· Decision of the Complaints Committee 01482-14 Clark v The Mail on Sunday
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Ms Faith Clark complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People that The Mail on Sunday had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The disabled make good staff - unlike baldies with beer bellies”, published on 19 October 2014.
2. The columnist had written a piece about the value of disabled people in the work place, in which she said she had four “hearing dogs”.
3. The complainant was concerned that the coverage gave the inaccurate impression that the columnist has four specially trained assistance dogs. She said that Hearing Dogs for Deaf People have a programme of careful breading, selection and training. The charity focuses on matching one dog - not multiple dogs - to each deaf partner. The implication that the charity would supply four dogs to one owner was damaging as it suggested that charity was wasting resources. The complainant also made clear that the dogs are not trained to cause a commotion, but to convey information by touch.
4. The complainant said that the newspaper and the columnist had been contacted by the charity in 2013 to request that she refrain from describing her dogs as “hearing dogs”.
5. The newspaper explained that that the columnist’s dogs had been trained by a canine behaviour expert to alert her to certain sounds.
6. It said that the Equality Act makes it illegal to discriminate against disabled people and this is construed to mean that disabled people must not be excluded from public places because they need to be accompanied by a dog. The Act does not define any particular terminology or qualifications for hearing dogs. The term “hearing dog” can be used as a generic description of a dog that helps people with hearing difficulties; it is comparable with “sheepdog, guard dog or gun dog”.
7. It said that any reader who was interested in the provision of assistance dogs would have known that the charity would not have provided anyone with four dogs of their highly trained dogs. The article did not state that the dogs had been provided by a charity.
8. The newspaper had also published two readers’ letters about this matter, and the columnist had referenced the concerns in a subsequent piece. It did not accept that the coverage represented a breach of the Code.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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
10. The article had made no reference to the charity or indeed suggested any involvement by any charity. The complainant was concerned that it was inaccurate to describe the complainant’s dogs as “hearing dogs” as they had not been provided by the charity. The Committee found that, in circumstances in which the columnist had had her dogs specially trained to assist in situations in which she might have difficulties because of her hearing, it had not been inaccurate or significantly misleading to describe her dogs as “hearing dogs”. The use of the term “hearing dogs” had not given the misleading impression that the dogs had been connected to, or supplied by, the charity. There was no breach of the Code.
11. While the Committee welcomed the steps taken by the newspaper to address the concerns of the complainant as a positive response to the complaint, it was disappointed that the newspaper had published the columnist’s rebuttal of the concerns raised while the complaint was on-going.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 27/10/2014
Date decision issued: 29/12/2014Back to ruling listing