Decision of the Complaints Committee 07331-18 Rostrevor Action Respecting the Environment v The Belfast Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Rostrevor Action Respecting the Environment complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Belfast Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Folk singer Sands loses challenge over plans for nursing home at beauty spot” published on 13 October 2018.
2. The article reported that the complainant, an action group, had lost a legal challenge, which attempted to halt the building of a development within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It said that the complainant was concerned that the development and increase in traffic could put the nearby ancient oaks at risk.
3. The article was also published online with the headline: “Folk singer loses legal challenge to Northern Ireland nursing home plan”. This version was substantially the same as the print article.
4. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to state that the group were only concerned about the impact of increased traffic on the trees. Instead, they were concerned about the impact on the safety of road users, and there were many reasons why they were opposed to the development, which they said was made clear in their public statements and other coverage of the case.
5. The publication said that the journalist had relied on a comment from the complainant heard in court, in which they said: “Putting so much development so close to such important habitats and designation is at the heart of this case”, and the complainant’s own publicly released summary of the case - although it acknowledged that this summary did not make any reference to a specific concern for ancient oaks. In addition, the journalist had consulted the complainant’s online fundraising page, titled “Help Protect Ancient Irish Oakwood from Concrete Jungle”. The publication pointed to the section in which the complainant said that they hoped the development would not “…compromise or damage our Ancient Oakwood or compromise public safety in terms of the additional traffic generated by [the development]…”.
6. The publication said that when it was initially contacted by the complainant prior to IPSO involvement, it offered the group a full right of reply in the form of a Letter to the Editor. This offer was declined. It then offered to publish the following correction in print and online, on the same page as the original print article and at the bottom of the online version. It also amended the online article to remove the references to ancient oaks.
“On October 12, 2018, we published an article reporting that Rostrevor Action Respecting the Environment (RARE) were concerned that construction work and an increase in traffic arising from the Carlingford Lough development would impact on the ancient oaks at Rostrevor Wood. RARE would like to make clear that while they are concerned construction work could result in significant impacts on the adjacent ancient woodland, as reported in a Stage 1 Habitats Regulations Assessment conducted by NIEA, their concerns regarding an increase in traffic relate specifically to the safety of members of the public using the adjacent A2 protected road. We apologise to RARE for our mistake, which has since been corrected online.”
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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
8. The publication had relied on a range of sources before the publishing the article. The claim that the complainant was concerned about the impact of traffic on the ancient oaks was not included in these sources, and as such, the publication was unable to provide a basis for its assertion. The represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1(i). This was a significant inaccuracy requiring correction under Clause 1(ii), as it gave the misleading impression that the reason the complainant was opposed to the development was limited to the potential for increased traffic to impact on the ancient oaks, when this had never been part of their case.
The correction offered by the publication identified the misleading
impression and clearly set out the correct position, and was offered promptly and
with due prominence. The Committee also noted that the publication had offered
a full right of reply to the complaint - although this was declined - and had
amended the online article. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).
10. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial action required
11. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.
The newspaper had promptly offered a correction which corrected the inaccuracy with due prominence. The Committee found that this correction was sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii) and should now be published.
Date complaint received: 10/11/2018
Date decision issued: 20/12/2018
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