Decision of the Complaints Committee – 15664-20 Thompson v Barnsley Chronicle
Summary of Complaint
1. Chris Thompson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Barnsley Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Orwell ‘was wrong’ about Barnsley Town Hall”, published on 21 February 2020.
2. The article reported on an art student’s research into George Orwell. The article reported that Orwell had criticised the Council’s Town Hall as being an unnecessary build when the region lacked housing. However, the student’s research had found that the hall had been built using a grant that could not be used to build houses or roads. The article contained a quote from the student: “I wondered how he got away with it… I’ve realised now there are some parallels between what Orwell was saying back then, and what people are saying about the town centre now. There’s always a level of suspicion around council spending, but in this case the council couldn’t have spent that money on anything else.”
3. The complainant, the student in the article, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as he had never said the quote attributed to him in the article. He provided a copy his notes which he said he had followed when he was interviewed by the publication, and which he said supported his position that, in particular, he had not mentioned “suspicion around council spending” or that he wondered how Orwell had “got away with it”. He said that the publication of the article had caused him both professional and personal loss.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. The reporter had taken notes at the time of the interview, which it provided to IPSO and reflected what was written in the article. It said that the article had been a briefer report than the notes provided by the complainant, and that the quotes attributed to the complainant may have lost some of their original context, but were still accurate. He said the first part of the published quote had been edited for reasons of space and that the full quote provided by the complainant had been “There’s always a level of suspicion around council spending and government decision making, but in this case there was no possible way of spending it on social projects. The council couldn’t have spent that money on anything else.” The reporter’s notes also recorded that the complainant had said “I wonder how he got away with it." The publication said that the quotes published in the article may not be exactly the same as the notes provided by the complainant, as they reflected what had been said by the complainant in the interview and had not been taken from the complainant’s notes. Following the complaint, the publication deleted the story from its social media as a gesture of goodwill.
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
5. The Committee noted that there was a disagreement between the complainant and the publication as to whether the complainant had said the quotes which had been attributed to him in the article. The reporter had taken contemporaneous notes during the interview with the complainant and supplied these to IPSO during its investigation. The reporter’s notes recorded that, during the interview, the complainant had said “I wonder how he got away with it”. Whilst the complainant disputed that he had made this comment about George Orwell, where the contemporaneous notes supported what had been reported in the article, there was no breach of Clause 1.
6. The reporter’s notes recorded that during the course of the interview the complainant had said “(I've) realised (now there are some) parallels between what George Orwell was saying about (the) town hall back then and what people (are) saying about (the) town centre now. People should be a bit more positive"; the quotation attributed to the complainant in the article read: “I’ve realised now there are some parallels between what Orwell was saying back then, and what people are saying about the town centre now.” The reporter’s notes also recorded that the complainant had said “There’s always a level of suspicion around council spending and government decision making, but in this case there was no possible way of spending it on social projects. The council couldn’t have spent that money on anything else”; the quotation attributed to the complainant in the article read: “There’s always a level of suspicion around council spending, but in this case the council couldn’t have spent that money on anything else.” Whilst the comments made by the complainant had been abridged in the quotes attributed to him in the article, the meaning of what he had said had not been changed, and the complainant’s comment regarding social projects had been explained earlier in the article. On this basis, the publication had not failed to take care to publish the complainant’s comments accurately and there was no breach of Clause 1(i). Where the quotes attributed to the complainant in the article were an accurate representation of what the complainant had said in the interview, there was no significant inaccuracy to correct under Clause 1(ii).
7. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 17/08/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/12/2020
Independent Complaints Reviewer
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.