Ruling

08076-15 Foxhall v Express & Star (Wolverhampton)

    • Date complaint received

      4th April 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 08076-15 Foxhall v Express & Star (Wolverhampton)

Summary of complaint

1. Lewis Foxhall complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Express & Star breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “Roll up, roll up! Circus comes to town amid protest” online, and headlined “Circus roars in, but no lions and tigers” in print, published on 9 October 2015, and in an article headlined “PICTURES & VIDEO: Handful of protesters turn out against circus”, published online on 10 October 2015.

2. The first online article, headlined “Roll up, roll up! Circus comes to town amid protest”, reported that a circus had come to Rugeley, and in response to previous animal welfare protests, it would not feature lions or tigers in its shows. It said that despite this, animal welfare protesters had planned a further demonstration to express concern over the circus’ use of other animals at its shows. It included the comments of a member of the circus who “dismissed the protest”, and said that the circus had a “group follow [it] around”. It also included the comments from an animal welfare campaigner – named as Lewis Foxhall, “aged 22” – setting out his position that animals should not perform in circuses, that the group hoped that “around 30” people would turn up to protest, and that a group of protesters had “followed [the circus] in recent weeks”.

3. The second article, headlined “PICTURES & VIDEO: Handful of protesters turn out against circus”, reported that ahead of the circus’ afternoon shows, “around seven demonstrators” had appeared to protest, and that “the lobbyists were hoping for up to 30 people to attend”.

4. The print version of the online article appeared in substantively the same form. The comments of Lewis Foxhall relating to a group of protesters following the circus were however not included.

5. The complainant said that while he writes using the name Lewis Foxhall, he is known in person by another name. He said that he had not made the comments attributed to him in the article, and that he was not 22 years old as reported. It was also inaccurate to report that a group of protesters had “followed” the circus around – instead a number of local groups had organised separate demonstrations as the circus moved. He said that he had not made these comments to any journalist, and that the only contact he had with the newspaper prior to publication was when he had provided it with a press release about the protest. This included his telephone number and email address.

6. The complainant said that it was inaccurate for the second article to report that the animal welfare group had expected 30 protesters to turn up in circumstances where he had not provided the comments attributed to him in the first article. Further, he had not known how many protesters would show up, and so would not have made this prediction.

7. The newspaper did not accept that the comments were inaccurately attributed to Lewis Foxhall; prior to the first article’s publication, it had received a phone call from someone who had identified themselves by that name who provided these comments. During the course of the conversation, the person calling provided a telephone number and email address which matched the complainant’s contact details as set out in the press release which he had provided prior to publication; the phone number the person had dialled from also matched this.

8. While the newspaper maintained that the comments were not wrongly attributed, it apologised to the complainant for reporting his age incorrectly. In order to try to resolve the complaint, the newspaper offered to either publish a correction making clear the complainant’s correct age, or to publish a piece on the topic of animal welfare with the complainant’s input.

Relevant Code Provisions

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

10. The Committee accepted that the newspaper had been contacted by a caller who had said they were “Lewis Foxhall”. The transcript of the reporter’s conversation with the caller confirmed this, and showed that the caller had supplied contact details which matched those of the complainant. It also showed that the caller had said he was 22 years old, and that the animal welfare group had hoped that 30 people would turn up at the protest. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that he had not called the newspaper prior to publication, the transcript demonstrated that the newspaper had accurately published the caller’s comments and reasonably believed that the person who had called was Lewis Foxhall. There was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1 (i).

11. In circumstances where the newspaper had accurately reported the comments of a caller who identified himself as “Lewis Foxhall” – and given that the complainant said he is not known by that name in person and only uses it when writing and in the context of animal welfare press releases – the Committee did not establish that there was any significant inaccuracy in relation to reporting the caller’s comments that required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

12. It was not significantly misleading for the article to report that a protest group had “followed” the circus in circumstances where both the caller and the owner of the circus had said that this was the case. Further, the complainant accepted that there had been protests at different locations as the circus moved around. Whether these protests were organised separately or collectively was not a significant detail, and there was no correction required on this point. This aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 11/11/2015
Date decision issued: 04/04/2016