Ruling

00663-16 Milbourn v The Mail on Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      26th May 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00663-16 Milbourn v The Mail on Sunday

Summary of Complaint

1. 1. Barnaby Milbourn complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “My ‘investment’ in gold really has turned to dust…”, published on 6 September 2015. The article was also published online on 5 September 2015.

2. The article comprised a reader’s letter from an individual identified as “JS”, and a response from the newspaper. In his letter, JS said that he had joined “Zen Gold”, investing £100 per month. He said that he then invested £10,000 in “Zen Gold”, in order to become a director of the company, with a guaranteed yield, and the option of his money back after three years. At the end of the three-year investment period, he requested his money back, but was told by the complainant that “Zen Gold Partners Ltd” had been dissolved. JS said that all his financial dealings had been with the complainant, and at the end of his letter, he asked whether he was ever actually a director of the company.

3. The newspaper’s response to JS referred to the company as “Zen Gold” throughout. It stated that JS’s doubts in the company were justified, and that he had never been registered as a director of the company. It stated that the newspaper had contacted the complainant in relation to the claims made in JS’s letter, who had said that he wasn’t in a position to say whether the reader had been told the things he claimed to have been told.  The article reported that, in response to being asked what had happened to the reader’s £10,000, the complainant had said “I don’t know. It never went to me”. It also reported that the complainant had told the newspaper that he had never made any of the claims that JS alleged Zen Gold Partners Ltd advertised. The article included a picture of a “Zen Gold” logo, which was the words “Zen Gold”, with an enlarged “Z”.

4. The online article was substantively similar to the print article, but did not include the logo.

5. The complainant said that JS could not have joined Zen Gold, which is an anti-fraud website, and an entirely separate entity to Zen Gold Partners Ltd. The article’s reference to Zen Gold Partners Ltd as “Zen Gold” was therefore significantly misleading. The complainant said that when he spoke to the newspaper, he did not deny making the promotional claims that Zen Gold Partners Ltd had advertised, but said that JS hadn’t been his client, and that he wouldn’t be able to tell the newspaper what he had been told. The complainant did not dispute that he had been a director of Zen Gold Partners Limited, and confirmed that he had attended a meeting with JS about his investment in the company. However, he denied that he had any financial dealings with JS other than to return the gold the company held for him.  

6. The newspaper said that Zen Gold Partners Ltd operated under the overall title of “Zen Gold”, and it denied that it was significantly misleading to refer to “Zen Gold Partners Ltd” as “Zen Gold”. In support of its position, it provided a screen shot of the “About Us” page of the Zen Gold website which stated that “our company continues to expand with a wide range of new products being bought to market. Including the new Zen Gold Partners Business program”. It noted that on the complainant’s Linkedin page, he had described himself as a cofounder and director of “Zen Gold”, described as a gold distribution company with “saving and investment plans all backed with physical Gold products”. It noted that Zen Gold Partners was listed on the Zen Gold website in a section with links to “partners and information resources related to Zen Gold”. The newspaper provided an advertisement from Zen Gold Partners Ltd, including its logo, which consisted of the words “Zen Gold Partners” with an enlarged Z. It said that the same enlarged Z was used in the logos for both Zen Gold Partners Ltd and Zen Gold.

7. In response to the complainant’s claim that he had not had any financial dealing with JS, the newspaper provided an email from the complainant to JS in which he provided JS with the bank details for his investment in Zen Gold Partners Ltd. It also noted that this email had been sent from “info@zengold.com”, the address of the website the complainant claimed was a separate entity to Zen Gold Partners Ltd.  The newspaper also provided a share certificate signed by the complainant, which certified that JS had paid £10,000 to become the registered proprietor of 10,000 shares in Zen Gold Partners Ltd. The newspaper noted that JS only owned 2 shares out of the 1100 shares in Zen Gold Partners Ltd that were ever issued.

8.    The complainant said that the reference to “Zen Gold” on his Linkedin page was a reference to an entity called Zen Gold Dealers, rather than either Zen Gold, or Zen Gold Partners Ltd. He said that the Zen Gold website had a hyperlink to Zen Gold Partners Ltd so that a reader might find other websites with information that may be of interest. The existence of this hyperlink did not support the newspaper’s position that Zen Gold was connected to Zen Gold Partners Ltd. The complainant said that the fact he sent JS the relevant bank details did not demonstrate that he had had financial dealings with him. The complainant said that a large gold “Z” was never used as the logo for Zen Gold Partners.

Relevant Code Provisions

9. 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.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

10. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that JS’s dealings had been with Zen Gold Partners Ltd, rather than his website Zen Gold. However, the article was clearly JS’s account of his involvement with an investment scheme, rather than any involvement with an anti-fraud website. Furthermore, the article later referred to the company by its full name of “Zen Gold Partners Limited”.  The Committee noted that the complainant did not take the opportunity to explain that Zen Gold was a separate entity to Zen Gold Partners Ltd in his conversation with the journalist, in which the journalist had referred to the company as “Zen Gold”. In these circumstances, the Committee did not consider that the abbreviation of Zen Gold Partners Ltd to “Zen Gold” represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, and was not a significant inaccuracy such as to require the publication of a correction. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.    

11. The logo for Zen Gold Partners Ltd was substantially the same as the logo for Zen Gold. In circumstances where it was not significantly misleading to refer to Zen Gold Partners Ltd as “Zen Gold”, the use of the Zen Gold logo in the print version of the article was not significantly misleading, and did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

12. The Committee noted the complainant’s positon that he had no financial dealings with JS other than to return the gold held by Zen Gold Partners Ltd. However, the complainant did not dispute that he was one of three directors of Zen Gold Partners Ltd, that he had attended a meeting with JS about an investment in the company, that he provided JS with the payment details for his investment and that he had signed the share certificate JS received in return. In addition, the newspaper provided the complainant the opportunity to comment on JS’s claims, and included his response that JS had not been his client. In these circumstances, it was not significantly misleading to publish JS’s claim that all his financial dealings had been with the complainant.  This aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

13. When the newspaper contacted the complainant prior to publication, he had told the journalist that JS had not been his client, and that he did not know what JS had been told prior to his investment. It was therefore not inaccurate to report that the complainant denied telling JS the claims that Zen Gold Partners Ltd had advertised. This aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

14. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 10/02/2016

Date decision issued: 06/05/2016