Decision of the Complaints Committee 02167-14 McAllister v Daily Record
Summary of complaint
1. Billy McAllister complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Record breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Anti-gay row Nat is suspended”, published on 25 October 2014.
2. The article, sub-headlined “Councillor who abused disabled man is accused of rant against black rival”, reported that the complainant, a Glasgow City Councillor, had been suspended from the Scottish National Party following an alleged “anti-gay outburst” directed at Graham Campbell, a political consultant. It noted that “another man has also been reported for an alleged assault”, and quoted a police spokesman: “we can confirm that a 47 year-old man was reported to the procurator fiscal for an alleged assault and a sixty-year-old man for an alleged homophobic breach of the peace during an incident in Maryhill Road on August 26”. It also reported that the complainant had previously pleaded guilty to acting in a threatening and abusive manner towards John Park, a member of the Solidarity Party, and quoted a Labour councillor who referred to Mr Park as disabled.
3. The complainant explained that he had been victim of this alleged assault, and that the allegation was against Mr Campbell. He said that the omission of this information suggested to readers that he was the protagonist during the incident; in reality he had been a victim of violence. Further, the complainant said that the use of the word “disabled” to describe Mr Park was inaccurate; it was wrong to use the word “disabled” simply because an individual considered themselves to be disabled.
4. The complainant said that the reference to Mr Campbell’s skin colour in the sub-headline breached Clause 12 because there was no racial element to the incident, and it was therefore not genuinely relevant to the story.
5. The newspaper said that at the time of publication, it was not aware that there had been an allegation that Mr Campbell had assaulted the complainant; the Police Scotland Press Office had declined to identify the accused assailant when asked by its reporter. A journalist from the newspaper had emailed the complainant at 5pm on the day before publication to ask if he would like to comment on a story being run the next day. The newspaper said that the journalist had also tried to call the complainant. The complainant had responded to the email at 8:30pm with a short account of the incident, in which he alleged that Mr Campbell had assaulted him. The journalist had by that time finished his shift, and only received the email the next morning. The newspaper offered to resolve the complaint by updating the online article to make clear that proceedings against the complainant and Mr Campbell were not being pursued.
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.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
7. The complainant contended that by referring to the alleged assault without identifying the individuals concerned as himself and Mr Campbell, the article was not an accurate or fair report of the incident. The focus of the article was the complainant’s action and his subsequent suspension from the SNP, based on information provided to the newspaper by the police. It was not suggested that Mr Campbell’s actions had provoked or provided justification for the behaviour which led to the complainant’s being reported to the procurator fiscal. In these circumstances, the omission of the allegation against Mr Campbell did not distort or misrepresent the nature of the complainant’s actions. Whilst the Committee expressed concern about the extent of the newspaper’s attempts to contact the complainant prior to publication, the article was not significantly misleading, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
8. The Committee considered that the term “disabled” has a broad meaning and that its application was therefore open to interpretation. The article described Mr Park’s physical impairment by stating that “Park, 48, walks with the aid of a stick as he has metal plates in his legs”, and by doing so, it made clear the basis on which Mr Park had been described as “disabled”. In these circumstances, the article was not significantly misleading, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
9. The complainant had not raised a concern that the article had discriminated against Mr Campbell; rather, he was concerned that the reference to a “black rival” suggested that there was a racial motive to his actions. This did not raise a breach of Clause 12.
10. Although the complaint was framed under Clause 12, the Committee considered the question of whether the reference to Mr Campbell’s skin colour was misleading and inaccurate, contrary to Clause 1. The article stated that the allegations against the complainant related to homophobia, and not to racism. In this context, the reference to Mr Campbell’s skin colour was not significantly misleading in the manner contended by the complainant.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 02/12/2014
Date decision issued: 27/03/2015Back to ruling listing