Decision of the Complaints Committee – 28471-20 Alfa Travel v Western Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. Alfa Travel complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Western Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Anger as Bolton tourists head west after Porthcawl lockout”, published on 23 September 2020.
2. The article reported on a holiday tour coach, which it described as a “coachload of holidaymakers from Bolton and the north-west of England” that had “come all the way from Bolton and the north-west of England”. It said that the coach had been “turned away from Porthcawl” and would instead travel to Tenby where the tourists would be “transferred to a sister hotel in Tenby”. The article stated that “Bolton is at the centre of a local lockdown in northern England”. The article made clear that, whilst there were restrictions in place in Bolton, residents of Bolton were allowed to go on holiday with members of their household. The article contained a comment from the coach tour operator, who stated that the coach “was not solely comprised of holiday-makers from Bolton, but from customers across the north-west of England”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. It said that the coach had not originated from, nor stopped at, Bolton, and that it was therefore inaccurate to describe it as having “come all the way from Bolton”. It said that it was inaccurate to describe the coach as a “coachload of holidaymakers from Bolton and the north-west of England” as only one passenger had been from the city of Bolton, and a further two from the wider borough of Bolton. Prior to the publication of the article, the complainant had sent the publication a statement which stated that “Contrary to media reports, this coach was not solely comprised of holidaymakers travelling from Bolton, but from customers across the North West region which spans from Cumbria to Stoke on Trent.”
4. The complainant also said that the coach did not travel to Pembrokeshire, nor did the hotel transfer the passengers to a sister hotel in Tenby. It noted that the coach returned to Warrington, where the coach originated from, at the earliest possible opportunity allowing for drivers’ hours regulations.
5. The complainant also disputed that it was accurate to describe Bolton as being in a “local lockdown” and said the correct position was that it was subject to enhanced restrictions.
6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that it had got the information from another publication’s article which had reported that “a coach of Elvis fans from Bolton who had booked tickets to the festival decided to head to Tenby in Pembrokeshire instead”. It noted a further publication had repeated these claims, referring to the initial article. The publication also noted that the issue was attracting attention on social media and that it wished to publish the article in a timely way. The publication did not believe it was misleading to describe the passengers as “coachload of holidaymakers from Bolton and the north-west of England”, where the complainant accepted some people were from Bolton and some were from the north-west. The publication also noted that many areas of the north-west were subject to various forms of lockdown restrictions, and that it had significantly higher rates of Covid-19, and that the story did not depend on all, or most, of the holidaymakers being from Bolton specifically. The publication said that as the coach contained passengers from Bolton, it was not inaccurate to report that the coach had “come all the way from Bolton”, as it was the passengers that were the focus of the article.
7. The publication said it had taken care when reporting that the coach passengers would stay in Tenby by contacting the hotel in Tenby. It also contacted the hotel in Porthcawl which confirmed that the coach would leave due to the local lockdown. The staff member had also told the publication that the intention was for the coach to continue to Pembrokeshire. The publication said, therefore, that the article had been correct at the time of publication, and offered to amend the article to reflect the subsequent changes to the coach’s schedule.
8. The publication said that the term “local lockdown” was a widely used phrase that could describe various types of restrictions due to Covid-19 in the UK. It said that where, at the time of publication, all Bolton’s pubs and restaurants were closed and people were not allowed to socialise with anyone outside of their household, it was not inaccurate to describe Bolton as being in a “local lockdown”.
9. The publication offered to publish the following as a correction on page 2 in its corrections and clarifications column:
Our article [HEADLINE; DATE] reported that a coachload of people had travelled 'all the way from Bolton' to Porthcawl, and were heading to Pembrokeshire. This was based on information available at the time. We have since been informed that the coach company subsequently sent the coach back to Warrington. We have also been asked to clarify that the coach did not originate from Bolton. We are happy to clarify this.
Relevant Code 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
10. The article had reported that the coach had “come all the way from Bolton”, when the coach had never stopped at Bolton. The publication had been in contact with the complainant prior to the publication of the article, but had not asked whether the coach had come from, stopped at, or transferred through Bolton. Whilst the allegation had appeared online in other publications, where the publication had not taken any further steps to verify the information and had presented it as a fact, this represented a failure to take care under Clause 1(i). When at the time of publication Bolton had a very high rate of Covid-19 infections, this misled readers to believe that more people from the city were on the coach than was accurate, and therefore this was a significant inaccuracy and required a correction under Clause 1(ii).
11. The publication had offered to publish a correction. It had stated that the “bus did not originate from Bolton”, however it did not make clear that the coach had never stopped in Bolton. There was a further breach of Clause 1(ii) on this point.
12. The article had reported that the passengers were being transferred to a hotel in Tenby in Pembrokeshire. It had taken steps to verify this information by contacting the hotel the passengers were originally booked to stay at in Porthcawl, and the hotel they were referred to in Pembrokeshire. At the time of publication, the information was accurate, and there was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information under Clause 1(i). However, the situation since the publication of the article had changed, with the coach returning without going to Pembrokeshire. As the central theme of the article was the coach continuing its trip and the anger caused by this decision, where the coach did turn back, this was a significant inaccuracy and must now be corrected under Clause 1(ii).
13. The offered correction made clear that the coach did not carry on to Pembrokeshire, and instead returned to Warrington. The publication had offered to publish the correction in the print version of the paper, on the page two corrections and clarifications column. The correction was offered quickly after the change to the situation and was therefore considered to be both duly prompt and prominent. There was no further breach of Clause 1(ii) on this point.
14. The complainant had accepted that one passenger was from the city of Bolton and a further two were from the region. On this basis, it was not misleading to report that it was a “coachload of holidaymakers from Bolton and the north-west of England”. Where Bolton was subject to restrictions as a result of Covid-19, which prevented people from socialising with those from other households and where all pubs and restaurants were closed, it was not significantly misleading to report that Bolton was subject to a “local lockdown”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
15. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.
Remedial Action Required
16. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, 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 terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
17. The Committee considered that the publication did not take the necessary care when reporting the coach’s route. The Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on record. A correction was considered to be sufficient, as the claim was not the central point of the article, which related to the origin of the passengers.
18. The Committee then considered the placement of the correction. It should appear in the established print corrections and clarifications column. It should state that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The full wording and position should be agreed with IPSO in advance.
19. Written correction: Our article “Anger as Bolton tourists head west after Porthcawl lockout”, published on 23 September 2020 reported that a coachload of people had travelled 'all the way from Bolton' to Porthcawl, and were heading to Pembrokeshire. We would like to make clear that the coach did not stop at, or transit through, Bolton. In addition, we have since been informed that the coach company, after the publication of the article, subsequently sent the coach back to Warrington. This correction has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
Date complaint received: 25/09/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/12/2020
Back to ruling listing