Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09835-21 Goemans v Ely Standard
Summary of Complaint
1. Melanie Goemans complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Ely Standard breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “HOME IS WHERE THE ART IS”, published on 1 September 2021.
2. The article was an interview of the complainant, an artist who had a window gallery described as “the perfect showcase for her work”. It described the artist’s biggest memory of lockdown as being “peered into”, and that she was “totally fine” with this. The article reported that “during lockdown” the artist had a plan to show her artwork and quoted her as saying she did this “with no expectation of selling”. It also quoted her as saying that her property was in a row of shops and explaining that she had been able to afford to purchase her house because it had an “old shop window”. The artist was also quoted as stating: “as soon as I saw that window, which is south facing, I realised I could just put my paintings there to dry”, and that during lockdown she would drop off paintings if people wanted them on her daily walk. The article reported that the artist said that the gallery in her window was “better than the back side of a net curtain” and referred to “open studio days” she used to hold.
3. The article also appeared online in the e-edition of the magazine in the same format.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as she disputed that she had said many of the quotes included in the article during her phone interview with the publication. The complainant said she had never used the word “peered” in the interview. She said it was inaccurate to report that she invited people to “peer” into her window, or that was she “totally fine” with this. The word “peered” implied she was content for people to pry into her private space, a view she had not communicated during the interview, and she noted that behind the window gallery was her living space, which she did not want people to look at.
5. The complainant said it was inaccurate to report that she had the plan to show her art “during lockdown” as she had had the window gallery for over four years, and therefore it was not a response to lockdown. She also said it was inaccurate to report that she had said that she wanted to show her artwork with no expectation of selling – she said that whilst she did not sell paintings by advertising them in her window, putting paintings in her window allowed people to see them prior to going to galleries where they would be sold. She also said that whilst she had no expectation that the paintings themselves would be sold via the window gallery, she often sold etchings and other products after they appeared in the gallery.
6. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to report that she had said “who wants to live in a house with an old shop window?”. She said this quote was falsified by the publication as she would never say this about her house, as it would devalue it. The complainant also denied commenting on the south-facing aspect of the house. She said that whilst she had said she put the paintings in the window to dry, the primary purpose of the window gallery was to exhibit them, rather than to dry them. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to report she ran “open studio days” as in fact she held open studio weekends two or three times a year. Furthermore, the complainant said she did not drop off paintings on her walk, but etchings – she said that the confusion between the two devalued her paintings. She also said that whilst she mentioned something about a net curtain during the interview, she did not refer to the “back side” of a net curtain, though she was unable to confirm what she did say on this point.
7. The complainant also said that the language used in the article, and particularly the quotes attributed directly to her, were inaccurate as she did not use that style of language. The complainant said she was an academic and to attribute language to her she considered to be “simple” and “clumsy” was inaccurate.
8. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. The publication said that the article had derived from a telephone interview with the complainant, which it had recorded at the time, and wrote the article from this recording. It provided a transcript of the recording and the recording to IPSO. However, it deleted the article from the e-edition of the magazine upon receipt of the complaint as a gesture of goodwill.
9. The publication acknowledged that the word “peered” was not a direct quote from the complainant, but said that it was not attributed to her. The publication referred to the following portion of the interview it provided by transcript:
Complainant: So the role of the shop window in all of that, which is my work, is really to dry the paintings to show the paintings to an audience with no expectation of selling them. And then to show the products and have all the expectations of selling through the enquiries which come through Instagram or, erm, via email - sometimes it's for people who are just visiting and sometimes it's local people who want the etchings. […] I like to think it provides a bit of delight for people on their walks, especially this year and last year, you know, but not thinking necessarily about sales. The paintings block us from the street, so from inside it's nice and private but from the street it's better, you know, than the backside of a net curtain.
Journalist: which people try and peer round anyway
Complainant: yes, that's it, yeah. So you might as well profit from that as well as offering something nice to look at. [sic]
The publication said that a multitude of words could be used to describe the act of people viewing the art in the complainant’s window. It considered that the word “peered” accurately described this act. It did not accept the complainant’s position that this term had particular negative connotations that rendered it misleading.
10. The publication said that it was not inaccurate to report the complainant had a plan to show her art “during lockdown”. It referred to the following passage said by the complainant in the interview, which it said supported this assertion:
In lockdown when you couldn't go anywhere, you could only walk, and all the shops were shut, I just.. the window... I wrote something like 'something nice to look at question mark' I did a big reduction and put free local delivery and just put them as etchings in the widow. Lots of people would say 'oh I'd like that one' and I'd go for my walk and just drop it by the front door. [sic]
11. The publication also did not consider it a breach of Clause 1 to report that the complainant had wanted to show her artwork with no expectation of selling it. It said the section of the transcript quoted above demonstrated that the complainant had said she had no expectation of selling her work through the window gallery. It also said that the article as a whole made clear that the complainant derived income from selling her art.
12. The publication provided sections from the transcript where the complainant had stated:
This property came up and... you wouldn't want it because it's in a row of shops […] who wants to live in a house where you just put a net curtain over an old shop window and pretend it's not a shop? It's, kind of... You might as well buy a house don't buy an old shop [sic]
It said, therefore, it was not inaccurate to characterise this as reporting the complainant as having said “who wants to live in a house with an old shop window?”.
13. The publication also said it was not inaccurate to report that when the complainant saw the south-facing window she realised she could put her paintings in the window to dry. It referred to the following section of the transcript:
Whereas for me, the moment I saw that window, I thought fantastic, because I paint in oil, you know, an oil always takes weeks and weeks to try to dry fully. It is a south facing window. So it's really, really warm in that window, it's why the cat sits there. And I thought, well, I could just put my paintings in that window to dry.]
The publication did not consider it to be significantly misleading to describe the complainant as holding “open studio days” where the complainant accepted she held open studio weekends two or three times a year. It also noted that the complainant had referred to “do[ing] open studios” in the interview.
14. The publication accepted that the complainant had said she would drop off etchings, rather than paintings, during her walk. However, it did not consider the distinction between etchings and paintings to be a significant inaccuracy. The publication also referred to the transcript, as included in paragraph 9 of this decision, and said that the complainant had referred to the “back side” of a net curtain, and that had accurately reported this quote.
15. The publication said that the language in the article had come from the interview with the complainant, and that it did not consider it to be misleading in the way the complainant suggested. It did offer to publish a short statement from the complainant on the basis that it would resolve the complaint.
16. The complainant said that she did not realise that the telephone interview she took part in was being recorded. She said that not telling her she was being recorded also breached Clause 1 as had she known in advance she would have spoken clearly and accurately. She also said that the transcription was not accurate as it included grammatical errors and words she did not believe she had said, although she accepted that she had referred to a backside of a net curtain. The complainant said that after reviewing the transcript and the recording, she did not consider the quote “after all, who wants to live in a house with an old shop window” to be an accurate characterisation of what she had said.
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.
Findings of the Committee
17. The article described the artist’s window as being “peered into”, and that she was “totally fine” with this. The claim was not presented as a direct quote from the complainant, and referred to the art gallery in the complainant’s front window. The Committee acknowledged that “peered” may not be the preferred word of the complainant;, however, where the complainant used her window as a gallery, and invited people on the street to view her displays with a sign reading “something nice to look at?”, the Committee did not consider that it was misleading to characterise her as being “fine” with people “peering” into her window. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
18. Whilst the complainant had started the gallery prior to lockdown, where the gallery continued throughout lockdown and during this period the complainant wanted to show her art to people, it was not inaccurate to report the complainant had a plan to show her art “during lockdown”. In addition, where the complainant had said in the interview that she had no expectation that the paintings themselves would be sold via the window gallery, it was not inaccurate to report this in the article.
19. The transcript of the recording showed that the complainant had said “who wants to live in a house where you just put a net curtain over an old shop window and pretend it's not a shop? It's, kind of... You might as well buy a house don't buy an old shop [sic]”. It was accepted that the publication had amended this wording to quote the complainant as saying “who wants to live in a house with an old shop window?”. The Committee noted that comments originating in spoken words may be amended slightly as they are translated them from spoken to written speech, for reasons of clarity or grammar; this does not raise an issue under Clause 1 unless the amendments distort the meaning of what is said. In this case, the Committee did not consider that the rephrasing of the complainant’s comments on the perceived desirability of the property misrepresented her comments. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
20. The complainant accepted that she did use her window to dry her paintings, but did not consider this the primary use of the window gallery. Where it was included within the recording that the complainant had said that the paintings dried in the window, it was not inaccurate to report that she had realised her paintings could dry in the window. In addition, it was not inaccurate to characterise two or three open studio weekends as “open studio days”, where it was accepted there were days of the year in which her studio was open. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
21. The article had reported that the complainant dropped off paintings during her daily walk during lockdown, where the correct position was that she had dropped off etchings. Whilst the Committee understood that the complainant felt this devalued her work, it did not consider there to be a significant difference between paintings and etchings in the context of the article describing her window gallery. Where the transcript showed, and the complainant accepted she had stated that the gallery was “better than the back side of a net curtain”, it was not inaccurate to include this quote in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
22. Finally, the complainant said she was an academic and would not have used what she considered to be the simplistic language in the article. She also said it was misleading for the interview in which she consented to partake to be recorded without her being made aware, and that she would have spoken more clearly and accurately had she known she was being recorded. The Committee noted that there was no suggestion that the complainant had not consented to the interview with the journalist. The act of recording the interview demonstrated the publication’s observation of the terms Clause 1 (i) which required it to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. In the event of a complaint over the accuracy of comments attributed to an individual, as in this case, the publication will generally be expected to support the disputed quotations, either through contemporaneous notes or a recording. As such, the publication’s decision to record the conversation did not breach the terms of Clause 1 of the Code; it enabled the publication to demonstrate its compliance with the Code. In addition, whilst the complainant considered that she would have used more academic words had she written the article herself, it was not misleading to write the article in simpler words than the complainant’s preference, in particular where the quotes were supported by the transcript of the interview. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points. The Committee did, however, welcome the publication’s deletion of the article and offer to publish a statement from the complainant.
23. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 14/09/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/01/2021Back to ruling listing