Decision of the Complaints Committee 04605-18 Milton v The Courier
Summary of complaint
1. Moira Milton complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Courier breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Royal wedding invitation in tribunal claim”, published on 29 June 2018, and an article headlined “Mission manager accused of ‘setting an ambush’”, published on 30 June 2018.
2. The first article was a report of an employment tribunal in which a charitable organisation’s “new manager [the complainant] denied any wrongdoing after a sacked former employee missed out on an invitation to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding reception”. It reported that another charity had sent the invitation to the organisation – where it thought the woman still worked. The article reported that the woman did not receive the letter until after the deadline given to respond. It went on to describe how the complainant – who it named – was questioned by the woman’s solicitor in relation to her actions in passing on the invitation to the woman; he asked her whether she had intended for the woman to miss the event.
3. The second article repeated the first article’s claim that the woman “missed out on attending Prince Harry’s wedding to Meghan Markle because an invitation, sent to her at [the organisation] was not passed on in time”.
4. The articles appeared in the same format online. The first article, published on 29 June 2018, was headlined “Solicitor questions whether Town Mission wanted sacked employee to miss reception invite”. The second, published on 30 June 2018, was headlined “Town mission manager ‘ambushed’ in order to have her removed”.
5. The complainant said that the articles were inaccurate: in fact, the invitation referred to at the tribunal had been to an evening reception at Buckingham Palace to honour inspirational leaders on the occasion of the Prince of Wales’ 70th birthday; it had no connection with the royal wedding, and no mention of an invitation to the royal wedding had been made at the tribunal - whilst reference had been made to Buckingham Palace as the location of the event. She said that the letter had been issued more than eight months after the woman’s dismissal, and posted on to her promptly as a gesture of goodwill; it had nothing to do with the woman’s dismissal. The complainant also said that she understood that the woman had in fact been able to attend the event referred to irrespective of this. The complainant said that reporting this inaccurate information, alongside the line of questioning used by the woman’s solicitor, gave a distorted and damaging impression of her actions.
6.The publication accepted that the articles had required correction. It said that the error had arisen from a misunderstanding: the reporter reason to believe that the royal wedding would be brought up in evidence at the tribunal, and when the tribunal began debating a “royal event” he assumed this was the wedding. It said that the article had nevertheless reported the dispute surrounding the letter accurately, and had included the complainant’s response to the claim that she’d delayed passing on the letter in full. The publication had published the following correction on page 5 within three weeks of the articles’ publication, which it said was sufficient to correct the inaccuracy:
Correction: A report from an employment tribunal in The Courier on June 29 and another on June 30 stated Wilma Swankie, a former employee of the Arbroath Town Mission, had missed out on an invitation to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding because it was not passed on in time by her former employers. We have been asked to point out that the invitation was to a reception at Buckingham Palace to commemorate Prince Charles’ 70th birthday and to honour inspirational leaders.
The publication also amended the online versions of the articles, and appended footnote corrections to each with a similar wording to that above.
7. The complainant said that the correction published was inadequate: it did not make clear that the invitation had nothing to do with the royal wedding, and no apology had been given for the error. She also said that the correction lacked the prominence of the original articles; the first article had contained the inaccurate claim in its headline in large print, and the second article had taken up half a page, whilst the correction was small and its heading was insignificant. She said that the correction also failed to make clear that her organisation had no obligation to pass on the letter, and had done so as an act of goodwill, and to make clear that, in fact, the woman had not missed out on the invitation, and had been able to attend the event.
8. The publication did not consider that an apology to the complainant was required, or that the correction should have mentioned her; it said it had reported the substance of the dispute relating to the letter accurately. The publication also said that it had a long-standing commitment to carry corrections on page 4 or 5, and had acted in line with this policy.
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.
Findings of the Committee
10. It was accepted that an invitation to the royal wedding had not been referred to at the tribunal. Given that the article was a report of this hearing, prominently stating that a royal wedding invitation had been referred to represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1(i). A claim to have missed out on an invitation to the royal wedding was likely to be interpreted by readers as more significant than missing out on a much less prominent reception, and this would affect the interpretation of the allegations against the complainant. In these circumstances, this was a significant inaccuracy that required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). The publication had promptly published a correction which made clear the nature of inaccuracy, and the correct position, and which had been given sufficient prominence, in that it appeared on page 5, while the original article appeared on page 22. This was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii). The online corrections were footnotes to the articles, which had been amended. Again, this prominence was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii).
11. The first article stated that the woman had “missed out on an invitation” to the event; this was not misleading, given that it was not in dispute that the invitation had not been received until after the deadline. The second article stated that “the tribunal heard that [the woman] missed out on attending” he event as a result of the problem with the invitation; the complainant said that, in fact, the woman had attended the event. It appeared that the hearing had not heard information on this point. However, the complainant did not appear to have direct knowledge of this matter, and the Committee was not in a position to determine whether the woman had in fact attended. In these circumstances, given that the complainant’s central concern related to the nature of the invitation and her actions in relation to it, and notwithstanding the above, the Committee did not find that the article contained a significant inaccuracy that required correction on this point. There was no breach of Clause 1 in relation to this claim.
12. The complainant was concerned that the article suggested that the woman’s dismissal had been connected to the incident relating to the invitation. The Committee did not consider that the article made this connection; it merely reported on the discussion that had taken place in relation to the invitation at the tribunal. The publication was entitled to report the line of questioning deployed by the woman’s solicitor, and the complainant’s response to the claims had been included in full in the first article. This was not misleading, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial action required
14. The publication had published corrections which addressed the inaccuracy within the articles, and these had been published with sufficient promptness and prominence. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii), and no further remedial action was required.
Date complaint received: 19 July 2018
Date decision issued: 23 November 2018