Resolution Statement 07756-19 Brighton & Hove City Council v The Argus (Brighton)
Summary of Complaint
1. Brighton & Hove City Council complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Argus (Brighton) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “‘WE CAN’T COPE’ Lack of cash means it’s a struggle to empty bins and get rid of graffiti / Nancy Platts says funding cuts are a major cause of concern”, published on 27 September 2019.
2. The article reported on the difficulties faced by Brighton and Hove’s City Council due to a lack of funding. The headline on the front page reported: “We can’t cope” in quotation marks and also included a photograph of the female Council leader. The article inside the paper reported on the Council leader’s speech from a fringe event of a Labour Party conference and gave several quotes, and reported that the Council were ““struggling” to empty bins and clean graffiti due to a lack of cash” and “do the basics well”.
3. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code. It said that the Council had supplied the newspaper with a quote from the Council leader which did not contain the phrase “we can’t cope” as used in the front page headline. The complainant said that the councillor had never said this and that reporting this in quotation marks gave the misleading impression that the councillor had said “we can’t cope”.
4. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 12 of the Editors’ Code. They said that other Council leaders, and at least two former Brighton and Hove City Council leaders have also, during their leadership, issued comments about the challenges and struggles faced by local government due to cuts. The complainant said that only the current leader had been characterised as saying “we can’t cope” which is often levelled at women in positions of authority to cast their abilities in a negative light.
5. The publication did not accept that it had breached the Code. Whilst the publication accepted that the councillor had not said “we can’t cope” exactly it said that including this within quotation marks in the headline was not significantly misleading. It said that “we can’t cope” was a characterisation of the fact that the Council was “struggling” to “do the basics well”. However, the publication published a correction on the third page which said:
Correction to our front page story Friday 27 September:
Councillor Nancy Platts did not say “We can’t cope” as we prominently stated on our front page. The quote was written by The Argus and used to promote an article on page 5 about the ongoing challenges facing local government.
We apologise for misquoting the leader of the council in this way and accept it should not have happened.
6. The publication denied that the article breached the terms of Clause 12. It said that the phrase “we can’t cope” had no relevance to the fact that the Council leader was a woman.
7. The complainant did not believe this would resolve their complaint because the quote had appeared on the front page headline, and they did not believe that the third page was prominent enough.
Relevant Clause 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.
9. 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.
10. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
11. During the course of IPSO’s investigation the publication offered for the leader of the Council to write an opinion piece for the publication in order to reinforce the Council’s point further.
12. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to their satisfaction.
13. 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: 30/09/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 23/10/2019