· Decision of the Complaints Committee01610-15 Robinson v Swindon Advertiser
Summary of complaint
1. Neil Robinson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Swindon Advertiser breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Career in RAF left tarnished”, published on 14 March 2015.
2. The article reported that the complainant appeared at Swindon Magistrates’ Court on charges of stalking and harassment. The article was sub headlined: “Ex-partner was stalked after split”.
3. The complainant said that he had not been charged with stalking, and that the article was therefore inaccurate. He said that at the start of the court proceedings, the Clerks of the Court made clear that the charge sheet had been inaccurate, which was affirmed by the Magistrate and by the prosecution. The complainant brought the inaccuracy to the newspaper’s attention on the day the article was published. The complainant said that the newspaper’s subsequent correction and amendments did not adequately deal with what was a significant inaccuracy.
4. The newspaper provided a copy of the court list which had been circulated electronically, and was available in court on the day. It stated that the complainant had been charged with stalking without fear/alarm/distress contrary to 2A (1) and (4) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The newspaper said that a reporter had been in court for the full duration of the proceedings. It provided a copy of the reporter’s shorthand notes from the court hearing, and said that he did not hear any discussion about an amendment to charges. However, the newspaper did not dispute that the complainant was charged with harassment, rather than harassment with stalking. It said that to the extent that the article reported the complainant’s charge inaccurately, it was not the fault of the newspaper.
5. The print article had appeared on page 10 of the 14 March edition of the newspaper, and there had been a cross reference to the article on page 8 which stated “RAF man turned stalker: P10”. After being contacted by the complainant, the newspaper published a clarification on page 3 of the 16 March edition. The clarification explained that the article had quoted the charge against the complainant as “stalking and harassment”. It said that the CPS had amended the charge to one of harassment, and made clear that the complainant was not convicted of stalking. After the complainant contacted the newspaper, the online article was amended to remove the claim that Mr Robinson had been charged for stalking, and to include the positive comments made during the court proceedings by the complainant’s RAF officer, who had been a character witness. The newspaper also published the clarification on its website, and apologised privately to the complainant.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
7. The newspaper demonstrated that it had taken steps to ensure the accuracy of the article: its reporter had attended the proceedings; taken detailed shorthand notes; and reported the cited charge on a document that had been provided by the Court. Although the Committee was not able to determine the precise series of events relating to the change to the charge, it did establish that there was no breach of Clause 1 (i).
8. Nevertheless, it was inaccurate to report that the complainant had been charged with stalking and harassment. Once the newspaper had recognised this inaccuracy, it published a correction with greater prominence than the article under complaint. The correction was published promptly; noted the nature of the inaccuracy; and made clear that the charge had been amended to one of harassment, the correct position. The newspaper fulfilled its obligations under Clause 1 (ii), and there was therefore no breach of the Code.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 16/03/2015
Date decision issued: 05/06/2015Back to ruling listing