Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02148-18 Young v dailyrecord.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Ashley Young complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that dailyrecord.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Rolling Stones fans ripped off as touts break law by charging £949 for pre-sale Murrayfield gig ticket”, published on 2 March 2018.
2. The article reported that ticket touts were breaking consumer laws by ‘infiltrating’ the Rolling Stones’ fan club to obtain “limited privileged presale tickets”, and selling the tickets on at high prices online before the general sale. This was described in the sub-headline as “a clear breach of the law”. The article quoted an “industry investigator” who said “This is a slam-dunk breach of consumer protection laws. Anyone selling tickets on secondary sites before the general sale simply has to be breaking the law”. The article said that “touts are also breaking the Consumer Rights Act, which states that the block, row and seat number of tickets should be stated, along with the face value of tickets at the point of resale”. It included a statement from the Rolling Stones saying that “Fans should not trust secondary ticketing sites”. The sub-headline of the article described the tickets as “gold-dust briefs”.
3. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to say that secondary ticket sellers were breaking the law by selling presale tickets. He said that the individuals quoted in the article were also mistaken on this point. The complainant said that all tickets available on the one resale website mentioned in the article did include the seat information required. He also said that it was inaccurate to describe the tickets as “gold-dust briefs” when tickets for the shows were still available, and to say that sellers were “charging £949” for tickets, when this was not the average price of the tickets. He also said he did not believe that the quotation from the Rolling Stones included in the article had in fact been made by them. Finally, he said that the article had omitted information about the “industry investigator”, which gave a misleading impression of his expertise.
4. The publication
denied that the article breached the Code. The publication said that the
article’s claim that the sellers were breaking the law was based on its
interpretation of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008,
which stated that “falsely representing oneself as a consumer” was considered
an unfair trading practice. The Rolling Stones ticket presale was presented as
an exclusive opportunity for fan club members (a “fan presale”), so by
purchasing these tickets with the intention of selling them, the sellers were
misrepresenting themselves as consumers, in breach of this regulation. The
publication provided news coverage indicating that ticket touts had previously
been arrested for allegedly breaching this regulation.
5. The publication said that the article had said that “ticket touts” were breaching the Consumer Rights Act by not providing adequate seat information in relation to tickets; this claim did not refer to any particular resale website. It said that the Competition and Markets Authority had provided a list of factors, including the exact seat location, which it considered revealed a breach of the law and which are mandatory to include; this was the basis for the claim that sellers had breached the Act. It provided examples of Rolling Stones tickets from a reselling website which did not include this information.
6. The publication provided evidence in the form of a screengrab from a resale website that sellers were “charging £949” for tickets: the article said that the tickets were being sold for amounts “up to” this figure, and this was not misleading. It said that posts on social media suggested that many fans did not manage to obtain a ticket, so it was reasonable to characterise the tickets as “gold dust briefs”. The quotation attributed to the Rolling Stones had been sent directly to the journalist by the band’s spokespeople, and the “industry investigator” quoted was regarded as one of the country’s leading authorities on ticket touts; his external business affairs were not relevant to the article, and omitting them was not misleading.
7. The complainant
said it was for the courts, and not the publication, to judge whether the
unfair trading regulations had been broken, and that the publication had not
provided any evidence of any prosecutions under this interpretation of the
regulations. He said it was wrong to say that the tickets were part of a “fan
presale”: they were available to anyone on the band’s mailing list, and fans
could simply have bought extra tickets to sell to pay for their own tickets. He
said that the tickets the publication had used as evidence for the omission of
seat information were from a different site to the one referred to in the
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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
9. The article’s
characterisation of the tickets as “gold dust briefs” clearly reflected the
publication’s own interpretation of the value and limited availability of the
tickets. Where the publication had provided a basis for its position that some
fans were struggling to buy tickets, and that tickets were being sold at high
prices, this was not misleading. Similarly, stating that the sellers were
“charging £949” for tickets was not misleading: tickets were available for this
price, and the article accurately reported that they were available at prices
“up to” this amount; there was no suggestion this was an average amount. The
complainant was not in a position to dispute that the Rolling Stones’ spokesman
had provided the quotation in the article, as the publication stated, and this
was not presented in a misleading manner. It would be for the band itself to complain,
were it to consider that it had been misrepresented. The publication was also
entitled to describe the “industry investigator” in these terms, because he had
spoken widely on the subject of ticket touting. There was no breach of Clause 1
on these points.
10. The article had
stated as fact that “touts” were breaking the law. The first paragraph stated
that this breach lay in “charging Rolling Stones fans almost £1000 a ticket”,
and the article went on to make clear that the alleged breach lay in touts
“infiltrating” a fan site to obtain tickets and subsequently re-selling them
before the general sale. The publication supported this claim with quotations
from an “industry investigator”, and was able to provide details of the
regulation which it considered had been broken. By referring to “touts”, the
publication had distinguished individuals who bought tickets with the express
purchase of selling them – who might be in breach of the law, as they could be
argued to be presenting themselves falsely as consumers – from consumers who
were selling unwanted tickets which had originally been purchased for their own
use. It was also able to provide evidence to suggest that ticket touts have
been charged in relation to ticket sales under the regulation it identified.
Clearly, it was a matter of dispute whether the law had in fact been breached,
and it would ultimately be a matter for the legal system to judge on this
point; however, the complainant’s position that there had been no prior
convictions under this regulation did not mean that a breach of the law had not
occurred. The publication was able to provide a basis for its claim that the
law had been broken, and had limited this claim to the actions of “touts”; this
assertion was supported by the claims of the “industry investigator”. In these
circumstances, there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of this
point in breach of Clause 1(i). In addition, the publication was entitled to
assert, on the basis of an identified breach of an Act, that it considered the
law to have been broken, and this was not misleading. This meant it did not
require correction under Clause 1(ii).
11. The article had stated as fact that secondary ticketing sites were breaking the Consumer Rights Act by not including all the necessary information on tickets. This claim was not attributed to any particular site, and the publication was able to provide evidence that some sites were acting in this way. The fact that a different site was mentioned in the article did not mean that it was misleading to state that “touts” were acting in this way, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 03/03/2018
Date decision issued: 21/05/2018
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