Decision of the Complaints Committee – 19741-23 Dikme v eveningnews24.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Joanna Dikme complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that eveningnews24.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Norwich woman's fight for big Boundary Road fence amid abuse”, published on 1 July 2023.
2. The article reported on the complainant’s request that her local council pay for a 6-foot fence to be installed around her property. It reported that the complainant was “pleading with the council to pay” for a 6-foot fence, to replace an existing 3-foot fence which the council had previously installed, due to issues with her dogs. The article reported that the complainant had told the publication of “numerous arguments” she had had with her neighbours about her dogs, and that she told the publication one of her dogs had “even bit a child through the fencing posts”. The article went on to report that the complainant “wants to raid the public purse” for the cost of replacing the fence, and that her local council had agreed to replace the fence 18 months previously but had not yet done so. The article also referred to the complainant’s dogs as “unruly canines”.
3. The complainant said the article included several inaccuracies, in breach of Clause 1. Firstly, she stated that she had never told the publication one of her dogs had bitten a child – rather, she said that she had told the publication her dog had been bitten by another dog. She supplied an email that she sent to the newspaper prior to publication where she had said, “my dog has also been bit by another dog through the fence”. She also said the article inaccurately reported that she told the publication she had had “numerous arguments with neighbours over her dogs” and denied ever saying this.
4. The complainant said the article inaccurately labelled her dogs as “unruly canines”, as she considered them to be friendly dogs who greeted passersby. Finally, she said it was inaccurate to report that she was trying to “raid the public purse”. Rather, she considered it was the fault of Norwich Council that the fence it had previously installed was inadequate, and it was therefore their responsibility to replace it.
5. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1, and said the article was an accurate report of the interview with the complainant. It provided the reporter’s shorthand notes, taken at the time of the interview, to support this. The reporter’s notes in shorthand stated: “my dog bit someone on the nose it was children going past [sic]”, and “I’m getting to the end of my tether me and the neighbours are arguing it’s too much”. The publication also supplied a longhand version of the reporter’s shorthand notes, which stated “my dog bit someone on the nose it was children a child going past.”
6. The publication also referred to its initial email correspondence with the complainant, in which the complainant approached the publication with the story. It considered this correspondence, which was subsequently supplied to IPSO, also supported that she had had arguments with her neighbours. In the email, the complainant stated that she was worried about upsetting her neighbours due to the dogs barking and referred to incidents of “drunks” on her outdoor play equipment, someone trying to enter through her back door, and an individual attempting to snatch her dogs. The email did not refer to an incident in which the complainant’s dog had bitten a child.
7. The publication also said it was not inaccurate to report the complainant wanted to “raid the public purse”. It said this was a turn of phrase, related to the complainant’s request that her local council pay for the fence. It also noted the complainant had come to the publication with her story of her own accord - an action which it considered was done in an attempt to “put pressure” on the council, further supporting the use of the phrase.
8. Despite its position that the article had not breached the Code, after the complainant contacted the publication on 1 July, prior to the beginning of IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered, on 5 July, to amend the article to remove the disputed claim that the complainant’s dog bit a child.
Relevant Clause 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
9. The Committee recognised that there was a disagreement between the complainant and the publication as to whether the complainant had accurately reported claims she had made during an interview with a reporter – namely, that her dog had bitten a child, and that she had had numerous arguments with her neighbours. While the Committee appreciated that the complainant disputed that she made either claim during the interview, contemporaneous notes provided by the publication supported what was reported in the article regarding the dispute with her neighbours, and the email the complainant sent prior to publication also referenced difficulties with her neighbours. In such circumstances, the Committee was satisfied the publication had taken care over the accuracy of this statement.
10. However, the notes regarding the dog bite contained a discrepancy. There was a difference between the shorthand and longhand notes, which said the dog had bitten a “child” and “children”, respectively. Additionally, the complainant had emailed the publication before the article was published stating her dog had been bitten by another dog but had not referenced her dog biting a child or children. Where there was a discrepancy between the shorthand notes and the translation, and the email from the complainant contained information which contradicted the notes, the publication should have taken further steps to verify the information to ensure due care was taken not to publish inaccurate information, but had not done so. This was a failure to take care, in breach of Clause 1(i). Moreover, the complainant emphatically disputed the accuracy of her comments as described in the article, having first made the publication aware of her concerns on 1 July. As such, on the balance of probabilities, the Committee considered the publication’s report of the complainant’s comments to be inaccurate. Where the inaccuracy related to whether she had admitted her dog had bitten a child, a very serious allegation that could potentially lead to a dog being put down, the Committee considered this inaccuracy to be significant and in need of correction. Where the publication had not offered to correct the article – although it had offered to remove the disputed reference – this represented a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).
11. The Committee next considered whether the article was inaccurate to report that the complainant’s dogs were “unruly canines”. The Committee considered that this was a characterisation on part of the publication, and that it was distinguished as such where the basis for this statement was included with the article; it was preceded by anecdotes of the dogs causing disruption to neighbours and passersby. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
12. Finally, the Committee considered whether the article was inaccurate to report that the complainant “want[ed] to raid the public purse”. Where the article reported that the complainant was “pleading with the council” to replace the fence, and the complainant had not indicated that she would pay towards the cost, the Committee considered that the article provided sufficient basis for the claim that the complainant “want[ed] to raid the public purse”. In these circumstances, the Committee did not consider the article misleading or inaccurate in this regard. There was also no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial action required
14. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication; the nature, extent, and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
15. The Committee considered that the article had inaccurately reported the complainant’s comments. While the publication had not offered a correction sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii), it had offered to amend the article to remove the inaccurate information once IPSO began its investigation. Therefore, on balance, the Committee considered that a correction was the appropriate remedy. The correction should acknowledge the article had inaccurately reported the complainant’s comments.
16. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction.
17. If the publication intends to continue to publish the online article without amendment, the correction on the article should be published beneath the headline. If the article is amended, the correction should be published as a footnote.
18. The wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
Date complaint received: 04/07/2023
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 08/11/2023
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