Ruling

Decision of the Complaints Committee Agrawal v express.co.uk 02240-18

    • Date complaint received

      20th June 2018

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02240-18 Agrawal v express.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Roma Agrawal complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “BBC Question Time Live: David Dimbleby hosts Liam Fox and Laura Pidcock in FIREY debate”.

2. The article was a ‘live’ report of an episode of Question Time in which the complainant featured. It described, in timeline form, the views expressed by the different panellists on the show; the complainant was pictured twice in the article. The article reported that the second question on the show was “With Donald Trump’s love of trade wars, will the UK come off badly outside the UK?”. It said that, as part of the discussion arising from this question, the complainant had “called for the country to get behind Brexit”. The article went on to say that she said she was “bored of politicians arguing between themselves over Brexit”, and that she “called for consensus so that Brexit can be made a success”. The caption to one photograph of the complainant read: “Roma Agrawal says ‘get behind Brexit’”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy); she had not called for the country to get behind Brexit as the article and photo caption stated. In fact, she was strongly pro-Remain, and had not made any comment in support of Brexit; she had said “I personally am not convinced [about Brexit]”.

4. The publication said that, at the time the journalist wrote the article, he did not have a clear understanding of the point the complainant was making in her response, or of her political position in relation to Brexit. For this reason, he interpreted her comments as meaning that the main parties should stop fighting about the type of Brexit they wanted, and make a positive pitch about the benefits of Brexit. However, it acknowledged that the article gave a significantly inaccurate account of the complainant’s views, and offered to amend the article to say she had called for “both of the big parties to come up with a vision of Brexit she could support”. It also offered to remove the claim that she had “called for consensus so that Brexit can be made a success”, and to amend the photo caption. It also offered to add a footnote correction as follows:

This article was amended on… It previously reported that Roma Agrawal had called for the country to get behind Brexit. In fact in response to an audience member’s plea for the country to come together in respect of Brexit, Ms Agrawal said, “I too am completely fed up of just watching politicians…we hear hard Brexit, soft Brexit, we’ll have sunny-side-up Brexit next, I dunno what we’re gonna hear, and, what I really want to see is a vision from both of the big parties in our country, telling me why my life is going to be better outside the European Union, and I am absolutely not convinced at this point in time”.

5. The complainant said that this offer was not sufficient: given the nature of the inaccuracy, and the possible impact on the complainant’s political aspirations, a standalone correction and private apology were required.

Relevant Code provisions

6. 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

7. Publications are entitled to paraphrase individuals’ views in reporting their comments, and the Committee acknowledged that the complainant’s comments might have been open to different interpretations. However, the complainant had not “called for the country to get behind Brexit”: this was the publication’s interpretation of her comments; she had not herself said this. Similarly, the photo caption stated that the complainant had said we should “get behind Brexit”, when she had not. The publication had imposed its own interpretation on the complainant’s comments, without indicating that it had done so. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i). The publication’s presentation of its interpretation of the comments was misleading because it suggested that the complainant had made a statement which she had not made. This required correction to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

8. The publication had offered to amend the article and append a footnote which included a verbatim account of the complainant’s expressed views. This allowed readers to know the complainant’s position in full, and addressed the inaccuracy in the original article. It was sufficient to address the inaccuracy in the article, and had been offered promptly when the publication had received the complaint in writing. The inaccuracy related to the interpretation of political comments; it was not a personal attack on the complainant. In these circumstances, there was no obligation under Clause 1 (ii) for the publication to issue an apology, and the correction offered was sufficiently prominent; there was no requirement for a standalone correction. The offered correction, which had already been added to the article, was sufficient to address the inaccuracy and meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusion

8. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial action required

9. The publication had offered to amend the article and append a footnote which included a verbatim account of the complainant’s expressed views. This allowed readers to know the complainant’s position in full, and addressed the inaccuracy in the original article. It was sufficient to address the inaccuracy in the article, and as it had already been published, no further action was required.

Date complaint received: 11 March 2017

Date complaint concluded: 1 June 2018