Ruling

07037-15 Curry v Express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      11th January 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 07037-15 Curry v Express.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Jim Curry complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Christians in Syria SUPPORT Vladimir Putin’s bombing campaign, claims church leader”, published on 21 October 2015.

2. The article apparently reported the comments of Jean-Clement Jeanbart, a Catholic Archbishop from Syria. It said that he supported Russian military intervention in Syria, and that the Syrian people were hopeful that the Russian bombing could help defeat so-called “Islamic State”.

3. The complainant said that the opening quotations in the article, which said that Christians in Syria were “feeling relaxed” about Russian air strikes and supported them in the belief that they could bring peace to the country, were accurately attributed to the Archbishop. However, the latter quotations in the article, which said that “the recent Russia action is a clear demonstration of the Assad regime’s weakness” and that President Bashar Al-Assad had fuelled sectarian violence, should have been attributed to Tobias Ellwood MP.

4. The publication acknowledged that it had mistakenly attributed Mr Ellwood’s comments to the Archbishop. The source of the comments had been an article in the Catholic Herald, and the journalist had also spoken to the Archbishop on the telephone. He was confident that he understood the Archbishop’s opinions on the situation in Syria, and the comments attributed to him in the article appeared to align with the Archbishop’s perspective. Upon receipt of the complaint, the publication removed the quotations and added a footnote, as follows:

“Correction

In an earlier version of this article we stated that Catholic Archbishop Jean-Clement said “The recent Russia action is a clear demonstration of the Assad regime’s weakness.” That “Assad cannot survive without Russian or Iranian support, and Assad cannot win the war in Syria.” That “We don’t buy for one moment his spurious argument that he can protect religious minorities.” Finally “His actions in effect have fuelled sectarian violence, and his regime is ultimately responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians, and as long as Assad is in power the conflict will go on.” In fact these quotes should have been attributed to the British Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood. We are happy to set the record straight.”

5. The complainant later raised the concern that the article had incorrectly reported that the Archbishop had “called on the British government to intervene militarily”. The publication removed the reference from the article and updated the footnote to include this point.

6. The complainant did not accept the amendments and footnote as a satisfactory resolution to his complaint.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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

8. The publication had inaccurately reported the Archbishop’s comments, as published in the Catholic Herald. This error represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. The article had ascribed to the Archbishop views which he had not expressed in the speech being reported, and gave the impression that he had been highly critical of President Al-Assad’s regime, when he had not said that in the speech in question. The inaccuracy was significant and required correction under the Editors’ Code.

9. The reference to the Archbishop’s having “called on the British government to intervene militarily” was erroneous, and again represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. Reporting that the Archbishop wanted Britain to take military action in his country, when he had not called for Britain to do so during the speech, was a significant inaccuracy which required correction.

10. The newspaper had acted promptly to try and remedy the situation, once it had received the complaint. It had amended the article to remove the inaccurately attributed quotations, and had appended a correction which made clear the original error, and provided corrective information. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii) of the Code.

Conclusions

11. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

12. The Committee was concerned by the newspaper’s failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and carefully considered whether an adjudication was required on this occasion. However, it noted that the newspaper had taken prompt action to remedy the situation, and the correct position was now clear from the article. On this occasion, the steps taken by the newspaper were satisfactory to remedy the breach of the Editors’ Code, and no further action was required.

Date complaint received: 28/10/2015
Date decision issued: 11/01/2016