Resolution Statement 20560-17 Salmond v Sunday Mail
Summary of complaint
1. Alex Salmond complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in a print article headlined “Just 16k can be bothered Putin on TV for Alex” published on 3 December 2017, and an online article headlined “SNP icon Alex Salmond’s TV show sinks to new low as viewing figures plummet”, published on 10 December 2017.
2. The first article reported that the complainant’s first show on the RT TV channel had “attracted an audience of just 16,000 when it was first broadcast on the morning of 16 November and that “repeats the same day failed to make the channel’s weekly top 10”. The article also reported on the controversy surrounding the show. A breakout box beneath the article, headed in faux-Cyrillic script “Great and glorious statement from Honourable Comrade Alexei”, provided a full statement from the complainant’s production company.
3. The second article’s headline reported that the show’s viewing figures had plummeted. The article explained that, while the first edition had been the most-watched show on RT in the UK, the second edition of the complainant’s show was “nowhere to be seen in the channel’s 10 most-watched programmes”. It also stated the complainant “was forced to rely” on SNP colleagues to fill guest spots on the third and fourth editions of his show.
4. The complainant said it was inaccurate for the first article to state that only 16,000 people had watched the first edition of the show: there were two other showings of the show, and therefore the likely total viewership was closer to 50,000 on TV, with many more on other platforms. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate for the second article to state that the viewing figures had “plummeted”: while it did not appear in RT’s top ten shows for that week, the tenth show had a viewership of 18,000, meaning that the show could still have had more viewers than in the previous week.
5. The publication denied any breach of the Code. It said that the first article made clear that the 16,000 figure was based on the first showing of the first show only; since, in fact, an average of 15,500 people had watched the show before and after the break, the 16,000 figure was in fact an overestimate. It said it had also included the full statement from the production company, which made clear that the programme would be available globally to a wider audience. The publication said that the headline to the second article had been published in error, and only online. However, it denied that stating that viewing figures had “plummeted” was significantly inaccurate, in a context where the programme had dropped out of the top 10 programmes on the channel; this was fully explained in the article. Nonetheless, the publication removed the phrase “as viewing figures plummet” from the second article’s headline. It further offered to amend the online headline to read as follows:
“More woe for Alex Salmond as second show fails to make channel’s top 10”
6. The complainant said that the removal of this phrase represented an admission that the inaccuracy in the article was significant. He said that the publication was ignoring positive viewing figures for his show, and that its reporting on the show was unduly influenced by its editorial position.
Relevant Code provisions
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.
7. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
8. Following IPSO’s investigation, the complaint was not satisfactorily resolved, and was passed to the Complaints Committee for a decision. The Committee issued a decision, and the complainant requested a review by the Complaints Reviewer. The Reviewer referred the matter back to the Committee for further consideration. IPSO conducted a further investigation. Before the final decision was issued, the newspaper offered to publish the following clarification on a similar online article in its sister publication:
In our articles of 10 and 30 December, we stated that the Alex Salmond Show, broadcast on RT International, had suffered plummeting and plunging viewing figures. We are happy to clarify that, based on figures available at the time, the show had dropped out of the top ten most watched RT programmes, but the actual viewing numbers were not available. However, figures released in time for the 30th December article indicate that the show was at number 6 for the week ending 10 December with 19,000 viewers and we apologise for this inaccuracy.
9. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
10. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not issue any ruling to indicate whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 11/12/2017
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 26/08/2018
Back to ruling listing