Ruling

04639-21 Alakirik v East Anglian Daily Times

    • Date complaint received

      9th December 2021

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 13 Financial journalism, 3 Harassment, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04639-21 Alakirik v East Anglian Daily Times

Summary of Complaint

1. Bayram Alakirik complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that East Anglian Daily Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Harassment), Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock), and Clause 13 (Financial journalism) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Takeaway”, published on 26th May 2021.

2. The article reported on a local takeaway, Chick King, going into liquidation. It stated that the restaurant “owed £17,745.19 but had nothing to pay its debts with” and that “Station Chicken Limited, which runs Chick King, appointed liquidators”. The article said that documents had been filed with Companies House and provided a breakdown of outstanding debts. It also reported that “the company's director [...] applied to close the company by having it struck off the Companies Register”. The article described the restaurant as “One of Bury St Edmunds' worst-rated takeaways” and explained that it “was rated as the 112th best of the 117 restaurants in the town according to Trip Advisor”.

3. The article was also published online in substantially the same format under the headline “Poorly rated Chick King takeaway goes into liquidation”, on 7th May 2021.

4. The online article reported that the restaurant “ow[ed] nearly £18,000”.

5. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to state that Chick King had gone into liquidation and that it had outstanding debts. He was the owner of Chick King, having bought it in February 2020, and it was a thriving takeaway business. Station Chicken Limited did not own the takeaway and nor did the individual named in the article as being the company’s director. The complainant also denied that Chick King was one of the “worst-rated takeaways” in the area; he said the restaurant had a five-star hygiene rating.

6. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) because it had caused the restaurant to receive prank calls and customers mocking staff about the apparent closure. Finally, the complainant said that the article breached Clause 13 (Financial Journalism) because it had had a negative financial impact on his business.

7. The publication accepted that the claim that the restaurant had gone into liquidation was inaccurate. It said it had sourced the information about the liquidation proceedings of Station Chicken Limited from the London Gazette. The reporter had attempted to contact the liquidators but received no response, and so assumed that the liquidation proceedings referred to the same business, but which had changed its name to Chick King. Once alerted to this inaccuracy, the publication had immediately contacted the complainant and the article was taken down. The publication had worked with the complainant to write a new article that was published less than a week after it had first become aware of the issue. The print version of the article appeared on page 5 and was headlined, “Takeaway going strong”, and was published on 27th May 2021. The online version was headlined “Bury St Edmunds takeaway going from strength to strength under new boss” and was published on 26th May 2021. The new article reported that “A Bury St Edmunds takeaway is going from strength-to-strength after being taken over by a new owner last year. Chick King, in Station Hill in the town, was taken over by [the complainant] in February 2020”. Both the print and online versions of the article included a corrective footnote and apology:

“In an article published on May 7 we mistakenly said Chick King had gone into liquidation. In fact, it was Station Chicken Ltd which went into liquidation. Mr Alakirik now runs Chick King and we are sorry for any confusion our article caused.”

8. The publication did not accept that describing the restaurant as one of the “worst-rated takeaways” in the area was inaccurate. Whilst the complainant had highlighted the restaurant’s five-star hygiene rating, the publication had not been using this metric in its characterisation of the restaurant. It said that the article had made clear that this claim was based on its ranking on Tripadvisor and that it was “rated as the 112th best of the 117 restaurants in the town”.

9. The publication also did not accept that the article had breached Clauses 3, 4, and 13. It said it had not carried out any of the activities related to these Clauses and so they were not engaged.

10. The complainant did not accept the published article and correction as a resolution to his complaint.

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.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii)  Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Clause 13 (Financial journalism)

i) Even where the law does not prohibit it, journalists must not use for their own profit financial information they receive in advance of its general publication, nor should they pass such information to others.

ii) They must not write about shares or securities in whose performance they know that they or their close families have a significant financial interest without disclosing the interest to the editor or financial editor.

iii) They must not buy or sell, either directly or through nominees or agents, shares or securities about which they have written recently or about which they intend to write in the near future.

Findings of the Committee

11. The publication had based its article on a notice published in the London Gazette which reported the liquidation proceedings of Station Chicken Ltd, and following failed attempts to contact the liquidators for comment, had proceeded to publish the article on the incorrect assumption that Chick King was the same company, but under a different name. The publication had failed to establish that Chick King had been under new ownership for over a year and was a fully operational business.  This amounted to a clear failure on the part of the publication to take sufficient care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information and, therefore, the Committee established a breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code.

12. The statement that a healthy, functioning business had ceased to operate and had been put in liquidation and owed significant debts was clearly a highly significant inaccuracy and therefore under Clause 1 (ii), the publication was obliged to correct the inaccuracy, promptly and with due prominence. The Committee therefore considered the corrective action undertaken by the publication and assessed whether it fulfilled the obligations of Clause 1 (ii). The publication had removed the original article and worked with the complainant to write a new article that highlighted the successes of the restaurant. This article was published online and in print. It also included a statement, as a footnote to the new article, which identified the inaccuracy, set out the correct position and apologised for the error. This action had been undertaken and completed within a week of the publication being made aware of the inaccuracy. The Committee concluded that this met the requirement of Clause 1(ii) for due promptness, and that an apology was appropriate given the nature of the inaccuracy and the potential impact on the complainant and his business.

13. The online article had appeared on the homepage of the website before moving down the news queue to remain online in the news section while the print article had appeared on page 5, two pages further forward than the original. While the inaccuracy was highly significant, the Committee concluded that the corrective action taken by the publication was sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii) of the Code. There was, therefore, no further breach of Clause 1 of the Code.

14. The Committee considered whether it was inaccurate to describe the takeaway as one of the “worst-rated” in the area. Whilst the complainant had provided evidence of the five-star hygiene rating, the article had made clear that this claim was based upon the restaurant’s rating on Tripadvisor, which placed it as one of the least popular in the area. As such, the newspaper had provided sufficient basis to support its characterisation and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

15. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when gathering news, including the nature and extent of their contacts with the subject of the story. The complainant’s concern related to nuisance calls from members of the public rather than journalists. As such, this meant Clause 3 was not engaged.

16. Similarly, Clause 4 requires that in cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries are made with sympathy and discretion, and that publication is handled sensitively. Whilst the Committee did not doubt the difficulties involved in running a business and the problems the article had caused, as it did not report on issues involving the complainant’s grief or shock, the terms of this Clause were not engaged.

17. Clause 13 states that journalists should not use for their own, or another’s, profit, financial information they receive in advance of its general publication. The complainant’s concern did not relate to this and so it did not engage the terms of the Clause.

Conclusions

18. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

19. The published correction and second article put the correct position on record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.


Date complaint received: 10/05/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 24/11/2021