Ruling

03373-19 The Duke & Duchess of Sussex v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      30th September 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 03373-19 The Duke & Duchess of Sussex v The Sun

Summary of Complaint

1.   The Duke & Duchess of Sussex complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “NOT IN MEG BACK YARD”, published on 12 April 2019.

2.   The article appeared on the front page, under the strapline “EXCLUSIVE: ROYAL RUMPUS”, and with the sub-headline “Parking ban for staff near home”, and continued on page 7 under the headline “Parking is gone with the Windsor: FURY AT MEG BAN”, and with the strapline “EXCLUSIVE: NEW ROYAL ROW”.

3.   The front page reported that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had “infuriated Royal Household staff at Windsor by banning them from using a car park – because it overlooks their new home”. It stated that a source had said that “’Everyone’s calling them NIMBYs, meaning Not in Meghan’s Back Yard”. The front page featured a large photograph of the Duchess of Sussex, and a smaller inset photograph of the Duke of Sussex, captioned “Ban…Harry and pregnant wife Meghan”.

4.   The article on page 7 stated that “a car park ban imposed by mum-to-be Meghan and Harry has sparked outrage”. It said that Royal Household staff had parked in the car park for “decades”, but that the couple had stopped them from using this site because it overlooked their new home. The article said that “low-paid staff” had been accustomed to parking near the home in order to play sports at a royal club, but had been told that from April 1 they would no longer have access to the site without permission; it said they had been urged to use a public car park a “lengthy trek” from the residence, where many of them worked, and faced having to pay up to £10 a day for parking.

5.   The article quoted a “royal staffer” who said that “’To say we’re upset and annoyed is a massive understatement. We can only assume that Harry and Meghan don’t want to look out of their window and see cars coming and going and members of staff walking into the club”. The individual was also quoted as saying “’It’s one thing to want privacy but this seems selfish and won’t endear Harry and Meghan to the staff’”.

6.   The article said that a senior source in the Royal Household had “insisted Harry and Meghan had not demanded the change”, and had stated that the car park would not be closed entirely, but “confirmed fewer people would be able to use it”. The article reported that the source had stated that the decision was made “as a result of a review by the Superintendent of the castle”.

7.   The article appeared online on the same day in substantially the same format, under the headline “NOT IN MEG BACK YARD: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry infuriate Royal staff at Windsor by banning them from using a car park as it overlooks their new home”.

8.   The complainants said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). They said that they had not imposed a ban on the use of the car park: it had not been closed, and would continue to be used by some staff. They said that a decision to reassign part of the car park had been taken by the Windsor Castle Superintendent, without any involvement from them personally. The complainants also said that it was inaccurate for the article to claim that “low-paid staff” would have to pay for parking. They also considered that the article’s headlines were not supported by the text, and that the quotation attributed to a senior source in the Royal Household indicated that the publication was aware prior to publication that there was no basis for the headline claim. The complainants said that their representatives had spoken to the journalist on the day prior to publication, and made clear that the allegation that they had instituted a “ban” was false, and that they had played no part in the decision to reassign part of the car park.

9.   The publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate. It said that the article resulted from a story provided by a trusted freelance reporter, and was a faithful report of the concerns raised by staff. The publication said that it was not in dispute that changes to parking arrangements for staff had been announced with effect from April 1 - three days before the complainants had moved into the residence in question; it provided the text of the notice to staff, which stated that from this date “there is no staff or contractor parking on the Sports Ground car park without the permission of the Superintendent’s Office”. It said that it was not therefore misleading to refer to a “ban”. It said that the article had included quotations from staff affected by the change which indicated that they believed it was attributable to the complainant, and said that in any event the Superintendent was accountable to the Royal Family; where the changes to the parking arrangements took place immediately prior to the complainants moving into their new home, it was reasonable to infer that the parking changes were a result of their arrival. The publication said that, the day prior to publication, it had contacted the complainants’ representatives to indicate the nature of the story to be published; later that day, a representative had spoken to the journalist to discuss the matter, and he had agreed to include a prominent denial in the article.

10.   The publication said that the front page headline “NOT IN MEG BACK YARD” was a play on words and did not suggest that the complainants were behind the changes to parking arrangements. It said that the sub-headline’s claim that there was a “parking ban for staff near [the] home” was accurate, where the car park was due to close, and the strapline “EXCLUSIVE: ROYAL RUMPUS” was accurate where the story related to the frustrations of Royal staff members, which had been reported faithfully.

11.   Nevertheless, the publication removed the article from its website the day after it was published, in response to the complainants’ representatives contacting it prior to commencing the IPSO process. Within a week of receiving the complaint from IPSO, the publication offered to publish a correction on page 2 of the newspaper, and online, in its Corrections & Clarifications column, with a link appearing on the homepage for 24 hours. The complainants declined this offer, and the publication subsequently offered to publish. The amended wording below, including a headline and apology: 

Duke & Duchess of Sussex – An Apology

An article headlined “NOT IN MEG BACK YARD” (12 April) reported that the Duke & Duchess of Sussex had banned staff from using a car park near Frogmore Cottage. We now accept that the parking changes were not requested by the Duke & Duchess. We are happy to correct the record and apologise for any distress caused.

The publication said that this offer was sufficiently prominent: the front page reference to the complainants being behind the changes had been brief, and in small font, and a denial had been included in the main story on p7. It also said that the story was light-hearted, and did not relate to a matter of significant public interest or debate; in all these circumstances, a front page reference to the apology was not required.

12.   The complainants declined this offer of resolution. They noted that the front page text and the online headline had stated that they had “infuriated Royal Household staff at Windsor by banning them from using a car park”, when their representatives had made clear before publication that they had not banned anyone from using the car park, as they had no involvement in the decision that was made. They said that, in these circumstances, the apology should at the very least be referred to on the front page.

Relevant Code Provisions

13.   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

14.   It was not in dispute that an area of the car park was no longer available for staff parking after April 1. In these circumstances, it was not misleading for the article, or the front page sub-headline, to refer to a “ban” having been imposed. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

15.   The article stated that the “ban” had been “imposed by” the complainants, who had “stopped [staff] using the site”. It was accepted that the complainants’ representatives had informed the publication of their position that they had not been involved in the decision to change the usage of the car park, and their denial of this fact had been included in the article. The publication had relied on staff sources in support of its claim, and had not sought to argue that these sources had direct knowledge of the complainants’ involvement in the decision; rather, the staff members had been speculating that the change had come at the complainants’ instigation. The publication had not provided any direct evidence of the complainants’ involvement in the decision. In these circumstances, and where the complainants’ position had been made clear to the publication in advance of the article being published, there was a failure to take care over the presentation as fact of the claim that they had “imposed” the ban. There was a breach of Clause 1(i). This gave rise to a misleading impression of the status of the claim, which required clarification in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

16.   The publication had offered to publish a clarification in which it accepted that the complainants had not been behind the decision to change the use of the car park. This wording was sufficient to address the misleading impression created by the presentation of the claim within the article. It had been offered within a week of the publication having received the complaint. The wording and promptness of this offer was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii).

17.   The front page headline “NOT IN MEG BACK YARD” was a play on words, which did not, in isolation, suggest that the complainants were behind the changes to the car park; indeed, read alone, it did not suggest that any change had been made. The claim that the complainants were responsible for the changes did appear on the front page, and was repeated on page 7, but did not feature in any of the headlines, sub-headlines or straplines to the print article. The Committee also noted that the claim under complaint was not one of a personal nature about the complainants, relating to their private or family life, but rather related to actions relating to Royal staff, and the external affairs of their official residence.

18.   A front page correction, or a front page reference to a correction, will sometimes be the appropriate remedy when a piece of misleading information is published on the front page. In this instance, it was not misleading for the article to report that a “ban” had been instigated by an employee of the Royal Household, and the complainants’ denial of their involvement in this had been included. In the light of this, and in all the circumstances set out above, the Committee did not consider that a front page reference or correction was proportionate to the significance of the misleading impression that had been created of the status of the claim. Therefore, a page 2 correction was sufficiently prominent to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii). The claim under complaint did appear in the online headline, and in these circumstances, a homepage link to the clarification was required; this had been offered, and so the online offer of clarification was also sufficient to satisfy Clause 1(ii). There was no breach of Clause 1(ii), and the offered clarifications should now be published.

Conclusions

19.   The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial action required

20.   The publication had promptly offered a clarification which addressed the misleading impression of the status of the claims made in the article. This had been offered with sufficient prominence in print and online, given the position of the claims within the article. These clarifications should now be published, to avoid any breach of Clause 1(ii).

Date complaint received: 16/04/2019

Date decision issued: 31/07/2019