Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10663-21 Straughan v blackpoolgazette.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Ian Straughan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that blackpoolgazette.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Fuel crisis highlights need for more electric car charging points in Blackpool”, published on 7 October 2021.
2. The sub-heading of the online article read “Calls have been made for more vehicle charging points in Blackpool including to serve the resort’s tourism industry as people switch to electric cars”, with the opening sentence stating that there were “currently 50 charging points in the town for use by the public – but the council says this number will double in the next two years”. The article went on to report that the council’s latest local transport plan showed £100,000 had been allocated to installing charging points in public car parks and included the comments made by several councillors on the issue at a recent meeting.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) to report that there were “currently 50” electric vehicle (EV) charging points available to the public in Blackpool. He said that the true figure was significantly lower; there were only 13 EV chargers available to the public in the borough of Blackpool. To demonstrate this, he referred to an online database dedicated to recording the location and number of EV charging points.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that the disputed figure had been provided by the local council’s press office, following a council meeting which discussed the need for increased investment in this infrastructure. The press office had subsequently confirmed to the newspaper that this figure had been obtained from an online database and claimed it was the same database used by the Department of Transport to record EV charging points. It considered that the publication was entitled to rely on information provided by a public official.
5. Notwithstanding its position that there was no breach of the Code, it noted that data published by the Office for National Statistic (ONS) showed that, as of October 2021, there were 24 public EV charging points in the Blackpool Council area and offered to amend the online article to reflect this. It also offered, in an attempt to resolve the complaint, to publish a letter from the complainant setting out his position and to publish a follow-up article focused on the number of EV charging points in the area. The publication did not, in any case, consider the article to be significantly inaccurate, as the piece was not about the number of existing public charging points in Blackpool, but rather was a report of a council meeting in which a proposed increase to the number of charging points was discussed. The number of existing charging points had not even been mentioned in the course of the meeting.
6. The complainant did not consider that the actions proposed by the publication were sufficient.
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
7. The Committee noted the dispute between the publication and the complainant regarding the number of publicly available EV charging points in Blackpool. The publication had provided correspondence between a representative of the local council and its reporter in which the council provided the disputed figure of “50” EV charging points. The Committee considered that the publication was entitled to rely on information provided by the council on this subject, given that it was the relevant authority with oversight of local public infrastructure, and as such was satisfied that the publication had taken sufficient care under Clause 1 (i) of the Code not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.
8. The Committee then considered whether, in spite of the care taken by the publication, the article had contained a significant inaccuracy requiring correction. A number of different figures for the true number of EV charging points in Blackpool had been raised in the course of IPSO’s investigation. The article had contained the figure of 50 on which the council, and apparently the Department of Transport, based their policies; the complainant had provided a significantly lower figure based on his own experience and investigations; and the publication had advanced a third figure of 24 charging points, provided by the ONS. The Committee was not in a position to resolve these conflicting figures in order to ascertain a true figure: each had some evidential basis and came from accountable sources. In these circumstances, where the publication had been able to demonstrate that the figure contained in the article was that used by the local authority and, according to the council, the Department of Transport, the Committee did not agree that the figure could be considered as significantly inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii) of the Code. The Committee, however, welcomed the publication’s offer to include the figure provided by the ONS into the article, as this would serve to demonstrate that there was some dispute over the true number of the EV charging points in Blackpool.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 08/10/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 29/04/2022Back to ruling listing