Decision of the Complaints Committee 17326-17 The Governing Council of the Royal Albert Hall v The Sunday Times
Summary of complaint
1. The governing Council of the Royal Albert Hall complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Going for a song: tycoon’s £2.7m Albert Hall box”, published on 28 May 2017.
2. The article reported that ten seats in a box at the Royal Albert Hall had been sold for £2.7 million. It reported that the “record breaking price will increase the market value of the other 1,265 seats owned by individuals and companies- about a quarter of the concert hall, which has charitable status”.
3. The article explained that the other 1,265 seats, included 145 seats owned by the Royal Albert Hall’s trustees and related parties. The article contained a brief reference to the complainant’s engagement with the Charity Commission; it reported that: “the Charity Commission said it had ‘serious concerns’ about the management of the charity and would act because perceptions ‘that trustees are in a position to benefit financially from their role can be very damaging’”. The article also reported a statement from the complainant: “seat holders [take] no benefit from the charity and voluntarily benefited it by £5m a year”.
4. The article appeared in substantively the same form online, under the headline: “Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe buys box at Royal Albert Hall for £2.7m”.
5. The complainant said that the article had inaccurately implied that the Charity Commission had made an allegation of wrongdoing and had issued it with an ultimatum. It further said that the article had failed to make clear that the 1,265 seats owned by its Members were entirely separate from the seats owned by the Hall, which have “charitable status”. The complainant said that it had provided a statement for publication, but key aspects of it had been omitted from the article.
6. The newspaper said that the article did not contain the implications suggested by the complainant. The article did not suggest that an “ultimatum” had been issued by the Charity Commission and it was accurate to report that the Commission had serious concerns about the management of the charity.
7. The newspaper said that the Commission had been concerned about the issue of the perceived conflict of interest in charity trustees, who were in a position to benefit from the sale of tickets which had been issued to them by virtue of their permanent seat ownership. The newspaper said that the Commission had made clear that it expected the complainant to deal with the issue during an internal review into the trust’s constitution, by ensuring that a minority of trustees are seat holders.
8. The newspaper said that the article had made clear that the 1275 seats were privately owned. The article concerned the private sale of a box from a named individual, and the only reference to a charity was in relation to the Hall itself: no reader would think that the seats that were being traded were anything other than privately owned, as set out in the article.
Relevant Code provisions
9. 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
10. It was not in dispute that the Charity Commission had expressed concern regarding the perceived conflict of interest in the complainant’s trustees, who were in a position to benefit from the sale of tickets which had been issued to them by virtue of their permanent seat ownership. It was accurate for the article to report that the Commission had raised “serious concerns” about the management of the charity, and the article did not contain a suggestion that it had issued the complainant with an ultimatum. The article reported accurately that the 1,265 seats which were privately owned, were separate from the seats which formed part of the Hall’s charitable assets. There was no breach of Clause 1.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 01/08/2017
Date decision issued: 14/03/2018