Ruling

04642-21 Robinson v walesonline.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      18th November 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04642-21 Robinson v walesonline.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Stan Robinson, on behalf of Voice of Wales, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that walesonline.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The full Senedd election 2021 result from Swansea East as Labour's Mike Hedges wins emphatically”, published on 7 May 2021.

2. The complainant was one of a number of individuals who raised concerns about the article; he was selected as IPSO’s lead complainant for the purpose of investigating the complaint.

3. The online article reported on the result of the Senedd Cymru elections for Swansea East. It reported that the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) candidate for the Welsh Assembly, Dan Morgan, won “just 567” of the votes, with his “team of supporters, wearing Voice of Wales t-shirts, the far right group whose YouTube page was taken down for allegedly breaching community standards, […] the only people in the building not wearing face masks”.

4. The complainant, one of the supporters present, said that it was inaccurate to describe Voice of Wales as a “far right” group. He said that “far right” would be understood to refer to authoritarian, extremist, and anti-democratic politics, which he said did not reflect the values of the group. In addition, he said the article was inaccurate to report that the group were “the only people in the building not wearing face masks”; a broadcast production team had been present, members of whom were not wearing face coverings. He said that this created the misimpression that the UKIP candidate and Voice of Wales were reckless lawbreakers, acting in contravention of government guidance during a global public health emergency. He said that the article identified him and “outed” his disability which had exempted him from wearing a face covering at the event. He said that the publication of this information breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) and constituted harassment, in breach of Clause 3 (Harassment), as it had led to abuse from the wider public.

5. The complainant also expressed concern that the group had not been approached for comment by the newspaper.

6. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code.  First, it did not accept that it was significantly inaccurate to describe Voice of Wales as a “far-right group.” The publication said that political values lie on an inherently subjective spectrum and that the term “far-right” was not explicitly defined. Nonetheless, it noted that this particular term was commonly used to encompass those that followed a narrative of a racial and/or cultural threat to a ‘native’ group and which rejected the concepts of diversity and integration. In such circumstances, the newspaper provided examples of the activities of Voice of Wales and the individuals closely associated with it, which it said demonstrated that the group could reasonably be defined as “far-right”. These included: previous comments made by the group regarding the teaching of Black History month and reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement; the complainant’s own comments on the inclusion of prominent black figures in the windows of the Arts Council of Wales building; the reference to and monitoring of the group by anti-fascist organisation FarRightWatch; the removal of Voice of Wales’ channel  from YouTube, which had included videos featuring  members of the Proud Boys, the English Defence League and anti-Muslim Party for Britain. It also noted that Voice of Wales had been described as “far right” by other media outlets.

7. Second, the publication maintained that its reporter had not seen any other person at the count without a mask.  Notwithstanding this, upon receipt of the complaint, in an effort to resolve the complaint, the newspaper amended the online article to remove the references tothe group as “far-right” and the absence of face covering among the group, and published the following footnote clarification to record these changes:

“A previous version of this article stated as fact that the Voice of Wales group is 'far-right', and that they were the only people in the building who were not wearing masks. This article has been amended to make clear that, while VoW have given a platform to far right groups on their YouTube channel, they are not a far right group, and although the reporter did not see anyone else without a mask, we have also been asked to clarify that they were not the only people in the building who were not wearing masks. We are happy to clarify this.”

8. The newspaper did not accept that the article identified the complainant and noted that members of Voice of Wales had publicly disclosed on social media that they did not wear mask coverings and were, in fact, exempt.  It added that the terms of Clause 3 and Clause 12 were not engaged, with the article making no reference to the complainant’s disability, never mind in a pejorative or prejudicial way.

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 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

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 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

9. The article under complaint was a report of an election count at which the journalist had been present. The complainant accepted that he and others associated with Voice of Wales in attendance were not wearing masks, as was required under Covid regulations then in force for all except those who were medically exempt (a group which included the complainant, as he explained in his complaint to IPSO). The question for the Committee was whether the publication had failed to take care in reporting the claim that members of the group were the “only” people in the building not wearing masks.

10. In considering this, the Committee noted the important role that journalists have as observers of events; playing the role of witness is a core part of what it means to be a journalist. Reporting on events will often require the relaying of impressions and interpretations of what the journalist observes, which may on occasion be limited. This does not in itself amount to a failure to take care over the accuracy of an article in breach of Clause 1(i).

11. The newspaper said that its reporter had not seen anyone apart from the complainants’ group not wearing masks. It did not appear to be in dispute that the complainant and others associated with Voice of Wales were not wearing masks and that others attending the event were masked, with the exception, the complainant said, of members of a production team for a broadcaster covering the event. In circumstances where it was accepted that nearly all of those in attendance were masked, including apparently all of those who were attending for the purpose of participating in the event, and taking into account the nature of the claim, the Committee did not consider that the specific claim that the complainant and his group were “the only people” not wearing face masks, based on the reporter’s observation of the event, represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article.

12. Nonetheless, the publication had been made aware, via the complaint to IPSO, that the complainant denied that this was the case. The publication had then offered to publish the complainant’s position that others present were not wearing masks. The newspaper had been unable to demonstrate that its reporter’s account was correct, and the Committee considered that the offer of a clarification was an appropriate response to the complaint. The wording of this clarification noted the basis for the original claim while placing on record the fact that it was disputed. This was published promptly and with sufficient prominence to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii).  There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).

13. The placement of political parties on a spectrum is a subjective assessment: individuals’ and publications’ views on where particular policies and parties fall on such a spectrum will necessarily vary. However, the Editors’ Code requires that care be taken over the accuracy of such characterisations. In this instance, the newspaper had been able to provide sufficient evidence to support its interpretation and characterisation of the group in these terms. This included the positions adopted by the group on the issues of diversity and integration; the comments made by its members; the group’s association with individuals and groups generally understood to be considered “far right”; and the removal of the groups channel from YouTube. In such circumstances, the Committee did not consider that there had been a failure to take care over this characterisation, and there was no inaccuracy that required correction under Clause 1(ii).

14. The complainant said that the newspaper had breached his privacy by identifying him and revealing his disability, in breach of Clause 2. The Committee did not agree that the complainant was identified: he was not named, nor any private information revealed about him. The article made no reference to his disability. As such, the article did not represent an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.

15. Furthermore, the Committee was clear that the article did not contain any prejudicial, pejorative or irrelevant references to the complainant’s disability.  There was no breach Clause 12.

16. The Committee noted that the complainant had raised concerns over harassment from third-parties, which he considered to be a direct result of articles such as the one under complaint. The terms of Clause 3 relate to the conduct of journalists and not members of the public, and so the issues raised by the complainant did not engage the terms of Clause 3.

Conclusions

17. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

18.  N/A


Date complaint received: 07/05/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 28/10/2021