Ruling

00498-15 Black v Sunday Express

    • Date complaint received

      17th May 2015

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

·  Decision of the Complaints Committee 00498-15 Black v Sunday Express

Summary of complaint 

1. Nicholas Black complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Express had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Monsters are given their own cell keys”, published on 25 January 2015. 

2. The front-page article reported that 28,767 of 84,865 prisoners now in custody have keys to “privacy locks” on their cells. The sub-headline of the article claimed that “Ian Huntley and Rose West [are] ‘virtually roaming at will’”. The article continued on page 2, and explained that prison staff hold security keys to operate separate locks, which override the privacy locks. It noted that the purpose of the privacy locks was to enable prisoners to protect their belongings when leaving their cells, and to provide them a level of decency while they wash, or use the toilet. 

3. The complainant said that the headlines implied that prisoners had been provided with keys which enabled them to enter or leave their cells at any time; this was misleading and inaccurate, given that prison officers’ keys override the privacy locks. 

4. The complainant contacted IPSO after the newspaper had published a correction in the following edition on its letters page on page 30. The complainant said that the published correction was insufficiently prominent, given the placement of the original inaccuracy. He said that, apart from IPSO’s details appearing in a paragraph adjacent to its letters section, there was no further indication that the newspaper published its corrections on this page. 

5. The newspaper accepted that the front page was misleading, and noted that it had published a correction at the earliest opportunity. The correction read as follows: 

Correction: In our article “Monsters are given their own cell keys” on January 25, we said prisoners were “virtually roaming at will” with keys to their own prison cells. We would like to correct that and make it clear prisoners are given keys to be used to protect the privacy of their cells only at times when they are allowed out of their cells. Prisoners are not allowed to roam at will outside of these times.” 

The newspaper said that when it became a member of IPSO, it designated its letters page as the appropriate location for the publication of corrections and clarifications, and that details of the newspaper’s membership of IPSO were also published in this position. It said that its sister paper published a ‘Clarification and Amplifications’ column on its letters page, and that it was following this policy. It said that this correction was the first to be published while the newspaper had been regulated by IPSO. 

Relevant Code Provisions

6. Clause 1 (Accuracy) 

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures. 

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.

Findings of the Committee

7. This complaint related to an issue of general accuracy, such that there was no directly concerned party, and it was therefore considered by the Committee. The sub-headline wrongly suggested that the privacy keys gave prisoners greater freedom of movement, a claim which was not supported by the information in the article. While the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s prompt recognition of the inaccuracy, the publication of the original claim nevertheless demonstrated a failure to take care not to publish distorted information. The Committee upheld the complaint under Clause 1 (i). The remaining issue under complaint was whether the misleading statement had been corrected with due prominence, in accordance with the requirements of Clause 1 (ii). 

8. An established corrections column signifies a commitment to accuracy; it provides information to readers about how to make complaints; and if it appears consistently, it contributes to the prominence of corrections by ensuring that readers know where to find them. 

9. The Committee noted the newspaper’s position that as of 8 September 2014, its policy was to publish corrections on this page. However, there was no information published on the page which might indicate to readers that this was the case. Neither would readers have become aware of the policy as a consequence of the frequent publication of corrections there, as this was the first correction published under the policy. As such, the newspaper’s approach did not amount to an established corrections column. 

10. The correction was not published in an established column, and page 30 was not otherwise a sufficiently prominent location in which to correct the accepted inaccuracy. The newspaper had failed to meet its obligations under Clause 1 (ii). 

Conclusions

11. The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

12. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee has the power to require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication; the nature, extent and placement is to be determined by IPSO. It may inform the publication that further remedial action is required to ensure that the requirements of the Editors’ Code are met. 

13. In order to remedy the breach of the Code, the newspaper should now publish the following adjudication on page 2. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance. It must make clear that the complaint has been upheld by IPSO and make reference to the subject matter. 

Nicholas Black complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Express had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice by failing to publish a sufficiently prominent correction to an article headlined “Monsters are given their own cell keys”, published on 25  January 2015. The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required the newspaper to publish this adjudication. 

The article had reported that some prisoners had been given keys to privacy locks on their cells. The sub-headline stated that prisoners were “virtually roaming at will”. The newspaper accepted that it was inaccurate to suggest that prisoners were able to roam at will, and published a correction in the following edition on its letters page, on page 30. The correction said that the privacy keys enabled prisoners to protect the privacy of their cells at times when they were allowed out of their cells; the privacy keys did not enable prisoners to roam at will.

The newspaper said that it had designated its letters page as the appropriate location for the publication of corrections and clarifications. The Committee found that this page did not constitute an established corrections column, and that a correction on page 30 was insufficiently prominent. The complaint was upheld.  

Date complaint received: 01/02/2015 

Date decision issued:  08/05/2015