Resolution Statement – 27808-20 Ross v Bishop's Stortford Independent
Summary of Complaint
1. Brian Ross complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Bishop's Stortford Independent breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles headlined “Campaigners join forces to protest against airport” and “March may be out of step with climate concerns”, both of which were published on 26 August 2020.
2. The article headlined “Campaigners join forces to protest against airport” reported on a protest arranged by Extinction Rebellion (XR) East Herts against plans to expand Stansted Airport. The article said that Stop Stansted Expansion (SSE) and XR East Herts had “joined forces” to arrange the protest.
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form under the headline “Extinction Rebellion mobilises in Bishop's Stortford against Stansted Airport expansion”.
4. The article headlined “March may be out of step with climate concerns” was an editorial piece set out the newspaper’s view on the protests. It also stated that that both SSE and XR were planning to “take to the streets” to protest.
5. The complainant, the Deputy Chairman of SSE, said that both articles were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) as he considered that both articles gave the impression that SSE was associated with XR, when in fact there is no affiliation between the two organisations. He said that the implication was damaging to the SSE, and SSE had a long-established reputation for running its campaign in a lawful and non-disruptive manner, and its ethos is contrary to the one espoused by XR. Moreover, the complainant expressed his concerns that no member of SSE had been contacted for comment by the publication, despite the fact that the publication had the contact details of several key SSE members.
6. The newspaper said it accepted it was inaccurate to state that SSE and XR had “joined forces.” The error was made due to a press release sent to the newspaper by XR East Herts, in which the protest was referred to as the “XR Stop Stansted Airport Expansion” protest. It had assumed, given the name of the protest and the fact that both organisations were working to prevent the expansion of Stansted Airport, that SSE had a role in the protests. It accepted, however, that their initial assumption was incorrect, and had attempted to rectify the inaccuracy by printing a letter written by the SSE Chairman putting the correct position on record, and had also made clear in their subsequent coverage of the protest that XR and SSE were not affiliated. It also amended the online article to make clear that the two organisations were not affiliated, and had emailed an apology to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of SSE.
7. The complainant said that the action offered by the publication was not sufficient to resolve his complaint. He said that, whereas the article headlined “Campaigners join forces to protest against airport” had appeared on page 5 of the newspaper and had taken up the top half of the page, the letter from the SSE Chairman putting the true position on record was published on the lower-half of page 11, and was not accompanied by an Editor’s note acknowledging the original inaccuracy and apologising for the error. The complainant also considered that a correction should be published online, acknowledging the original inaccuracy and putting the correct position on record.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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.
9. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
10. The publication offered to print the following correction, to appear on page 5 of the newspaper or further forward:
In our edition of 26 August, we inaccurately reported that Stop Stansted Expansion had “joined forces” with Extinction Rebellion for a protest. This was not the case, and we would like to make clear that Stop Stansted Expansion is in no way affiliated with Extinction Rebellion. We would like to apologise to Stop Stansted Expansion for this error.
11. The publication also offered to publish the following wording as an amendment to the online version of the article:
In a previous version of this article, we inaccurately reported that Stop Stansted Expansion had “joined forces” with Extinction Rebellion for a protest. This was not the case, and we would like to make clear that Stop Stansted Expansion is in no way affiliated with Extinction Rebellion. We would like to apologise to Stop Stansted Expansion for this error
12. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
13. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 03/09/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/10/2020