Resolution Statement 09263-19 Aitchison v Evening Times
Summary of Complaint
1. Ross Aitchison complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Evening Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Use this election to send the SNP a clear message”, published on 2 December 2019.
2. The article was an opinion piece by a Scottish Conservative & Unionist Councillor commenting on the SNP at the 2019 General Election. The article was a personal account of the Councillor’s experiences of the Scottish Independence referendum and his opinions on unionism and independence. The article claimed that “The watershed moment for me was Alex Salmond loudly stating that ‘Scotland’s youth backs independence’. This couldn’t be further from the truth.” It also stated that Labour had promised to hold two referendums in 2020.
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. The complainant said that the article had not clearly distinguished between comment and fact, nor had it made clear that it was written by an elected Conservative Councillor, and was therefore in breach of Clause 1(iv). Furthermore, he said that it was inaccurate to report that Scotland’s youth do not back independence, as both independent polls and the results of the 2014 independence referendum showed that the majority of under 35s wanted independence. He also said that it was inaccurate to say that Labour had promised a second referendum when the Labour manifesto explicitly stated that there would be no Scottish independence referendum in the early years of a Labour government.
5. The publication said it did not accept that there had been a breach of Clause 1. It said that the article had clearly been labelled as a comment piece, and that the caption of the picture made clear that it had been written by a Conservative Councillor. It said that “Scotland’s youth backs independence” was the opinion of the columnist, and as the Prime Minister often stated that Labour had promised two elections this was fair comment.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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.
7. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
8. The publication offered to print the following correction:
Euan Blockley's comment that Scotland's youth supporting independence "could not be further from the truth" is his personal view only.
Labour did not promise two referendums – however, the Conservative Party claimed Labour would hold two in order to facilitate a deal with the SNP.
9. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
10. 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: 02/12/2019
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 04/02/2020