Ruling

09362-22 Whiffin v edinburghlive.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      15th December 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09362-22 Whiffin v edinburghlive.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Phil Whiffin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that edinburghlive.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Edinburgh cyclist involved in dangerous near miss with driver at roundabout”, published on 11 May 2022.

2. The article, which appeared online only, reported on a video originally posted on TikTok and recorded by an HGV driver, who the article described as “a driver that captures safe driving and not so safe driving through the streets of Edinburgh”. The article’s subheading referred to an incident where “an Edinburgh cyclist was almost involved in a collision with a BMW after they raced through without giving way to the motorist coming from the righthand side.” The video showed an interaction between a cyclist and a car at a roundabout, that the article described as a “dangerous near miss”. The article stated that “the cyclist careered through a roundabout without giving way”, causing the car to be “forced to slow down” and being “almost brought to a halt to avoid the collision”. The article mentioned that the video was “muted as it contain[ed] some vulgar threatening language”.

3. The video was filmed from the perspective of a moving vehicle. It showed a cyclist approaching a roundabout. The cyclist then continues without pausing to turn left off the roundabout, while a car simultaneously approaches from the cyclist’s right. The car then overtakes the cyclist.

4. The complainant’s primary concern was that he considered the article suggested – in a misleading manner – that it was the cyclist who was at fault in the interaction, rather than the motorist, in breach of Clause 1. The complainant said this was done in several different ways.

5. The complainant said that the article created the misleading impression that the cyclist was speeding during the events depicted in the video. The complainant suggested this impression was created by the fact that: the video was sped up (the complainant suggested the video was running at around two to three times speed); and the article’s description of the cyclist “rac[ing] through” and having “careered through” the roundabout.

6. The complainant said that the description of the interaction between the motorist and the cyclist at the roundabout was inaccurate; he disputed the article’s assertion that the cyclist entered the roundabout “without giving way” to the motorist. The complainant said this was inaccurate because the video showed the cyclist checking right before they entered the roundabout, and because the cyclist also exited the roundabout before the car appeared. The complainant also said that the video showed that the car actually overtook the cyclist at the roundabout, and that it was inaccurate to state that the cyclist “narrowly missed” the BMW, because it was not the bike traveling toward the car but the other way round, and in fact the BMW had attempted the “overtake at a pinch point.”

7. While the article did mention that the video footage had “been muted as it contain[ed] vulgar threatening language”, the complainant also said that the article breached Clause 1 because it omitted the specific words said by the driver as well as wider context about the kind of content the driver posted on his social media. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to describe the driver as “a HGV driver that captures safe driving and not so safe driving” as he alleged this did not accurately represent the manner of the driver’s interactions.

8. The complainant also said the article was in breach of Clause 3 because he believed the article promoted the harassment of cyclists.

9. The publication accepted that the speed of the original video had been altered by a third party but said that it was not aware of this when the article was published. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 3. The day after the publication was made aware of the complainant’s concerns, the article was amended to remove reference to the speed of the cyclist. The following footnote correction was offered: A previous version of this article referred to the cyclist travelling 'at speed' and 'racing through'. EdinburghLive accepts that it appears that the video's speed has been altered, therefore these references have been removed as we cannot confirm the speed that the cyclist was travelling at. Furthermore, the article also stated that 'Cyclists have also been given the freedom to position themselves in the centre of the road to ensure visibility in certain situations'. We would like to make clear that this is not a new rule within the Highway Code, however further clarification was issued regarding the point.

10. The complainant did not accept this amendment as a resolution to his complaint, as he said it did not address all of his concerns.

11. 14 days later, the publication offered to remove the article and published a further, standalone online correction, headlined “Roundabout video - a correction: Correction to article published on May 11, 2022.”

Our article 'Edinburgh cyclist involved in dangerous near miss with driver at roundabout', 11 May, presented dashcam footage of a cyclist travelling past a roundabout, followed by a vehicle.

The original article referred to the cyclist travelling 'at speed' and stated as fact that the cyclist was seen 'racing through... without giving way to the traffic on their right and narrowly miss a black BMW who is forced to slow down and is almost brought to a halt to avoid the collision.' EdinburghLive accepts that the video's speed had been altered by a third party, and that the cyclist is in fact seen to look, and does not cause the vehicle to slow down or come close to a collision.

Furthermore, the article also stated that 'Cyclists have also been given the freedom to position themselves in the centre of the road to ensure visibility in certain situations'. We would like to make clear that this is not a new rule within the Highway Code, however further clarification was issued regarding the point. We are happy to clarify this and apologise for the error.

12. The complainant did not accept this as a resolution to his complaint because he had concerns about whether the offered correction would be sufficiently prominent. He also said the correction did not address the inaccurate statement that the cyclist pulled out without giving way to the BMW.

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.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Findings of the Committee

13. The Committee firstly considered whether the headline and the other written elements of the article misrepresented the content of the video. The Committee noted that the video’s speed had been increased. As a result, the cyclist and other vehicles were shown clearly moving faster than they would have in the actual events depicted and in a way that seemed unnatural. The Committee considered that the video did not provide a sufficient basis for conclusions either about the speed of vehicles depicted or to what extent there had been the risk of a collision (which required a reasonably accurate assessment of the speed at which vehicles were coming into proximity). As such, the Committee found that the publication had not taken care to avoid describing the video in a misleading manner when it stated that the cyclist had “careered through”, been “travelling at speed” and “race[d]” and when it described the interaction between the cyclist and the BMW as a “near miss”, where the cyclist “did not give way”. There was a breach of Clause 1(i).

14. Given that the focus of the article was the conduct of the cyclist along the road, combined with the repeated references to the speed of the cyclist, the Committee found the inaccuracy regarding the account of the cyclist’s movement along the road, including the reference to a “near miss”, where the cyclist “did not give way” to be significant. As such, once the publication became aware the videos were sped up and misrepresented the incident, it had a responsibility to correct the article promptly in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

15. The Committee found that because the correction did not address the inaccuracy regarding the cyclist pulling out “without giving way”, the correction did not satisfy the terms of Clause 1(ii), and there was therefore a breach on this point.

16. The Committee then considered whether omitting to include the audio of the original, unmuted video, rendered the article inaccurate. It also considered whether it was inaccurate to describe the HGV driver as “a driver that captures safe driving and not so safe driving through the streets of Edinburgh”. The Committee noted that newspapers have the right to choose which pieces of information they publish, as long as this does not lead to a breach of the Code. In this case, omitting to mention the specific comments made by the HGV driver and to quote from a transcript of the video did not in itself make the video inaccurate, particularly where the article explained that the video was muted and the reasons for doing so. Further, where it was not in dispute that the HGV driver did record drivers, and that in doing so he did film driving that could be characterised as safe or unsafe, the Committee did not consider it inaccurate to describe the HGV driver in this manner. The Committee found no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

17. The Committee finally considered whether the article had breached Clause 3. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when gathering news, including the nature and extent of their contacts with the subject of the story. Where the concern did not relate to this, as the complainant was at no point contacted or approached by the newspaper, there was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusion(s)

18. The complaint was partially upheld. Remedial action required 19. The published correction was offered promptly and with due prominence. However, in order to ensure the correct position was put on record the publication needed to add a reference in the correction to the inaccuracy regarding the cyclist “not giving way”. As such the existing correction should be added to, to explain that the cyclist was not seen to pull out without giving way to the BMW.


Date complaint received: 13/05/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 29/11/2022