Ruling

00637-22 Scottoni v mylondon.news

    • Date complaint received

      26th May 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00637-22 Scottoni v mylondon.news

Summary of Complaint

1. Federico Scottoni complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mylondon.news breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Five-week-old baby died after 'significant' blood loss following surgery at London hospital”, published on 19th January 2022.

2. The article reported on an inquest regarding the death of a baby in hospital following “a number of seizures and cardiac arrests” and “losing a large amount of blood”. The article stated that the Assistant Coroner “questioned a number of consultants and hospital staff over their decisions regarding [the baby’s] health and their efforts to resuscitate the infant”. It stated that after a biopsy was performed, “[the baby’s] mum and hospital staff noticed rectal bleeding, which paediatric surgery consultant [the complainant] said was ‘significant’”. The article stated that “Dr [complainant] said: ‘After that everything began to happen very quickly. I was looking at him, he opened his bowels, he was crying, he started to make noises like he was struggling to breathe. ‘His face had gone a colour like he was struggling to breathe, blood came out of his nose and mouth.’”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it reported he was a “Paediatric Surgery Consultant”. He said he was actually a Paediatric Surgery Registrar. The complainant said the article was further inaccurate because it attributed quotes to him that he had not said. He stated that, whilst he had given evidence during the inquest the quotes did not represent something he had, or ever would, say. He also asserted that he had not said anything that would conceivably have the same meaning. He said he had not been present when the baby’s condition fatally deteriorated as he had been preparing the operating theatre.

4. The publication said it did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It stated that the reporter’s court notes showed the complainant’s comments in response to the Coroner as reported by the article. The publication stated that it was unaware of another doctor who had been present during the inquest. However, it said that the reporter had been listening via a video link that had repeatedly cut out, so it was not impossible that there had been another doctor at the proceedings. Whilst the publication had originally accessed the proceedings through a video link – which allowed the reporter to observe the proceedings – this had disconnected frequently, so the reported had later resorted to dialling in, which meant they had only audio available.

5. Regarding the complainant’s job title, the publication stated, during direct correspondence, that this had been provided by the London Inner South Coroner’s Court and so it was entitled to rely on it. After being made aware of the complainant’s correct job title, the publication offered to amend the article accordingly. At the start of IPSO’s investigation, it also offered to publish a footnote correction on this point. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication provided the reporter’s court notes, which it considered attributed the disputed comments to the complainant, as well as the correspondence the reporter had exchanged with the court regarding the names of those who had given evidence that day. This included the complainant’s name.

6. The complainant stated that the correspondence showed the reporter asking for the names of the “two female doctors” who had given evidence that afternoon. Whilst he had spoken in the middle of the day, from 12:30, he said that the correspondence revealed that the reporter was thinking of a different individual as he was not female. He said that the notes reflected what he had said at the beginning of his statement but that halfway through, when the disputed comments were recorded, it appeared to switch to a deposition given by someone else; he theorised the other female doctor.

7. The publication said that, whilst it was not possible to say for certain whether there had been another doctor present and if they had said the disputed quotes, in light of the complainant’s concerns, it would be happy to remove all reference to the complainant’s name and add a footnote correction if it resolved the complaint:

A previous version of this article attributed a number of quotes to Federico Scottoni. We have since been advised that these quotes were wrongly attributed to him. Furthermore, the article described Dr Scottoni's profession as a Pediatric Surgery Consultant. In fact, Dr Scottoni was a Pediatric Surgery Registrar at the time of this incident. We are happy to clarify this and apologise for this error.

8. The complaint did not accept this as a resolution to his complaint.

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

9. The Committee first considered the complaint about the misattribution of quotes to the complainant. The publication had provided reporters’ notes in an effort to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of the article. The complainant accepted that the first part of the reporter’s notes accurately reflected his testimony but said that the second section did not relate to his evidence. The Committee acknowledged that the publication had experienced technological difficulties when trying to access the inquest and had been forced to rely solely on audio. The Committee also noted that the reporter had taken the additional step of contacting the court to confirm the names of the witnesses.

10. The Committee recognised the challenges of reporting on court proceedings remotely and the technical difficulties encountered on this occasion, which were outside of the reporter’s control. In all the circumstances, which included the fact that the reporter had followed up with the Court in an attempt to ensure the accuracy of the report, the Committee did not consider that there had been a failure to take care over the accuracy of the report. It found no breach of Clause 1 (i) on this point.

11. However, the publication had subsequently been informed by the complainant that it had misattributed quotes to him. In light of the unstable video link and the reliance solely on audio, the publication could not conclude for certain what the complainant had said during the inquest. The article pertained to what had been heard in court and where the quotes related to evidence that formed part of the inquest proceedings, the misattribution of the comments was significant. The publication offered to remove reference to the complainant and to publish a footnote clarification that made clear that he had not said what had been attributed to him. Where the claims appeared within the body of the article and where the article was to be amended, this proposed action was sufficiently prominent. The publication had made the offer during IPSO’s investigation when it became apparent it could not substantiate the attribution of the comments to the complainant; this was sufficiently prompt. As such, the proposed action met the requirements of Clause 1 (ii) and there was no breach of Clause 1.

12. The Committee then considered the point of the complaint that related to the complainant’s professional title. The newspaper had contacted the court to ask for clarification of the names of the witnesses following the proceedings. In response, the court had referred to the complainant’s profession as “Paediatric Surgery Consultant”, which is what the article then reported. Where the publication had taken steps to clarify the details of those who gave evidence with an authoritative source — the court where the hearing was held — it had taken sufficient care and there was no breach of Clause 1 (i).

13. However, since the article was published, the complainant had made clear that he was not a consultant but rather a “Paediatric Surgery Registrar”. Where this pertained to evidence heard in an inquest about a death of an infant in hospital, the complainant’s professional role was a significant detail and so required correction under Clause 1 (ii). During the referral period, the publication amended the complaint’s job title as reported in the article, and at the start of IPSO investigation it also offered to publish a footnote correction incorporating this point. This represented due promptness. A footnote correction was sufficiently prominent where the inaccuracy had appeared within the body of the article and where the article had been amended. There was no further breach of Clause 1 (ii) on this point.

Conclusion(s)

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

15. The correction which was offered clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.


Date complaint received: 24/01/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 04/05/2022