Decision of the Complaints Committee – 28673-20 Webb v The Northern Echo
Summary of Complaint
1. Alan Webb complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Northern Echo breached Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Hardwick Hall Hotel's outdoor live music and entertainment” published on 20 August 2020.
2. The article, which only appeared online, reported on a series of events due to be held at a hotel. The article claimed that the events were “in aid of” a charity and that “the charity and hotel managers have lined up a series of outdoor events, to be held over the next three weeks.” It included a quote from the charity’s chief executive, and the article reported that she had “said the cash raised over the three weekends is vital.”
3. The complainant, who identified himself as a local resident who had been disturbed by the noise from the events, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. The complainant said that not all events described in the article as having taken place “over the next three weeks” were in aid of the charity; he said that the charity’s Facebook page showed only two of the events, and the charity was only selling tickets for these two events. He said that the article would mislead readers into believing that all of the money raised from the whole series of events would go to the charity rather than the hotel.
4. The complainant also said that the article was contradicted by earlier articles about the events published by the newspaper, which he provided. The articles in question did not refer to the events being in aid of the charity and named only two events in which ticket proceeds would go to the charity.
5. The publication said it did not accept that the article under complaint was inaccurate. It said it had been in contact with the charity, both before the article’s publication and after receiving the complaint, and it had confirmed that the events reported in the article were in aid of the charity. The publication provided: emails from the charity confirming this; messages between a representative of the charity and a reporter at the publication in which the representative asked the reporter to cover the series of events at the hotel; paying-in slips showing that the charity had fundraised and subsequently banked monies raised from raffles conducted at some of the events; photographs showing representatives of the charity present at the events; and a poster advertising the events, which stated that two of the events were “in aid of” the charity and also included the charity’s logo at the bottom of the poster. It also noted that the article contained a quote from the charity’s chief executive; although it was unable to provide contemporary notes of the conversation between the reporter and the chief executive – as the reporter did not have regular access to the office due to Covid-19 restrictions - it said that it was satisfied that the article was accurate and that it had taken care over the accuracy of the information in the article.
6. The publication said that it did not agree with the complainant’s position that the article was contradicted by an earlier article about the various events. It said that the earlier article reported that the proceeds from tickets of two of the events would go directly to the charity; however, it did not follow that the other events were not “in aid of” the charity, where the charity fundraised at all events and was also present to raise awareness of its work.
7. The complainant said that he did not dispute that the charity had been present at the events, but noted that the photographs and paying-in slips provided by the publication appeared to indicate that the charity had only been present and received money from some of the events, rather than all of them. He also noted that the poster provided by the publication showed only two events which were explicitly said to be “in aid of” the charity.
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
8. The complainant provided both screenshots from the charity’s Facebook page and an earlier article published by the newspaper to support his position that the article under complaint was inaccurate in stating that all events taking place “over the next three weeks” at the venue were in aid of the charity. However, the publication had been in direct contact with the charity, both before and after the publication of the article, and the charity had not disputed the accuracy of the article; indeed, following the complaint, it had substantiated the publication’s report of the events. Given that the charity itself – which was best placed to assess whether it had benefited from the entire series of events or just two of the events - did not dispute that the events held at the hotel were in aid of the charity, the Committee did not agree that the Facebook page cited by the complainant or the earlier coverage in the newspaper demonstrated the article to be inaccurate. There was no breach of the Code on this point.
9. The Committee noted that the complainant had expressed concerns that the article may mislead readers into believing that the entirety of the profits from the scheduled events would go to the charity. However, the article only said that the events were “in aid of” the charity and not that the charity would receive all of the profits from the events. Given that the charity considered itself to have benefited both financially and in terms of public awareness from the series of events as a whole, the Committee did not find that the description of the events being “in aid of” the charity was inaccurate, misleading, or distorted on this point.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 25/10/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 07/05/2021