Ruling

Resolution Statement 01653-17 Baroness Scotland v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      14th September 2017

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement 01653-17 Baroness Scotland v The Sun

1. Baroness Scotland complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles:

1) “GOLD MEDAL FOR CHEEK Outrage as Baroness Scotland enjoys £45,000 Rio Olympics getaway YOU paid for”, published on 07 August 2016

2 “PEER'S FUNDING ROW India is threatening to withdraw funding for the Commonwealth over blazing row about spendaholic chief Baroness Scotland’s spending habits”, published on 1 November 2016

3) “'DIRE FINANCES' Spendaholic Baroness Scotland’s Commonwealth HQ had to bailed out by taxpayers”, published on 2 November 2016

4) “'UTTERLY CORRUPT PROCESS' Scandal of Labour peer and Commonwealth chief Baroness Scotland who wastes cash on luxuries, gives lucrative jobs to pals and has links to tyrants”, published on 3 November 2016

5) “TROUGHING PEER DISOWNED Theresa May delivers hammer blow to scandal-hit Baroness Scotland by publicly withdrawing support for embattled Commonwealth boss”, published on 3 November 2016

6) “LAST HOPE FOR BARONESS Theresa May warns brazen Baroness Scotland she has one last chance to keep her job”, published on 7 November 2016

7) “'OUTRIGHT LIES' Disgraced Commonwealth chief Baroness Scotland lashes out at whistle-blower after brutal putdown from Theresa May over enormous expenses”, published on 9 November 2016

8) “ PEER PROBED FOR PRICEY FLAT Beleaguered Commonwealth chief Baroness Scotland forced to justify huge spending habit at MPs meeting”, published on 23 November

9) “'URGENT REFORM NEEDED' Baroness Scotland has come under fire for her extensive expenses spending”, published on 1 December 2016

10) “PEER RAPPED Commonwealth boss Baroness Scotland humiliated as Whitehall fixers sent in to her failing HQ”, published on 27 January 2016

2.  The articles were critical of the complainant, in her role as Secretary General of the Commonwealth. The first article criticised the complainant for a visit to the Olympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro. The second article reported that India was threatening to withdraw funding for the Commonwealth, in the context of claims about the complainant’s spending. The third article reported that the Commonwealth Secretariat was to be “bailed out” by taxpayers, in the context of accusations about the complainant’s spending on her residence. It also reported that the complainant had employed “another Labour peer on a £30,000 contract, ignoring recruitment rules”.  The fourth article claimed that India and Australia were threatening to leave the Commonwealth, in the context of accusations about her appointment process, her awarding of contracts and her spending, and her suitability as Secretary-General given her previous legal work. The fifth article reported that the Prime Minister had publicly withdrawn her support from the complainant. The sixth article reported that the Prime Minister had warned the complainant that “she has one last chance to keep her job”. The seventh article reported that the complainant had publicly rebutted claims about her spending. The eighth article reported that the complainant had been “forced to justify” her expenditure at a meeting of Members of Parliament. The ninth article reported that in the context of claims about the complainant’s spending, the Commonwealth Secretariat had been assessed by the Department for International Development (DFID) as underperforming. The tenth article reported that “Whitehall fixers” had been “sent in” to the Commonwealth Secretariat, in the context of claims about the complainant’s performance. The article reported that “last night it was even claimed the Queen was snubbing [the complainant]”.

3. The complainant said that each of the articles were significantly inaccurate on a number of points. She said that her predecessors’ had made longer visits to previous Olympic Games, that the trip was undertaken as part of her job, and that it was not paid for solely by British taxpayers, which she said was implied by the headline. She denied that India had threatened to withdraw funding from the Commonwealth, and said that the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of this claim in failing to properly assess its source’s credibility. The complainant said that across the articles, the newspaper failed to accurately report on the refurbishment of her residence, inflating figures and incorrect details, and that criticisms of her spending lacked basis. The complainant said that it was entirely false to claim that she had “ignored recruitment rules”, in employing a Labour Peer. In addition, she said that the newspaper had inaccurately claimed that this individual had been awarded a significantly longer, and more valuable contract, than was in fact the case.

4. The complainant said that the fourth article inaccurately described her work as a barrister with expertise in constitutional and human rights law. She said that allegations the article reported about her appointment process were false. In addition, she said that the fourth article’s claim that Australia had threatened to leave the Commonwealth was entirely without basis. The complainant denied that the Prime Minister had publicly withdrawn support for her, as claimed by the fifth article. The complainant denied that the Prime Minister had issued her a “warning” or a “putdown” as claimed by the sixth article. She said that the seventh article’s claim that she had received a “public dressing down” from the Prime Minister was similarly inaccurate. The complainant said that she was not “probed” by MPs, or “forced to justify” any spending, as claimed in the eighth article. She said she had accepted an invitation by Parliamentary colleagues, where she addressed the issue of the Commonwealth’s finances.

5. The complainant said that the DFID report referred to in the ninth article related to the Commonwealth Secretariat’s performance prior to her appointment, and provided evidence to this effect. She said that the fact the report was written in the present tense only signified that it was written contemporaneously at the time of the review and not when the report was published. The complainant said that the tenth article’s claim that “White Hall fixers had been sent in” was not true; the appointment of one individual had nothing whatsoever to do with the Secretariat and he was not in the Secretariat. The appointment of the second was not connected to any concern about the Secretariat’s performance. The complainant said that there was no truth to the claim that she had been “snubbed” by the Queen. The complainant said that only on one occasion was the Secretariat asked to comment by the newspaper but the question was so vague that it was unable to do so. She said that on no other occasion was the she provided with an opportunity to comment, or the opportunity to dispute published information.

6. The newspaper said that the articles concerned a matter of obvious public interest, and that the complainant had not disputed much of the published information.

7. The newspaper said that its characterisation of the complainant’s visit to the Olympic Games as a “jolly” was justified, and not inaccurate. It said that the second article’s claim that India threatened to withdraw funding from the Commonwealth was based on claims by sources, as was made clear in the article. The newspaper said that the claim that Australia was threatening to leave the Commonwealth, as appeared in the sub headline of the article, was based on concerns expressed by a source in the Australian diplomatic community. However, it accepted that the sub headline claim was inaccurate, and offered to amend and correct this.

8. The newspaper argued that it was entitled to comment that the complainant had planned unnecessarily lavish refurbishments for her grace and favour home, using taxpayer funds. The newspaper maintained that alleged inaccuracies relied on by the complainant could not be considered significant. It said that it verified information provided to it by a confidential source on this point with contemporaneous documentary evidence. The newspaper denied that the articles made inaccurate claims about the complainant’s awarding of certain employment contracts, and said that the use of a procurement process waiver justified the claim that the complainant had “ignored” recruitment rules. The newspaper denied that its articles reported inaccurately on the complainant’s previous work as a lawyer. The newspaper said that the Prime Minister’s spokesperson had repeatedly declined to confirm that the Prime Minister had confidence in the complainant, when asked, which supported the fifth article’s claim that she had publicly withdrawn support from the complainant. The newspaper said that the sixth article reported the Prime Minister’s comments, allowing readers to understand what the Prime Minister had said, and what represented the newspaper’s comments. The newspaper said that the complainant had been forced to justify her spending at a meeting of MPs, and denied that the eighth article was inaccurate on this point. It said that it had taken appropriate care in the ninth article in linking the DFID report with criticisms of the complainant; the report’s findings were current and applied as of December 2016.  It noted that these findings included that the Secretariat “continues to underperform”. It said that the individuals referred to as “Whitehall fixers” in the tenth article were brought into the Secretariat as part of a performance agreement tasked by DFID to “bring the Commonwealth Secretariat up to an acceptable standard”.

Relevant Code Provisions

9. 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

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

11. Following IPSO’s intervention, while the newspaper maintained that it had not breached the Code, it offered to remove the online versions of the articles. The newspaper said it is entitled to express its opinion of the complainant's character and conduct, but said it would not to republish the claims that the complainant’s trip to the Olympics was solely funded by British taxpayers, or that recruitment rules were “ignored” in the employing of a Labour peer by the Commonwealth Secretariat. The newspaper also said it would not criticise the complainant for the performance of the Secretariat before she took office.

12. The complainant accepted the newspaper’s offer to remove all of the articles complained of together with the undertakings agreed. She said that should the newspaper republish the allegations complained of in any form, she reserved the right to issue fresh complaints both to the newspaper and to IPSO.

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

Date complaint received: 27/03/2017
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 07/08/2017