Decision of the Complaints Committee – 03296-21 Carr v Southend Echo
Summary of Complaint
1. June Carr complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of herself and her husband, Alex Carr, that the Southend Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following two articles:
· An article headlined “NOISE PAYOUT FOR AIRPORT NEIGHBOURS“ published on 31 March 2021.
· An article headlined “‘Pay us £100k and we will move out’”, published on 13 April 2021.
2. Both articles appeared online in substantially the same format under the headlines “Southend Airport to pay £86k to neighbours for noise” and “Fury as families miss out on Southend Airport compensation”, respectively.
3. The first article appeared on the front page of the newspaper, with its headline followed by a standfirst stating “Nine homes to get a share of £134k due to runway noise”. Both the headline and standfirst appeared in front of a photograph showing the complainant and her husband in the foreground sitting in a garden, with an aeroplane standing on tarmac clearly visible in the background, captioned: “Not so peaceful – Alex and June Carr in their garden that backs onto Southend Airport”. The front-page directed readers to page 9 for the full article. This reported that following a court ruling, “nine homes on nine different roads” were paid between “£4,000 and £17,000” to help repay losses to the value of their properties following the 2021 extension to Southend Airport. The article included the comments of a number of local residents, including one “who wishes to remain anonymous”, and featured the same image which had appeared on the front-page. This was captioned: “Neighbours – Southend Airport”.
4. The second article appeared on page 6 beneath the headline “‘Pay us £100k and we will move out’” and reported the “demands” made by the “furious families” who live next door to Southend Airport. It included the same image used within the first article and stated that the complainant wanted “£100,000 from airport bosses” so that she and her husband could move out of their home: “It’s unfair, we’re the closest to the runway. I’d be lucky if we got £300,000 for it now, it’s worth over £400,000. To work for 30 years on the house and to lose so much money is heart-breaking. We can’t sit in the garden because of it”. The article then included the comments from another resident and Southend Airport as well as the following correction:
“The Echo would like to correct the story it published on March 31 in relation to compensation handed to residents. In our initial story we stated that the airport would pay £134,000 in compensation. This was a mistake and the airport will actually pay £86,500 to residents. We would like to apologise for any confusion caused.”
5. The complainant said both articles were inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1. In regard to the first article, she said that the inclusion and prominence of the photograph, with the caption identifying her and her husband by name, under the headline: “NOISE PAYOUT FOR AIRPORT NEIGHBOURS”, incorrectly implied that they had received compensation from the airport; they had not. The complainant said that this had resulted in “bad feelings” within their local area as it was perceived as an affront by their neighbours to their collective effort for compensation.
6. The complainant said that the second article had inaccurately reported the quote she had given to the newspaper: she denied that she had demanded “£100,000” from the airport. Instead, she said the reporter asked her how much she thought her house was worth, to which she responded that “like for like” in another area, she would get £100,000 more. She said that the article misrepresented her position, and it was inaccurate to report that she had “demanded” such an amount, or said she would leave if she was awarded it.
7. In addition, the complainant said both articles breached Clause 2 (Privacy) by publishing an image of her and her husband in their garden, taken a number of years previously for a different story, without their consent or permission.
8. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. In regard to the first article, it did not consider that the inclusion of the image, which identified the complainant, was misleading. It said that neither the text of the article nor the caption of the image reported that the complainant had received compensation, with the image used merely to illustrate the extent to which local residents were affected by the extension.
9. Furthermore, it argued that this “impactful” image was widely circulated within the media and a “well-known representation” of the issue, with the newspaper providing a number of past articles which included the image from a range of publications in order to demonstrate this. With this, and the complainant’s own public disclosures of information – such as appearing on ITV’s This Morning to discuss the matter from her garden – the newspaper did not accept the complainant’s privacy concerns under Clause 2.
10. The newspaper did not accept that the second article inaccurately reported, or misrepresented, the comments made by complainant to the newspaper. The newspaper maintained that the reporter had asked her if she would accept £100,000 in compensation from the airport as she believed that amount had been deducted from the value of her property to which she responded yes. The newspaper provided a copy of the reporter’s contemporaneous shorthand notes of the interview with the complainant in order to demonstrate this, accompanied by a transcript of the relevant notes. The transcript showed that in response to the complainant stating that she believed her house had been devalued by £100,000, the reporter had asked her “would you want airport to pay you that back?” to which she responded “yes”. The newspaper said that upon hearing that the complainant was displeased with the first article, it had contacted her, and the second article served to clarify that the complainant had not in fact received compensation from the airport.
11. Furthermore, the newspaper offered, in an effort to resolve the matter upon receipt of the complaint, to publish a correction at the top of page 2 of the newspaper, stating that the complainant had not received compensation and clarifying the complainant’s comment in regard to the £100,000.
12. The complainant was not satisfied by the correction offered by the publication, as it did not make clear that she had not made the comment attributed to her. She did not consider it adequate to address her concerns, particularly in regard to the remarks reported in the second article. In response, the publication offered to publish the following, amended correction:
On March 31, the Echo published a news story which covered compensation given to various homeowners around Southend Airport. In our coverage, we used – on the front page – an image of a plan at Southend Airport, very close to homes. This was used to illustrate the close proximity of the airport to people’s homes. While the Echo did not state in the news story that Mr and Mrs Carr had received compensation, they were included in the picture. We would like to make clear that Mr and Mrs Carr were not given compensation. Furthermore, Mr and Mrs Carr say a remark published by the Echo in a subsequent follow-up news piece was inaccurate. Mrs Carr has asked us to point that she did not say “I’ll go if the airport gives me £100,000”. The Echo apologises for any upset caused.
13. Whilst the complainant welcomed the updated wording and did not object to the newspaper publishing it, she did not consider it sufficient to resolve her complaint. This correction appeared beneath the headline: “"CORRECTION: NO COMPENSATION FOR NOISE” and included the image of the complainant in the garden, with the caption: “Noise nuisance – Mr and Mrs Carr in their garden, close to Southend Airport”. The newspaper also confirmed that the online version of the second article was amended, with the correction appearing at the foot of the article, though it conceded that this was updated at a later date to the correction that had appeared in print due to an oversight.
Relevant Code Provisions
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.
Clause 2 (Privacy)*
(i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
(ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
(iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy
Findings of the Committee
14. Whilst the first article did not specifically state that the complainant had been awarded compensation, the Committee considered that the inclusion and prominence of the photograph, which showed the complainant in her home with the airport visible in the background, alongside reference to compensation being distributed to “nine homes” households neighbouring the airport, gave the clear impression that she had been one of the recipients. This was misleading, as the publication accepted. While the newspaper said the photograph had been used as a more general illustration of the proximity of local homes to the airport, its inclusion implied a specific link to the subject of the article: the distribution of compensation. As such, the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish misleading information under Clause 1 (i). This was significant and required correction under Clause 1 (ii).
15. The Committee then considered the second article, which reported that the complainant had “demanded” £100,000 from Southend Airport for her to “move out” of her home. Whilst the Committee recognised that the newspaper may have inferred this meaning from the complainant’s comments, the article did not make clear that it was reporting the publication’s interpretation of the complainant’s comments; as demonstrated by the notes provided by the newspaper, the complainant had not “demanded” this specific amount from the airport, nor said that she would move if her and her husband received this specific amount in compensation. Furthermore, this was included within quotation marks in the headline to suggest a direct quote from the complainant. On this basis, the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish misleading information in breach of Clause 1(i). This misleading presentation of the complainant’s comments related to contentious ongoing issues surrounding financial compensation and was, therefore, significant and as such required correction under Clause 1 (ii).
16. The newspaper had argued that the second article sought to clarify the position of the complainant and addressed any ambiguity resulting from the first over whether they had yet been compensated. The Committee did not consider that the second article identified the original inaccuracy or specifically corrected it, although it did report that the complainant had received no compensation to date. Notwithstanding this, upon receipt of the complaint, the newspaper had offered to publish a correction. The wording of this correction was subsequently amended to better reflect the complainant’s position, prior to publication. Though the Committee expressed concern at the publication’s initial engagement with the concerns raised by the complainant prior to IPSO’s investigation where this offer was made on receipt of the complaint, this was sufficiently prompt, and where it appeared on page 2 of the newspaper, was sufficiently prominent. The wording of the correction, published in print on 1 June, made clear the complainant’s position, as required under Clause 1 (ii). Whilst the Committee noted that the online version of the article was not updated until a later date, the newspaper had offered the correction promptly and then acted swiftly to rectify this by amending the text of the article and publishing the same correction that had already appeared in print at the foot of the article as soon as it became aware of the oversight. For these reasons, there was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).
17. The Committee next considered the concerns under Clause 2 and whether the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to the information contained in the photograph. The Committee noted that the image had been widely circulated prior to the article’s publication and had been taken with the complainant’s consent and cooperation, with the complainant partaking in media interviews from her garden in order to highlight the proximity of her home to the airport. In such circumstances, and taking account of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the disputed information was already in the public domain, the Committee did not consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of the information contained in the photographs. There was no breach of Clause 2.
18. The complaint was upheld in part.
Remedial Action Required
19. The published correction put the correct position on record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.
Date complaint received: 12/04/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 13/10/2021