Ruling

08074-15 Metcalfe v Southend Echo

    • Date complaint received

      10th March 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 08074-15 Metcalfe v Southend Echo

Summary of complaint

1. Paul Metcalfe complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Southend Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Dog walkers defy danger”, published on 5 November 2015.

2. The article reported that the complainant had told a meeting of residents and councillors that people were still walking their dogs on a stretch of beach owned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It said that Southend Council Leader, Ron Woodley, had responded saying that there was nothing the council could do about the situation as the land was owned by the MoD.

3. The article was published in print only.

4. The complainant said he had not made the point attributed to him in the article; rather he had asked why developers had advertised properties as having a private park and beach, when the beach in question was not owned by the developers. He said that after the meeting, he was emailed by the newspaper’s reporter asking him to comment further on his question about dog walkers. He replied saying that he had not asked a question about dog walkers, but he was happy to comment further about the question he had actually asked. After contacting the newspaper about the error through IPSO, it agreed to publish a correction, the text of which he approved in advance by email; however, the printed correction differed from the version he agreed.

5. The newspaper accepted that it had inaccurately attributed the quote about dog walkers to the complainant. It said that its reporter had confused the point the complainant had made about the beach at the meeting, and a matter about dog walkers on the beach that arose in a conversation the reporter had with a local councillor after the public meeting. It said its reporter had not seen the complainant’s reply to his email before the article was published, and did not make the news desk aware of the issues raised by the complainant. It said that on receipt of the complaint, it had offered to publish a correction, the text of which it believed the complainant had agreed to; it pointed out that the part of the sentence removed from the agreed correction was a line which the complainant had said was inaccurate in his correspondence. That correction, which was published on page 2, was headlined “Shoebury MoD beach regarding Paul Metcalfe” and read:

On Thursday, November 5, the Echo printed an article concerning ongoing problems with dog walkers using a stretch of beach owned by the Ministry of Defence at Shoebury. Concerns were raised about dog walkers using the foreshore from Shoebury Common to East Beach, despite the risk of stepping on explosives left behind by MoD training exercises. In the page 23 article, headlined “Dog walkers defy danger”, we incorrectly attributed comments to Paul Metcalfe. Shoebury resident Mr Metcalfe had instead spoken about a suspected fraud where a developer advertised properties with a private park and beach. We are happy to clarify the matter.

6. Over the course of IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper offered a further correction, to be published on page 4, which expanded on what went wrong in the editorial process which led to the attribution of the point about dog walkers to the wrong person.

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. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.

Findings of the Committee

8. The newspaper accepted that it had incorrectly attributed the question about the dog walkers to the complainant, and that the issue had in fact been raised by somebody else in conversation with the newspaper following the public meeting. The attribution of the point about dog walkers to the wrong person, along with the failure of the reporter to deal with the complainant’s email confirming he did not speak about dog walkers at the meeting, demonstrated a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i), and was a significant inaccuracy that required correction under Clause 1(ii).

9. Once contacted by the complainant through IPSO, the newspaper prepared a correction which he agreed by email; however in his response agreeing the correction, he highlighted an inaccuracy in the text which the newspaper had appropriately removed prior to publication. While the published correction did not contain the precise wording that was agreed with the complainant, it did sufficiently address the inaccuracy; it was also published promptly and with due prominence. While the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer of an expanded correction, it considered that the requirements of Clause 1(ii) had been met by the original correction.

Conclusions

10. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

11. In circumstances where the newspaper had published a prompt and effective correction, which complied with the requirements of the Code, the Committee was satisfied that no further remedial action was required.

Date complaint received: 10/11/2015
Date decision issued: 18/02/2015