Decision of the Complaints Committee 04786-18 Hobson v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. John Hobson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “Student, 14, referred to terror prevention programme after he was ‘groomed’ by anti-fracking activists”, published online on 30 July.
2. The article reported that a report on preventing extremism in Greater Manchester had included a case study of a 14 year old student who had been “groomed” by anti-fracking activists. It stated that the student had been referred to an anti-terror programme by his school due to his “extreme beliefs in relation to the environment, specifically issues around fracking”, and that the child had allegedly become “progressively more aggressive” and was “frequently reported as missing by his parents” after approaches by activists. It went on to state that activists had stopped contacting the boy after an abduction notice was issued by the police and that he became more settled as a result.
3. The article also appeared in print on the 31 July with the headline, “Boy, 14, who was ‘groomed’ by fracking activists referred to anti-terrorism programme”. It was substantially the same as the article that appeared online.
4. The complainant said that shortly after the article was published online, the organisation that had published the report clarified that the activists involved in this case were not in fact anti-fracking activists as stated in the original report, but a different group of environmentalists. He said that he and multiple other people had tweeted both the journalist responsible for the article, and the publication’s twitter page, to ask them to correct the article. He said that the online article had remained online, uncorrected for almost 24 hours, and that the article had also appeared in print the following day, by which time it was known that the story was inaccurate. He said that other publications had corrected their articles on the matter immediately, and that in these circumstances the publication had failed to promptly correct the inaccuracies, in breach of Clause 1.
5. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that there was a strong public interest in publishing details of the government report on extremism and young people, and that, at the time of publication, it had done so accurately. It said that there may be circumstances in which it would be appropriate for a journalist to monitor developments on published stories, for example in relation to breaking news stories. However, in this instance, the journalist had no reason to believe that the information in the official government report might be subject to change. It said that a press release had been sent to its political editor by the organisation that published the report several hours after the article had been published. However, this press release was received out of hours, and was not sent to the journalist or news desk. Also, it was a general press release which did not highlight that it related to material that had been published by the newspaper, and was one of many that the political editor received that evening. Therefore it was not picked up before the article went to print. The newspaper said that at the time the article went to print, the publication had not received any formal complaints about the accuracy of the report, and was unaware that it had been amended. It also said that it was unreasonable to expect a publication or journalist to monitor their social media accounts frequently for complaints. It said that the publication’s twitter account provides a link to their formal complaints page, which it said was the appropriate way to raise concern about an article.
6. It said that the following day, when the journalist became aware that the report had been changed, a full clarification was placed at the top of the online article, making readers aware that the boy had not been targeted by anti-fracking activists, and including a link to the updated article. A print clarification was also published in the corrections and clarifications column on page two the day after the print article stating:
Yesterday’s article based on a report published by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) stated that anti-fracking activists “groomed” a 14-year-old boy on social media. GMCA has now accepted that this was incorrect and apologised; the boy was in fact targeted by another group of environmental activists, not by the anti-fracking movement. We are happy to set the record straight.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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
8. The newspaper was entitled to report on the findings of the published report by an official body, including the details regarding the alleged grooming of a 14 year old by anti-fracking activists. The online article had been published shortly after the report had been made public, and had accurately reported the details included in the document. There was no obligation on the journalist or the publication to review other media outlets or their social media for updates on this matter. The newspaper had not received any formal complaints through its complaints form prior to the article going in print, and although a press release had been sent to the political editor the evening before the article appeared in print, it was sent out of hours and was not sent to the relevant individuals who could make changes to the copy before it went to print. In these circumstances, the article was published in good faith, and there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of this information in breach of clause 1(i).
9. Regardless, the journalist became aware that the authors of the report had accepted that it had inaccurately attributed the grooming behaviour to anti-fracking activists 24 hours after the online article was published. Reporting that these activists had been anti-fracking protestors was a significant inaccuracy, because it suggested that the anti-fracking groups had been grooming young people, which was a serious and damaging allegation. This required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
10. The Committee noted that individuals on social media had contacted the journalist and the publication, attempting to draw their attention to the inaccuracy in the report. However no formal complaint was received through the appropriate complaints procedure of the newspaper, and therefore this was not brought to the attention of the relevant department. Once the newspaper became aware of the error in the original report, after it was brought to the attention of the journalist, a full clarification was added to the online article, making it clear that the boy had been targeted by another group of environmental activists, and directing readers to an updated version of the article. This was sufficiently prompt and prominent to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii). Similarly, a clarification was published in print in the established corrections and clarifications column the day after the article appeared in print. This made the correct position clear, and was suitably prompt and prominent to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
11. The complaint was not upheld
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 31/07/2018
Date decision issued: 02/10/2018Back to ruling listing