Ruling

02959-21 Walker v Sandbach Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      15th July 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02959-21 Walker v Sandbach Chronicle

Summary of Complaint

1. Robert Walker complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sandbach Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Questions raised about partnership inclusivity”, published on 11 March 2021.

2. The article reported that the complainant had withdrawn his application to chair a local community group because he had received an “odd” e-mail from a named councillor that referred to him in a “derogatory manner”. The article then reported the named councillor’s response to these claims which he described as “nonsense”, adding that he had since been “bombarded” with emails and phone calls from the complainant to such an extent that he had reported the complainant to the police.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. Whilst he accepted that he had contacted the councillor via e-mail, he denied contacting this individual via telephone. He said that the use of the term “bombarded” mischaracterised and misrepresented both the extent of their contact and his own conduct. He also disputed that he had been reported to the police, as he had received no contact from the police about the alleged complaint. He also expressed concern that the publication had not offered him a right to reply to these comments.

4. The newspaper denied any breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). It said that the article sat within the context of an ongoing and contentious dispute surrounding the local council – a context its readers were well aware of.  It maintained that it had accurately reported the comments of the councillor. It said that it was entitled to report these allegations and had not presented them as fact. The article made clear that the views expressed were those of the named councillor, with the disputed term “bombarded” clearly this individual’s own characterisation of the contact between himself and the complainant. The newspaper said it had been assured by the councillor, prior to publication, that he had referred the matter to the police, adding that it had no reason to doubt the veracity of his account.

5. During IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper received a statement from the local police force confirming that the councillor had made an allegation of harassment against an individual a number of weeks prior to publication. Finally, it stated that both parties had been provided with the opportunity to comment, with the councillor’s comments offered in rebuttal to the claims made first by the complainant. As a consequence, it argued that seeking further comments from the complainant in response to the councillor’s own was unreasonable and unnecessary, and would lead to protracted rounds of comments and counter-comments.

Relevant Clause 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

6. The Editors’ Code of Practice makes clear that the press has the right to publish the comments made by individuals, as long as it takes care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact.

7. Whilst the Committee recognised the concerns raised by the complainant, it had regard to the wider context of the article. The claims related to contentious ongoing issues surrounding the workings of the local council, and represented a continuation of a dispute which the publication had reported over a period of time, from different perspectives. The councillor had used the term “bombarded” to describe his own experience of the extent of the contact between himself and the complainant. The complainant did not deny that he had been in contact with the councillor, and the publication had attributed this characterisation of the contact to the councillor; it was not adopted as fact. Similarly, whilst the Committee recognised the seriousness of the allegations that the complainant had been reported to the police, it considered that the councillor was best placed to comment on his actions and whether he had reported the matter to the police. The article made no statement as to whether the police were pursuing the issue or not. In such circumstances, and taking the above into account, the Committee found that the newspaper had taken sufficient care in reporting the claims made. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i).

8. The Committee also noted that the newspaper had obtained a crime reference number from the councillor, which was separately verified by the local constabulary, during the course of IPSOs investigation. As such, the Committee found no significant inaccuracy requiring correction under Clause 1 (ii) in regard to this.

9. The Committee then considered the complainant’s concerns regarding the claims made by the councillor related to the different modes of communication (telephone and e-mail) used by the complainant to contact him.  In the Committee’s view, the accounts of the complainant and the councillor were conflicting on this point, and it was unable to reconcile these differing positions. However, given that it had been clearly presented as the councillor’s experience, and that there was no dispute that the complainant had contacted the councillor, the Committee did not consider that this, if inaccurate, was a significant inaccuracy so as to require correction under Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusion

10. The complaint was not upheld. 

Date complaint received: 25/03/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/07/2021

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint.  The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.