· Decision of the Complaints Committee 00530-15 Professional Darts Corporation v Daily Star Sunday
Summary of complaint
1. The Professional Darts Corporation complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Star Sunday had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “EXCLUSIVE: Darts champ banned amid drugs claims”, published online on 21 December 2014.
2. The article reported that a darts player had not taken part in the darts world championship, a competition organised by the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC). The PDC had originally stated that the player had been withdrawn for “personal reasons”, and had later indicated that it was not able to comment on whether there were any proceedings being conducted in relation to allegations of doping. The article reported allegations that in fact the player had broken rules on drug taking, and that the organisation was conducting an investigation into the matter. The article stated that a senior figure within the PDC had confirmed that the player had contravened the rules, and that a source close to the player had stated that the organisation was conducting an official hearing on the matter. It reported that the organisation had indicated that it was unable to comment on whether proceedings were being carried out in relation to allegations of doping. The article also referred to the organisation as the “governing body” of the sport, and included comments made by users of internet forums, criticising the PDC’s response to the issue.
3. The PDC said that it was inaccurate to refer to it as the “governing body” of darts; the governing body for PDC darts was the Darts Regulation Authority, which referred all doping matters to UK Anti Doping. As such, it was misleading to state that the PDC would be conducting a hearing into the matter, as it did not have responsibility for carrying out any such disciplinary proceedings. Furthermore, the PDC disputed that a senior figure within the organisation had spoken to the journalist and confirmed the rumours. It also said that it was not true that the organisation had “refused to clarify the situation”; rather, a spokesperson had told the journalist that the organisation would be unable to comment on the allegations for reasons of confidentiality.
4. The PDC also said that the article should not have quoted the critical comments made by users of internet forums. It considered that the inclusion of these, without giving it a chance to respond to them before publication, raised a breach of Clause 2.
5. The newspaper generally defended the accuracy of its coverage and noted that the world of governing bodies in darts was confusing, and that the PDC had been involved in court battles to be recognised as the “go-to body for darts professionals”. It said it was easy to make mistakes in relation to the hierarchy involved. In response to the complaint, it had amended the article to remove the reference to the PDC as the “governing body”, and had added the following footnote:
This article previously stated that the PDC was the governing body. The governing body on matters relating to drugs is not the PDC but the Darts Regulation Authority.
6. The publication did not accept that the article contained other inaccuracies. It noted that the player had not applied to join the organisation’s tournament this year, which was perhaps why no investigation was on-going. It believed that the PDC was the body which was responsible for approving applications to play in the tournaments, and noted that the complainant had not contradicted it on this point. It maintained that a senior figure within the organisation had confirmed that the player had contravened the rules, but made clear that it would be protecting its confidential source. The journalist had put the claims about the player’s alleged drug use to the organisation prior to publication, and its statement in response, declining to comment on the allegations, had been included in the article. The newspaper further noted that it had not received a complaint from the player in question.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity to reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Findings of the Committee
8. The newspaper had accepted that it was not accurate to describe the PDC as the “governing body” of darts. This was information which was publicly available and easily verifiable, and the newspaper had not taken proper care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information in breach of Clause 1 (i). Furthermore, the complainant maintained that it did not hold responsibility for carrying out disciplinary proceedings, which would be conducted by the Darts Regulation Authority, or UK Anti Doping in cases involving allegations of drug use. The newspaper had not been able to support its assertion that the PDC was “conducting an official hearing”, and had not therefore demonstrated that it had taken care in this regard not to publish inaccurate information in accordance with the terms of clause 1 (i). These aspects of the complaint were upheld. In the context of an article reporting concerns about the organisation failing in its alleged obligations to deal with allegations of drug use by a player, the resulting inaccuracies were significant ones, requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
9. The newspaper was entitled to protect confidential sources of information. The complainant disputed that a senior figure at the organisation had confirmed the allegations to the journalist. The Committee was not however in a position to establish that the reference to this source represented inaccurate information in breach of the Code. In circumstances where the organisation had originally stated publicly that the player’s withdrawal was due to “personal reasons”, and had later made an official statement in which it made clear that it would not be able to comment on any anti-doping cases, it was not inaccurate for the article to state that the PDC had “refused to clarify the situation”.
10. The terms of Clause 2 do not include an obligation to seek comment prior to publication. Nonetheless, the newspaper had put the specific allegations to the complainant, and was not required to seek comment on postings from internet forums, which were clearly distinguished as the views of the individuals in question. There was no breach of Clause 2.
11. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial Action Required
12. The Committee determined that, given the nature of the breach of the Code and the publication, the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction, the nature, extent and prominence of which would be determined by IPSO.
13. In the Committee’s view, the wording appended to the article by the newspaper was insufficient remedy to the breach of the Code in this instance; it did not address all the inaccuracies which the Committee had established.
14. In order to remedy the breach of Clause 1, the newspaper was required to publish a correction to the online article, the wording of which should be agreed with IPSO in advance, making clear that the Darts Regulation Authority, and not the PDC was the governing body for the sport of darts, and that doping matters were dealt with by UK Anti Doping. It should also note that the PDC does not have the power to carry out disciplinary hearings. In addition, the correction should acknowledge that it had been published following a ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. This correction should appear beneath the online article.
Date complaint received: 02/02/2015
Date decision issued: 08/05/2015Back to ruling listing