Ruling

02645-21 Cameron v East Kilbride News

    • Date complaint received

      2nd December 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02645-21 Cameron v East Kilbride News

Summary of Complaint

1. Lisa Cameron MP complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that East Kilbride News breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “Area’s MP second top for expenses” published 3 February 2021.

2. The article reported that the complainant “claimed over £250,000 in expenses last year, making her the second most expensive sitting MP in the House of Commons”. It went on to report specific items that the complainant had claimed for, such as “claims of £266 for a banner under ‘office costs’”. The article also stated that “So far in 2020/21, Dr Cameron has claimed £24,052.87 in office cost, £13,202.71 in accommodation expenses, and £3749.26 in MP travel, despite the call to work from home”. It reported the complainant’s explanation that “accommodation and office costs reduced but I have had the grave situation of long-term staff sickness absence [which] triggered temporary additional funding…for staff cover”. 

3. The article also appeared online in a substantially similar format under the headline “East Kilbride MP claims over £250,000 in expenses - making her the second highest claimant”.

4. The complainant said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 in three ways. First, the headline claim that the complainant was “second top for expenses” or “the second highest claimant” for 2019/20 was misleading as she was actually the fourth highest claimant during this period; it was only that she was the second highest of those MPs that were still sitting. She expressed concern that this information had been republished by two separate newspapers, citing the article in question as their source. Second, the complainant said the statement that she had claimed “£266 for a banner under ‘office costs’” was inaccurate as this claim was for stationery from a company called Banner. Finally, the complainant said that the statement that she “claimed £24,052.87 in office cost, £13,202.71 in accommodation expenses, and £3749.26 in MP travel, despite the call to work from home” was misleading. It implied that she had acted inappropriately in claiming these monies when in fact accommodation and staffing costs were still due despite the pandemic; and, in any event, apart from the period April to 2 June 2021, MPs had to physically attend parliament to participate in debates in line with orders passed in the House of Commons. MPs had only been able to participate fully in parliamentary procedures from home during the period 23 March – 21 April 2020.

5. The publication said that the article as a whole made clear the complainant was “the second most expensive sitting MP in the House of Commons” rather than the second highest of all MPs over the relevant period. The publication accepted that the statement that she had claimed “£266 for a banner under ‘office costs’” was inaccurate. In relation to the third alleged inaccuracy, the publication emphasised that it had not commented on the appropriateness of the complainant’s claims; rather it had simply reported as fact what she had claimed so far during the 2020/21 year and the fact that there had been a nationwide call to work from home where possible as part of the government lockdown. Further, it provided guidance sent to MPs in April 2021 which included a recommendation for MPs to “participate in business remotely wherever possible, and Members' staff and parliamentary staff to continue to work remotely”

6. Upon receipt of the complaint, the publication offered to publish the following corrections in print on page 2 and as a footnote to the online article respectively:

In our P6 article published on 03/02/21, entitled "Area's MP second top for expenses", we incorrectly stated that Dr Lisa Cameron MP claimed £266 for the purchase of a banner. We would like to clarify that the £266 was spent on stationery ordered from a company called Banner Stationery UK.

In our online article entitled "East Kilbride MP claims over £250,000 in expenses", published on 03/02/21, we incorrectly stated that Dr Lisa Cameron MP claimed £266 in expenses for the purchase of a banner. We have since updated the story to state that the £266 was spent on stationery ordered from a company called Banner Stationery UK.

7. The complainant did not accept this offer as it did not address the other two alleged inaccuracies or include an apology.

Relevant Code Provisions

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

8. The article had stated that the complainant had claimed “£266 for a banner under ‘office costs’”, which the complainant said was inaccurate as this claim in fact related to an order for various stationery from a company called Banner. The source of the publication’s information had been an online record of the complainant’s expense claims, which noted the sum and included only the word “Banner” as a description of the reason for the expense being incurred. In this context, where the claim was only one example of expenses among others; was for a relatively small amount of money; and where the publication had sourced the information from the publicly-available record of the claim, the Committee did not consider that the publication’s misunderstanding of the nature of the claim constituted a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i).

9. Nevertheless, it was accepted that this expense claim was actually for stationery from a company called Banner rather than for a banner. This inaccuracy was significant as it was relevant to the impression created by the article of the purposes for which the complainant had spent public money. The correction had been offered by the publication on receipt of the complaint and on page 2 in print, further forward than the original article, and online as a footnote. The Committee considered that the wording offered by the publication identified the inaccuracy and offered corrective information, and had been offered promptly and with due prominence. It satisfied the terms of Clause 1(ii) and there was no breach of Clause 1 in this respect.

10. The Committee next considered the complaint about the headline reference to the complainant as “second top” for expenses. The Committee noted that it will consider a headline in the context of an article, but a headline must under Clause 1 be supported by the article. The text of the article immediately made clear that the publication’s claim was specifically that the complainant was the second highest expenses claimant during the 2019/20 year amongst currently sitting MPs. While the Committee noted that this excluded two people who had since left Parliament, on balance it concluded that the text of the article had adequately explained the basis for the headline, and that it was not significantly inaccurate. The publication had not failed to take care over the accuracy of the headline. Nor did it contain a significant inaccuracy or misleading claim relating to this. There was no breach of Clause 1.

11. While the Committee noted the complainant’s concern about the claim that “So far in 2020/21, Dr Cameron has claimed £24,052.87 in office cost, £13,202.71 in accommodation expenses, and £3749.26 in MP travel, despite the call to work from home”, the Committee did not consider that this suggested the complainant had claimed money to which she was not entitled. The print article stated clearly that the complainant had broken no rules and both articles included detailed information about the expenses for which she had claimed, including her explanation that her staffing costs had been higher than normal due to exceptional circumstances. Furthermore, the Committee noted that the period to which the accommodation and office cost claims related had included a period in which MPs were able to fully work from home, although the travel expenses did not. The Committee did not therefore consider that this claim that she had claimed some of these costs “despite the call to work from home” constituted a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, nor a significant inaccuracy or misleading claim that required correction. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

13. The corrections which were offered clearly put the correct position on record, and were offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published online and in print.


Date complaint received: 11/3/2021.

Date decision issued: 12/7/2021; Amended decision issued: 16/7/2021.


Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Reviewer found that the IPSO process was flawed because an incorrect decision by the Complaints Committee was shared by the Executive with both parties; it contained an inaccurate summary of the complaint outcome, stating that it was “upheld” when in fact, as the text of the findings recorded, it was “not upheld”. The statement of the outcome of the complaint was corrected and an amended decision issued promptly. In such circumstances, the Reviewer did not return the complaint to the Complaints Committee for further consideration.