Decision of the Complaints Committee 28530-20 Sayles v Daily Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. Peter Sayles complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “'Royal Navy keeps us locked out'”, published on 17 October 2020.
2. The article reported that Commonwealth sailors serving in the Royal Navy said they were “banned from parts of Royal Navy ships because of security fears.” The article went on to state that “the Royal Navy allows only British citizens into the operations room and the secure information room on its vessels. That rules out Commonwealth recruits even though they are trusted to fight.” The article included quotes from a serving Commonwealth sailor, who commented “[i]f you have 180 people serving in a ship, doing the same job, you would think everyone would be allowed to go in every compartment.”
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that some individuals were forbidden from entering certain areas on ships due to security concerns; such concerns are unrelated to individual’s nationality or country of origin. He also said that he had served in the Royal Navy and knew of at least one European individual who had been granted access to the operations room of a serving vessel, and as such it was inaccurate for the article to state that “only British citizens” were permitted to enter the operations room on serving vessels. He went on to say that the quote from the serving sailor was inaccurate, as not all sailors serving on a ship would be “doing the same job.”
4. The publication said it did not accept that Clause 1 had been breached. It said that the information reported in the article had been given to the reporter by serving crew members on a Royal Navy vessel, and it provided a transcript of the conversation. During the conversation both a Royal Navy press officer and a Government press officer were present, and none of the parties present had said that the information given by the serving sailors was inaccurate. It said that it had been contacted by the Ministry of Defence after the article’s publication, and the organisation had not disputed the accuracy of the article. Moreover, after receiving the complaint, the reporter had reached out a to a contact at the Ministry of Defence, who had told the reporter that the claim that “the Royal Navy allows only British citizens into the operations room and the secure information room on its vessels. That rules out Commonwealth recruits even though they are trusted to fight” was correct, with the proviso that dual citizens – holding British citizenship - were also allowed to access such areas.
5. The complainant said that he would expect the publication to verify information prior to publication, regardless of the source, and did not accept that the publication had done so in this case. He also expressed concern that the article was biased.
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
6. The complainant had said that the article was inaccurate, as it did not make clear that individuals were prohibited from certain areas of serving ships due to security measures. The Committee noted that the first line of the article said that Commonwealth recruits were prohibited from accessing certain areas of operational vessels due to “security concerns.” The article made clear on what basis Commonwealth recruits were prohibited from certain areas of the ship, and explicitly linked the prohibition to security. The article was not inaccurate on this point, and there was no breach of Clause1.
7. A transcript of the interview of the serving sailors was provided to IPSO during the investigation; during this interview the sailor said that only British citizens were allowed to enter operations rooms on serving Royal Navy vessels. Both a Royal Navy Press Officer and Government Press Officer were present during the interview, and neither disputed the accuracy of the statement. After the publication of the article, a Ministry of Defence contact also confirmed the accuracy of the disputed piece of information to the reporter. While the Committee noted that the complainant had previously served in the Royal Navy and that his experience had not aligned with the situation set out in the article, this did not necessarily render the publication’s account of current security restrictions and criteria inaccurate. The newspaper had relied on information provided by a serving sailor, given in the presence of government and navy representatives, all of whom were well placed to have knowledge of current restrictions. In addition, government representatives had had a number of opportunities to correct any inaccurate information, yet no concerns had been raised in regard to this point. As such, the Committee was satisfied that the newspaper had taken care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information, and it did not find the information under complaint to be inaccurate in the way suggested by the complainant. Clause 1 had not been breached on this point.
Date complaint received: 18/10/2020
Date complaint concluded: 01/04/2021
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