Decision of the Complaints Committee 01429-14 Arunkalaivanan v Birmingham Mail
Summary of complaint
1. Dr Angamuthu Arunkalaivanan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Birmingham Mail had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an online article headlined “Doctor who fondled patient’s breasts is allowed back into medical practice”, published on 5 October 2014, and in the print edition of the article headlined “Doctor has ‘fondle’ ban lifted”, published on 6 October 2014.
2. The newspaper had reported that the complainant had successfully appealed a ruling by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS). In 2013 a Fitness to Practise Panel, held by the MPTS, found the complainant’s fitness to practise to be impaired by reason of misconduct and determined that his name should be suspended from the Medical Register for 12 months. On appeal, the decision was quashed by the High Court, and a newly constituted Fitness to Practise Panel ruled that the complainant was fit to practise and imposed no warning on his registration.
3. The complainant was concerned that the newspaper, both in print and online, had inaccurately stated that he had originally been “struck off” from the Medical Register. The complainant said that the print article had inaccurately reported that he is a GP, rather than a gynaecologist. He also said that he had never practised at Birmingham Medical Institute Hospital; it was BMI Edgbaston Hospital. He said that the headline to the online article had been inaccurate in stating that he “fondled [a] patient’s breasts”, as the High Court had ruled that his actions had not been sexually motivated. In addition, the complainant said that it had been inaccurate for the newspaper to report that he had been suspended; although the MPTS had initially suggested suspension, he had 28 days to appeal the decision. As the decision was quashed, he had not been suspended.
4. The newspaper accepted that it had been inaccurate to state that the complainant had been “struck off” from the medical register. It also accepted that the print article had been inaccurate regarding the complainant’s job title and the hospital at which he worked. It offered to publish the following correction in print, on page two of the newspaper, and online:
“On 5/6 October 2014, we published an article inaccurately stating that a Birmingham doctor, Dr Arunkalaivanan, had been struck off the medical register for fondling a patient’s breasts and had won an appeal to practise again. In fact Dr Arunkalaivanan was not struck off for fondling a patient’s breasts, he was suspended for 12 months after being accused of doing so. Additionally, the article incorrectly described Dr Arunkalaivanan as a GP when he is a gynaecologist and incorrectly stated that he practised at Birmingham Medical Institute Hospital in Edgbaston when he practised at BMI Edgbaston Hospital.
5. It offered to amend the text of the online article to make clear that the complainant had been suspended, rather than stuck off, the register; it also would amend the article to make clear that the complainant had been “accused” of fondling a patient’s breasts.
6. The newspaper said that the remedial action it had offered was sufficient to address the complainant’s concerns. It said that the text of the coverage had explained in detail the disciplinary process, and that outcome of the procedures had been made clear.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
“A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for”.
Findings of the Committee
8. The coverage had inaccurately reported that the complainant had been “struck off” the medical register. The print edition of the article had inaccurately referred to the complainant as a GP and had said that he had practised at Birmingham Medical Institute Hospital in Edgbaston. The publication of these significant inaccuracies represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the coverage, in breach of Clause 1(i).
9. As the High Court ruled that the complainant’s actions had not been sexually motived, the online headline “Doctor who fondled patient’s breast is allowed back into medical practice”, was significantly misleading as it stated as fact that the complainant had fondled a patient’s breasts, rather than making clear that while the first Fitness to Practise panel had found his actions were sexually motivated, this finding was subsequently quashed by the High Court.
10. The complainant said that it had been inaccurate to state that he had been suspended as the decision had been quashed. As a point of fact, the Fitness to Practise Panel in 2013 had determined that the complainant should be suspended. The coverage made clear that the decision had been overturned, and that a newly constituted Fitness to Practise Panel had ruled that he was free to practise. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
11. Under Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), the newspaper had offered to published a correction to address the inaccuracies in the article. A reply was not therefore reasonably called for under the terms of the Code. There was no breach of Clause 2.
12. The complaint under Clause 1 was upheld. The complaint under Clause 2 was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
13. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1 (i) in relation to the print and online articles, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee has the power to require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is to be determined by IPSO. It may also inform the publication that further remedial action is required to ensure that the requirements of the Editors’ Code are met.
14. The Committee was satisfied that the newspaper had, in good faith, offered a wording which attempted to t correct the inaccuracies in the article; as a result it did not find a breach of Clause 1 (ii). Nonetheless, given that the standalone correction would repeat allegations made against the complainant, the Committee took the view that, in addition to the points already covered by the proposed correction, the wording should be revised to make it plain that the decision to suspend the complainant had been quashed. This should be published on page two and online - in line with the newspaper’s offer.
Date complaint received: 23/10/2014Date decision issued: 18/03/2015 Back to ruling listing