Ruling

09293-21 van Dijk v The National

    • Date complaint received

      10th March 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09293-21 van Dijk v The National

Summary of Complaint

1. Harald van Dijk complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The National breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Why is a trans minority being pandered to by the Scottish Government?”, published on 15 August 2021.

2. The article was a comment piece which described the journalist’s opinion on transgender activism. It stated that: “Several high profile Stonewall founders set up the LGB Alliance (note the missing T) a couple of years back because they thought the organisation had mislaid its original mission in favour of a vocal trans lobby.”

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that the two founders of the LGB Alliance had not been founders of Stonewall. He considered that the error had been included to intentionally misrepresent the LGB Alliance’s origins in an attempt to legitimise it. He noted that, when he had raised the inaccuracy in the comments section below the article, instead of retracting the error, the journalist had written that the LGB alliance “was, in fact, set up by founding members of Stonewall” and that one of the Stonewall founders “was a principal speaker at the [LGB Alliance’s] inaugural meeting”. The complainant interpreted these comments as the journalist being aware at the time of their response that her statement as originally published was false. The complainant said he had attempted to complain to the publication directly via its complaints process but had not received a response. 

5. The publication accepted that the statement under complaint was inaccurate and apologised for not receiving the complainant’s email. It said that it was a mistake, which should have been picked up by the sub-editors, to refer to “several” Stonewall founders, where it was only a single Stonewall founder involved in LGB Alliance. In addition, it accepted that the Stonewall founder had not “set up” the LGB Alliance but had spoken at its inaugural meeting. The online article had been amended, prior to IPSO receiving the complaint, to report that: “A high-profile Stonewall founder helped set up the LGB Alliance”. On receipt of the complaint from IPSO, the publication offered to publish a correction. After further correspondence with the complainant, it amended the proposed wording to the following:

A column in the Seven Days section of the Sunday National by Ruth Wishart on August 15, 2021, headlined "Why is a trans minority being pandered to by the Scottish Government", said: "Several high profile Stonewall founders set up the LGB Alliance." 

This was not accurate – it should have read: “A high-profile Stonewall founder spoke at the launch of the LGB Alliance (note the ­missing T) a couple of years back because he thought the organisation had mislaid its original mission in favour of a vocal trans lobby.”

It offered to publish the correction in print in its established corrections column on the letters page, and at the top of the article online. The original article had appeared in print on page six. The publication said that the Stonewall founder had made numerous media appearances, and could therefore be regarded as “high-profile”. The publication also said that the comments made by the journalist in the readers’ comments section demonstrated that she was not aware that the assertion that multiple Stonewall founders had set up the LGB Alliance was inaccurate, as she had publicly defended the mistake.

6. The complainant said the correction was still inaccurate. He said that the Stonewall founder referred to could not be described as a “high profile Stonewall founder” as this phrasing implied the founder had appeared frequently in the media in his capacity as a Stonewall founder, which the complainant did not consider to be accurate. The complainant further said it was misleading to include the link to Stonewall at all as it gave the impression that the LGB Alliance was a splinter group from Stonewall, and validated their position.

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

7. The newspaper had accepted that it was inaccurate to report that “Several high profile Stonewall founders set up the LGB Alliance”, when in fact one founder had spoken at the LBG Alliance’s initial meeting. It acknowledged that the error should have been identified during the editing process. The Committee found the inaccuracy amounted to a clear breach of Clause 1(i), and, where the statement suggested a significantly stronger link between the two organisations than was the case – claiming that more than one person was involved, and overstating the role of that person in the setting up of the LGB Alliance –this was a significant inaccuracy that required correction under Clause 1(ii).

8. The Committee then considered whether the correction supplied by the publication was sufficient under Clause 1(ii). The correction both identified the original inaccuracy and put the correct position on record, stating that it was a single founder who had been involved in the LGB Alliance and setting out the extent of his involvement at the new organisation – namely, that he had spoken at its inaugural meeting. Considering the founder’s multiple appearances on television and in the media, the Committee did not consider it significantly inaccurate to describe him as a “high profile Stonewall founder”, where he could be characterised as being high profile and was a Stonewall founder. The article had been amended prior to IPSO referring the matter to the publication, and a correction was offered in the publication’s first substantive reply, which represented due promptness, subject to changes requested by the complainant. The correction was offered in the newspaper’s established corrections and clarifications column and at the start of the online article, which represented due prominence. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusion(s)

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

Remedial Action Required

10. The correction which was offered clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.


Date complaint received: 17/08/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 05/01/2022

 

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.