Resolution statement 07582-16 Hall v The Courier

Decision: Resolved - IPSO mediation

Complaint 07582-16 Hall v The Courier

Summary of complaint

1. Linda Hall complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Tunbridge Wells Courier breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles: “Linda Hall, Tunbridge Wells borough councillor, admits lying to the public about the future of the Cranbrook Community Centre”, published on 29 April 2015 in print and online; “Councillor faces probe”, published on 6 May 2016; “Dunorlan”, published on 20 May 2016; “Dunorlan”, published on 27 May 2016; “Under-fire Conservative councillor may suffer withdrawal of party whip”, published on 27 May 2016.

2. The series of articles reported that the complainant, a local councillor, had admitted to the newspaper that she had lied about submitting an application for funding to restore historic assets in Cranbrook. It said that she had told the newspaper in an email that previous comments she had made about applying for funding were “not quite true”.

3. The complainant said that the series of articles which said that she “admitted lying” to the newspaper were inaccurate. She said that when she had initially confirmed to the newspaper that she was formally applying for funding, she had been expecting to submit the application shortly afterwards. However, she said that had to spend more time investigating a variety of heritage bodies to understand their requirements. She said that when she had written to a colleague saying that it was “not quite true” to say she had submitted the application – an email that she sent to a journalist at the newspaper in error – she was exasperated at how long the process was going to take, and was concerned that she had not gone very far. She said that the expression was deliberately misrepresented by the newspapers. The complainant also said that her privacy had been breached because she did not give consent for the journalist to use the material.

4. The newspaper said that in saying that the complainant had “lied” about submitting the application for funding, the newspaper had used forthright language about a matter of political debate concerning an elected representative. It said that the complainant had admitted that her previous public statement was “not quite true”, and editorial discretion should be taken into consideration as to the language used. It said that the fact that the complainant, who was an opponent to the demolition of the buildings, had stated she was applying for funding to restore the building when she had not done, was sufficient basis for criticism. It said that it was clearly in the public interest to disclose the content of the email as she contradicted a statement she earlier gave to the newspaper.

Relevant Code Provisions

5. 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.

Clause 2 (Privacy)

(i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

(ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.

Clause 3 (Harassment)

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Mediated outcome

6. The complaint was not resolved through correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

7. In order to resolve the complaint, the publication agreed to remove the articles from its website, and publish the following clarification in print and online:

Earlier this year, the Courier reported that Cllr Dr Hall had 'lied' to us about applying for funding to restore heritage buildings earmarked for demolition. Cllr Hall has asked us to point out that this was not true, as she had begun research into relevant heritage bodies, but as a result of a heavy TWBC workload had not had time in the week since she spoke to us to complete any applications. We apologise for the distress caused by the initial article and the subsequent pieces repeating the allegation.

8. The complainant said this action resolved the matter to her satisfaction.

9. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 01/08/2016
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/12/2016

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