Decision of the Complaints Committee 07416-19 Englefield Estate v readingchronicle.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Englefield Estate complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that readingchronicle.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “ANCIENT woodland will be chopped down for 100 new homes”, published on 11 September 2019, and in an article headlined “Housing developer defends decision to chop down ancient woodland”, published on 13 September 2019.
2. The first article reported on a planning application for a new housing development to be built by the complainant. The article reported that as part of this development “ancient woodland will be chopped down for 100 new homes”; “some of those ancient trees will be chopped down”; that “[t]he trees will be chopped down to make way for a footpath and cycle path”; and that the houses would be built “on Burghfield Common”. It also reported that the principal planning officer, in a report to the planning committee, had that said “It is clear that this application, if approved, [will cause] some degree of harm to the local area. This visual harm is outweighed, however, by the need for additional housing”.
3. The second article reported that the complainant had “defended plans to remove ancient woodland for a new housing development”, and included a statement made by a spokesperson for the complainant who said: “Although there may be a requirement for a small number of shrubs and low lying bushes to be removed to accommodate the path, no trees are proposed for removal and no overall impact on the ancient woodland is anticipated”. This article said, variously, that ancient woodland would “chopp[ed] down”, “remove[d] and “felled”. It referred to the houses being built “at Burghfield Common”.
4. The complainant said that the first article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1; the article said that “trees” would be cut down, whereas the planning application made clear that no trees would be cut down, and that some small shrubs and bushes may be removed to clear a pathway. The complainant also said that the headline “ancient woodland will be chopped down for 100 new homes” gave the impression that ancient woodland would be removed so that 100 homes could be built, rather than some woodland being removed to make way for a small footpath.
5. The complainant also said that the first article was inaccurate as it reported that the houses were going to be built “on Burghfield Common” which is protected common land, as opposed to in Burghfield Common, being the name of the village where the building would in fact take place.
6. The complainant also said that the selection of the statement made by the principal planning officer had been taken out of context. The quote was from a section of the report which detailed visual impacts, whereas the article made it seem that the “harm” to which the planning officer referred was ecological harm.
7. The complainant said the second article was also inaccurate, as it still referenced woodland being “felled” which the complainant said could only refer to trees, when no trees would be affected. The complainant did not consider that the impression given by this misleading term was remedied by the inclusion of the statement from their spokesman who had confirmed that there were no proposals to remove any trees and that only a small number of shrubs and low lying bushes were to be removed to accommodate the footpath.
8. The publication did not accept that the Code had been breached. The publication acknowledged that the first article had used the word “trees” instead of woodland, but said that this was not significantly misleading. The reference was amended the day after the complainant made direct contact with the publication and the position was also made clear in the second article by the inclusion of the statement made by the complainant’s spokesperson, and in a third article which was not under complaint. The first article had also been amended to include the following footnote:
Article edited on September 13 at 12:17 to include statement from Englefield Estate and change 'trees' to 'woodland'.
9. The publication did not accept that reporting in the first article that “ancient woodland would be chopped down for 100 new homes” was inaccurate as the official planning documents referred to “woodland” being removed. In addition, it was not contested that the woodland was going to be removed because of the building of the new homes, even if the actual removal was due to a pathway rather than the homes themselves. The article made clear that the woodland would be cleared to allow easy access, not for the houses themselves and reported that the removal was to “make way for a footpath and cycle path”.
10. The publication also did not accept it had breached Clause 1 by referring to the houses being built “on” as opposed to “in” or “at” Burghfield Common in the first article. The first article gave the exact location of the proposed building as “north of Dauntless Road and south of Pondhouse Farm.” The publication did, however, offer to clarify that the original article was referring to the village.
11. The publication did not accept that the way it had represented the quotes from the planning documents was misleading in the first article. It noted that the report was on a wide variety of impacts, not just ecological, and that the full quote had referred to “visual harm”.
12. The publication also did not accept that the second article breached of Clause 1. It said that the word “felled” was appropriate when referring to the removal of woodland. Furthermore, the article included the complainant’s position that no trees were to be removed. Nevertheless, it offered to replace the word “felled” with “removed” as a gesture of goodwill.
13. Prior to IPSO starting its investigation, the publication published a third article headlined: “Developer: We won’t cut down ancient trees for new housing development”. The newspaper said that this again put the complainant’s position on record that no trees would be cut down.
14. During IPSO’s investigation the publication published the following correction as a footnote to the first article:
The original version of this article said that “ancient trees” would be chopped down in order for the housing development to be built. However, in fact no trees are planned to be felled during the development process, instead several low lying shrubs and bushes are planned for removal. We have also included a statement from Englefield Estate.
The complainant said this would not resolve their complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
15. 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
16. The official planning documents had said that “woodland” would be removed to make way for the new development, and the term related to the removal of shrubs and low lying bushes, not to trees. The first article was, therefore, inaccurate in reporting that “ancient trees will be chopped down”. As a consequence of this inaccuracy, the headline reference to “ancient woodland” to be “chopped down” could also be understood to include ancient trees.
17. The newspaper had also reported that the proposed housing would be built “on Burghfield Common”, a protected area, rather than “at” or “in” Burghfield Common, the village. In addition, it had quoted comments which had been made by the principal planning officer that the housing would cause “some degree of harm to the local area”. The Committee noted that the location of the proposed housing was provided in the article by reference to a named road and a farm and that the quotation, in the next paragraph of the article, referred to “visual harm”. However, taken as a whole, the information in the article regarding the location of the proposed housing and the potential harm which would be caused to the local area was misleading as it compounded the inaccuracy that ancient trees were to be chopped down, as reported earlier in the article.
18. The Committee considered that the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the first article in breach of Clause 1(i). It had reported that ancient trees were to be removed which was significantly inaccurate. This required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).
19. On receipt of the complaint, in order to correct the inaccuracy, the publication had promptly changed the term “trees” to “woodland” in the first online article; had added a statement from the complainant; and had added a footnote which explained the revisions which had been made. In addition, it had published a second article, which put the complainant’s position on record that “no trees are proposed for removal”, and which stated that the proposed development would be “at Burghfield Common”. Two days after the complainant contacted IPSO, a third article was published, which said that no trees would be cut down for the development.
20. The Committee did not consider that the wording of the initial footnote had clearly identified the inaccuracy being corrected, and the follow-up articles did not constitute corrections under the terms of the Code. However, the Committee recognised that the newspaper had taken steps to promptly address the complaint, and the footnote, as amended, had identified the inaccuracy. Taken together, the steps taken by the newspaper to correct the inaccuracy were sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii).
21. The Committee next considered the complaint about the claim in the second article that “[ancient woodland] will be felled”. While the Committee acknowledged that the adjective “felled” is often used when referring to trees, it noted that the article, elsewhere, reported that the woodland would be chopped down or removed and that the article also confirmed that “no trees are proposed for removal”. Considering the article as a whole, the Committee concluded the single reference to “felled” was not significantly misleading. There was no further breach of Clause 1.
22. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial Action Required
23. The newspaper had published a correction, which identified the inaccuracy and set the record straight. No further action was required.
Date complaint received: 18/09/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/03/2020Back to ruling listing