Decision of the Complaints Committee 04420-19 Clement v The Sunday Times
Summary of complaint
1. Joanne Clement complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times breached Clause 1(Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Hold your horses: town divided over 'lawless' gypsy livestock fair" published on 26 May 2019.
2. The article reported that the town of Appleby was divided over its annual horse fair, an event frequented by the Traveller community. It reported that some residents had concerns over the size of the event and the levels of crime and violence that had been prevalent the previous year. The article reported that "Last year there were 23 arrests, 117 crimes and 115 incidents logged by police, a three-year peak in each category".
3. The article also appeared in much the same format online under the headline "Hold your horses: Appleby divided over 'lawless' gypsy livestock fair".
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate. She said that there were only 17 crimes reported at the 2018 Appleby Fair, not 117 as reported; this had been confirmed by Cumbria police in its review of the policing operation.
5. The complainant also said that the use of the term "gypsy", in proximity to the term "lawless" in the headline was pejorative in breach of Clause 12. Further, she said that the ethnonym "Gypsy", should have been capitalised in the headline by virtue of it being a legally recognised ethnicity in the UK. The complainant also highlighted that "Traveller" is the preferable term to refer to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller peoples.
6. The publication accepted that it was inaccurate to refer to 117 arrests. It said that this was the result of a typing error and that the reporter had taken responsibility for the error on Twitter and promptly amended the online copy on the day of publication. The publication had offered to amend the copy before the complaint was made to IPSO.
7. Having accepted that the article contained an inaccuracy, the publication offered to publish a correction the same day the complaint was received by IPSO. It offered to publish the following wording in print in its corrections column of the letters page and on the online corrections page with a link to the correction as a footnote to the online article:
"The article "Hold your horses: Appleby divided over ‘lawless’ gypsy livestock fair" (News, May 26) reported incorrectly that there had been 117 arrests at last year's fair. The correct number was 17. We apologise for the error."
8. The publication emphasised that Clause 12 applies to individuals and not to groups. It said that there was only one individual, not represented by the complainant, named as a "Gypsy" and referring to him as a gypsy was not prejudicial or pejorative, or even critical; he had been referred to as " Head Gypsy" in a prominent Traveller's publication. The publication also said that it was its house style to use capitals sparingly; not capitalising "gypsy" was not intended to be pejorative.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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.
10. Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
11. It was accepted that it was inaccurate to report that 117 crimes were reported at the 2018 Appleby Fair and it was not in dispute that the accurate figure was 17. The publication accepted that this was a result of a typing error; this represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1(i). The article misreported publicly available crime figures by a large margin and this represented a significant inaccuracy requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).
12. The publication accepted that the article was inaccurate and amended the online article on the day of publication. The publication offered to publish a correction the same day the complaint was referred by IPSO. The Committee considered that the publication's offer identified the inaccuracy, set out the correct position and was offered promptly. Further, the Committee considered that the publication's offer to publish the correction in the letters page represented due prominence, as corrections columns demonstrate a commitment to correcting inaccurate or misleading material, while providing a consistent and familiar position in which to correct inaccuracies for readers. This should now be published to avoid a further breach of Clause 1(ii).
13. The complainant's concern that the article was pejorative towards Gypsy, Roma and Traveller peoples in general did not engage the terms of Clause 12, which offers protection to identifiable individuals. The Committee noted that an individual was referred to as a Gypsy in the article but considered that it would be for that individual to complain in the event he considered this to be a pejorative or prejudicial reference to his ethnicity.
14. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial action required
15. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.
16. The publication had offered to publish a
correction in a prominent position and sufficiently promptly as to meet the
requirements of Clause 1(ii). This should now be published to avoid a breach of
Date complaint received: 26/05/2019
Date decision issued: 16/09/2019