Ruling

04170-15 Smurthwaite v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      6th October 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 04170-15 Smurthwaite v The Daily Telegraph

Summary of complaint 

1. Kate Smurthwaite complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Girls ‘should not speak up online’, says BBC writer”, published online on 27 May 2015. It was published in print on 28 May 2015 with the headline “Don’t speak up, you’ll only get online abuse, writer tells girls”. 

2. The article reported that the complainant had written a piece in a magazine for teachers in which she had said that “girls should ‘not speak up’ as they will get bullied online”. 

3. The complainant said that the article was not an accurate summary of the piece she had written, a copy of which she provided. She had not said that girls should not “speak up”, nor had she said that they should be “discouraged to express their views online”, as reported. In fact, she had said the opposite: she was arguing that instead of telling girls to speak up, we should encourage them by tackling online bullying. 

4. The complainant said that the headline of the online version of the article was particularly misleading, as the use of inverted commas had given the impression that the phrase was a direct quotation from her, when it was not. The headline was also not an accurate paraphrase of her comments. In addition, she said that she is not a “BBC writer”: she is not employed by the corporation and has only written for two series broadcast by the BBC, which is significant because she does not speak on behalf of the BBC. She considered that the online article should have included a link to her original piece. 

5. The newspaper believed that its article was an accurate summary of the views expressed in the piece the complainant had written. It said that the quotation marks in the headline paraphrased the main idea of the text below, and was standard journalistic practice. It noted that the article had not stated that the complainant was employed by the BBC, just that she writes for it; the complainant’s website mentions her work for the corporation. The newspaper said that it was common for articles written by an author for one publication to be summarised by a journalist in another; in doing so there was no obligation to contact the original author, or to provide a link to the initial piece. 

Relevant Code Provisions

6. 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. 

Findings of the Committee

7. The article under complaint had made clear the complainant’s position that people must work to create a society where girls feel that they can safely speak up online, and had quoted extensively from her article. It reported that she had said “We need to stop telling girls to speak up and instead start building a world in which they can do so safely”. 

8. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant disagreed with the way in which her piece had been interpreted, and her position that she had not written that girls should be discouraged from “speaking up”. However, in her original article, she had written “we need to stop telling girls to speak up”, and had said “if I’d known when I was 13 what I know now, I would have spoken up less... now who wants me to … tell girls that?”. 

9. The Committee was satisfied that the newspaper had not created a significantly misleading impression of the views expressed by the complainant in the article she had written. Nevertheless, it welcomed the newspaper’s decision to append a link to the complainant’s original piece to the online article in response to the complaint. 

10. Headlines should be read in conjunction with articles as a whole, as they can only ever represent a limited summary of a potentially complex set of circumstances. In this instance, the Committee did not consider that the paraphrase used in the headline had created a significantly misleading impression of the complainant’s comments. 

11. Given that the complainant has written for television shows that were broadcast by the BBC, it was not inaccurate or misleading to describe her as a “BBC writer”. It was evident from the nature of her remarks, as quoted, that she was not speaking in a professional capacity on behalf of the BBC. 

12. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and the Committee did not identify any significant inaccuracies or misleading statements which would require correction under the Code. 

Conclusions

13. The complaint was not upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

N/A 

Date complaint received: 18/06/2015

Date decision issued: 06/10/2015