Decision of the Complaints Committee – 06243-18 Rae v Sunday Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. Jamie Rae complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “SALMOND IN NEW CROWD CASH ROW”, published on 9 September 2018.
2. The article reported that the complainant, “a convicted fraudster”, was “helping to bankroll Alex Salmond’s legal battle against sexual harassment claims”. It said that the complainant “has given £1000 to the former first minister’s controversial online crowd funder campaign”, and that he had “served time in jail for benefits and mortgage fraud in 1997”. The article said that he had been charged in relation to these “scams” - which involved more than £167,000 – while he was an SNP councillor, and that Mr Salmond had subsequently “helped launch” his recycling business in the Far East. It went on to describe how the SNP had been “accused of cronyism” in 2014 when “an IT firm who [the complainant] had joined as a director months beforehand were given a £2million NHS contract”. The article included a quotation from the complainant, saying that he was happy for his fraud conviction to be written about, but that “’you should also say that he had a successful business and did a lot for charity and helped a lot of people’”.
3. The article also appeared online in the same form with the headline “Alex Salmond in new crowdfund cash row as convicted fraudster helps to bankroll legal fight”.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) because it suggested that “cronyism” had been involved in the decision to award the IT firm the NHS contract. He said that in fact there were valid technical reasons for the award of the contract, which followed on from a previous NHS contract awarded to the same company, and was therefore the next phase in the rollout of an existing provision; it was therefore inaccurate for the article to characterise the award of the 2014 contract as having arisen from the complainant’s appointment as director. The complainant was also concerned that the article stated that Mr Salmond had helped “launch” the complainant’s Far East business; in fact, the former First Minister had made a visit to the company three months after it launched, but had not “launched” it. Finally, the complainant was concerned that the article suggested that there was something untoward in his making a donation to the former First Minister’s campaign.
5. The publication denied any breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). It said that the complainant had been appointed a director of the IT firm two months before an NHS contract had been signed during March 2014, as reported in the article, and the article specifically referred to this contract, not to any other the company was engaged in with the NHS. It was therefore not misleading, it said, to refer to accusations of “cronyism”.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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.
Findings of the Committee
7. The article accurately reported that the complainant had become a director of the IT company “months before” it was given a £2million NHS contract. It was not in dispute that, subsequent to this appointment, accusations of “cronyism” had been made. While the complainant asserted that these accusations were invalid, the publication had accurately reported that they had been made, and presented the correct information regarding the complainant’s appointment to the firm. It did not adopt the allegation of “cronyism” as fact. There was no failure to take care over this claim, and no misleading impression was created that required correction; there was therefore no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
8. The complainant accepted that the former First Minister had visited his Far East Business three months after it launched. It was not misleading, in these circumstances, for the publication to state that he had “helped launch” the business: he had visited it shortly after it opened, with a view to promoting its work. This phrase did not suggest that the former First Minister had been involved in the founding of the company. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
9. The publication was entitled to draw attention to the complainant’s public donation to the former First Minister’s online crowdfunding campaign, and to his past convictions, which were matters of public record. The convictions and donation were accurately reported, and no misleading impression was given of the complainant’s actions; the complainant’s response to the connection being made was also included. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 24/09/2018
Date decision issued: 14/12/2018
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