Decision of the Complaints Committee 13004-16 MacMaster v Daily Record
Summary of Complaint
1. Frank MacMaster complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Record breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “One day return to the people please”, published in print on 25 September 2016, and “Calls for ScotRail to be taken back from Dutch control following services complaints”, published online on 20 September 2016.
2. The article reported calls for the firm who run Scotland’s railways, ScotRail, to be replaced. It said that figures revealed the previous week showed services “beset by delays and cancellations”. It said that statistics showed that 24 out of 75 services in the month to 20 August 2016 were late more often than they were on time. It also said that figures from the previous month showed that one in five services failed to run, with 450 trains cancelled. The article included a response from ScotRail which explained that it had “a challenging few months due to industrial action, big infrastructure works at Queen Street and the programme to electrify the Glasgow to Edinburgh line”.
3. The headline aside, the online article was substantively the same as the print version.
4. The complainant said that while the figures reported for delays and cancellations appeared to be accurate, they were misleading because they only included services that terminated at the stations mentioned in the article, and not those that made intermediate stops. He also said that the measure on which a train company’s performance is usually based on the Public Performance Measure (PPM), which calculates the percentage of services which arrive within five minutes of the booked arrival time. However, he said that the article reported figures relating to the percentage of trains arriving within 59 seconds of booked arrival time. He said that the failure of the article to make this clear gave a misleading impression of the extent of delays to services.
5. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that one in five services were cancelled; he said that the true figure was one in 150, which is less than 1 per cent. He also said that the article was misleading because it failed to make clear that the responsibility for Scotland’s railway is shared between ScotRail, which operates the majority of the services, and Network Rail, which is responsible for the track and other infrastructure. He said that in not making this clear in the article, it implied that the delays and cancellations were entirely the fault of ScotRail.
6. The newspaper said that the figures published in the article had come from a table titled “Annual On Time Arrival at Destination” published by ScotRail. It said it was not misleading to report the figures for late trains as outlined in the table; however, it offered to add a line to the online article to make clear the basis of the figure. It also said that while it accepted that it was inaccurate to report that 1 in 5 trains were cancelled, that figure had been published by ScotRail, and the newspaper had been entitled to rely on what the company had said. It said that the publication of this figure was not significantly misleading in the context of the article as a whole. Nonetheless, it removed the reference from the online article, and offered to add a footnote to the article clarifying the change.
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.
Findings of the Committee
8. The newspaper acknowledged that it was inaccurate to report that 1 in 5 ScotRail services had been cancelled. However, in relying on the figures put into the public domain by ScotRail, the newspaper demonstrated that it had taken care not to publish inaccurate information; there was no breach of Clause 1(i). Further, in circumstances where the article contained a general criticism of the company, which included highlighting the number of late services, and the calls by politicians to take the franchise from ScotRail, the reporting of this figure was not significantly misleading; there was no breach of Clause 1(ii). Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s decision to remove the figure from the article, as well as the offer to publish a clarification online.
9. The Committee acknowledged that the reported figures used different parameters to measure late trains than the PPM. However, in circumstances where the article did not suggest that the figures were calculated using the PPM measure, and these figures were originally published by ScotRail, the Committee did not consider that the article was misleading on this point. There was no breach of Clause 1. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a clarification on this point.
10. In circumstances where the article published ScotRail’s response to the performance statistics, which included reference to industrial action, infrastructure work and the programme to electrify the Glasgow to Edinburgh line, the Committee did not consider the omission of any reference to Network Rail gave a significantly misleading impression of who was responsible for the delays and cancellations on Scotland’s railways. Further, it was not misleading to only report figures for late trains that terminated at stations, and not figures for trains that made intermediate stops at those stations. There was no breach of Clause 1 on either point.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 13/11/2016
Date decision issued: 28/02/2017
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