00782-15 Goundry v East Kilbride News

Decision: Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

·   Decision of the Complaints Committee 00782-15 Goundry v East Kilbride News

Summary of complaint

1. Matthew Goundry, acting with the consent of his mother Elizabeth Goundry, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the East Kilbride News had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “OAP appeals to council for repairs”, published on 18 February 2015. 

2. The article reported that the complainant’s mother had appealed to the council to finish repairs to her house and noted that in the meantime she had been staying in her late son’s bedroom. It reported that she had said that her late son had Down’s syndrome. 

3. The complainant said his late brother, Vincent Goundry, had multiple disabilities, including cerebral palsy, but he had not had Down’s syndrome. Their mother had told him that she had not made reference to this condition during her conversation with the reporter. The complainant had raised his concerns with the newspaper directly, but it had not offered to publish a correction. 

4. The complainant said the inaccuracy had caused distress because his mother had fought for the nature of his brother’s condition to be recognised by professionals. During the IPSO investigation, Mrs Goundry provided an account of her interview with the reporter, stating that she had not said the words “Down’s syndrome” during the interview. 

5. The newspaper said it had published in good faith information provided by Mrs Goundry during the interview. It stood by the reporter’s account of the conversation and supplied notes taken during the interview, which indicated that Mrs Goundry had said “I had to go into the back bedroom and I get upset in it as my son died with Down’s syndrome and I didn’t want to go into the room”. Given the reporter’s position and the notes, the newspaper did not consider that it was appropriate for it to issue an apology. However, after receiving confirmation from Mrs Goundry personally that she denied having referred to Down’s syndrome, it offered to publish the following clarification on page two of a future edition: 

“Vincent Goundry

An article which appeared in the East Kilbride News on February 18, 2015, under the headline ‘OAP appeals to council for repairs’ said that Vincent Goundry had suffered from Down’s syndrome. In fact he suffered from cerebral palsy. We are happy to clarify this.” 

6. The complainant said the suggested correction was unacceptable because the offer was too late, and the newspaper had not accepted responsibility for the error. 

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. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance. 

Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) 

A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for. 

Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock) 

i.) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests. 

Findings of the Committee

8. The reference to Down’s syndrome had formed part of a quotation attributed to Mrs Goundry. The newspaper had provided contemporaneous notes taken by the reporter, which it had relied upon in reporting Mrs Goundry’s comments. While noting that Mrs Goundry continued to dispute the accuracy of the notes, the Committee found that they demonstrated that there had been no failure to take care over the accuracy of the report. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i). 

9. Nonetheless, it was accepted that Vincent Goundry did not have Down’s syndrome. Although the Committee had established no failure by the reporter, the incorrect reference to Vincent Goundry’s medical condition represented a significant inaccuracy in the context of the story. It therefore followed that a correction was required. 

10. Clause 1 (ii) states that “a significant inaccuracy… once recognised must be corrected, promptly”. When Mrs Goundry confirmed her position to IPSO in writing, the newspaper had offered to publish a correction. However, this was some seven weeks after it had first been made aware of the complainant’s concerns, in his telephone call to the newspaper. 

11. The Committee was therefore required to identify the time at which the inaccuracy had been “recognised”. It noted that “recognition” cannot simply rely on the newspaper’s acceptance of an inaccuracy; in order for the requirements of Clause 1(ii) to be meaningful, “recognition” must refer to the time at which the publication ought reasonably to have realised that an inaccuracy required correction. It concluded that because of the nature of the inaccuracy about Vincent Goundry’s medical information – which the newspaper was unlikely to be in a position to contest – and the fact that the newspaper had not when alerted (or at any other time) questioned whether an inaccuracy had been published about his condition, “recognition” had occurred at the time the newspaper was first alerted to the matter. 

12. As such, although the Committee was satisfied that the wording sufficiently addressed the inaccuracy, the newspaper had failed to make the offer promptly and had breached Clause 1(ii). 

13. The complainant had expressed concern that the newspaper’s initial refusal to publish a correction 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. 

14. The terms of Clause 5 relate to the conduct of journalists, and the sensitivity of articles, in cases involving grief or shock. While the Committee understood that the inaccuracy had caused distress, its publication did not represent a breach of Clause 5. The conduct of the journalist had also not been inappropriate. The complaint under Clause 5 was not upheld. 

Conclusions

15. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1. 

Remedial Action Required

16. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. 

17. In order to remedy the breach of the Code, the newspaper should now publish the following adjudication on page nine, where the original article appeared, or further forward. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance. It should make clear that the complaint has been upheld by IPSO and make reference to the subject matter. 

Matthew Goundry, acting with the consent of his mother Elizabeth Goundry, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the East Kilbride News had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “OAP appeals to council for repairs”, published on 18 February 2015. 

The article reported that, while waiting for repairs to be made to her house, the complainant’s mother had been staying in her late son’s bedroom, and quoted her as stating that her late son had Down’s syndrome. The complainant said this was inaccurate: his brother had cerebral palsy, and his mother had not misinformed the reporter about her son's condition. The complainant alerted the newspaper to his concerns. However, the newspaper did not recognise the article was inaccurate on the basis that it had the reporter's notes as a record of the conversation and therefore maintained that it had correctly reported what Mrs Goundry had said. It did not offer to publish a clarification on her son's condition until Mrs Goundry had confirmed her position in writing. 

The Committee considered that the newspaper had failed to correct a significant inaccuracy promptly. The complaint under Clause 1 was upheld and IPSO required that the newspaper publish this adjudication. 

Date complaint received: 19/02/2015

Date complaint concluded: 23/09/2015

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