Decision of the Complaints Committee – 06393-21 Minto v Sunday People
Summary of Complaint
1. Carol Minto complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Sunday People breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “I spoke out about evil doc's abuse and it gave 100 others a voice”, published on 6th June 2021.
2. The article reported on an upcoming book written by the complainant in which she detailed the abuse she had experienced as a child. It reported that, as a child, she had been sexually assaulted by her brother for years before she began to run away from home. The article explained that the complainant told her mother and a social worker what had been happening, but that, instead of helping her, her mother signed her into a psychiatric hospital. The article reported that, whilst the complainant was in the hospital, she was drugged and abused by a doctor. The article stated that the doctor “drugged her and re-enacted the same abuse she had suffered at the hands of her father”. It explained that when the complainant returned home, “her parents wanted to ‘ignore the past’”.
3. The article also appeared online under the headline, “’I spoke out about evil doctor’s abuse and it helped 100 others find their voice’”.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it claimed that she had been abused by her father. She stated this was never the case, as the only family member by whom she had been abused was her brother. The complainant said that this inaccuracy had led her to receive messages from others expressing their shock that she would label her father a child abuser and that her wider family had become hostile towards her as a result.
5. The publication said it acknowledged that there had been an error and said it was “extremely regretful for the mistake”. It published the following correction and apology on 13th June 2021 on page 6:
“A story in last week’s Sunday People entitled ‘I spoke out about evil doc’s abuse and it gave 100 other victims a voice’ on pages 24 and 25 contained an error. It stated at one point that Carol Minto had been abused by her father when it should have stated “by her brother’”. We apologise for this error and are happy to set the record straight.”
6. It stated that this was sufficient to correct the inaccuracy in line with the requirements of Clause 1 (ii) as it was published in the following edition of the newspaper and was published with due prominence as it appeared in the established Corrections and Clarifications column on Page 6, whereas the original article was published on pages 24 and 25.
7. The publication explained that the online article had been corrected three days after it had been published as a result after it was alerted to the error by the journalist who wrote the book about the complainant. It said that, as the error had been corrected quickly, and, given the sensitivity of the issue, no footnote or standalone correction had been published online, which would have meant ongoing republication of the inaccuracy. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication added a correction to the top of the article that stated:
“Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Dr Kenneth Miulner had re-enacted the same abuse that Carol Minto had suffered at the hands of her father. In fact, it was Carol Minto’s brother that had abused her, and not her father. We are happy to clarify this and apologise for the error.”
8. The complainant did not accept this as a resolution to her complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
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
9. There was no dispute that, having initially correctly reported that the complainant had suffered abuse by her brother as a young girl, part way through, the article inaccurately referred to “abuse [the complainant] had suffered at the hands of her father”. This error showed a clear failure on the part of the publication to take sufficient care not to publish inaccurate information and, therefore, the Committee established a breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code.
10. Given the gravity of the subject matter and traumatic experiences of the complainant, this misidentification of the complainant’s abuser was significant and therefore required correction, promptly and with due prominence, in accordance with the terms of Clause 1 (ii) of the Code. It was also appropriate for the publication to apologise, given that the inaccuracy related to a highly personal, sensitive subject.
11. The Committee considered the corrective action undertaken by the publication and assessed whether it fulfilled the obligations of Clause 1 (ii). Regarding the print version of the article, the publication had published a correction in the next edition of the newspaper – published the following week – which identified the inaccuracy, set out the correct position and apologised for the error. It had been published in the newspaper’s established corrections column, on page 6, which was significantly further forward in the newspaper to the page on which the article under complaint appeared. While the inaccuracy was clearly highly significant and had caused the complainant significant distress, the Committee concluded on balance that the corrective action taken by the publication was sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii) of the Code.
12. The online article had been updated three days after publication. The publication said it had considered the sensitivity of the issue at hand and did not want to repeat the error. Once the publication was made aware that the online article formed part of the complainant’s complaint, it added the correction to the top of the article, underneath the headline. The Committee noted that the error had been corrected as soon as the publication had been made aware of it by the journalist. The error was significant and sensitive, and the publication had promptly corrected it in print. On balance, the Committee considered that there was justification for not publishing a separate correction online in addition to the amendment, in the absence of a complaint from the complainant. A correction was added to the article as soon as the publication became aware it formed part of the complaint and appeared beneath the headline of the article. In the circumstances, this was sufficiently prompt and prominent and there was, therefore, no further breach of Clause 1 of the Code in relation to the correction.
13. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.
Remedial Action Required
published correction and apology put the correct position on record and was
offered and published promptly and with due prominence. No further action was
Date complaint received: 17/06/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/06/2021Back to ruling listing