Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01235-20 Jones v Daily Star Sunday
Summary of Complaint
1. Peter Jones complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Star Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “GUN COP IS SICK TROPHY HUNTER” published on 23 February 2020.
2. The article began on the front page and continued on page 7 with the headline “IT’S REPULSIVE… NO EXCUSE FOR THIS SLAUGHTER”. It reported that a former police firearms officer ran a private members’ club which organised hunting trips. The article explained that the club offered trips based in the UK to shoot deer, boar and foxes, but also offered trips to Africa where members could shoot various wild animals. It reported that the man was described on the club’s website as having “dedicated himself to the betterment of deer and large game through their natural selection”. In addition, the article explained that the company sold a package in which customers could shoot African rhinos with vitamin-laced darts, and then pose with them for photographs whilst the animal was asleep. It quoted the club’s website, where the man “brags” that “Member[s] are able to experience the thrill of hunting and shooting a rhino. The projectile however is a dart that administers vitamins”. The main photograph which appeared below the headline on page 7 showed this in practice – several men were moving a sedated rhino, and photograph was captioned “TARGET: Darted rhino after being shot by the hunters”. It reported that the man had been approached for comment.
3. The article also appeared online on 22 February 2020, with the headline “Ex-cop runs trophy-hunting [sic] club where rich pay thousands to slaughter animals”. It was substantially the same as the print article, however the caption to the photograph read “Peter Jones runs a trophy-hunting club where the rich pay thousands to slaughter animals”.
4. The complainant the man named in the article as the former police firearms officer who ran the hunting club, said that the article was significantly misleading because it captioned the photograph of the sedated rhino as having been “…shot by hunters”, and it appeared under a headline referring to “slaughter”. He said that this gave the impression that the club offered the possibility of killing rhinos, which was not the case.
5. The complainant also said that simply reporting he had been approached for comment was misleading where he had in fact provided a full comment for publication. He said that the article should have included his comment, and that its omission made the article misleading and inaccurate. He said that when he was contacted by the reporter, he was not made fully aware of what the article would say about him, or given a deadline to respond by. However, five hours after he was contacted by the reporter, at 3 minutes past 8, he sent the following comment:
"As a lifelong environmentalist, it is of great concern to me that ill-informed and emotive comment in some of the main-stream media, often puts in jeopardy the welfare of the self-same animals that the articles purport to be trying to help. I would welcome more considered and informed discussion.
In the meantime, the Capreolus Club and its members remain committed to the environment via a climate-focused diet and to the betterment of species through the careful selection of sustainable, wild, free-ranging animals".
6. The publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate. The complainant had been contacted for comment; by the time the complainant did provide a comment, the print edition had gone to print. However it noted his comment was included in the second edition of the paper. It also offered to add this comment to the online version of the article if this would resolve the complaint. It said that the photograph caption was clear that the rhino had been darted rather than killed, and that the article went on to fully explain the business’ practice of shooting rhinos with vitamin-laced darts. It noted that the image was a still from a video called “Rhino Vita Dart Hunting”.
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 Code does not include a standalone requirement for subjects of articles to be contacted for comment prior to publication, however not doing so may lead to a breach of Clause 1(i) if the article is significantly inaccurate as a result. In this case, the article had already put the complainant’s position on the record via the inclusion of comments taken from the club’s website – these comments made clear its defence of its practices, and that the rhino would be “shot” with vitamin-laced darts rather than killed. In these circumstances, there was no obligation for the publication to go to the complainant for comment in order to satisfy the terms of Clause 1(i), and publishing the article without a comment from the complainant did not make the article misleading or inaccurate. Furthermore, where it was not in dispute that the complainant had been contacted for comment and he had not responded before the article had gone to print, it was not inaccurate for the first edition of the paper to report that the complainant had been “approached” for comment. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to add this comment to the online version of the article.
9. It was not in dispute that the photograph of the rhino was a still taken from a video published on the club’s website advertising the option of darting them. The caption to this photograph described the rhino as being “Target: Darted rhino after being shot by hunters” in the print version and “Peter Jones runs a trophy-hunting club where the rich pay thousands to slaughter animals” in the online version, but did not explain further what these meant. However, both articles explained fully that this was an option advertised by the business and involved the use of “vitamin-laced darts”, and quoted the club’s website itself which referred to the “the thrill of hunting and shooting a rhino” with a vitamin-laced dart. The full article clarified any ambiguity which may have arisen from the caption to the photograph, and made it clear that the club did not advertise the option of killing rhinos. The caption and the article, taken together, made it clear that the rhino had not been killed and publication of the photograph was not misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 27/02/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 29/05/2020Back to ruling listing