Decision of the Complaints Committee 00705-15 A man v The Spectator
Summary of complaint
1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Spectator had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article published on 7 February 2015, headlined “Why we should say farewell to the ENO”.
2. The article discussed how the possible demise of the English National Opera could benefit opera as an art form, and reported that the ENO had rejected a proposal to host the Philip Glass Ensemble for a production of Einstein on the Beach.
3. The complainant, a member of the ENO and the Musicians’ Union, expressed concern that the magazine had inaccurately stated that the ENO’s “unionised chorus and orchestra” would not “give way” to the Philip Glass Ensemble “even for a week”. He said no such request had been made to the orchestra and chorus, or to their trade unions. Had a request been made, there would have been negotiations and it was likely the orchestra would have stepped aside, as long as the Philip Glass Ensemble had performed under its own name, and the ENO orchestra and chorus had continued to be paid. He said the magazine had relied on one source and had provided no corroborating evidence. The complainant also expressed concern that the article had stated that the ENO had recently lost two board members; in fact, it had lost one.
4. In addition, the complainant said the article had wrongly reported that the Barbican had “snapped up” the production of Einstein on the Beach, and that tickets were sold out. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the complainant, the Barbican had said it had first discussed the project 15 years ago, and ticket sales had averaged 87%.
5. The complainant also objected to the implication that the ENO could not have performed Einstein on the Beach as successfully as the “specialist” Philip Glass Ensemble.
6. During the course of direct correspondence with the complainant, the magazine had offered to amend the online reference to the unionised orchestra and chorus, but it declined to offer to publish a correction in print. The complainant considered that this had breached Clause 2.
7. The magazine said it had been reliably informed by a senior member of the ENO that the artistic/management team had decided against hosting the Philip Glass Ensemble because it knew it would have to continue to pay the ENO orchestra and chorus for the duration of the production. The management team knew the unionised chorus and orchestra would not give way to such a request. The specific reference to the “unionised chorus and orchestra” had not suggested that trade unionists had been consulted and had rejected the proposal. Rather, it had suggested that the mechanism by which the orchestra was unionised had prevented the ENO from being flexible with the kind of ensemble it needed for a specific production. The magazine also contended that the complainant’s position that the union had not been consulted about the proposal did not mean that the orchestra had not been consulted; unions did not decide artistic matters on behalf of the orchestra.
8. The magazine said that limited space had prevented it from making its point more clearly, but it considered that the complainant had accepted the substantive issue: in certain circumstances, the unionised orchestra would not have given way for the production. For clarity, however, it offered to amend the online article to read: “I’m reliably told that the ENO knew the unionised chorus and orchestra wouldn’t give way to the specialist Philip Glass Ensemble, if it meant that the ENO orchestra and chorus would go unpaid for the duration of the residency”. It also offered to append the following footnote:
“An earlier version of this article said that the unionised ENO chorus and orchestra would not “give way” to the Philip Glass Ensemble “even for a week”. We accept that the decision not to host the Philip Glass Ensemble was made by the ENO management team, not the ENO orchestra and chorus or their trade unions. We are happy to clarify the matter.”
9. The magazine accepted that the article should have referred to the resignation of members of the senior team and not the board; it amended the online article accordingly.
10. In response to the complainant’s concern regarding ticket sales for the Barbican’s production of Einstein on the Beach, the magazine said it had seen the production. The queue for returns, the view of the auditorium, and the conversations it had had with the box office and the production company had all led it to conclude that it was sold out. The magazine had also attended productions in Montpellier, Amsterdam and Berlin, all of which were sold out.
11. The complainant said the magazine’s offer of an online correction was unsatisfactory and requested its publication in print.
Relevant Code Provisions
12. 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.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 2 Opportunity to reply
A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Findings of the Committee
13. The magazine accepted that the ENO’s artistic/management team had turned down the proposal for the ENO to host the Philip Glass Ensemble for a production of Einstein on the Beach. The article, however, had given the significantly misleading impression that it had specifically been the “unionised” orchestra and chorus that had rejected the proposal. It had failed to make clear that the ENO’s management team had considered that the unionised orchestra and chorus would not have been willing to forgo pay for the duration of the residency, and, as such, it had rejected the proposal as commercially unviable. The Committee considered that this represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i).
14. In accordance with the terms of Clause 1 (ii), the magazine was obliged to correct the inaccuracy promptly and with due prominence. The magazine had offered to amend the online article and to append a footnote. However, as the article had also been published in print, to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii), a correction was also required in print; as such, the offer of remedy was insufficient and this represented a breach of Clause 1 (ii). This aspect of the complaint under Clause 1 was upheld.
15. The Committee noted the complainant’s remaining concerns regarding the article’s accuracy. However, in the context of an opinion piece, it did not consider that the report that the Barbican had “snapped up” the Philip Glass Ensemble’s production of Einstein on the Beach, or that tickets to the 2012 production had been “sold out”, had been significantly misleading. The columnist had also been entitled to express his opinion that an ENO production of the opera might have been less successful than one by the Philip Glass Ensemble. The Committee welcomed the fact the magazine had corrected the reference to two members of the board having left the ENO; however, this was not a significant point that required correction under the terms of Clause 1. These points did not raise a breach of Clause 1.
16. The complainant had expressed concern that the magazine’s refusal to publish a correction in print had represented a breach of Clause 2. Clause 2, however, affords individuals the opportunity to reply to inaccuracies when reasonably called for. The complainant had requested a correction, not an opportunity to reply, as such, there was no breach of Clause 2.
17. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial Action Required
18. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.
19. The Committee considered that the wording offered by the magazine for publication online sufficiently addressed the misleading impression given by the online article. However, the error had also appeared in print, therefore, a correction was required in print. The Committee considered that the publication of a correction, with a headline indicating the subject, beneath the opera column (where the original error had appeared) in a forthcoming print edition was appropriate. The correction should explain that it was being published following an upheld IPSO complaint. It should state that the decision not to host the Philip Glass Ensemble was made by the ENO management team, not the ENO orchestra and chorus or their trade unions, as previously reported. The wording and the prominence of the correction are to be agreed with IPSO in advance of publication.
Date complaint received: 14/02/2015
Date decision issued: