Decision of the Complaints Committee 00810-15 Scudamore v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Richard Scudamore complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation via representatives that The Daily Telegraph had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Sport is a cesspit of casual misogyny” (in print) and “From Oscar Pistorius to Kurtley Beale to Richard Scudamore, sport a seething cesspool of casual misogyny” (online), published on 23 October 2014 and 22 October 2014 respectively.
2. The article under complaint was an opinion piece about sexism in sport, in which the author discussed a number of instances in which people involved in sport had been accused of misogyny. In relation to the complainant, chief executive of the Premier League, the article said that he had been “fortunate to have clung on to his job” after his emails – which were said to display a “boorish attitude” towards women – had been leaked. The article criticised the complainant’s response to the leak, saying that “he had the gall to claim that the greater outrage lay not in his boorish attitude to half of the human race but in the fact that his private correspondence had been leaked”. The article also said that the complainant had been accused by the shadow minister for women and equalities of having “no respect for women”, and that he had previously “preposterously” claimed that there was “no closed culture of sexism in football”.
3. The complainant denied that he had implied that the “greater outrage” had been that his private emails had been leaked; his apology had been immediate, unqualified and sincere. It was also inaccurate to state that he had been accused by the shadow minister for women and equalities of having “no respect for women”; she had in fact said that the complainant had “let down women supporters, players, referees and coaches”.
4. The complainant said that he had never claimed that there was no closed culture of sexism in football, rather he had said that there was no closed culture of sexism at the Premier League, with reference to the working environment. The distinction between the statements was significant, as it formed the basis for the criticism that the complainant’s comment was “preposterous”. The statement actually made was objectively verifiable.
5. The complainant said that the cumulative effect of the inaccuracies contributed to the false and unjustified picture that he is an egregious misogynist who had been rightly criticised for having no respect for women, and whose views were out of touch with reality. The complainant objected to being cited as an example of misogyny in sport alongside others who had convictions for violence against women. He said that his inclusion represented a distortion, in breach of Clause 1.
6. Following a direct complaint to the newspaper, the newspaper had published the following correction:
Our article “Sport is a cesspit of casual misogyny (23 October) wrongly attributed to Gloria de Piero, shadow minister for women and equalities, an allegation that Mr Scudamore “had no respect for women”. We also accept that that Mr Scudamore denied that there was a closed culture of sexism at the Premier League, and not – as reported in the article – in football more generally.
7. The complainant was not satisfied with the correction; he said that it was inadequate as it did not address a number of points of the complaint and did not include an apology. He also said that the correction had not been sufficiently prompt, and had not been published with due prominence.
8. The newspaper said that the article was recognisable as a comment piece, and the criticisms clearly represented the opinion of the author, who was highlighting the potentially dangerous consequences of a culture of sexism in sport.
9. The newspaper said the reference to the complainant having the “gall” to claim that the leaking of the emails had been the “greater outrage” represented the author’s opinion on a statement issued by the complainant. In its view, the complainant had been forced to apologise when it became clear that he would not be able to prevent their publication. His statement referred to the emails being private and said that the temporary employee “should not have accessed [them] and was under no instruction to do so”. This was characteristic of his response more generally. It suggested that it is not uncommon in sport for private correspondence to include offensive language which is disowned and apologised for when the communications become public; people are entitled to express robust opinions on such apologies and the extent to which the private communications are a more reliable indicator of a person’s attitude.
10. The newspaper accepted that it had been inaccurate to state that the shadow minister for women and equalities had said that the complainant had “no respect for women”; this had in fact been a quotation from the employee who had leaked the emails. The shadow minister had, however, been publicly critical of the complainant’s language. The newspaper denied that this represented a significant inaccuracy. It also noted that the shadow minister had not complained about the coverage.
11. While the newspaper accepted that the complainant had referred to the Premier League rather than football generally, the author had been making the point that denying a culture of sexism risks propagating it; this point stood regardless. The newspaper said that the two inaccuracies had occurred as a result of confusion on the part of the journalist when considering the substantial previous coverage relating to the emails. It did not consider these points to represent significant inaccuracies and maintained that the published correction had addressed the issues appropriately. It additionally offered to append the correction as a footnote to the online article.
12. The newspaper said that publication of the correction had been delayed by the legal correspondence on the broader issues raised. In these circumstances, the correction had been sufficiently prompt. The correction had been published in the News in Brief column on page 11 of the Sports section of the newspaper; the original article had appeared on page 14 of the Sports section. An apology was not required in relation to the two accepted inaccuracies.
Relevant Code Provisions
13. 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.
Findings of the Committee
14. The article had discussed various manifestations of sexism throughout sport, and had criticised the lack of leadership in this area. While the complainant objected to the publication of his photograph alongside others mentioned in the article – some of whom had been found guilty of extremely serious criminal offences – the article had explained the behaviour or actions of each of the individuals cited in the article, including the complainant. While the complainant’s conduct was undoubtedly of a different order than some of those in the story, the newspaper had been entitled to cite varying examples of what it perceived to be a broader problem. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
15. The columnist was entitled to criticise the complainant’s response to the publication of the emails and the apology he had issued. It was sufficiently clear that the article reflected the columnist’s critical characterisation of the wording of the apology, rather than a suggestion that the complainant had – as a matter of fact – said that his emails being leaked had been a “greater outrage”. There had not been a failure to distinguish comment from fact. The author’s characterisation had not been significantly misleading, where the complainant had voiced concern about the leaking of his emails. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
16. The newspaper accepted that it had been inaccurate to report that the shadow minister for women and equalities had accused the complainant as having “no respect for women”. The shadow minister had publicly set out her views on the day that the emails had published. She had referred to the emails as being “deeply offensive” and said that the complainant had “let down women, supporters, players, referees and coaches”. In the context of an opinion piece which looked at various examples of sexism – rather than a forensic analysis of the complainant’s revelations – the misattribution of the quotation was not materially misleading such as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii) of the Code. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the fact that the newspaper had taken steps to correct this point.
17. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant had denied that there was a closed culture of sexism in the Premier League, rather than in football generally. It was the author’s opinion that the complainant’s denial of a closed culture of sexism was “preposterous” in circumstances in which he himself had been criticised for sending “sexist” emails. The basis of the author’s criticism was not affected by the distinction between whether the complainant had referred to the Premier League or football more generally. As such, the substitution of “football” for “Premier League” was not significantly misleading such as to require correction under the terms of the Code. The Committee however welcomed the fact that the newspaper had addressed this point in the published correction.
18. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 20/02/2015
Date decision issued: 05/05/2015Back to ruling listing