Decision of the Complaints Committee -- 00606-20 Clough v Evening Telegraph (Dundee)
Summary of Complaint
1. Jonathan Clough complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Evening Telegraph (Dundee) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “EXCLUSIVE: Dundee City Council worker sacked over email tampering claims”, published on 30 January 2020.
2. The article reported on the case of a council worker who had been fired for allegedly tampering with the date of an email during a tendering process. The article stated that the “allegations centre on [a named business]” and that “[the named business] missed the tender deadline for the DSMT contract and, when an email from the company was forwarded to the tender team, the date had been tampered with to make it look like it had been submitted on time”. The article also included denials from the ex-council worker who had said “The council has accused me of deliberately forwarding a falsified email. There is no suggestion that I personally falsified this email. The suggestion is that I forwarded the email after it had been falsified by someone else.” Furthermore, the article included a comment from the spokesperson of the named company which said “strictly speaking, we did not meet the deadline.”
3. The complainant, the owner of the named company, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said there was no need to name his company in the article and it was inaccurate to report that the allegations had centred on his business; this had given the misleading impression that his business was responsible for the alleged tampering of the email, which was completely false. He also said it was inaccurate to refer to the process as a “tender” when it was in fact a “quick quote”.
4. In addition, the complainant said that the article misquoted the representative from his company as saying “strictly speaking, we did not meet the deadline”, when in fact the actual quote was “it was as simple as we missed the deadline so we weren’t considered for a contract award”. The complainant said that this misquote changed the meaning of the company’s statement and again misleadingly implied that the company was at fault.
5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article did not claim that the company had tampered with the date of the email – it had reported that this had allegedly been done after the company had sent the email. It said that the reason for the council worker’s dismissal had been confirmed by three separate sources and it had reported these as claims, rather than as fact. It also said that it was necessary to name the company involved, and that any difference between a “tender” and “quick quote” was not significant.
6. The publication also provided a written record of the conversation its reporter had with the company’s spokesperson which supported its position that the spokesperson had said “strictly speaking”.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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
8. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concerns that his business had been named in the article in relation to an allegation that an email had been tampered with during a tendering process. However, the article centred on the dismissal of the council worker, and made clear that he had been fired because he was the one alleged to have sent a falsified email. As the complainant had accepted that his company had sent the original email, it was not misleading to report that the “allegations centre[d]” on the complainant’s company.
9. The Committee noted that the article included the council worker’s denial, and his position that “The suggestion is that I forwarded the email after it had been falsified by someone else”. However, this did not amount to an allegation that it was the company that had tampered with the email. The Committee also noted that the publication had taken care over the accuracy of the article by going to the company for comment before it was published. While there was a dispute as to what was said by the company’s spokesperson, the publication had supplied notes of this conversation, which indicated that they had said “strictly speaking, we did not meet the deadline”. Given that the complainant’s position was that the company had missed the deadline, the Committee did not consider that the difference between the parties’ positions on the spokesperson’s comment was significant.
10. The Committee did not find that it was significantly inaccurate to refer to a “quick quote” as a “tender” within the context of the article.
11. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i). There was no breach of Clause 1.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 03/02/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 20/04/2020