Ruling

07567-21 Ranger v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      2nd December 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 07567-21 Raminder S Ranger CBE v Daily Mail

Summary of Complaint

1. Raminder S Ranger CBE complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Tory peer, 73, 'called woman a scumbag'”, published on 14 April 2021.

2. The article reported that “[a] Conservative peer who used his maiden speech to champion equality for women victimised a female employee by calling her a ‘silly girl’ and a ‘scumbag’, an employment tribunal ruled.” It also reported that he had told the woman “that she was ‘arguing with men like a proper quarrelsome woman‘” and that “[i]n an ‘intemperate’ phone call played to a tribunal, [the complainant] said he would not ‘spare her’.” The article included two further quotations from the phone call, stating that the complainant “told her to ‘stop your rubbish’ and said: ‘You have created such a mess in the entire company.’ […The complainant] also threatened to take the woman to court, adding: ‘You are such an insolent girl.’” The article ended by stating that the complainant’s company “strongly denied all claims of harassment or discrimination involving” him.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form, under the headline “Tory peer, 73, 'called woman a scumbag': Lord Ranger victimised employee by branding her a 'silly girl', tribunal rules”. The URL of the online version of the article included the following phrase: “peer-73-called-woman-scumbag-tribunal-rules”

4. The complainant said that the article, both versions of the headline, and the online URL were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as he disputed that he had referred to the woman as a “scumbag”. While he accepted that the word “scumbag” had appeared in the tribunal judgment, the judgment also recorded that the complainant disputed this translation and preferred the translation “insolent girl”. He said that the tribunal judgment had made no finding about whether the word “scumbag” had been used during the phone call, as there was a dispute over whether this was the correct translation of the phrase which was spoken in Punjabi. He also said that no such word appeared in the Punjabi language and that it was “particularly offensive”.

5. The complainant provided the tribunal judgment, which stated: that the complainant “describes her in the translator’s words as an absolute scumbag or absolute garbage. [The complainant] contests that translation. ‘Insolent girl’ is the translation that he prefers”. As such, the complainant considered the use of the term “scumbag” within the article, both headlines, and the URL to be inaccurate, where he said the tribunal ultimately did not find that he had used the word. He further said that the inaccuracy arising from the use of the word “scumbag” was significant, where the tribunal had made no finding regarding the use of the term “scumbag”, and he considered that the tribunal had in fact preferred his translation of “insolent woman”.

6. The complainant noted that the term “scumbag” had not appeared in the findings of the tribunal in relation to the language used during the call. The judgment said on this point:

Lord Ranger lost his temper and his composure and insulted the Claimant [...]. Lord Ranger did victimise the Claimant contrary to section 27(1) of the Equality Act 2010, harass her contrary to section 26(1) of the Act, and directly discriminate against her contrary to section 13(1) of the Act when, in an intemperate telephone call [...]he stated

(a) he would not ‘spare her’;

(b) he would get the evidence together and see her in Court;

(c) she was insolent;

(d) she had no virtues and compared her to a female member of a non-elite peasant caste;

(e) she was silly and stupid;

(f) she was a liar;

(g) she was an absolute troublemaker;

(h) she was a horrible girl;

(i) she had ruined her parents’ honour.

[...]This is victimisation because she was making a protected act by raising the issue of sexual harassment. The words and attitude represented by them amounted to detriments. It was harassment because the words and attitude represented by them were unwanted conduct relevant to her gender (the complaint of sexual harassment) and they had an effect of violating the Claimant’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment for her.

7. Prior to making a complaint to IPSO and 16 days after the article’s publication, the complainant’s representative contacted the publication to make it aware of the complainant’s concerns that Clause 1 may have been breached. The complainant’s representative requested: the removal of all references to the term “scumbag” from the article and headline; the publication of a correction and apology, in terms to be agreed with the complainant’s representative and to be published on the website; for the publication to contact all third-party websites who republished the story to request its removal; and for a copy of the representative’s correspondence relating to the complaint to be place on the relevant files for future reference.

8. The publication said it did not accept that it was inaccurate for the article to report that the complainant had referred to the woman as a “scumbag”. It noted that its reporters were not Punjabi speakers and it was therefore appropriate and responsible for it to rely on the translation of the court appointed translator, who had used the term “scumbag” in their translation of the call; it did not accept that relying on the translation of the court-appointed translator rendered the article inaccurate, distorted, or misleading. The publication disputed that the tribunal had preferred the complainant’s translation, noting that the tribunal judgment stated only that the complainant “contest[ed]” the translation, and “preferred” the translation “insolent girl”. It also said that, to the best of its understanding, the claimant in the tribunal also considered that the disputed Punjabi word meant “scumbag” and that was how she interpreted it.

9. The publication further said that, even if the complainant were to dispute the accuracy of the translation, it did not accept that it could be significantly inaccurate to report that he’d referred to the woman as a “scumbag”, where the tribunal had found that he had: insulted the woman by making discriminatory references to her gender, ethnicity, and caste; accused her of having ruined her parents’ honour and having “spread her vulgarity all around”; called her an “insolent girl”, a “horrible girl”, a “troublemaker”, a “stupid girl”, a “quarrelsome woman” and a “lying woman”;  told her to “shut up”, “stop talking rubbish” and “stop your nonsense”; and victimised, harassed, and discriminated against the woman.

10. While the publication did not accept that the article breached the Editors’ Code, it offered – as a gesture of goodwill – to add the following note to the online article:

Since first publication of this article, Lord Ranger has contacted us to say that he denies calling Ms A a ‘scumbag’ during a conversation held in Punjabi. While this was the word provided to the court by an expert translator, Lord Ranger says a fairer translation is ‘insolent girl’.

11. The complainant disputed the publication’s assertion that, should the use of the term “scumbag” be deemed inaccurate, it could not be shown to be significantly inaccurate. He said that the phrase “scumbag” was used as a “catch word” in the article, where it was used in both the headline and the opening paragraph. This rendered it significant in the context of the article, and therefore a significant inaccuracy.

12. The complainant further said that the proposed explanatory note would not resolve his complaint, where it did not include an apology and did not make clear that the tribunal did not find that he used the term “scumbag”.

13. The publication reiterated that it would be content to append an explanatory wording to the article, making clear the complainant’s position. It also said that it would be content to publish the following wording in its print edition, as a gesture of goodwill and should this resolve the complaint:

An article on April 14 said that an employment tribunal ruled that Tory peer Lord Ranger victimised a female employee by calling her a ‘scumbag’. While this was the word provided to the court by an expert translator, Lord Ranger insists that a fairer translation of the Punjabi word he used is ‘insolent girl’.

14.  The complainant said that he would be content to resolve his complaint on the publication of explanatory notes in both print and online, should these notes include an apology.

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.

Findings of the Committee

15. It was not in dispute that the phrase “scumbag” had appeared in the court-appointed translator’s translation of the phone call between the complainant and Ms A and had been referenced in the tribunal judgment. It was also not in dispute that the judgment made clear that the complainant disputed the translation, and that his preferred translation of the original Punjabi was “insolent girl”. The question was whether newspaper’s references to term were misleading in circumstances where the tribunal had referred to the fact that the term had been translated as “scumbag” but had not made a finding of fact that the translation was correct, nor referred to the term in its findings against the complainant.

16. The headline and first line of the article referred to the “scumbag” claim. It appeared in quotation marks in the headline, which were not attributed; the first line of the article attributed the claim to the tribunal, stating that a “tribunal [had] ruled” that the complainant had “victimised a female employee by calling her […] a ‘scumbag’”. While the tribunal had not found as fact that the complainant had used the term “scumbag” (and had recorded that the complainant disputed this translation), it had found that the complainant had victimised Ms A during a conversation of which the disputed term formed a part, and had created an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment”, in part through the use of the terms that it had found that he had used. In addition, the article made clear that the complainant “strongly denied” all allegations against him, which would include the use of the term. Regardless, the Committee considered that the terms used as listed in paragraph 6 above were in keeping with the characterisation of the Ms. A as a contemptible or objectionable person, the common understanding of the word “scumbag”.

17. Given the tribunal’s findings about the complainant’s actions and the language that he had used, and the fact that the tribunal judgement did not reject the translation (albeit it noted the dispute), the Committee did not consider that the use of the phrase “scumbag” in the article was misleading as to the findings of the tribunal so as to constitute a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article or that it was a significantly misleading or inaccurate claim requiring correction or clarification. There was no breach of Clause 1.

18. The Committee turned next to the URL of the article. It noted that URLs are often shortened versions of headlines, and are not intended to be read in isolation. Read in conjunction with the article itself, the use of the word “scumbag” in the URL was not inaccurate, misleading, or distorted, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

19. While the Committee did not find that the article had breached the Editors’ Code, it welcomed the publication’s offer to publish a clarification in both print and online.

Conclusions

20. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

21. N/A



Date complaint received: 15/07/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 15/11/2021