Ruling

00993-15 McIntosh v The Courier (Dundee)

    • Date complaint received

      8th June 2015

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

·  Decision of the Complaints Committee 00993-15 McIntosh v The Courier (Dundee)

Summary of complaint 

1. Andrew McIntosh complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Dundee Courier had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Dentist wins case against ex-patient”, published on 24 February 2015. 

2. The complainant had reported his dentist to the General Dental Council (GDC), but the dentist was subsequently cleared of any misconduct. After the GDC’s findings, the dentist brought defamation proceedings against the complainant. The article under complaint reported that the dentist had won his case and been awarded £50,000 in damages. 

3. The complainant said that that the dentist had not won his defamation case; the dentist had dropped his case in April 2014, and had been required to pay costs. Given the length of time that had passed between the conclusion of the case and publication of the article, the complainant said that for it to be revived again in this way had caused him great distress. 

4. The newspaper accepted that the article was inaccurate. The story had been provided by a normally reliable freelance journalist, and there was nothing in the copy to indicate concern. When the journalist had become aware of the error he had contacted the newspaper, and it had published the following correction on page 5: 

“In our issue of Tuesday February 24 we reported proceedings of a defamation case involving Keith Watson and Andrew McIntosh which took place at Perth Sheriff Court. We would like to make clear the case did not result in Mr Watson winning the action. He was granted a Minute of Abandonment and subsequently ordered to pay expenses to Mr McIntosh. We apologise for publishing the incorrect information and for any confusion caused.” 

5. The newspaper later offered to run a further correction and apology, publish a correct version of the story in the same position as the original article, or interview the complainant about the conclusion of the case. It also said that it was now keeping under review contributions from the freelance journalist concerned. 

6. The complainant did not accept the offers of resolution, which he felt were insufficient given the nature of the inaccuracy. 

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. 

Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) 

A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for. 

Clause 3 (Privacy) 

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications. 

Findings of the Committee

8. The newspaper had accepted that the basis of the article was entirely inaccurate; publication of the inaccurate information had caused the complainant evident distress. The journalist might have been entitled to rely on the original - albeit inaccurate - information provided by the Court in relation to the case. However, the article went further than reporting this basic detail. Instead, it had been presented as a contemporaneous court report, despite the fact that the proceedings it was claiming to be reporting had concluded ten months before the article was published. This demonstrated a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. While the copy had been provided by a freelance journalist, under the Code the newspaper was responsible for the content it had published. The Committee established a breach of Clause 1 (i). 

9. Upon being contacted by the freelance journalist who had provided the story, the newspaper published an appropriate correction, including an apology. On this occasion, where the error had been very personal to the complainant, an apology was required. The correction clearly identified the original inaccuracy and the correct position, and was published promptly in a duly prominent position in the newspaper. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii) of the Code. 

10. The complainant had not requested an opportunity to reply, beyond the publication of the correction. In the circumstances, there was no breach of Clause 2. 

11. The Committee was satisfied that the information published in the article did not intrude into the complainant’s private life. The details of the original GDC complaint were in the public domain, and their republication did not represent a breach of Clause 3. 

Conclusions

12. The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

13. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication. The newspaper had published a correction and apology prior to the complainant contacting IPSO, and the Committee was satisfied that these were an appropriate remedy to the established breach of Clause 1. The newspaper was not required to publish anything further. 

Date complaint received: 02/03/2015

Date decision issued: 08/06/2015