Decision of the Complaints Committee 06756-17 Clift v Berwickshire News
Summary of Complaint
1. Michael Clift complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Berwickshire News breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Candidates from the local council election”, published on 27 April 2017.
2. The article was a collection of profiles of candidates who were contesting two Scottish Borders Council wards, in mid and East Berwickshire. Each profile contained an image of the candidate, alongside a short piece which had been written by them, which detailed their policies and previous experience.
3. The article reported that “all candidates were given the opportunity to convince you they deserve your vote and 11 of the 13 took up that opportunity”. The article did not contain a profile from the complainant, and it said that “Michael Clift from Cockburnspath is standing as an independent in the East Berwickshire ward”.
4. The complainant said that the newspaper had made no attempt to contact him. Therefore he said that it was inaccurate for the article to report that he had been given an opportunity to submit his profile for publication. He further said that the article had inaccurately reported that he was from Cockburnpath, when in fact he was from Coldingham.
5. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It provided a copy of an earlier print article, dated 6 April, which had also reported on the upcoming Council election, and which had stated: “Candidates are invited to send details for a profile ahead of May 4’s election”. It said that when the complainant did not respond to this, the newspaper had made a further attempt to contact him via Facebook messenger; the newspaper provided a screenshot of the message which was sent to the complainant on 19 April, which invited him to submit his profile for publication.
6. The newspaper noted that the complainant was from Cockburnspath, rather than Coldingham, and published a correction on this point, which stated:
In last week’s Berwickshire news, we said that Michael Clift, an East Berwickshire ward candidate is from Cockburnspath, but he actually lives in Coldingham. We apologise for the error.
7. The complainant said that he had not seen the 6 April article, nor had he received the message which the newspaper had sent him over Facebook messenger, although he accepted that the screenshot provided by the newspaper had shown that the newspaper had made an attempt to contact him directly.
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.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
9. The newspaper had published an earlier article, which contained an open request to all candidates to submit a profile for publication, and it had also sent a direct message to the complainant on Facebook. While the Committee noted the complainant’s position that he had not been aware of the attempts made by the newspaper to contact him, it was not inaccurate for the article to report that he had not taken up an opportunity to submit a candidate profile for publication. The Committee did not consider that any inaccuracy relating to where the complainant lived, was significant, in circumstances where the article had made clear which Council ward the complainant was contesting. The Committee also acknowledged that the newspaper had published a prominent correction, promptly, in order to address this point. There was no breach of Clause 1.
10. Clause 12 protects identified individuals mentioned by the press against discrimination on the basis of their race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or any physical or mental illness or disability. The complaint did not engage the terms of this Clause.
The complaint was not upheld
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 06/05/2017
Date decision issued: 26/06/2017Back to ruling listing