Ruling

08315-16 Welsh v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      18th January 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 08315-16 Welsh v The Times

Summary of complaint

1. Anne Welsh complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Fraud claims engulf charity that enjoyed celebrity support” in print and online on 18 May 2016.

2. The article was a piece about the Olusegun Obasanjo Foundation, which it said had been founded by the former president of Nigeria; the article described the complainant as the foundation’s former chairperson. It described the charity’s first anniversary event, and said that “just months” after this in February 2014, it became “embroiled in internal strife, amid allegations of conflicts of interest and money laundering”, and voluntarily entered liquidation in January 2016. It said that the complainant was at the centre of the allegations and that “African media reported she had been caught in a journalistic sting discussing money laundering”. It said that she resigned and that the foundation had made a serious incident report to the Charity Commission. It noted that the complainant denied any wrongdoing, and reported that she had posted on her Facebook page that she had suffered “grievous reputational harm” because of a “doctored video”.

3. The article appeared in the same form online.

4. The complainant said that the article inaccurately suggested that she had been at the centre of allegations, and that these were the only reason the charity had closed. She accepted that allegations of money-laundering had been made by African media, but said that these were entirely false: although she was not aware of exactly why the charity had closed, she said that its closing was unrelated to the allegations. Her voluntary resignation was also entirely unrelated. She said that the use of a photograph of her in the article contributed to the suggestion that she had been the central cause for the charity’s shutting down.

5. The complainant also said that she had been a volunteer vice-chairperson and not the chairperson, and that no report by the charity had ever been made to the Charity Commission.

6. The newspaper did not accept that the article suggested that the charity had closed as a direct consequence of the allegations made against the complainant. Instead, the article simply recorded events chronologically without comment. Prior to publication the reporter had approached the Charity Commission, which confirmed that allegations of money laundering had been made against the complainant as a result of a journalistic "sting" by African media, following which the Commission received a Serious Incident Report from the charity which indicated that the complainant had resigned as Vice-Chair. The newspaper maintained that the complainant was at the centre of allegations which led to difficulties for the charity, and which resulted in the involvement of the Charity Commission: after this, the charity had closed down.

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.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

8. The complainant had held a senior position at the charity, and it was not in dispute that she had resigned after allegations of money laundering had been published about her by African media. The Committee acknowledged her position – as made clear in the article – that these allegations were unfounded. , Nevertheless, following publication of the allegations and the complainant's resignation, the charity had submitted a Serious Incident Report to the Charity Commission after which it had entered into voluntary liquidation. In these circumstances, it was not misleading for the article to report that the complainant had been at the centre of the allegations that the charity had become involved in, and that it had then closed. There was no breach of Clause 1.

9. The article focused on the charity, and on the complainant’s former role: including a photograph of the complainant in this context did not carry a suggestion that she was to blame for the charity’s closing. Further, the alleged inaccuracy in referring to the complainant as the “chair[person]” rather than the “voluntary vice-chairperson” was not significant in the context the article as a whole, given that the article made clear her post was voluntary and where the complainant had held a senior position within the charity. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

Conclusions

10. The complaint was not upheld

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 07/09/2016
Date decision issued: 23/12/2016