Decision of the Complaints Committee 07026-18 Tindal v Sevenoaks Chronicle
Summary of Complaint
1. Peter Tindal complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sevenoaks Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined “Company must pay £2,500 for selling underweight food” published on 18 October 2018.
2. The complainant is the proprietor of Baselica Limited, a company which imports foods. The article reported that this company had been fined for selling underweight tins of apricots. The article reported that the apricots weighed 374.1g, when the jar was labelled as weighing 400g. It said that this was just under 14g lighter than legally allowed, explaining that the Weights and Measures Act allowed for a tolerable legal minimum weight of 388g. The article also said that Baselica Limited had been contacted, but that a spokesman said that the company would prefer not to add any comment.
3. The complainant said that the article inaccurately reported the apricots as being sold in a tin, when they were in fact sold in jars. He also said that these jars were not 14g underweight – the Weights and Measures Act allowed for a legal minimum weight of 376g in this case, and so the jars which weighed 374.1g were in fact only 1.9g underweight. He also said that the article had inaccurately reported the Weights and Measure Act in how it applied in this case, by miscalculating the legal minimum weight that the apricots could weigh in this instance.
4. The complainant said that the Sevenoaks Chronicle had not contacted him for comment, and noted that the company had given an extensive comment to a different sister publication on the same topic, which was published following a complaint to this sister publication. The complainant said that it was misleading to report that the company had been contacted and declined to comment on the story, when at the time of publication, his comment had been added and was freely available on the original article on which this article was based.
5. The publication accepted that it had misreported the amount that the jars were underweight, and had inaccurately summarised how the Weights and Measures Act applied to the case. It said that the story had been sourced from an online sister publication – the complainant had contacted this publication directly and the inaccuracies had been amended, but due to an internal error, the original article was later reproduced in print nine days later in the publication under complaint.
6. The publication said that a journalist representing a sister publication which published the original article did contact the complainant for comment, and accepted that a full comment was given. The publication said that the same miscommunication between the publications meant that this fact, and the comment, was not included in the later print article.
7. The publication accepted that these were errors which required correction, and pointed out that when it was contacted directly by the complainant, prior to any involvement by IPSO, it offered to publish a correction and include the complainant’s statement on the claims the next available edition to address these errors. It also offered to include the complainant’s comment which had appeared in the sister publication. It said that the complainant indicated that this offer was not acceptable and so it did not publish a correction at this stage. The publication said that it was made clear to the complainant that the offer to print a correction still stood during the course of IPSO’s involvement, but said that it did not go ahead and print a correction in light of the complainant’s position that the offer was not satisfactory and pending a decision from the Complaints Committee. The publication also explained that there was initially some confusion over who had approached the complainant for comment prior to publication; it said that its journalist had not approached the complainant, but following further investigation, it accepted that a journalist from its sister publication had contacted the complainant for comment which had been included in its story. When the position became clear, the publication proposed the correction below to the complainant on 21 January 2019, which it offered to publish on page 2 in the newspaper’s Corrections and Clarifications column. This offer was rejected by the complainant.
“In our article of 18 October 2018 'Company must pay £2,500 for selling underweight food', it was reported that Baselica Limited had been contacted at the time of publication but declined to comment. In fact, we would like to make clear that a spokesman for Baselica gave a full comment to a journalist when contacted: “Fine Italian Foods accepts the decision of the court, and also accepts that the jar identified was 1.9g below the tolerable negative error at the declared weight. Each jar of this product contains 12-15 whole apricots depending on the size of the fruit that Prunotto harvest from their trees, so a single fruit makes a huge difference to the final pack weight – approximately 30g - which is 15 times the underweight we have been fined for.” This error was due to an internal misunderstanding between our member publications, and we apologise to Baselica Limited for this error.”
8. The publication said that only the article’s sub headline referred the apricots being sold in tins – the rest of the article made clear that the apricots were sold in jars. It did not accept that this represented a significant inaccuracy which would require correction.
9. The complainant expressed frustration that the inaccuracies were reproduced in print nine days after the original online article was published and then amended at his request.
Relevant Code Provisions
10. 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
11. It was accepted that the complainant had been contacted for comment by a journalist from a sister publication, and had given a full comment; failing to include this fact and statement represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, and gave a significantly misleading impression of the complainant’s position on the matter. The Committee found that this represented a breach of Clause 1(i), and required correction in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
12. The publication offered to publish a correction and publish the complainant’s full statement within days of being contacted directly by the complainant, but the terms of the apology were not agreed with the complainant; in response to the offer the complainant indicated that the publication of a correction, in any terms, would not be satisfactory to resolve the complaint. Although the precise wording of the correction which the publication was offering was not provided to the complainant at the time the offer was first made, the publication had offered to set the record straight and to the put the complainant’s position on record. Following receipt of the complaint, it had also been necessary for the publication to undertake an internal investigation to determine the nature of the complainant’s contact with the journalist and its sister publication. In these circumstances, the publication had acted promptly by offering a correction which satisfied Clause 1(ii) at the start of IPSO’s investigation into the complaint. The proposed correction identified the inaccuracies, put the correct position on record, and included the complainant’s full comment. The offer to publish the correction in the publication’s established Corrections and Clarifications column satisfied the requirement for due prominence. The proposed correction was sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii) and should now be published.
13. The article had accurately reported the true weight of the jars (374g), the fact that they were labelled as weighing 400g, and that the company had been fined because the jar had been underweight. The Committee considered that, in the overall context of this article, also including an incorrect figure as to the amount by which the jars were under the legal minimum was not significantly misleading.
14. The article correctly explained that UK weights and measures regulations allow for a tolerable negative error on prepacked food, but then stated, in error, that the minimum drained weight of a 400g product would be 388g rather than 376g. However, the Committee was of the view that this error did not give a significantly misleading impression of the circumstances which had led to the complainant receiving a fine, given that the article had included details of the true weight of the jar as compared to the advertised weight. Finally, the reference to the fruits being sold in a tin did not give a misleading impression as to the nature of the product. The Committee did not consider that these points represented significant inaccuracies which would require correction, and thus there was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
15. The complaint was upheld
Remedial Action required
16. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action would be required.
17. The correction was offered with sufficient promptness and prominence to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii) and should now be published.
Date complaint received: 24/10/2019
Date decision issued: 07/03/2019
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 Committee had not made clear why the publication’s offer of correction was sufficiently prompt to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii). The Committee re-considered the complaint, in light of the Complaints Reviewer’s findings. The substance of the Committee’s decision was not affected by the findings. However, the summary of complaint and reasoning for the Committee’s decision was revised, to make clear the Committee rationale for the Committee’s decision.