Ruling

01009-18 Dalton v The Scottish Sun

    • Date complaint received

      24th May 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01009-18 Dalton v The Scottish Sun

Summary of Complaint 

1.    Feargal Dalton complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined: “TERROR FLAGGRO” published 17 October 2017. 

2.    The article reported criticism of the complainant, an SNP politician, who had been photographed standing in front of a Cumman na mBan flag. Cumman na mBan is an Irish paramilitary group which was outlawed in Ireland in 1923; it is currently a proscribed organisation and is banned under the Terrorism Act 2000. 

3.    The article reported that critics had “blasted” the complainant for his decision to pose for the photograph, which had been taken in 2014. The article reported that the complainant had been unavailable for comment and contained a statement from an SNP spokesperson: “Both have been vocal and consistent critics of sectarianism and of the promotion of terrorism. “The event was a historical discussion around the role of women in Ireland’s independence movement. “Both men absolutely oppose any proscribed terrorist organisations.” 

4.    The article also appeared in substantially the same form online under the headline “TERROR FLAGRO Two SNP politicians slammed for posing in front of banned Irish republican terrorist group’s flag in Glasgow”, published 16 October 2017. 

5.    The complainant said that the photograph had been taken at an event, organised by the Irish Heritage Foundation, which focussed on the role of women in Glasgow who, one hundred years ago, had been members of Cumann na mBan. He said that the flag, dated as from 1914, had been featured as part of a mainstream Irish centenary celebration of the founding of Cumann na mBan. He said that the event was not in any way connected to, or represented, the variations of Cumann na mBan which have existed since the foundation of the Irish State.  The complainant said that the article had distorted his attendance at the event and his decision to be photographed in front of the flag, by implying that his show of Irish pride was sympathy and support for terrorist organisations. 

6.    The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article had reported on a legitimate political debate surrounding the complainant’s decision to pose for a photograph in front of the flag of an organisation which is currently listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation in the UK. The newspaper said that, in any event, the article had made clear the complainant’s position that he was attending a historical event. It said that it was pertinent to note that the proscribed list did not distinguish between the variations of the Cumann na mBan, as described by the complainant; it simply listed the name. 

7.    The newspaper said that it went to considerable lengths to obtain comment from the complainant, given the sensitivities of the story, including going to his home to seek his response when he did not reply to communications via phone and email. It said that it had agreed to add to and amend the online version of the article on the basis of points raised via the SNP press office. 

8.    While it did not accept a breach of the Code, it offered to publish the following wording online: 

An article ‘Terror Flaggro’ (17th October 2017) reported critical comments from Scottish Tories about a picture of two SNP politicians posing in front of a banned Irish republican group flag. One of them,   Mr Feargal Dalton has asked us to clarify that this was an Irish Heritage Foundation event about the role of Glasgow women in Cumann na mBan and he does not support terrorism in any form. 

9.    The newspaper also offered, as an alternative means by which the complaint might be resolved, to add the following footnote to the online story:- 

Mr Feargal Dalton has asked us to clarify that this was an Irish Heritage Foundation event about the role of Glasgow women in Cumann na mBan and he does not support terrorism in any form. 

Relevant Code Provisions 

10. 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 

11. The article reported on criticism of the complainant for his decision to be photographed in front of the Cumann na mBan flag. It was not in dispute that the complainant had been photographed while attending a historical event; the nature of the event had been explicitly acknowledged throughout the article. Further, the flag had been marked as from 1914: its historical status had been made clear. 

12. The complainant had argued that the flag represented a variation of Cumann na mBan at a time when it had not been defined as a terrorist organisation. However, Cumann na mBan is currently listed as a proscribed organisation in the UK; this list does not distinguish between the historical variations of the group. In those circumstances, it was accurate to report that the complainant had posed in front of a banned terrorist group’s flag, and the newspaper was entitled to report on criticism surrounding that decision. This was not altered by the fact that the flag had been marked with the date 1914. By reporting that criticism, the article did not contain the suggestion that the complainant was a terrorist sympathiser, particularly in circumstances where the article had made clear that he was opposed to proscribed terrorist organisations. While the Committee did not establish a breach of the Code, it welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a clarification which set out the complainant’s position. There was no breach of Clause 1. 

Conclusions 

13. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required 

14. N/A

Date complaint received: 31/01/2018
Date decision issued: 03/05/2018