Ruling

10080-15 Cleghorn v telegraph.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      17th March 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 10080-15 Cleghorn v telegraph.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Mark Cleghorn complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Telegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “George Osborne will rue the day he failed to cut police”, published on 25 November 2015.

2. The article was an opinion piece in which the author expressed his view that the police service – who were referred to as the “fat blue line” – were the “last bastion of unreformed public services”; it also criticised the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne MP, for protecting police budgets and police numbers in his spending review. The author supported his view with a number of statistics, including a reference to the crime rate falling for the fifth year, and an assertion “that a police officer on the beat interrupts a crime actually taking place about once every seven years or so”. The article said that the police budget had only been preserved because of the attacks in Paris, and suggested that intelligence within the Muslim community, rather than the number of police on the beat, was the key to preventing potential terrorist attacks.  

3. The complainant said that the newspaper had not made clear that the article was an opinion piece. He said that it was inaccurate to report that the crime rate was falling as the latest figures for police recorded crime reported an overall increase in crime; he also queried the assertion that a police officer on the beat interrupts a crime every seven years. The complainant said that it was misleading to report that the police were the “last bastion of unreformed public service”, as it had undergone continual reforms over the past 15 years. He said it was inaccurate to suggest that police numbers and budgets were being exempted from cuts because of the terrorist attacks in Paris, and offensive to refer to the police service as the “fat blue line”. He also said the author had been racist in suggesting that the only terrorist threat that currently existed was from Muslims and ISIS.

4. The newspaper said that the article was clearly presented as a comment piece. It said that the reference to the crime rate falling for the fifth year in-a-row was based on figures from the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW); it said that the Office for National Statistics do not consider that police recorded crime figures to be an accurate record of crime. The newspaper said that its writer became aware of the statistic in relation to police on the beat from a meeting he attended at the Home Office in the 1990s. It said that the statistic had not found its way onto the public record, and because it could be misleading now, it had deleted the reference from the article. It also offered to add a footnote to the article which read:

Clarification: When first posted, this article said that it had been estimated that a police officer on the beat interrupts a crime actually taking place about once every seven years. The estimate, from a Home Office official, has not found its way onto the public record and dates from the late 1990s. In so far as it could be misleading now, we have deleted it from the text.

The newspaper also said that it was not inaccurate of the article to suggest that the police had been exempted from cuts because of the Paris attack; this view was backed by George Osborne’s comment made after the attacks that it was not the time for further police cuts.

5. The complaint said that the summary of the most recent CSEW report also mentioned that there had been a 5 per cent increase in police recorded crime; he said that this should have been included in the article to ensure it was balanced.

Relevant Code Provisions

6. 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

7. The article was plainly presented as the opinion of the author to whom it was attributed. There was no breach of Clause 1(iii) in this regard.

8. The two primary sources of data in relation to crime rates – police recorded crime and the CSEW – were in conflict as to whether crime had risen or fallen in recent years. However, in the context of an opinion piece where the author was under no duty to present a balanced view of the topic in question, it was not misleading to accurately refer to the findings of the CSEW to support his argument.

9. The newspaper had been unable to substantiate with reference to official statistics its writer’s claim that “it is estimated that a police officer on the beat interrupts a crime actually taking place about once every seven years or so”. However, this figure was clearly presented in the article as an estimate. In that context, while the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s decision to remove the claim from the article online, and the offer of a footnote explaining that the article had been amended, it considered that the brief reference in an opinion piece to an estimated figure that the author said had been revealed at a Home Office meeting he had attended in the 1990s, was not significantly misleading and did not represent a breach of Clause 1.

10. The Committee recognised that the suggestion that police budgets were not cut because of the Paris attacks was a statement of the writer’s opinion. The Code gives significant latitude in such circumstances, however the fact that this statement represented the opinion of the author did not absolve the newspaper of its obligations under Clause 1, and newspapers are required to demonstrate that there is a factual basis for the position. The Committee was satisfied that in circumstances where George Osborne had said shortly after the Paris attacks that it was not the time to cut police budgets, it was not misleading to consider that as a reference to the events in Paris. It was also satisfied that reference to the “last bastion of unreformed public service” represented the author’s personal view of the police service, which he was entitled to express. It was clearly presented as the opinion of the author, and there was no breach of Clause 1 (iii).

11. The Committee noted that the Code does not address issues of offence; in addition, the complaint that the article was racist did not engage the terms of Clause 12 as there was no suggestion that it contained a pejorative reference to an individual.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 27/11/2015
Date decision issued: 25/02/2016