09597-19 Bremner v The Scotsman

Decision: Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

Decision of the Complaints Committee -- 09597-19 Bremner v The Scotsman

Summary of Complaint

1. David Bremner complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scotsman breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Queen’s Speech rules out indyref2 and puts new NHS cash into law”, published on 19 December 2019.

2. The article was published on the morning of the Queen’s speech, and reported that the Queen would say that “a second referendum would be a ‘damaging distraction’” and that the year would be one of growth for Scotland, not further division.

3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Queen’s Speech rules out new Scottish independence referendum” and was substantially the same as the print version.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because the Queen’s speech made no reference to a second Scottish independence referendum or that this would be a “damaging distraction”. He particularly noted that the headline was inaccurate.

5. The publication accepted that the Queen’s speech did not reference Scottish independence. It had relied on a Downing Street press briefing which had said that the Queen would speak about Scottish independence and specifically said “a second independence referendum next year would be a damaging distraction”. It said that its article was an accurate representation of this briefing. It disagreed with the complainant’s position that the only definition of “the Queen’s speech” was literally what was said by the Queen, and provided several other examples where the term “the Queen’s speech” had been used by other publications to include not only the speech itself, but also the rest of the Government’s legislative programme.

6. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to publish the following correction on page two in its regular corrections column:

“Our report on 19 December, 2019, entitled “Queen’s Speech rules out new Scottish independence referendum”, stated that the Queen’s Speech would rule out another independence referendum as a “damaging distraction”. We have been asked to point out that, although this is a true reflection of the views and legislative programme outlined by the Government, the Queen did not mention the prospect of an independence referendum in her address to parliament. We are happy to set the record straight.”

7. The publication also offered to change the headline of the online article to: “Johnson Government rules out new Scottish independence referendum ahead of Queen’s Speech” and change the opening lines to: “A second independence referendum would be a “damaging distraction”, Boris Johnson’s Government has said as it set out an agenda focused on investment in the NHS. Dismissing the SNP’s calls for a second vote on independence ahead of the Queen’s Speech, the Government in a briefing note accompanying its legislative agenda called for 2020 ‘to be a year of investment, growth and unity for Scotland, not further division’.” It would also add the following as a footnote to the online article:

“The original version of this report stated that the warning about a second independence referendum being a “damaging distraction” would be made in the Queen’s Speech. It has been amended to reflect the fact that, although the warning was made in a Government briefing on its legislative agenda, those words did not appear in the speech which the Monarch made to parliament.”

Relevant Code 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.

Findings of the Committee

9. The newspaper had based its report on a government press briefing, which had set out that the Queen’s speech would state that there would not be a second referendum on Scottish independence and that this would be a “damaging distraction”. The publication was entitled to rely on the accuracy of this briefing, and the Committee therefore found that it had taken care over the accuracy of the article. On this basis there was no breach of Clause 1(i). However, the Queen did not speak about a second Scottish independence referendum; as such, the information reported about the contents of the forthcoming speech was significantly inaccurate. A correction was required under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

10. The publication offered to publish a correction on page two in their established corrections column in print, when the original article appeared on page seven. It also offered to amend the online headline, opening paragraph and add a clarifying footnote to the online version. The wording identified the inaccuracy and made the correct position clear, and the Committee found that the proposed actions were sufficiently prominent, and prompt as a clarification was offered at the start of IPSO’s investigation. On this basis, there was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusions

11. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

12. The action proposed by the publication satisfied the requirements of Clause 1(ii) for the reasons set out above, and should now be published.

 

Date complaint received: 19/12/2019

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/04/2020

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