Ruling

03109-15 Emmott v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      9th June 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

·  Decision of the Complaints Committee 03109-15 Emmott v The Daily Telegraph

Summary of complaint 

1. Bill Emmott complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Nine things the Great European Disaster Movie got wrong”, published on its website on 2 March 2015. 

2. The article was a review of a documentary film produced by the complainant, “The Great European Disaster Movie”, which explored the challenges facing the European Union, and had been broadcast the previous day. The review noted that the film had included “all the usual myths” about the EU. These “myths” were listed, with an explanation of how the reviewer believed that each had been perpetuated by the film. 

3. The complainant said that the film had not included any of the “myths“ or inaccuracies which the reviewer had cited.  He said that the film had not said that “Winston Churchill believed Britain’s place was inside a United States of Europe”. The film had included a clip of a speech he had made in 1946, calling for Europe to unite. As the film was not about Winston Churchill, there was no need to note that he did not believe that Britain should form part of a United States of Europe. Nor had the film suggested that the “EU [had] singlehandedly kept the peace in Europe for 70 years”; in fact it had included a large section about the wars in the Balkans. The film had not made the claim that “immigration was an unqualified good”, and had included sections showing concern about the issue. It had not claimed that “The European project was responsible for the economic resurgence of Europe after the second world war” and, contrary to the reviewer’s claim, the film had included a section on the Marshall plan. The complainant disputed that the film had indicated that “If Britain leaves the EU, it will no longer be allowed to trade with the 27 remaining member states”, or that “the UK will be torn asunder if Britain leaves the EU”; the film had speculated on possible consequences were Britain to leave the EU, and presented a fictional dystopian future. 

4. The complainant disputed the article’s assertion that his statement in the film that “Europe is sleepwalking towards disaster” was intended as a reference to the conflict in Ukraine. In fact he was referring to growing nationalism and disintegration within the EU. Furthermore, the film did not state that “the EU remains Europe’s best hope of fulfilling the dream of universal social justice for all”; the film had portrayed the EU as a framework required for the prosperity of member states, but had not claimed that countries should finance each other’s welfare states. Finally, the complainant maintained that Peter Mandelson had not made the comments attributed to him by the reviewer in reference to potential solutions to the perceived problem of “democratic legitimacy” in the EU. 

5. Following publication of the article, the complainant had written a letter to the newspaper. It had declined to publish this, which the complainant considered to be a breach of Clause 2. 

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It noted that the article was a review, clearly identifiable as such, and said that it would be understood as the writer’s personal interpretation of the film described. It maintained that in establishing the meaning of such material, the test was not what the film-maker had intended, but what might be inferred by viewers. Readers would understand that any such articles were, by their nature, subjective. 

7. The publication defended the accuracy of each point raised by the complainant. It noted that the documentary had opened with footage of Winston Churchill’s famous speech in favour of Europe, and that the complainant had not denied that the film had not explained that Churchill believed that Britain should remain outside of this “supranational structure”. A character in the film had stated that before the creation of the EU “Europe was decimated with hundreds of years of war”, and had not made reference to intra-European conflicts since the EU’s formation. The film had included a number of individuals pointing out the positive aspects of immigration; the only opposing views were presented by an advert for a Swedish political party, and the views of some supporters of the UK Independence Party (Ukip). The newspaper noted that any opposing views were presented as marginal ones. The reference to the European project being responsible for the economic resurgence of Europe after World War 2 was based on the film’s opening montage, which showed scenes of post-war devastation giving way to footage of a European treaty being signed. The newspaper accepted that the Marshall Plan was included in the film, but noted that this was not in the opening section but later, as a means of contrasting German and American approaches to economic policy. Peter Mandelson commented in the film that if Britain left the European Union “we would lose the market where over half of our trade is currently taking place”. This statement was left unchallenged, and the newspaper did not consider it misleading to interpret Mr Mandelson’s comments as suggesting that the European market would be closed to Britain were it to leave the EU. The newspaper also noted that the film implied that Britain had seceded from the EU by 2017, and that Scotland had also left the United Kingdom. 

8. In light of explanations provided in support of the complaint, the newspaper accepted the complainant’s position that his assertion that Europe was “sleepwalking toward disaster” was not intended as a reference to the conflict in Ukraine. It maintained, however, that this was not an unreasonable inference to draw from a comment which was made after a montage featuring the armed conflict in the region and seeming to draw a parallel between modern-day events and those that led to the outbreak of the First World War. The film had included a number of commentators speaking about social justice within the EU. The article had not stated that the film had claimed countries should fund each other’s welfare states, and the writer was free to speculate about how European “social justice” might be funded. It was not inaccurate to state that Peter Mandelson had acknowledged in the film that the EU had a problem of “democratic legitimacy”, and went on to say that you have to “create a much stronger line of recognition and visibility between those individuals and Europe as a whole”. Visibility could be interpreted as meaning better public relations. Other individuals featured in the film also discussed the importance of raising awareness of the work of the EU. In the context of a comment piece, it was not misleading to characterise the communication of information as “propaganda”. 

Relevant Code Provisions

1. 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. 

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

Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) 

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

Findings of the Committee

10. The Press is free to be partisan, and to present comment and conjecture, provided that this is clearly distinguished as such. The article under complaint was a television review, and was clearly signalled as such in both style and positioning. Readers would therefore understand that it represented the columnist’s personal interpretation of the film. 

11. The presentation of an article as a comment piece does not excuse the inclusion of factual inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1. In this instance, the complainant had disputed the accuracy of a number of points made by the columnist in his criticism of the documentary. The points made by the columnist were his interpretation of the information which had been presented and the newspaper was able to explain, by reference to material contained in the documentary, the basis for the columnist’s views.  Given the nature of the piece, the Committee did not consider that there had been a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, not did it establish the existence of any inaccuracies requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). 

12. The terms of Clause 2 provide the opportunity to reply to published inaccuracies. In this instance, the Committee had not established the existence of any inaccuracies so as to engage the terms of this Clause.  

Conclusions

13. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

N/A 

Date complaint received: 22/04/2015

Date decision issued: 09/06/2015