Ruling

04896-15 Beaton v Press & Journal (Aberdeen)

    • Date complaint received

      21st October 2015

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

·   Decision of the Complaints Committee 04896-15 Beaton v Press & Journal (Aberdeen)

Summary of complaint 

1. Archie Beaton complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Press & Journal breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Sentence deferred on former social worker”, published on 2 June 2015. 

2. The article reported that the complainant’s sentencing had been postponed, and summarised his recently concluded trial. 

3. The complainant said that the article inaccurately reported that he had “admitted intimidating an Inverness trader”. He had not admitted to the offence; he had pleaded not guilty and had been found guilty after trial. The complainant was also concerned that the article had reported that “he had harboured a grudge against [the victim] after [the victim] had asked him, ‘Do you like Viking helmets?’” He said that he had not harboured any such grudge; while the victim had claimed this in court, the complainant had contested it. 

4. The complainant had contacted the newspaper directly, several weeks prior to contacting IPSO, but had not received a response to his complaint. 

5. The newspaper said that it had received the complainant’s letter, but it had not been passed to the person responsible for dealing with complaints. Instead, the person who had received the letter had arranged for a correction to be published unilaterally. The newspaper said that its normal procedures for handling complaints had not been followed, and apologised to the complainant. The newspaper had published the below correction on page 2 of the newspaper. It later also amended the online version of the article and appended the correction as a footnote. 

“Court report

In a report from Inverness Sheriff Court published on June 2 it was incorrectly reported that Archie Beaton, of 93 Mackintosh Road, Inverness, admitted ‘intimidating’ a street trader when, in fact, he was found guilty after pleading not guilty and going on trial.” 

6. The newspaper acknowledged that the complainant had not admitted intimidation; the inaccuracy was due to human error and had been corrected when the newspaper was first contacted by the complainant. It said that the article as a whole had made clear that the complainant had stood trial and been “found guilty”. It said that the reference to the complainant’s harbouring a grudge was an accurate record of what was heard in court. It said that its total coverage of the case, which comprised several articles, made clear that the complainant had disputed the allegations and that he felt he had been “victimised”. The newspaper did not believe that the reference complained of was significantly inaccurate or requiring of correction. 

7. The complainant said that the published correction had not addressed both his points of complaint; did not include an explicit acknowledgement of error; and had not included an apology. 

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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

9. The newspaper had reported in error that the complainant had admitted intimidation. There was a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. As a result, the article under complaint did not properly reflect the court proceedings, misrepresenting the complainant’s position. The inaccuracy identified by the complainant was significant and required correction under Clause 1 (ii) of the Editors’ Code. While the complainant was concerned that the correction —­ which had already been published — had not included an apology, the Committee noted that he had been convicted of the charges against him, and the newspaper had promptly acknowledged its error. The Committee was satisfied that an apology was not required on this occasion. 

10. The newspaper was obliged to report the court proceedings accurately; it was not obliged to independently verify the information heard there. It was accepted by the complainant that it had been heard in court that he had harboured a grudge against his victim following a comment about his appearance; there was no failure to take care over this aspect of the article and a correction was not required under the Code. 

11. The Committee expressed concern that the newspaper had never responded to the complainant’s letter, and that the correction had been published without first notifying him. The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s prompt admission that this did not represent a high standard of complaints handling, and its apology to the complainant. 

Conclusions

12. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1 (Accuracy). 

Remedial Action Required

13. The newspaper had already published a correction which addressed the significant inaccuracy established by the Committee. This correction was a satisfactory remedy under the Code, notwithstanding the concerns already recorded about the manner in which it had been published. No further action was required. 

Date received: 06/08/2015

Date concluded: 21/10/2015