Resolution Statement 01487-19 O’Connor v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      7th March 2019

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement 01487-19 O’Connor v The Times

Summary of complaint

1. Michael O’Connor complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The capital is being sold short by its mayor”, published on 19 December 2018.

2. The article was a comment piece in which the columnist expressed her concerns about the Mayor of London’s record. As part of this account, she criticised aspects of his transport policy, including his handling of Crossrail, and cuts to bus services; the article stated that “public transport use is down and Transport for London (TfL) is losing £1 billion a year”. It said that the Mayor “has done little except oversee a large rise in salaries”, and said that “TfL’s 26,994 staffers last year took home £2.25 billion in wages, a rise of 17.6 per cent on the previous year”. The article said that this was an average of £83,337 each.

3. The complainant said that it was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) for the article to say that staff “took home” £2.25bn in “wages”. He said that, according to TfL figures, the £2.25bn figure included employer pension contributions of £595.5m; these contributions would not form part of the individuals’ wages. He said that, in any event, even if the gross cost of all remuneration was £2.25bn, it would not be true to say that staff “took home” this amount after tax and other deductions. He also said that the median salary for TfL employees in fact fell from £51,832 in 2016/17 to £51,530 in 2017/18; it was therefore inaccurate to state that the amount ‘taken home’ by staff increased by 17.6% between these two years.

4. The publication denied that the article was inaccurate. It said that the terms “remuneration” and “wages” could be used interchangeably in the context of a comment piece which was not a detailed examination of salaries, and that the article had accurately reported on the total remuneration of TfL staff.

Relevant Code provisions

5. 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.

Mediated outcome

6. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

7. Following IPSO’s involvement, the publication offered to publish the following clarification, as a footnote to the online article, as a standalone online correction, and in its print Corrections and Clarifications column:

We said that Transport for London’s “26,994 staffers last year took home £2.25 billion in wages, a rise of 17.6% on the previous year” and that this represented “an average of £83,337 each” (The capital is being sold short by its mayor, Comment, Dec 19, 2018). We have been asked to make clear that £2.25 billion is the figure given in TfL’s 2017-18 annual report for total remuneration costs and that it includes £595 million of non-cash pension charges.  The annual report states median cash earnings for TfL staff was £51,530, a decrease from £51,382 the previous year.

8. The complainant said this resolved the matter to his satisfaction.

9. As the complaint had been mediated successfully, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 18 February 2019

Date complaint concluded: 22 February 2019