Decision of the Complaints Committee 28565-20 African Caribbean Care Group v manchestereveningnews.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. African Caribbean Care Group complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that manchestereveningnews.co.uk breached Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The coronavirus heroes honoured by the Queen for the incredible things they did during lockdown”, published on 9 October 2020.
2. The article reported on people from the Greater Manchester area who had been included in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for their work during the Coronavirus pandemic. One recipient was a “long-time charity worker” who, the article reported, “began working from home, cooking and delivering hundreds of meals to pensioners […making] around 30-40 calls [a] week to his clients” after the charity he worked for, the African Caribbean Care Group, “had to close its door to visitors during the pandemic.” The article also included a quote from the man, who referred to “driving around in [his] van” while carrying out his work.
3. The complainant organisation, the charity which employed the charity worker, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. It first said that the article had omitted details of the work carried out by the charity; this rendered the article inaccurate as it gave a misleading idea of what the charity had done during the pandemic. It then said that the charity-worker had not worked from home cooking meals during the pandemic; all meals delivered by the charity’s employees had been prepared on-site on charity premises, and that it was inaccurate to say the charity-worker had worked from home “cooking” meals. It also said that the charity had continued its operations throughout the pandemic, and, as such, it was misleading to say that the charity had “closed its doors to visitors”. The organisation also said that the article was inaccurate as the van that the charity worker said was his was in fact owned by the charity.
4. The publication said it did not accept that Clause 1 had been breached. It said that the information in the article came from a Cabinet Office press release; a reporter from the publication had also spoken to the charity worker, and the parts of the article that were presented as direct quotes had been said by the charity-worker. It provided both the Cabinet Office press release and a partial transcript of the conversation between the charity worker and reporter which had taken place over the phone prior to the article’s publication. In the transcript the charity worker had said that “because of the pandemic it’s only kitchen stuff and meals” and also that “when [he left] work he cook[ed] meals and took them to people.” The publication also pointed out that the press release had stated that the charity had been closed during the pandemic and that the charity worker had “continued to work from home, delivering homemade meals to service user’s homes.” It said that, where the information in the article had been provided by a government press release and verified in an interview with the charity worker, it had taken care over the accuracy of the information in the article. The publication also said that the article did not state that the charity had ceased operations; merely that it had “closed its doors to users” and the complainant had not disputed that the centre had ceased accepting walk-in visitors.
5. The complainant said that the article heavily implied that the charity’s service users had received no assistance during the first lockdown period, and that despite what the Cabinet Office press release had said this was not the case. It also said that the publication could have contacted the charity for comment prior to publishing the article, to verify whether the charity had continued its work throughout the pandemic.
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.
Findings of the Committee
6. The Committee first noted that the article was intended to give a brief summary of each of the Greater Manchester individuals who had been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. As such, it was not misleading or inaccurate for the article to omit the full details of the charity’s work; the purpose of the article was to celebrate the work carried out by a particular charity-employee during the pandemic, rather than provide a detailed overview of the work of the charity as a whole.
7. The Committee found that the article could be read in a manner which would suggest that the charity worker had cooked meals in his own kitchen, which represented a potential inaccuracy under the terms of Clause 1 (i), as the complainant organisation said that its employees had not prepared meals in their own homes. The publication had interviewed the charity worker directly and he had referred to “leav[ing] work and cook[ing] a meal.” As such, the Committee found that the ambiguity of the phrasing arose from the interview with the charity worker, and there was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on this point. The ambiguity of the phrasing did not lead to a significant inaccuracy in need of correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii), where the focus of the article was on the honours recipient and not the working practices of the charity.
8. The complainant had expressed concern that the article implied that the charity had ceased operations during the pandemic. There was no dispute that, while the charity continued to provide services to its users, it was no longer accepting visitors to its centre during the first wave of the pandemic. The Committee did not agree that the assertion by the newspaper that the charity had “closed its doors to visitors” misrepresented the situation: the charity did not dispute that it had been obliged to halt in-person visits to its centre. The article made clear that the charity worker had continued his work for the charity after it had “closed its doors to visitors”. It included specific references to him “working from home” and visiting “clients”, so readers would understand that these services were delivered in a professional capacity. This did not amount to a statement that the charity had ceased to function entirely. The Committee did not find the article to be significantly inaccurate or misleading on this point. There was no breach of Clause 1.
9. The newspaper had taken steps to verify the information provided by the Cabinet Office press release with the charity worker, and the Committee also noted that the article did not focus on the work of the charity, and that details of the charity’s operation were incidental to the article itself which focused on the people recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. For these reasons, there was no obligation for the newspaper to contact the charity directly in order to fulfil its obligations set out in Clause 1 (i).
10. The Committee did not find that referring to the charity’s van as the charity worker’s van represented inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1, where it was not in dispute that the charity worker had referred to the van as his during his interview with the newspaper, and where the reference to it being his van was presented as a direct quote from the charity worker in the article; the charity did not dispute that he had made this statement in his interview. There was no breach of Clause 1.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 09/10/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/04/2021
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