Ruling

00737-22 Morris v mylondon.news

    • Date complaint received

      16th September 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00737-22 Morris v mylondon.news

Summary of Complaint

1. David Morris complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mylondon.news breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Taxpayers angry at MP who expensed £229.20 first class train ticket to London rather than travelling standard class”, published on 25th January 2022.

2. The online article reported on a travel expense of David Morris MP. The sub-headline stated that “[p]eople were quick to call out the elected official for the expensive fare”; the article repeated that “the public were quick to question the need for such an expensive ticket” and included remarks from some members of the public. One individual had said “£229 on a train ticket… That’s more expensive than a holiday flight”. The article stated that Mr Morris had “been criticised for expensing his travel cost from London because of the ‘outrageous’ price of his train ticket”. It said that Mr Morris had travelled back from London to his constituency and that the travel had cost £229.20. The article went on to state that “[t]he price of his ticket was revealed in a recent report of MP staffing costs and business expenses for the previous year” and that “[p]ublic condemnation of Mr Morris started after the expense was listed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA)”.

3. The complainant, the MP referred to in the article, said that there had been a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) as the article had referred throughout to a single “ticket”, whereas the tickets had been for him, his wife, and their baby. The complainant also said that the article inaccurately stated that he had been travelling from London to his constituency, whereas he had been travelling from his constituency to London.

4. He also said that the article was inaccurate to describe the tickets in question as “expensive”; he said that the tickets were cheaper than the “anytime standard rate” as stipulated in the IPSA guidelines and that the IPSA booking portal only allows MPs and their nominated staff to book tickets which are the same amount or cheaper than the “anytime standard rate”.

5. The complainant said that the article raised a further breach of Clause 1 as he had been contacted for comment on the article at 08:48 on the day the article had been published and given a deadline of 14:00 to respond. He said that he had responded at 12:06, informing the publication that the price covered multiple tickets, but that the article had already been published at 11:45, prior to the deadline given and without waiting for his response. The complainant added that the article was not amended to include his comment until later the same afternoon.

6. The complainant also said that the article had breached Clause 2 (Privacy). He said that when giving a comment to the publication, he had to disclose that he had a medical injury, which was later included in the article and which he considered was a breach of his privacy. The complainant also considered that the article posed a security threat to him and his family by including details of his travel arrangements, which he said was also in breach of Clause 2.

7. The complainant also said that there had been a breach of Clause 3 (Harassment) as the article had been published ahead of the deadline and prior to him giving a comment. He also said that he considered the article had portrayed him in a “bad light”.

8. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. The publication said that it had first become aware of the expense from a Twitter account which posted about MP expenses and which described the expense as “£229.20 for MP travel by train (First Single)”. It said that the IPSA website also listed the expense as “MP travel” and that it was therefore reasonable for the publication to state that the fare was solely for the complainant. It said that the purpose of the story was to express criticism of the value of the expense, regardless of who had been travelling and in what direction. It added that after the complainant responded to the request for comment, the article had been amended to include the complainant’s comments, including that the ticket had been “for two people and a baby”. The publication said that it had relied on both the information from IPSA and the Tweet and that it was satisfied that care had been taken. It further said that it did not consider referring to the travel that had been expensed as a “ticket” was significantly inaccurate, but it further amended the article to make clear the value was for multiple “tickets” as a gesture of goodwill. The publication added that the expense listing on the IPSA website showed the journey type as “London-constituency MP & Staff” and therefore it was reasonable for the publication to describe the journey as being from London to the complainant’s constituency. It said that the article had been amended to reflect the correct direction of travel, but that in any event, it did not consider the direction of the travel was significant.

9. The publication went on to say that the complainant had been provided with a fair opportunity to comment and given a number of hours to respond. It said that the publication had noted the complainant’s concerns in regard to the timing of the approach for comment and publication for future reference. It also added that the complainant’s comments had been added to the article at 15:00 the same day.

10. The publication said that the term “expensive” was relative and it considered that, to the everyday reader, £220 would seem “expensive”. It said that it did not consider the term expensive to be misleading or inaccurate and it added that the article included criticisms from members of the public, including one who described the price as “more expensive than a holiday flight”. It also noted that the sentence “[p]eople were quick to call out the elected official for the expensive fare” had been removed from the sub-headline and the body of the article had been amended to read: “Mr Morris travelled from London, to his constituency, on Sunday, May 30 last year. The public were quick to question the need for the first class tickets and asked whether Mr Morris could have booked standard class instead.”

11. In regard to the complainant’s concerns under Clause 2, the publication said that the complainant provided the information regarding his medical condition in his response to the request for comment and he did not suggest that this was private information that should not have been published. The publication also said that it did not consider the complainant’s concerns engaged the terms of Clause 3.

12. The complainant had said that the removal of the story and an apology would resolve the complaint; the publication did not consider it was appropriate to offer an apology in the circumstances.

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.

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Findings of the Committee

13. The complainant said the article had described the expense as a single “ticket” throughout and as “expensive”. He said this was inaccurate as the expense represented multiple tickets for him, his wife, and his baby. The publication had said that the Tweet on which it had partly based its article had described the train travel as a “First Single” and that the IPSA website had listed the expense as “MP travel” and, therefore, it was reasonable for the article to state that the fare was solely for the complainant. The publication was entitled to rely on the information included on the IPSA website, but it was obliged to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information in doing so. The Committee noted that the while the expense appeared under a section headed “MP travel” it was individually described as a cost for “MP & staff” and therefore could relate to more than one person. The IPSA website did not specify how many train tickets the expense covered, and the Committee therefore considered that the publication should have sought this information prior to publishing the article. Relying on a claim published on an unofficial Twitter account that the expense covered a single ticket did not amount to sufficient care taken over the accuracy of the information. The publication had contacted the complainant on the morning the article was published enquiring about the expense, and it had suggested that he would be given a number of hours to comment on the story. However, the article had been published prior to the deadline given to the complainant and before the complainant had responded to the request for information. In the view of the Committee, the complainant was given an inadequate opportunity to respond to the publication, and in publishing the article prior to the receipt of his response, the publication had failed to take sufficient care over the accuracy of the claim that the figure quoted in the article covered only a single ticket, and therefore breached Clause 1 (i) of the Code.

14. It was the Committee’s view that it was significantly inaccurate to refer to the train travel purchased as a single ticket as this implied that the price of £229.20 had been only for the complainant’s travel. As this was not the case, it required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The Committee noted that the article had been amended to refer to multiple “tickets”, however, the publication had not offered to publish any corrective action on this point, and so there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii). The Committee further considered that, given the circumstances, the publication should have apologised. The complainant had requested an apology, but the publication had refused.

15. The Committee next turned to the complainant’s concern that it was inaccurate to describe the train travel purchased as “expensive”. The article had stated that people had been quick to “call out” and “question” why the complainant had bought such an “expensive fare”. While the Committee noted that the article had reported a member of the public expressing their opinion that the fare was “expensive”, it was not clear to what extent, if any, those comments were informed by an accurate understanding of how many tickets had actually been purchased. The Committee further noted that the description of the fare as “expensive” had been adopted by the publication itself in the sub-headline and body of the article and considered that this contributed to the misleading impression that the expense of £229.20 had been only for the complainant’s travel. There was a further breach of Clause 1 (i).

16. The Committee considered the descriptions of the expense as an “expensive fare” and “expensive ticket” gave the misleading impression that this was a large cost as it was for only one ticket, and it considered this to also be significantly misleading and requiring clarification under Clause 1 (ii) of the Editors’ Code. The Committee noted that the publication had removed the description of the fare as “expensive” from the sub-headline and the body of the article upon receipt of a direct complaint from the complainant. The Committee welcomed this action by the publication, however as the publication had not offered to publish a correction or clarification on this point, there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

17. The complainant had also said that the article was inaccurate as it had stated that he was travelling from London to his constituency, whereas he had been travelling in the other direction. The Committee welcomed that, in response to the complaint, the newspaper had amended the article to reflect the correct direction of travel. This, however, was a minor inaccuracy which was not significant given that the locations involved were not in dispute. The newspaper was not required to correct this point under the terms of Clause 1 and there was no breach of the Code.

18. The complainant also said that the article had breached Clause 2 as he had needed to disclose to the publication that he had a medical injury at the time of travel; he also considered that the article posed a security threat to him and his family by including details of his travel arrangements. The Committee understood the complainant’s concerns about his medical condition; however, the complainant had provided this information willingly to the publication when asked for a comment. The Committee noted that while individuals would generally have a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to information concerning their health, in this case, the complainant had provided this information in a response to a request for comment. He had not suggested that this was private information which was not to be published and therefore the publication was entitled to include it when adding his comment to the article. Given that the complainant had freely disclosed this information to the newspaper, it was not an intrusion into the complainant’s privacy to publish the information when adding his comment to the article. In addition, including details that the complainant had travelled from his constituency to London on the train did not reveal anything private about the complainant, particularly where his constituency area was a matter of public record. There was no breach of Clause 2 on these points.

19. The complainant also said that there had been a breach of Clause 3 as the article had been published ahead of the deadline and prior to him giving a comment. He also said that he considered the article had portrayed him in a “bad light”. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when gathering news, including the nature and extent of their contacts with the subject of the story. As the complainant’s concerns did not relate to this, there was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusions

20. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

21. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication; the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

22. The Committee had found that it was significantly inaccurate to refer to the train travel purchased as a single “ticket”, and that describing it as an “expensive ticket” and “expensive fare” contributed to the misleading impression that the money spent had only been for one ticket. It had found a breach of Clause 1 (ii) given that no corrective action had been offered. In addition, the publication had given the complainant an inadequate opportunity to respond to its request for comment. The appropriate remedy was, therefore, the publication of an upheld adjudication.

23. The headline of the adjudication must make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint against mylondon.news and must refer to its subject matter; it must be agreed with IPSO in advance. The adjudication should be published in full on the publication’s website with a link to the full adjudication (including the headline) appearing on the top third of the newspaper’s homepage, for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way.

24. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

David Morris complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mylondon.news breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an online article headlined “Taxpayers angry at MP who expensed £229.20 first class train ticket to London rather than travelling standard class”, published on 25th January 2022.

The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required mylondon.news to publish this adjudication to remedy the breach of the Code. 

The complainant said that the article had inaccurately referred throughout to a single “ticket” whereas the train tickets referred to had been for him, his wife, and their baby. He said that it was also inaccurate to describe the tickets in question as “expensive” and that he had been given inadequate time to respond to a request for comment from the publication.

IPSO found that the publication had not taken sufficient care when relying on a claim published on an unofficial Twitter account that the expense covered a single ticket. In addition, the publication had contacted the complainant the morning the article was published enquiring about the expense and suggested he would be given a number of hours to comment on the story. The article had been published prior to the deadline given and before the complainant had responded and in the view of the Committee, the complainant was given an inadequate opportunity to respond to the publication. In publishing the article prior to the receipt of his response, the publication had failed to take sufficient care over the accuracy of the claim that the figure quoted in the article covered only a single ticket. The article was therefore significantly inaccurate as it implied that the price of £229.20 had been only for the complainant’s travel. The publication had made no offer to correct this inaccurate information and had therefore breached Clause 1 (i) and Clause 1 (ii) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. 

IPSO found that the inaccurate impression that the expense had been for only one ticket was compounded by the publication’s description of the expense as an “expensive ticket” and an “expensive fare” and that the publication had failed to take sufficient care over this description of the fare. No correction or clarification had been offered and there was a further breach of Clause 1 (i) and Clause 1 (ii).

 

Date complaint received: 25/01/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 24/08/2022