’Give New IRA cash if they turn their backs on terror’…says Ex union boss Bunting” and the article continued on page 7 under the headline “‘Give New IRA cash if they give up terror’”.
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, headlined “‘Give New IRA cash if they give up terror’”.
4. The complainant said that the headline breached Clause 1 as he considered it to be inaccurate, misleading and not supported by the text of the article. He said the use of quotation marks gave the impression that he made the specific statement in the interview with the journalist, whereas he claimed he had not. He further said that at no stage did he explicitly refer to providing “cash” to armed groups, including the New IRA, but rather referred to a transition/route map for armed groups from violence and various related matters such as reintegration of prisoners, ceasefire, and decommissioning.
5. The publication said it did not accept a breach of the Code. The newspaper provided a recording of the interview and said the journalist had relied on this when writing the article and provided a transcript of selected excerpts.
6. The publication said that the use of quotation marks in a headline was a well-established convention which indicates either a direct quote or a concise distillation of comments which are the subject of the story. It further stated that it was well established that the headline and article must be read together for their full meaning. The publication argued that the essence of the complainant’s comments was that if – a key caveat that was included in the headline – paramilitary groups who continue to operate in Northern Ireland, of which the Real IRA is the most active and well known, were willing to transition to a peace process then there needed to be a mechanism to accommodate and encourage such a transition akin to money that had been availed of by 'traditional' paramilitary groups through community funding projects.
7. The publication added that the article and sub-headline contained further explanations of the complainant’s comments, telling readers that he was advocating a process that would encourage dissident groups to give up violence.
8. The publication explained that at the beginning of the interview the journalist had discussed the Peace IV programme. This programme had supported peace and reconciliation through various charity organisations. The publication said that various groups linked to paramilitary groups on ceasefire had benefited from Peace IV funds via charity organisations and provided some links to these charities.
9. The publication quoted the journalist who asked the complainant in the recording whether he would like to see “groups like ONH and the New IRA being involved in those [Peace IV funded] projects? To which the complainant replied: "It's conditional, of course, on the fact that they have given up attacking the security forces and members of their own community. That would have to happen first. If they are serious about transitioning, there has to be a model to encourage that transitioning. Again it is conditional on that there has to be a ceasefire first."
10. The publication supplied a transcript of the interview which it believed provided the basis for the headline, including the following exchange:
The journalist asked: "A more positive approach you would say, using the New IRA as example, would be declare a ceasefire, show you are sincere about it and here are the benefits you can potentially reap from that, funding for positive projects post-violence."
The complainant replied: "Yeah, as happened to the UVF, UDA, elements of the UDA, elements of the UVF, INLA and republicans. They are availing of assistance in their transition and so in NI, in working class communities, if we are moving to transition we need to have a route map".
11. The publication said that during the interview, the journalist referred to the New IRA on a number of occasions as one of the groups that the complainant’s views would apply to and that he did not say any particular group was to be excluded.
12. The newspaper also highlighted the additional article on page 7 of the print version which was by the same journalist which detailed how such community funding projects have worked to date.
13. While the publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1, in an attempt to resolve the matter, it offered the complainant a right of reply by way of a letter to the editor.
Relevant Code Provisions
Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
14. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant had not said the exact words contained within the quotation marks in the headline. However, it noted that quotation marks can serve different purposes: while they can denote a verbatim quotation, they can also be used to indicate that the enclosed statement represents a summary. In this instance, the Committee was satisfied that the quotation marks were being used for the latter purpose.
15. The question for the Committee to consider was whether the headline was an accurate summary of the complainant’s position and whether it was supported by the article. In this instance, the Committee considered that there was sufficient basis for the summary in the headline, where in the transcript the journalist referenced funding post-violence projects and the IRA as an example: “A more positive approach you would say, using the New IRA as example, would be declare a ceasefire, show you are sincere about it and here are the benefits you can potentially reap from that, funding for positive projects post-violence." To which the complainant responded: "Yeah, as happened to the UVF, UDA, elements of the UDA, elements of the UVF, INLA and republicans. They are availing of assistance in their transition and so in NI, in working class communities, if we are moving to transition, we need to have a route map”. The article further supported the headline where it quoted the complainant extensively on his position on the mechanisms that would need to be in place for such incentives and made clear that it was “conditional” that these groups give up violence first, a caveat which was distinguished in the headline. The Committee decided that the headline summary of the complainant’s position was supported by the complainant’s comments and that the publication had taken care not to publish inaccurate information. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Nevertheless, the Committee acknowledged the publication’s offer to publish a letter from the complainant in which he would have an opportunity to clarify his position.
complaint was not upheld under Clause 1.
Date complaint received: 10/01/2022
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/06/2022Back to ruling listing