Ruling

00540-15 Folkes v Cornish Guardian

    • Date complaint received

      13th May 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

·  Decision of the Complaints Committee 00540-15 Folkes v Cornish Guardian

Summary of complaint 

1. Alex Folkes complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Cornish Guardian had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in two articles headlined “Alex Folkes: Was child porn found? ‘That depends on how you define it’” and “Alex Folkes attends council meeting – guaranteeing at least another six months in allowances”, published on 26 November 2014 and 8 January 2015 respectively. 

2. The complainant is a local councillor, and the article of 26 November was described as a “full transcript” of a telephone interview with the complainant, relating to allegations that child sexual abuse images had been found on his computer. It claimed that, when questioned as to whether the images had been “child pornography”, he responded saying “that depends how you define child pornography”. The article of 8 January reported that the complainant had attended his first council meeting in three months. The complainant was concerned about the online version of this article only, the headline of which noted that he would now be eligible to receive a further six months’ worth of allowances, due to his attendance at the meeting. 

3. The complainant said that in his conversation with the journalist, prior to publication of the 26 November article, he had not responded as quoted; the journalist had not mentioned “child pornography”, but pornography more generally. His recollection was that the rest of the newspaper’s published account of the conversation was substantially correct. He also complained that the article of 8 January was misleading; he had not attended the meeting in order to continue receiving allowances, he had attended because the subject matter was of importance to his constituents. The complainant had contacted the newspaper directly, prior to contacting IPSO, but was not satisfied with the responses he had received. 

4. The newspaper said that serious allegations had been made against the complainant, and that it was in the public interest to report them. It said that it was clear that the complainant was considered by the Council to be a “serious and enduring risk to children”, and it had covered the allegations against him extensively. Its journalist was adamant that the complainant had used the term “child pornography” on the telephone, and it was satisfied that the article was an accurate report of the conversation. The newspaper said that the conversation had been relayed to the news editor immediately, and was typed only minutes after it had ended. It provided a note which had been taken during the conversation, which recorded the words “definition depends”. Nonetheless, the newspaper offered to publish the following denial, on page 10, where the original article appeared, and as a footnote to the online article: 

“An article published in the Cornish Guardian on November 26 2014 and on our website, cornishguardian.co.uk, reported a telephone conversation between Cllr Alex Folkes and Cornish Guardian reporter Graham Smith. During the conversation, we reported that Mr Smith asked Cllr Folkes whether child porn had allegedly been found on his computer. We printed that Cllr Folkes’ response to this question was: ‘That depends how you define it’.

On publication, Cllr Folkes contacted the Cornish Guardian to strongly deny saying this.

The Cornish Guardian reporter did not have a verbatim report of the conversation and in the circumstances, therefore, we would wish to make it clear that Cllr Folkes denies saying this to the reporter.” 

5. With regard to the article of 8 January, the newspaper said that the complainant had previously indicated that he was not planning to return to the council chamber until the allegations against him had been dropped. However, if he did not attend within a six- month period he would have lost his allowances. The newspaper said that he was not on the committee for the meeting he attended, and accompanied another councillor who was on the committee. It did not accept that the headline to the online article had been inaccurate or misleading, but had amended it when contacted by the complainant directly, as a gesture of goodwill. It did not use the headline in the print version of the article. It offered to add a footnote to the article explaining that the headline had been updated after the complainant had expressed concern. 

6. The complainant said that the offer to publish his denial was unsatisfactory, as it did not include recognition from the newspaper that it had acted wrongly. He was also concerned that the article of 8 January implied that he had only attended the committee meeting to maintain his allowances; as such, amendments to the headline were insufficient. 

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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. 

Findings of the Committee

8. The complainant’s account of his conversation with the journalist was substantially similar to the report of the conversation published by the newspaper, save for the passage in dispute. Further, the journalist had produced a note of the conversation which recorded that the complainant had used some of the words which he was reported to have said. The Committee did express some concern about the presentation of the report as a “full transcript” of the conversation, given that there were no comprehensive contemporaneous notes. However, the conversation had been relayed to the news editor immediately after the conclusion of the conversation, and only a few minutes elapsed before the journalist typed up the article. In these circumstances, the Committee concluded that the newspaper had adequately demonstrated that it had taken care over the accuracy of the report and the Committee did not determine that the newspaper had published any significant inaccuracies which were requiring of correction. There was no breach of Clause 1. 

9. While the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s willingness to publish the complainant’s denial that he had used the words in dispute, given that the Committee had not found a breach of Clause 1, publication of the denial was not required in order to comply with the terms of the Code. 

10. The headline of the article of 8 January had accurately reported that the complainant would be eligible to continue receiving allowances, due to his attendance at a council meeting. The Committee found that the newspaper’s reporting of this fact was not significantly misleading; it had been entitled to report a consequence of the complainant’s attendance. A correction was not required in order to comply with the terms of the Code. However, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s prompt response to the complainant’s concerns, when it was initially contacted directly. 

Conclusions

11. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

N/A 

Date complaint received: 03/02/2015

Date decision issued: 13/05/2015