Decision of the Complaints Committee –12041-21 Peel v The Belfast Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Jeffrey Peel complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Belfast Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Latest torrent of online abuse directed at Long is driven by misogyny”, published on 18th November 2021.
2. The article was a comment piece in which the writer said, “there has been public debate about the online abuse of female politicians and women in high-profile, public-facing roles” and that, “[i]n the last year, that abuse seems to have increased”. The article reported that the Alliance Party leader had recently experienced a “pile-on” “resulting from a tweet by failed Conservative Party election candidate [the complainant], [that] was particularly nasty”. The article included the complainant’s tweet in which he said, “’This is Northern Ireland’s Justice Minister. Today she voted in favour of the introduction of Vaccine Passes in Northern Ireland to keep Northern Ireland healthy and safe.’” The article said the complainant “attached a picture” of the Justice Minister “that resulted in over 1000 comments, […] the vast majority about her appearance and specifically her weight. [The complainant] did not engage in the abuse, nor did he ask his followers to stop it”. The writer said that “that [the Justice Minister] was singled out by the hundreds of internet trolls who made vile and vulgar remarks about her appearance, some of a deeply personal and sexual nature, was of course driven by misogyny”. The article also stated that “the abuse directed at high-profile women takes a very different tone. It attacks their appearance, their perceived morality, and their ability to do their job based only on their gender rather than ability”.
3. The article also appeared online.
4. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 1 because it referred to him as a “failed Conservative Party election candidate”. He said this was inaccurate because he had only stood for the Conservative Party on a single occasion in England at local government level where he was elected with more than fifty per cent of the vote. The complainant said the article was further inaccurate because it described him as a misogynist. He said his original tweet was highlighting the irony of the Justice Minister voting in support for “the curtailment of [his] civil liberties” based on someone’s vaccination status given the impact of obesity on other medical conditions like respiratory disease. He said it was not misogynistic to describe someone as “big” as images illustrate her weight.
5. The publication said it did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It stated that the reference to the complainant as a “failed Conservative Party election candidate” was a brief reference within an opinion piece. The publication considered that the focus of the article was on the complainant’s tweet and criticism of the government’s pandemic response. In addition, the publication stated that the complainant’s electoral success was not widely publicised: his LinkedIn profile and company website made no reference to it. For these reasons, this was not a “significant” inaccuracy. Nonetheless, it offered to amend the article to remove the disputed reference from the online article and to publish the following as a footnote correction online and on page 6 in print:
“On 18 November 2021 the Belfast Telegraph published an opinion piece by Ms Allison Morris entitled “Latest online abuse directed at Naomi Long driven by misogyny” which referred to Mr Jeffrey Peel as a “failed Conservative Party election candidate”. Mr Peel has in fact previously been elected at local government level in England. The Belfast Telegraph is happy to correct this position.”
6. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 1 regarding the complainant’s concern that it was inaccurate to describe him as a misogynist. It said the article made clear that the “abuse” the Justice Minister had received had been in response to the complainant’s tweet. The publication said the article was a comment piece and so gave the writer’s opinion that the complainant’s tweet and the abuse that followed was motivated by misogyny. It stated that the basis for this opinion was set out: “that [the Justice Minister] was singled out by the hundreds of internet trolls who made vile and vulgar remarks about her appearance, some of a deeply personal and sexual nature, was of course driven by misogyny”. The publication asserted that this could not be understood as anything other than comment.
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 first considered the reference to the complainant as a “failed Conservative Party election candidate”. Whilst the reference appeared in a comment piece, it amounted to a statement of fact that the complainant had failed as a Conservative Party representative in an election and, as such, the publication should have been able to provide a basis for this statement in order to demonstrate that it took sufficient care over the accuracy of the reference. The publication was unable to provide any information to support its assertion and as such there was a failure on its part to take care over the accuracy of the statement. This amounted to a clear breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
8. Where this claim related to the success of the complainant’s political career in the context of his views on the decisions made by current politicians, this was a significant inaccuracy that required correction. The publication had offered a correction that addressed the original inaccuracy and made clear the correct position at the start of IPSO’s investigation, which constituted sufficient promptness. It proposed to publish this correction on page 6 in print, which represented due prominence as it would be published on the same page as the original article. A footnote correction online was appropriate where the inaccuracy appeared within the body of the article. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1(ii).
9. The Committee then considered the complainant’s concerns that the article claimed he was a misogynist. The Committee noted that the article was reporting on the “pile-on against the Alliance Party leader, resulting from a tweet…” which had been posted by the complainant. It said that the posts in response to the complainant’s tweet had been posted by “hundreds of internet trolls who had made vile and vulgar remarks about [the leader’s] appearance”, which the headline and article described as being driven by misogyny. The reference to misogyny was, therefore, not directed at the complainant and the article had not claimed that he was a misogynist. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
10. The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1.
Remedial Action Required
correction which was offered clearly put the correct position on record, and
was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.
Date complaint received: 21/11/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 11/07/2022Back to ruling listing