Ruling

08231-16 Waton v Daily Record

    • Date complaint received

      5th January 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 08231-16 Waton v Daily Record

Summary of complaint

1. Leanne Waton complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Record breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in articles headlined “keep off the grass”, published in print on 2 September, and “Hibs fans warned ‘keep off the grass’ ahead of cup clash with Turriff United”, published online on 1 September; “Shampden”, published in print on 31 August, and “SFA rulebook farce as Hampden riot probe sees Rangers and Hibs charged over smashed advertising hoardings”, published online on 30 August; “11 Gers stars battered & spat on” published in print on 23 May, and “Every Rangers player on pitch was attacked or spat on by Hibs fans during Hampden riot”, published online on 22 May.

2. The sub-headline of the first article reported that Hibernian FC fans had been “given [a] parking warning ahead of club’s cup clash with Turriff United”. The article said that “Hibs fans were last night warned not to invade the turf at their club’s cup tie this weekend – and keep their cars off grass verges”. It said that drivers had previously used nearby grass verges as parking spots, but had now been told by the police not to park illegally. It said that “the stern warning follows May’s Scottish Cup Final when thousands of Hibs supporters streamed onto the Hampden pitch after the final whistle”.

3. The first article appeared in substantively the same form online, but the sub-headline stated that supporters had been warned not to invade the “pitch” at the cup tie.

4. The second article reported that the Scottish Football Association (SFA) was “made to look a laughing stock after Hibs and Rangers were put in the dock – for smashing up advertising boards”. It said that an SFA compliance officer had issued a notice of complaint following the “scenes of violence and chaos that marred the Scottish Cup final in May”. It said that “incredibly, Hibs will face no action from the football authorities for the misbehaviour of their fans, who attacked Rangers players on the pitch after the game” and “no punishment for the fact thousands of their supporters invaded the pitch”.

5. The third article reported that an “Ibrox dressing-room source” had revealed that “all 11 Gers stars who finished the game were either kicked, punched or spat on as they tried to leave the field” during the pitch invasion at the Scottish Cup final match between Rangers FC and Hibernian FC. The source said that “not one of our players got off the park without being attacked in some way”. It also included a quote from a Rangers FC statement which said that “it is to be hoped that all of Scottish football will share Rangers’ disgust”.

6. The second and third articles each appeared online in substantively the same form, save for their headlines.

7. The complainant was concerned that the first article inaccurately suggested that Hibernian FC fans had been warned not to invade the pitch at the cup tie, when no such warning had been issued by the police.

8. She also said that it was inaccurate for the third article to suggest that all of the Rangers FC players had been assaulted during the pitch invasion at the Scottish Cup final. While the complainant accepted that there may have been instances of violent behaviour against Rangers players, she noted that family members of a number of players had publicly stated that the players had not been assaulted during the pitch invasion.

9. She was also concerned that second article appeared to focus more on the alleged conduct of Hibernian FC fans, where it was clear that Rangers FC fans had also been subject to criticism. She considered that all three articles demonstrated bias against Hibernian FC.

10. The newspaper said that it had not been its intention to state in the first online article that Hibernian FC fans had been warned to stay off the “pitch”. Prior to publication, the article said that fans had been warned not to invade the “hallowed turf at the club’s weekend cup tie – by parking on the grass verges”.  This was intended to be a light-hearted reference to the Scottish Cup pitch invasion, but that the pun was lost during the sub-editing process. It said that, in any event, both articles made clear that the police warning was issued in relation to parking, rather than a pitch invasion. It said that in this context, the reference in the online article to fans being warned to “keep off the pitch” was not significant. Nonetheless, shortly after being alerted to the mistake, the publication amended the online sub-headline to read: “supporters have been warned to keep their cars off grass verges after complaints from local residents”.

11. It also offered to publish the following correction beneath the online article:

We originally reported that supporters were 'warned not to invade the pitch at the cup tie'. We have since updated this and would like to make clear that supporters were only warned to avoid parking on grass verges outside the football grounds, not to stay off the pitch.

12. The newspaper said that it was not significantly misleading to report in the third article that all of Rangers FC’s players had been assaulted in some way during the Scottish Cup final pitch invasion. It was not in dispute that Rangers players had been attacked during the pitch invasion: indeed the SFA’s report to the board of the incident had found that Hibernian FC supporters “behaved in a manner which went beyond a manifestation of high spirits” and that “there were incidents involving direct physical confrontation with Rangers players which included the hurling of obscene language and sectarian abuse”.

Relevant Code provisions

13. 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.

Findings of the Committee

14. The Committee accepted the newspaper’s explanation – having seen the original copy – that the first article’s reference to an invasion of the turf was intended to have been a humorous play on words, relating to a previous pitch invasion in which Hibernian FC fans had been involved. That joke had been misunderstood by the sub-editor, with the consequence that the first paragraph of the article had been rewritten during the editing process, on the mistaken assumption that the joke was to be read literally. While unfortunate, the fact an error was introduced did not, in itself, give rise to a breach of the Code: to establish a breach of Clause 1 (i) the Committee had to be satisfied that the error arose from a failure to take care. In this instance, the Committee had accepted that this error was as a consequence of an honest misinterpretation of a joke. In the full circumstances, it did not conclude that the nature of the error demonstrated a failure to take care to ensure the article’s accuracy such as might breach Clause 1 (i). There was no breach of the Code on this point.

15. Nonetheless, the online sub-headline had given the significantly misleading impression that a specific warning over a pitch invasion had been issued, when no such warning had been given. This required correction under Clause 1 (ii). The newspaper had promptly amended the reference to a warning over a “pitch” invasion in the online sub-headline. It had also offered to publish a correction online beneath the online article which identified the original inaccuracy, and made the position clear. This should now be published in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

16. The print version’s reference to a warning for supporters not to invade the “turf” did not carry the same suggestion. The article made clear that a warning had been issued by police not to park on grass verges, and the sub-headline stated that “Hibs fans [were] given parking warning ahead of club’s cup clash”. In this context, the Committee considered it was clear that the word “turf” had been used in reference to parking the grass verges. This was not significantly misleading where such a warning had been issued, and there was no breach of the Code in respect of this point.

17. The full statement released by Rangers FC about the Scottish Cup final pitch invasion stated that both its players and members of its backroom staff were “physically and verbally assaulted”. The third article made clear that the claim that all of Rangers FC’s players had been assaulted during the invasion had come from a source in the Rangers FC dressing room. It stated that the newspaper had “underst[ood]” that this had happened, and that the source “insisted” no player had “escaped without being attacked”. In the context of the article as a whole, it was not significantly misleading to report that all “11 Gers stars [had been] battered & spat on”. There was no breach of the Code in respect of this article.

18. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that all of the articles – and the second article in particular – demonstrated bias against Hibernian FC supporters, were not “balanced”, and were offensive. The Code does not, however, address matters of impartiality, balance or offense. Publications have the editorial freedom to publish what they consider to be appropriate provided that this does not breach the Code, and are not obliged to ensure that coverage is “balanced”. The complainant’s concerns about balance and offence did not therefore raise a breach of the Code.

Conclusions

19. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 02/09/2016
Date decision issued: 12/12/2016