Decision of the Complaints Committee – 07964-19 Desbrow v The Herald
Summary of Complaint
1. Darrell Desbrow complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Herald breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Scots home prices grow three times annual rate of England / Scots house prices rise as London drags UK down”, published on 18 July 2019.
2. The article reported on the rise in property prices in Scotland. The article started on the front page, and then continued on page 3. On the third page of the newspaper there was a table that showed property prices in council areas in Scotland in May 2018, followed by May 2019 and a third column explaining the difference of property prices as a percentage between these two years. The text of page three also cited several examples of certain areas and referenced the rise and fall in monetary terms, for example “the biggest boost seen in North Ayrshire, where prices jumped by 8.2% to £111,000 in the year to May 2019”.
3. The complainant said that the accompanying table was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), as the columns had been labelled incorrectly; the May 2018 column was actually the prices for May 2019 and vice versa.
4. The publication accepted that the version of the newspaper the complainant had received was inaccurate. It said that the inaccuracy had been discovered during the printing run and amended so that the dates that headed the table were the correct way round. This meant that some of the newspapers had the accurate table and others were inaccurate. The publication said that they acted promptly in correcting the error, and did not believe that the error was significant. A third column in the table explained the difference in percentage between the two sums, so readers would not be misled by the accurate change of property prices in Scotland, and could have inferred that the dates were the wrong way round. In addition, the accompanying article quoted the correct figures from the table, attributing the correct sum to the correct year. Nevertheless, as a gesture of goodwill the newspaper offered to print the following in their corrections and clarifications column , which normally appears on page two:
In our story about property prices of July 18 last year early copies of the edition had dates for two tables showing rises and falls in house values the wrong way round. The error was corrected on the print run and the tables were put in the correct order: May 2019 first, May 2018 second.
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.
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
6. The table under complaint had been amended as soon as the publication became aware of it; it was changed during the print run and only the earliest versions of the newspaper had the incorrect table headings. In the newspapers that did contain the inaccurate table headings, there was no significant inaccuracy in the context of the overall article as the table explained the difference of property prices as a percentage and the accompanying article gave specific examples which attributed the correct sum to the correct year. In this context readers would not be misled by the inaccurate headings of the first two columns of the table. As such, the error did not constitute a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and was not significant to the overall article as to require a correction. There was no breach of Clause 1(i) or 1(ii). The Committee, however, welcomed the correction as offered by the publication.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 14/10/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 24/04/2020