Ruling

02070-14 – Jones v Berwick Advertiser

    • Date complaint received

      14th April 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02070-14 - Jones v Berwick Advertiser

Summary of complaint 

1. Gavin Jones complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Berwick Advertiser breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Town clerk storms out of meeting”, published on 19 November 2014, and an article headlined “Deputy mayor boycotts council in protest against Georgina Hill”, published on 24 November 2014.

2. The articles under complaint both reported that the town clerk had “stormed out” of a Berwick Town Council committee meeting, which the complainant had chaired, after a “war of words” with a second councillor attending the meeting. The earlier article reported that it was a meeting of the Environment and Regeneration Committee.

3. The complainant did not dispute that the town clerk had left the committee meeting, but said that she had politely requested to leave the room by saying: “Sorry, could I leave the room please until you have arranged for [the second councillor] to apologise”, after which she turned around, and left the room. He said that the phrase “stormed out” was therefore misleading. In addition, he said that it was a meeting of the Finance and Resources Committee, rather than the Environment and Regeneration Committee. The complainant said that he had been copied into an email from the newspaper’s reporter before publication, which was addressed to Berwick Town Council. He said that he was unable to reply to this email, as communication protocol meant that he could not reply to an email addressed to Berwick Town Council.  He questioned whether a reporter from the newspaper had attended the Committee meeting in light of the inaccuracy about the name of the Committee.

4. The newspaper said that there had been a heated discussion between the town clerk and the second councillor. It said that the town clerk had a professional responsibility to attend the meeting, and without discussion with councillors, opted to walk out in a purposeful manner. It said that the town clerk was already walking out of the room as she asked whether she could leave the room. It said that in these circumstances, it was not misleading to report that the town clerk had “stormed out” of the meeting. It said that a reporter from the newspaper had attended the meeting, and had emailed the complainant on the day before publication to ask why the meeting was closed after 12 minutes, to which it did not receive a reply. It accepted that the earlier article had wrongly identified the committee meeting concerned, and offered to publish a clarification in the following week’s paper. It offered to consider for publication a letter from the complainant.

5. The newspaper provided IPSO with an audio recording of the meeting, in which the town clerk could be heard asking to leave the room by asking the question referred to by the complainant. This request had followed a heated discussion with the second councillor.  The audio recording suggested that the town clerk had walked out of the room immediately after her request to leave.

Relevant Code Provisions

6. 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. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

7. The town clerk had walked out of an on-going council committee meeting after a heated discussion with the second councillor. Whilst the town clerk had asked to leave the meeting, she did not appear to have awaited, or received, a response to her request; she took it upon herself to leave the meeting as a direct response to an uncomfortable exchange. The Committee noted that the articles included details about what prompted the town clerk to leave the meeting, and her position that second councillor should apologise to her before she was prepared to return. In these circumstances, the phrase “stormed out” was not a misleading interpretation of the town clerk’s leaving the meeting, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

8. The earlier article was clear about the identities of the individuals involved, and the subject matter of the dispute.  In this context, misidentifying the meeting in which the dispute arose was not significantly misleading, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a correction on this point.

Conclusions

9. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received : 21/11/2014

Date decision issued: 14/04/2015