Ruling

02067-16 Sheridan v The National

    • Date complaint received

      7th July 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02067-16 Sheridan v The National

Summary of complaint

1. Tommy Sheridan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The National breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Tommy Sheridan's Solidarity party is set for collapse after a mass exodus of senior figures", published on 26 March 2016.

2. The article reported that the Solidarity party, which is led by the complainant, was “on the verge of collapsing” after “more than half” of its candidates for May’s election had resigned. It said that 12 senior members, including nine candidates, had left, and more were expected to follow. It reported that the resignations were due to concerns that complaints of bullying and harassment by one of the party’s senior members had been ignored, and that people had been asked to “hold off” until after the election.

3. The complainant said that the newspaper had inaccurately reported that “more than half” of the party’s candidates for May’s election had resigned. He said, at the time of publication, the party had at least 38 candidates standing in the election; only 10 individuals had resigned.

4. He said that the majority of the resignations were not by “senior members”, as reported: two individuals had held official positions, one had been a member for more than 12 months, and the rest had less than six months’ membership. He said the party’s Co-convener had not resigned, and neither had the National Secretary, who had been wrongly named in the article as Nicola Stevens. He said that Ms Stevens had never held any position in the party, and had only been a member since February 2016.

5. The complainant said that the inaccurate article had been deliberately published at a time when maximum damage would be inflicted on the party in the run up to the election.

6. The newspaper said that half of the candidates listed on Solidarity’s website at the time of publication had resigned. The term “senior” had not indicated the length of their membership, but the seniority of their position in the party. Those who had resigned were either candidates or members of the Executive Committee.

7. The newspaper had sought comment from the party before publication. It provided emails from the reporter in which he requested comment on “…messages from people saying that you’ve lost at least five of your candidates”, and on the allegation that the resignations had been due to the party’s “unwillingness to properly uphold grievance procedures”.

8. The newspaper accepted that the National Secretary had not resigned, as reported. It said that Nicola Stevens had resigned her position as Glasgow Regional Coordinator. It noted that Ms Stevens had written an article for the Solidarity website in August 2015 entitled “Why I joined Solidarity”. It offered to publish the following correction on page seven and online:

In our article ‘Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity party is set for collapse after a mass exodus of senior figures’ from March 26 2016, we said that Nicola Stevens, one of the 12 who had left, was National Secretary of the party. This was inaccurate – she was not National Secretary, she was Regional Organiser for North-West Glasgow.

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.

Findings of the Committee

10. The complainant contended that at the time of publication, Solidarity had 38 candidates set to stand in the election, but only 10 individuals in total had resigned; not 12, as reported. However, he appeared to accept that those 38 candidates had not yet been officially listed on the party’s website. Furthermore, he did not appear to dispute that half of those who had been listed had, in fact, resigned.

11. The newspaper had been entitled to rely on the Solidarity website as a source of accurate, up-to-date information about the party. It had also sought comment from the party on the number of resignations, and the more serious allegations contained in the article concerning claims of harassment and bullying within the party. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on this point.

12. The article had made clear the basis for the assertion that “more than half the candidates had resigned”. It had stated that 12 members, including nine candidates, had left the party, which was not significantly different to the complainant’s position that there had been 10 resignations. The article had not given a significantly misleading impression of the number of people who had resigned in breach of Clause 1.

13. The newspaper had been entitled to its view that those who had held a position on the Executive Committee or as a candidate represented “senior members”. The characterisation of their positions in the party was not misleading. The article had not asserted that the individuals had been longstanding party members. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

14. The Committee noted that the National Secretary had not resigned, and was not Nicola Stevens, as reported. However, Ms Stevens had resigned from the party. Regardless of whether she had held an official position, the brief reference to her as “National Secretary” in the context of this article did not represent a significant inaccuracy that required correction under the terms of Clause 1.  The Committee also noted that the article had stated elsewhere that the National Secretary was, in fact, John Park. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer of a correction in response to this point.

15. The article had not reported that the party’s Co-convener had resigned. Rather, it had said that the newspaper had “understood” that she was “set to resign”. The reference to her resignation was clearly conjecture; it was not significantly misleading in breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

16. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

17. NA

Date complaint received: 30/03/2016
Date complaint concluded: 13/06/2016