Resolution Statement 08615-19 Donald v The Sun on Sunday
Summary of Complaint
1. Stewart Donald complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Owners have clause out!”, published on 13 October 2019.
2. The article reported on the proposed sale of the complainant’s football team and how a deal to sell it had recently fallen through. The article reported that the complainant's “extra demand for what amounts to TWO promotion bonuses is proving one of many problems.” It reported that the complainant wanted a £15 million bonus if the club made it to the Championship League and a £25 million bonus if they were to progress to the Premiership League.
3. The article also appeared online in much the same format under the headline "SUNDEMAND: Sunderland owner Stewart Donald wants £40m for sale of the Black Cats", published on 12 October 2019.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1(i), (ii) and (iv). He said that. it was inaccurate to suggest that he had jeopardised the deal by making a last minute demand for two very substantial promotion bonuses. He said that by characterising the bonuses as a “demand”, when in reality there was only one bonus and that had been proposed by the buyer, the article wrongly implied that it was his greed which had caused the deal to collapse. He said it was misleading to suggest that the bonus was a last minute problem, as it had been agreed weeks earlier. He also said that the amount of the potential bonus had been reported incorrectly, and the true figure was far smaller.
5. The complainant said that the publication had not approached him for comment prior to publication and had declined to correct the alleged inaccuracies despite his having contacted the publication less than two hours after the article was first posted online.
6. The complainant also said that the article was a breach of Clause 1(iv) because in presenting as fact what was in reality pure conjecture about the reason for the collapse of the deal, it had failed to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
7. The publication said it did not accept that it had breached Clause 1. It said that the information had come from a reliable source with knowledge of the proposed deal. The publication said that the thrust of the story was that the deal to sell Sunderland FC was in trouble as the potential buyers had identified a number of problems. The publication noted that the deal had indeed collapsed. It said that the article did not suggest that the request for promotion bonuses was unreasonable, nor that the complainant was greedy. However, as a gesture of goodwill it removed the article from its website and offered to publish a follow up piece in the same column to put the complainant’s position on record. It subsequently also offered to publish the following correction in the print version of the paper and the online correction and clarification page:
In a column, 'Owners have clause out!' (13 Oct), we suggested that Mr Donald had risked losing a deal to sell Sunderland FC as he had requested a bonus of £40m if the club was promoted to the Premier League. Mr Donald has asked us to make clear that the amount he would have received was a fraction of that sum.
Relevant Code Provisions
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.
8. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
9. During the investigation, the complainant provided documentation that demonstrated that the figure was far smaller than had been published.
10. The publication offered to print the following correction:
STEWART DONALD – APOLOGY
In a column, 'Owners have clause out!' (13 Oct), we claimed that Stewart Donald, the owner of Sunderland Football Club, was risking the collapse of a deal to sell the club by making late demands for large promotion bonuses. We now understand that that was not the case, and are happy to make that clear and apologise to Mr Donald.
11. The complainant said that this would resolve his complaint to IPSO to his satisfaction.
12. 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: 07/11/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 20/01/2020