Resolution statement 02388-19 Osman V The Sunday Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Mohammed Osman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Telegraph breached Clause 1(Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in two articles headlined:
· "Aerial dogfight over Kashmir ends in mystery" published in print on 3 March 2019, and online on 2 March 2019.
· "Indian air chief refuses to confirm death toll from strike on Pakistani militant camp" published online on 4 March 2019.
2. The first article reported on an aerial skirmish between the Indian and Pakistani air forces over the disputed territory of Kashmir. It reported how the events had unfolded, and that India had shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter. The article featured a graphic of a timeline entitled "How India and Pakistan came to the brink of war". The article also featured a photograph of some wreckage with the caption: “The downed Indian jet crashed in Pakistan. The Pakistani F-16 came down in India, but Islamabad deny the loss”.
3. The second article reported that the Indian Air Chief Marshal had refused to confirm the death toll from an air strike on an alleged terrorist training camp in Pakistan. The article featured the same graphic of a timeline and photograph of the wreckage as the first article.
4. The complainant said the text, diagrams and photographs featured in the first article had presented conjecture as fact, namely that India had shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter, when this was disputed by both Pakistan and the international community. He said that the article had presented the Indian military's version of events as fact and failed to acknowledge the Pakistani version of events.
5. The complainant said that the diagrams and captions in the second article had further presented the claim that a Pakistani F-16 fighter was shot down as fact, despite the lack of evidence to support this position.
6. The publication denied a breach of the Code. It said that the articles were based on eyewitness accounts of the dogfight from Indian military sources and were signposted as such. It emphasised that the articles were written shortly after the clash, when it was impossible to verify the details given the history of claim and counter claim involving the combatants; readers would have understood that no report from one side of the conflict could be relied on as factual. In any event, the articles had mentioned that Islamabad had denied the loss. After receiving input from readers, the publication updated the first article, with a link to a more recent article which was published after further information emerged; this further emphasised that Pakistan disputed the events.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
v) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.
8. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
9. During IPSO's investigation, the publication offered to amend the text in the first article and the embedded graphics in both articles to further clarify Pakistan's position that no F-16 fighters were involved.
10. The publication also offered to publish a clarification in print in its 'Corrections and Clarifications' column on page 2. The publication offered the following wording:
Following our 3 March article, "Aerial dogfight over Kashmir ends in mystery", we wish to clarify that Pakistan denies that any of its F-16s were involved in the 27 Feb aerial clash with Indian air force jets. It also denies the claim by Indian sources, reported in our article, that one of its F-16s was shot down. We are sorry for any confusion.
11. The publication also offered a further amendment to the final paragraph of the online version of the first article.
12. The complainant said that this resolved the matter to his satisfaction.
13. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 15/03/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 05/04/2019
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