Decision of the Complaints Committee - 28295-20 Sky Global Inc. v The Scottish Sun
Summary of Complaint
1. Sky Global Inc. complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “HOODS ERASE THEIR GAME” published on 10 August 2020.
2. The article reported that “gangland kingpins” who had previously been using an encrypted phone service which had been infiltrated by the police, were now using a different encrypted phone service described as being “ultra secure” and having the capacity to delete messages. It reported according to sources’ claims, “hoods and their cronies” had switched to using the service. It quoted an anonymous source as saying that the new encrypted phone service was “ideal” for criminals, but also quoted a different anonymous “underworld source” who said that the service may not be as entirely secure as its users might hope.
3. The article also appeared online on 9 August 2020 in largely the same form with the headline “HOODS ERASE THEIR GAME Scots gang kingpins using new self-destruct phone system like Mission: Impossible after cops hacked EncroChat messages”.
4. The complainant was the provider of the encrypted phone service. It said that it was not the case that its platform was being used by criminals. It said that it was confident that no criminals were using its platform as there had been no increase in users of the service since the police raid earlier in the year on the other encrypted phone service previously being used by criminals. It said that if these people had switched to its service at this point, it would have seen a corresponding increase in users, which was not the case. It said that it should have been contacted for comment on these claims, which were damaging to the company. It said that, contrary to the newspaper’s claims, it was straightforward to contact.
5. The newspaper said that it was not inaccurate to report that the complainant’s phone service was being used by criminals. It said that it had consulted two independent, reliable sources, both of which provided the information independently. Whilst maintaining its obligation to protect the identities of confidential sources, it said that one source was a person with first-hand knowledge of the activities and technology used by criminals, and the other was an “underworld” source, also familiar with developments in the criminal community. It said that information provided by the two sources in the past been proved accurate, and it had no reason to doubt them in this case. It also said that the reporter attempted to contact the complainant. However, it said that there were several websites which appeared to be under the control of the complainant, as well as several unverified Twitter accounts. It said that in the face of this uncertainty, the reporter was unwilling to provide details to these unverified outlets. However, it said that regardless of the complainant’s position, it was confident that its article was accurate. During IPSO’s investigation, it offered to add the complainant’s denial and right of reply to the online article.
6. 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
7. The Committee was clear that there is no standalone requirement for a newspaper to contact the subject of an article for comment prior to publication, although there may be circumstances in which not doing so constitutes a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information within the terms of Clause 1(i).
8. In this case, the newspaper’s report was clearly based on the comments from two independent sources, which was made clear through the use of attributable quotes. It outlined the sources’ basis for these claims, namely the self-destruction function of messages, which was not in dispute. Additionally, the newspaper did not adopt these claims as true. Further, the disputed claims were about the actions of third parties -criminals- rather than the nature of the complainant’s messaging service itself, which the article had made clear was “legal”. The complainant said it was in a position to know whether criminals had been using its phone as there had not been a rise in subscriptions since the other encrypted phone network being used by criminals had been infiltrated by the police. However, the Committee had regard to the fact that the article did not necessarily report that there had been a rise in subscriptions. Indeed, it could be that existing subscriptions were now being used for criminal purposes or that lawful subscriptions were being replaced with criminal ones. The complainant did not appear to be in a position to challenge the sources’ claims regarding the use of the phones, as opposed to the number of users. The Committee therefore did not consider that the failure to include the complainant’s comments constituted a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. Nor did this render the story significantly misleading or inaccurate such as to require correction. There was no breach of Clause 1. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s efforts to add a right of reply to the online article.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 27/09/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/04/2021
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