· Decision of the Complaints Committee 02575-15 A Woman v Evening Chronicle (Newcastle Upon Tyne)
Summary of complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Evening Chronicle had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in a series of articles.
2. The newspaper had published a number of reports about a trial in which the complainant’s son was accused, and subsequently convicted, of manslaughter.
3. The complainant was concerned that the coverage was inaccurate and significantly misleading. She said that the coverage had given greater weight to the evidence presented by the prosecution than the defence. She was also concerned that the coverage said that the victim had been killed “for a laugh”, and that it had quoted a comment by the mother of the victim stating that the defendant had shown “no remorse”. She said that these were allegations which had not been proven in court.
4. The complainant said that the Judge had criticised the reporting of the trial. The complainant did not, however, provide specific information regarding the nature of the Judge’s concern.
5. The newspaper did not accept that the coverage had been inaccurate or significantly misleading. It said that it had been entitled to report on public court proceedings as these were matters of public interest, particularly as the defendant had been convicted and given a custodial sentence. The reporter had attended the prosecution opening, the hearing of the defendant’s evidence, the verdict and the sentence. The newspaper said that there is no requirement under the Code to publish a balanced report of events. It had, however, published reports covering both the prosecution and defence cases.
6. It said that the Judge’s remarks had not been directed solely toward the Evening Chronicle. Its reporter had approached the Judge and asked him to clarify his comments, so he could ensure the accuracy of the articles. The Judge had responded that he could not remember exactly what the issue was or whether it had been in the reporter’s articles.
7. The prosecution had alleged that the victim had been “killed for a laugh”. It provided the reporter’s notes and documents from the court which showed that this had been alleged by the prosecution. The claim that the defendant had shown no remorse had clearly been distinguished as a comment made by the mother.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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.
Findings of the Committee
9. The newspaper had been entitled to report information which had been disclosed as part of the court proceedings. Under the terms of the Code, there is no obligation for newspapers to give equal coverage to arguments made by both the prosecution and defence, provided that the coverage does not represent a misleading or distorted account of the proceedings. The newspaper’s coverage had reported the arguments presented by the prosecution and the defence, and it was not in dispute that the newspaper had accurately reported the outcome of the trial.
10. The newspaper’s reporting of the proceedings during the proceedings had made clear that the reference to the defendant as having killed the victim “for a laugh” was an allegation made by the prosecution, rather than a fact established by the court. Following the jury’s verdict, two reports had used this phrase in connection with the conviction. While the Committee noted that these two reports had not identified the phrase as having been used by the prosecution, this was not significantly misleading in the context of his conviction, which signified the jury’s acceptance of the prosecution case and its rejection of the defendant’s claim that he had acted in self-defence. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
11. The claim that the defendant had shown no remorse had been correctly attributed to the family member, and clearly represented her personal view; the article did not suggest that was a position which had been shared by the court. The newspaper had not failed to distinguish comment from fact. There was no breach of the Code on this.
12. While the Committee noted the complainant’s concern about the views apparently expressed by the Judge, in the absence of information regarding the Judge’s specific concerns about the coverage, the Committee did not consider this point further.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 08/04/2015
Date decision issued: 30/06/2015Back to ruling listing