Ruling

08527-19 O’Nion v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      19th March 2020

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 08527-19 O’Nion v The Times

Summary of Complaint

1. Daniel O’Nion complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “GPS data shows container visited trafficking hotspot”, published on 2 November 2019.

2. The article reported on the route taken by the shipping container in which 39 migrants had died in October 2019. The article reported that GPS data showed that the container had “stopped down a dirt track in Essex known locally as a notorious people trafficking hotspot” and that “data also appears to show that on its return the container stopped at D&J Exports, a transport yard”. The article went on to provide a quote from a third party, who they described as “the owner of D&J Exports”: “We have no record of it being here. We’ve checked our CCTV but can’t see anything. We’d be happy to hand it to police but they’ve not visited us.”

3. The article also appeared online on the same day under the headline: “Lorry deaths: GPS data shows container visited trafficking hotspot”. It was in substantially the same format.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 for several reasons. Firstly he said that the container never stopped at his transport yard, nor had his yard ever been described as a “people trafficking hotspot”. Secondly, he said that the article had inaccurately described a third party as the owner of D&J Exports, when he was the owner, and the third party had nothing to do with the business. He also said that the quote attributed the owner of D&J Exports had not been given by him. When the complainant had spoken to the reporter, he had told him that he was not to be quoted.

5. When the complaint was referred to the newspaper, a correction was published which quoted the complainant as saying “I would never get involved in people smuggling”. The complainant said this breached Clause 1 as he had never said this, and even if he had, the conversation was off the record.

6. The publication said it did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It noted that the article said that the lorry stopped within the complainant’s premises, but that the data “appears to show” that it stopped at the yard. The article also reported it had stopped “down a dirt track” next to D&J Exports. A map included in both the articles also highlighted this. It was this area that was referred to as a “trafficking hotspot” and not the complainant’s premises.

7. The publication accepted that a quote by a third party, who owned another nearby business, had been conflated with those of the complainant. However, it said that this conflation had not caused harm to either individual. After receiving the complaint from IPSO the newspaper published the following correction in its corrections and clarifications column on page 30, as a footnote to the online article, and in the online corrections and clarifications column:

Because of an editing error, we wrongly said that [the third party], the owner of [a third business], was the owner of D&J Exports, and suggested that his remark about CCTV applied to that company rather than his own. D&J Exports is owned by Daniel O’Nion, who told our reporter he would never get involved in people smuggling. Our report (News, Nov 2) was not intended to suggest that the “notorious people-trafficking hotspot” where the container lorry stopped was inside the premises of D&J Exports. As our map made clear, the lorry stopped on a dirt track beside the company’s yard.  

8. The publication said that the reporter who spoke with the complainant confirmed that the complainant had said that he “would never get involved in people smuggling” and that he had no recollection of the complainant asking for that comment, or any aspect of the conversation, to be off the record. However, as a gesture of goodwill, during the investigation the publication offered to update the correction online and republish the correction in its corrections and clarifications column in the print version as follows:

Correction and apology: We wrongly said that [the third party], the owner of [a third business], was the owner of D&J Exports, and suggested that his remark about CCTV applied to that company rather than his own. D&J Exports is an export yard owned by Daniel O’Nion. Our report was not intended to suggest that the “notorious people-trafficking hotspot” where the container lorry stopped was inside the premises of D&J Exports, or that the company has any involvement in people smuggling. We apologise to Mr O’Nion for any distress caused.   

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

9. It was accepted that the container in which 39 migrants had died had not entered the complainant’s transport yard. Rather, the GPS data had indicated that it had stopped on a “dirt track” beside the premises. While the article had also stated that the lorry had stopped on a “dirt track next to” D&J exports, the Committee found that the assertion that the lorry had stopped “at D&J Exports” had misleadingly suggested that the lorry had entered the complainant’s business premises. It could have been understood from the article that these premises were the “notorious people trafficking hotspot” described in the article. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i). The inaccuracy was significant and a correction was required to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii).

10. The article also reported that a third party owned D&J Exports and attributed a quote to him. The third party, who had given the quote, was in fact the owner of a different business in the area and the newspaper, in an editing error, had conflated the two business owners. This represented a failure to take care in breach of Clause 1(i). Incorrectly naming the owner of the business named was also a significant inaccuracy. Therefore, both of these aspects were found to require a correction under Clause 1(ii).

11. The Committee noted that there was a dispute between the publication and the complainant as to whether the complainant had said that he “would never get involved in people smuggling”, as stated in the published correction, and as to whether the comments had been made during a conversation that was off the record. It was regrettable that there was a misunderstanding on this basis, however, the published correction did not misrepresent his position on the matter.

12. The publication accepted that the article was inaccurate and amended the online article the day after the complaint was referred by IPSO, with a corrective footnote online and a correction printed in the newspaper’s established corrections and clarifications column. The publication's offer identified the inaccuracy, set out the correct position and was offered promptly. The publication then offered to amend the correction to reflect the complainant’s concerns after the phone call with the reporter, and added an apology. The Committee welcomed this second correction. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusions

13. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial Action Required

14. N/A

 

Date complaint received: 02/11/2019

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 27/02/2020