Decision of the Complaints Committee 02184-14 Rooney v Wetherby News
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Anna Rooney complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Wetherby News had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “New leaders set to stay at high school”, published on 3 October 2014. The complainant further complained that the newspaper had breached Clause 3 (Privacy) in handling her complaint about the article.
2. The article reported a partnership between two local schools, Wetherby High and Carr Manor Community School, and included comments from the acting head teacher of Wetherby High. The complainant is the deputy head teacher at a nearby school.
3. The complainant said that Carr Manor Community School had never been rated “outstanding” overall by Ofsted. Further, the quoted claim by the acting head teacher of Wetherby High that “we are not in partnership [with Carr Manor] because there is anything wrong with the school” was also inaccurate, as the school had been judged to “require improvement”. The complainant had initially contacted the reporter to raise her concerns about the accuracy of the article, suggesting that parents considering where to place their children would be misled by these claims. She decided not to pursue the matter further, but subsequently learned that information about her complaint had been passed to a local councillor and her employer, at which point she complained to IPSO. She said that the disclosure of information about her complaint had represented an intrusion into her privacy and had caused her significant embarrassment and distress.
4. When first contacted by the complainant, the reporter had denied that the newspaper had inaccurately reported the Ofsted grading for Carr Manor; she said that under the new grading scheme, “outstanding” had been replaced by “good”. After receiving the complaint via IPSO, however, the newspaper had acknowledged the inaccuracy and offered to print the following correction on page 1 of a forthcoming edition:
“An article in the Wetherby News on October 3, 2014, referred to Carr Manor school as having an Ofsted grade of Outstanding. We have been asked to point out that the correct Ofsted grade for Carr Manor school is ‘Good’ and we apologise for the error”.
5. The newspaper said that it had accurately reported the comments of the acting head teacher, and had distinguished them as her opinion. It did not believe that this aspect of the article raised a breach of the Code.
6. The newspaper said that the reporter had received two similar complaints about the accuracy of the article, one of which was the complainant’s, in which she had described herself as a “senior leader in secondary education”. The reporter had been concerned that there was a campaign being mounted against Carr Manor Community School, and had therefore asked a local contact if he knew who the complainant was. The newspaper said that the reporter had disclosed only the complainant’s name, and the fact that she had complained about the article, not the details of her correspondence. It said that the journalist had emphasised the confidential nature of her query to the third party, and the contact confirmed that the information would not be passed on. It accepted that the third party – who it declined to identify, regarding them as a confidential source – had subsequently disclosed the information to others. This was a matter of regret, but it was not the responsibility of the newspaper.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
Clause 3 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
Findings of the Committee
8. The newspaper had not explained persuasively why it had disclosed information about the complaint to a third party. Furthermore, on receipt of the first contact from the complainant raising concerns about the accuracy of the article, the newspaper should have recognised that an inaccuracy had been published, and promptly offered to remedy it. The inaccuracy regarding Carr Manor’s Ofsted rating was significant in the context of the report, and its publication constituted a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. A correction was necessary; this aspect of the complaint was upheld.
9. On both of these points, the newspaper’s handling of the complainant’s concerns represented extremely poor practice. This was a matter of concern.
10. The Committee did not find a further breach of Clause 1 in relation to the inclusion of the claim by the acting head teacher of Wetherby High regarding the reasons for the school’s partnership with another institution. This was clearly distinguished as her opinion and was not significantly misleading.
11. The newspaper accepted that it had disclosed the complainant’s name, and the fact that she had complained about its coverage of Wetherby High, to a third party. As the complainant had pointed out – in the course of questioning why the newspaper had decided to make enquiries as to her identity – the complaint related to a general point of fact. It did not contain information about the complainant which could reasonably be considered private. For these reasons, while this disclosure constituted poor practice, it did not breach Clause 3.
12. The complaint was upheld in part under Clause 1.
Remedial Action Required
13. Having partially upheld the complaint under Clause 1 (i), 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. In cases where a publication’s arrangements for enforcing standards and compliance have been found to be at fault, IPSO 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 noted that the newspaper had offered to publish a front-page correction acknowledging the error and making clear the correct position. The Committee welcomed the offer of a particularly prominent correction, following the complaint to IPSO. In all the circumstances, this was sufficient to remedy the established breach of the Code, and the newspaper should publish it promptly, in print and online, in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii).
15. However, the newspaper’s failures in the handling of the complaint demonstrated that its arrangements for enforcing standards and compliance were at fault. IPSO will therefore be notifying the publication that further remedial action is required to answer the criticism made of its processes above. The publication will be required to take further steps to ensure that its staff are aware of the proper operation of its complaints procedure, and to provide assurances to IPSO that it has taken steps to implement an appropriate confidentiality procedure for complainants’ correspondence, including clear guidance as to when and how such correspondence may be disclosed to third parties.
Date complaint received: 03/12/2014Date decision issued: 20/02/2015 Back to ruling listing