Ruling

02462-14 Salter v The Sunday Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      15th May 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

·  Decision of the Complaints Committee 02462-14 Salter v The Sunday Telegraph

Summary of complaint 

1. Mark Salter complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Telegraph had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Chef’s sex accuser ‘uses secrets in rival baby food’”, published on 14 December 2014. 

2. The article reported that the complainant’s former employer had accused him of having worked at her company in order to learn its secrets, ahead of launching a rival baby food range. The article also said that the complainant had “falsely accused” his former employer of sexual harassment, and that he had “demanded £50,000 compensation”. 

3. The complainant said that his company was not launching a rival range; it was an entirely different product to that of his former employer’s. He also denied having “used secrets” from his former employer’s company. He said that he had not planned to launch a “rival” company before having worked there; his business had been established  many months after leaving his former employer’s company. He was concerned that, although he had been approached for comment prior to the publication of the article, he had not been made aware of these specific allegations. 

4. The complainant also said that he had not “falsely accused” his former employer of sexual harassment; the tribunal had made no findings in relation to his claims because the matter had been settled before the hearing. He also denied having claimed “£50,000” in compensation; the claim had been for a significantly lesser amount. The complainant said that he had not been able to comment on these allegations because of a confidentiality agreement entered into with his former employer as part of the settlement. 

5. The complainant said that the article had inaccurately reported that he had had “seven jobs in a decade”; he had in fact had seven jobs in seventeen years. He was also concerned that the article had inaccurately described his former employer as a “chef”, and had valued her business inaccurately. 

6. The newspaper said that the allegations had clearly been presented as the opinion of the complainant’s former employer. As both products were designed for, and marketed at, babies and both come in a similar type of pouch, it was not inaccurate to describe them as rivals. The newspaper said that the complainant had been asked for comment on a number of occasions. Prior to the publication of this article, the complainant had been asked specifically about his new business. 

7. The newspaper said that the company which had launched the complainant’s range had, in fact, been set up two months before he joined his former employer’s business but that it had subsequently changed its name. The complainant had launched his range of baby food only after leaving his former employer’s company and the complainant was engaging the same manufacturer. This supported his former employer’s suspicion that he had had an ulterior motive for working with her. 

8. The newspaper said that the complainant had “unreservedly retracted” his sexual harassment claims before the evidence could be tested in court. As he was no longer prepared to support the allegations, it was reasonable to assert that they were false. The newspaper had also put this allegation to the complainant, but he had failed to respond. 

9. The complainant had said that the claim was for £13,156 (plus interest), a further £10,112 in respect of “future losses” and a further (unspecified) figure for “injury to feelings”. It was unclear whether the claim would have included anything further for legal costs and expenses. In the circumstances, it had been reasonable to quantify the claim at £50,000. 

10. The complainant’s concern about “seven jobs in a decade” was not significantly misleading, and the value of his former employer’s business was accurate. 

Relevant Code Provisions

11. 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. 

Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) 

A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for. 

Findings of the Committee

12. The complainant’s former employer had expressed her view that the complainant had joined her business, learned its secrets and then had launched a rival range. In advance of the publication of the article, the newspaper had contacted the complainant and requested an opportunity to discuss his current business venture with him, but the complainant had explained that he had been advised not to comment. The Committee did not agree that the complainant had not been given an adequate opportunity to comment on the aspects of the article relating to his business. It did not find that there had been a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i). 

13. The remarks – which had been attributed to the complainant’s former employer and had been described in the article as her “belief” – clearly represented her views regarding the complainant’s motivation for working at her company, which the newspaper was entitled to report. There had not been a failure to distinguish comment and conjecture from fact. 

14. The article said that the complainant had “falsely accused” his former employer of sexual harassment, which readers would have understood to be the newspaper’s characterisation of the complainant’s conduct, based on information which had been explained in the article. The Committee noted that the newspaper had approached the complainant for his comments on this issue on a number of occasions and that the complainant had felt unable to comment because of the terms of the confidentiality agreement.  The Committee also had regard for the fact that the article made clear that the complainant’s claim against his former employer had been settled before the tribunal hearing and that, in an agreed statement, the complainant had “unreservedly retracted all of the allegations”. In light of the information provided in the article, the Committee considered that readers would have understood the basis for the newspaper’s description of the outcome of the claimant’s claim against his former employer and did not find the article to be significantly misleading. 

15. In the context of the article, the disputed figure reported by the newspaper in relation to the amount of the claim made by the complainant was not significantly misleading such as to require correction under the terms of the Code. The distinction between whether the complainant had had seven jobs in a decade, or seven jobs in seventeen years; the value of his former employer’s business and the description of her as a “chef” were not significant details. There was no breach of Clause 1. 

16. Clause 2 provides individuals the opportunity to respond to published inaccuracies when reasonably called for. The Committee had not established the existence of inaccuracies such as to have engaged the terms of the Code. 

Conclusions

17. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

N/A 

Date complaint received: 15/12/2014

Date decision issued: 15/05/2015