Decision of the Complaints Committee 06731-18 Wedge v The Sun
Summary of complaint
1. Brian Wedge complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "£4BN FOREIGN AID TO FIX POTHOLES IN INDIA", published on 12 October 2018.
2. The article reported that £4 billion of UK aid had been spent on improving roads and railways abroad. It went on to report that India received £37 million for projects to "improve 'access to better quality transport'" and upgrade roads. The article referenced other foreign aid projects and featured comments from a Conservative MP and a representative of "FairFuel UK" who both criticised the spending; the latter disputed the legitimacy of India as a recipient. It also featured a comment from the Department for International Development, in defence of the spending.
3. The article was also published online under the headline "BURNING A HOLE: Fury as £4billion of Britain's foreign aid budget goes towards fixing POTHOLES abroad". The online article also featured a report on the state of Britain's roads and an editorial piece by the publication criticising the spending.
4. The complainant said that the headline of the article, which featured on page 6, was inaccurate and not supported by the text, which made clear that the £4billion had been spent on a range of infrastructure projects abroad. He suggested that the inaccuracy was deliberate and was intended to support its campaign against overseas aid, which had been the subject of a leader column that day.
5. The publication said that the author of the headline had misinterpreted the information in the article; this was down to human error and it firmly denied that the headline was a deliberate inaccuracy. The publication said that it received a complaint from the Department for International Development and corrected the articles with due prominence once it had been made aware. A correction was published in print on page 2 in its corrections and clarifications column 20 October:
An article published on 6 Oct was headlined "£4bn foreign aid to fix potholes in India" In fact, as the article itself makes clear, the £4bn aid money covered a range of infrastructure programmes in the developing world, and only a small proportion was spent on road maintenance in India. We are happy to clarify.
6. The publication also amended the headline of the online article to read "BURNING A HOLE Fury as £4billion of Britain's foreign aid budget goes towards improving roads and railways abroad" and inserted a corrective footnote on 18 October:
The headline of this article previously said "Fury as £4billion of Britain's foreign aid budget goes towards fixing POTHOLES abroad". In fact, as the article itself makes clear, the £4bn aid money covered a range of infrastructure programmes in the developing world. We are happy to clarify.
7. The complainant said that the published correction in print was too small and was not afforded the due prominence of the original headline, which dominated the page.
Relevant Code provisions
8. 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.
v) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.
Findings of the Committee
9. The print headline claimed that £4 billion of aid had been spent to fix potholes in India, when this figure funded a range of global infrastructure projects; only £37 million of it had funded projects in India and this was not limited to fixing potholes. The online headline claimed that £4 billion had been spent on fixing potholes, which misrepresented the range of the projects and the purpose of the funding. In both instances, the headline was inaccurate and not supported by the text. This represented a failure to take care not to publish headlines unsupported by the text in breach of Clause 1(i).
10. The Committee then considered whether the published remedies
were sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii). The print correction was
offered promptly; the article was published on 12 October and the correction
was published on 20 October. The correction identified the original inaccuracy,
it made clear that the £4 billion covered a range of projects and addressed that
only a small amount was spent on maintaining roads in India; this was
sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
11. The complainant said that this correction was not
afforded the prominence of the original headline due to its size. However, when
examining due prominence, the placement of a correction must be considered. The
original article featured on page 6, while the correction was published on page
two in the newspaper's corrections and clarifications column. Established
corrections and clarifications columns not only demonstrate a commitment to
correcting inaccurate or misleading material - they also provide a consistent
position in which to correct inaccuracies for readers. Familiarity with an
established column contributes to the prominence of a correction, and
publishing corrections in other areas of the newspaper can undermine these
functions. Where the inaccuracy featured on page 6, this was a sufficiently
prominent position to address the inaccuracy and there was no breach of Clause
1(ii) on this point.
12. The amendment to the online headline and the corrective
footnote also addressed the inaccuracy and were offered sufficiently promptly;
the article was published on 12 October and updated on 18 October. There was no
breach of Clause 1(ii).
13. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial action required
14. The publication had promptly amended the online headline and published corrections which made clear the inaccuracy and set out the correct position. This was sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
Date complaint received: 12/10/2018
Date decision issued: 01/03/2019
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.
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