· Decision of the Complaints Committee 03804-15 Lese v The Sunday Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Gail Lese complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Poorly start to Cherie Blair’s venture into healthcare”, published online on 14 March 2015, and in print on 15 March 2015.
2. The article expressed the view that a healthcare business, launched 3 years ago, had had a “poorly start”. It reported that the “umbrella company” and owner of Mee Healthcare, Worldwide Health and Wellness Centres, had showed a loss of £7.7 million in its profit and loss account. It reported that while Mee Healthcare had promised to open 100 clinics in its first five years, it had only opened 11 clinics in its first three years, and that no new clinics had been opened in the previous 15 months. It included the comments of a former employee who had criticised the pricing structure adopted by the business, and the comments of an “insider”, who criticised the selection of products which were offered. The article also reported that “An examination of the most recent accounts lodged at Companies House, for the 12 months until Dec 31, 2013 shows losses at the Ely store of just over £500,000 and a further loss of £532,000 at the Leeds clinic”.
3. The complainant said that the loss figures for the Ely and Leeds clinics were reported inaccurately as they were cumulative losses, rather than annualised losses. The complainant accepted that the Ely clinic had suffered losses of £500,624 for the period 9 March 2012 to 31 December 2013 and that the Leeds clinic had suffered losses of £532,282 for the period 7 September 2011 to 31 December 2013, but emphasised that the respective losses for 2013 alone were £249,187 and £219,044. The complainant considered that the newspaper had misread the information on the companies’ abbreviated balance sheets and had overlooked that the loss, as at the end of 2013, included a ‘carry forward’ of all losses in previous years. The complainant said that it was misleading to refer to the business as having had a “poorly start”, which suggested that Mee Healthcare was underperforming. The complainant said that this was not true; the development of Mee Healthcare’s clinics was in line with expectations, and the profitability of the business was exceeding the targets contained in its internal business model. The complainant said, further, that any losses were a result of its status as a start-up business and the very significant investments that had been made.
4. The newspaper said that the representatives of the business had been contacted 36 hours before the article appeared online, and 2 days before the article appeared in print. The responses it received to its enquiries were included in the article. It received a complaint from Worldwide Health & Wellness Centres Limited on 8 April 2015; this was principally in relation to the newspaper’s reported view that the business was having a “poorly start”. The newspaper said that while it understood that the complainant disagreed with the article’s characterisation of the performance of the business, this did not provide grounds for a complaint under the Editors’ Code of Practice.
5. The newspaper acknowledged that the losses quoted in the article were cumulative losses from start-up. This was intentional, and it asserted that this was made clear by the context in which the figures were presented, namely in an article reporting on the totality of the liabilities of the business. It said that the article’s reference to the accounts for the 12 months up to 31 December 2013 was included because this was how the figures were presented on the abbreviated balance sheets, the source of the figures.
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.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
7. It was not in dispute that Worldwide Health and Wellness Centres Limited was the owner of Mee Healthcare, and that the company was running multi-million pound losses. It was also not in dispute that no new Mee Healthcare clinic had been opened for 15 months. Whilst the complainant considered that the article did not make it sufficiently clear that the losses suffered at the Ely and Leeds clinics were cumulative, it was not in dispute that they had suffered total losses of £500,624 and £532,282 by the end of 2013. Given this performance, the newspaper was entitled to express the view that the business had suffered a “poorly start”, particularly as the Committee noted that the newspaper had taken care to obtain and include the responses provided by the representatives of the business in the article.
8. While the article did not make it expressly clear that the loss figures for the Ely and Leeds clinics were cumulative, rather than annualised losses, the accounts for the year ending 31 December 2013 had been cited in the article as the source of the information about the clinics’ financial performance. Any potential misunderstanding as to the period over which the losses had been suffered was not significant, given that the article was commenting upon the overall financial performance of the business. There was no breach of Clause 1.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 27/05/2015
Date decision issued: 14/09/2015
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