Decision of the Complaints Committee 00680-14 Millar v Perthshire Advertiser
Summary of complaint
1. James Millar complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that an article published by the Perthshire Advertiser on 19 August 2014 headlined “Granny cleared of stalking her family”, was misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
2. The article under complaint was a court report of the complainant’s wife’s appearance in Perth Sheriff Court, where she had been charged with engaging in a course of conduct which caused fear or alarm. She had been cleared of all charges against her.
3. The complainant said that the article had omitted his wife’s defence, despite including a detailed account of the charges against her. It had also omitted the sheriff’s view that the complainant’s wife’s evidence was to be preferred to that of her accuser. While it had been mentioned that his wife had been acquitted, the complainant was concerned that readers would be misled by the one-sided nature of the reporting, and would not understand the reasons why she had been found not guilty.
4. The newspaper said that the article was not inaccurate, and had clearly stated that she had been found not guilty. However, it acknowledged that the article had not sufficiently reflected the complainant’s wife’s perspective and explained that the freelance court reporter who had provided the copy had attended the portions of the proceedings in which the prosecution presented its case and the pronouncement of the verdict. It offered to publish a follow-up piece with the complainant’s wife’s response to the case, and an apology which read:
“In our article concerning a case at Perth Sheriff Court involving Mrs Linda Millar, who was found not guilty of ‘stalking’ her son in law and his partner, we did not publish any part of her defence to the claims made against her or any remarks by the Sheriff confirming that he accepted her evidence as being true. We offer Mrs Millar our apologies for not including these matters.”
5. The complainant rejected the proposed apology and asked that the newspaper acknowledge that it had repeated “wild accusations” without qualification, and apologise to his wife for the distress caused and to its readership for its poor journalism.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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.
Findings of the Committee
7. The headline and text of the article stated that the complainant’s wife had been acquitted of the charges against her. The newspaper was entitled to report on the charges against his wife, so long as it did so accurately and made clear that these represented allegations rather than established fact.
8. It was plain that – as the newspaper had accepted – the article had included limited information about the complainant’s wife’s defence to the charges. The Committee expressed serious concern about the way in which the newspaper had reported the case. It did, however, welcome the newspaper’s prompt and positive response to the complaint, which included an acknowledgment that the complainant had raised valid concerns, and subsequent offers to publish a follow-up piece and an apology. Nonetheless, in light of the fact that there was no dispute about the accuracy of the material in the article, and the prominence with which the acquittal had been reported, the Committee concluded that the article was not misleading; there was no breach of Clause 1.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received:29/09/2014
Date of decision: 03/02/2015Back to ruling listing