Ruling

10284-22 Hodgson v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      5th July 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 10284-22 Hodgson v The Times

Summary of Complaint

1. Ken Hodgson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in a listing titled, “Equity prices” published on 9 July 2022.

2. The listing – which was in the Money section – recorded various companies and their highest and lowest share prices as well as the calculated dividend yield. Above the listings it stated “Dividend yields. Please note dividend yields are supplied by [financial services firm]. The yield is the sum of a company’s trailing 12-month dividend payments divided by the last month’s ending share price 12 month high and low. Please note the 12 month high and low figures for shares supplied by [financial services firm] are based on intra-day figures, not closing prices.”

3. The complainant said that the yield percentages were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as they had been calculated with dividends from 2020 payments instead of 2021. The complainant believed that the data supplied by the third party was inaccurate. The complainant said that this had been an ongoing issue which he had contacted both the newspaper and the third party financial services firm about prior to his complaint several years prior. The complainant said that the data used in the calculations would be from the previous financial year’s declarations and would habitually be updated with the latest financial year’s declarations, 7 - 18 months too late. The complainant had produced another publication’s dividend yield listings which he considered were correct as a point of comparison.

4. The complainant, who said he was an experienced investor, also did not consider the meaning of the explanation of the methodology at the top of the listing to be clear.

5. The publication did not initially accept a breach of Clause 1 – it said that the complainant clearly disputed the methodology used to calculate the yield percentages. It said that there is no standard method of calculating a dividend yield and that it published a prominent “explainer” at the top of the Equity prices pages which set out the calculation used. It said that the figures had been taken verbatim from the financial services firm and explained that the dividend yields published were the total dividend paid over the past year divided by the latest share price. It said that this was a more conservative way of calculating a dividend yield than using either the dividend forecast by analysts or the dividend that had been declared by a company. It said that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many companies cut their dividends in 2020, which meant that dividend yields calculated using forecasts were inaccurate. As such, it stated that using the actual dividend paid over the last 12 months was a more accurate method of calculating the yield even during more normal trading periods. The publication said it was not inaccurate to publish the data supplied by the third party. The publication disputed that the data used was out of date but said that it was “historical”, and it had made this clear on the explainer.

6. The complainant said he did not have a problem with the methodology, but rather that the methodology was using out of date figures. During the IPSO investigation, the complainant selected specific companies’ yields on the listing under complaint which he considered were significantly inaccurate from an investment point of view and provided alternative dividend yield figures which he considered were accurate. He reiterated that the Times had used figures from 2020.

7. The financial services firm’s website stated: “Trailing 12 Month Yield (%) is the percentage income your portfolio returned over the past 12 months. It is calculated by taking the weighted average of the yields of the stocks and funds that compose the portfolio.” This meant that the dividend yield figures listed would mean the calculations were based off dividend yields from July 2021 – July 2022.

8. On 24 February, having investigated the specific examples the complainant had selected within the data, the publication accepted that the yield figures the complainant had highlighted were inaccurate, and confirmed that so were “the rest”. It said it had approached the financial services firm for an explanation and it had responded by saying, “there [was] a temporary snag from the product side” and that it was running “an internal audit report to perform an intensive health checkup on the Yield values for the entire universe of the files that are posted daily”. Following this, the publication had removed all yield figures from the listings.

9. The publication said it was grateful to IPSO and the complainant for alerting them of this issue with the data. However, the publication said that although the figures were incorrect, it did not consider the methodology to be inaccurate, nor the explainer at the top of the listing which explained this methodology. The publication said it was unable to offer a correction until the financial services firm’s internal investigation had concluded.

On 14 March, the publication said it had published a note on the Equity prices page which said: “Please note we have temporarily suspended the publication of dividend yields, which were supplied by [financial services firm]. It also offered to publish the following correction in its Corrections & Clarifications column:

The dividend yields published in our share price listing pages were found last month to contain errors.  We have temporarily suspended publication of this data while our supplier identifies the problem.  As soon as we are satisfied that the data supplied to us is correct, publication will be resumed.  We apologise for any inconvenience in the meantime.

10. On 15 March, the publication acknowledged that not only was the data in the article under complaint inaccurate, but further indicated that the listings had contained inaccurate data for an extended period of time: “the supplier of the paid-for share listings that we run, had been using incorrect data for dividend yields, presumably for some time”.

Relevant Clause 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

11. This was a complex issue, which the complainant had been concerned about for several years and had sought to address directly with the publication and the financial services firm prior to their IPSO complaint. It was extremely regrettable that the issue with the data had not been identified and acknowledged by the firm and the publication until the complaint to IPSO. While the specific listing of 9 July 2022 was under complaint, the complainant’s concerns related to the data set as a whole, which had been published over a number of years.

12.The Committee noted that the complainant had provided compelling evidence to suggest that several of the listed dividend figures were inaccurate. During the IPSO investigation, the publication had accepted that the figures were inaccurate when reviewed against its chosen methodology, which was stated at the top of the listing. While the Committee noted that this data was provided by a third party and reproduced in the Money section, the publication had accepted that this material was editorial content and therefore it was within IPSO’s remit. The Committee also noted that the complainant had made the publication aware of the inaccurate figures for several years. The publication had made some inquiries to investigate his concerns but had not identified the inaccuracy. In circumstances where the publication had been made aware of the potential issues with the data yet had continued to publish it, and where there was now no dispute that the current figures were inaccurate, this represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the data, and this meant there was a breach of Clause 1(i).

13. The Committee considered the inaccuracy to be significant, in circumstances where the intended use of this information was to inform investors on dividend yields and where the publication had suggested that it had been inaccurate “for some time”. The newspaper was therefore required to correct the inaccuracies, in line with the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

14. The Committee next considered the explanation of the method, which appeared at the top of the listing. While it acknowledged the publication’s position that there were a number of ways to calculate dividend yields, and that the methodology stated on the explainer was a standard way to calculate these figures, the Committee noted that it was accepted that because of the errors made in compiling the data, the explanation stated did not accurately summarise the method used to create the data that had been presented. Given that the explainer would help investors and people interested in this information understand the way in which the data had been calculated, the Committee considered that this inaccuracy was significant and should be corrected in line with Clause 1 (ii).

15. The Committee considered the question of whether the actions taken by the publication were sufficient to address the terms of Clause 1 (ii), and first considered the placement of the proposed correction. In assessing the requirement for “due prominence,” the Committee considered the prominence of the listing under complaint, the seriousness of the breach, and the wider context of the complaint. The publication had offered a correction in its Corrections & Clarifications column. The Committee recognised the value of corrections columns in providing a clear and consistent location for corrections. It also noted that the publication’s corrections column appears on its letters page, which varies in pagination but is consistently further forward in the paper than the yields information; for example, on 9 July 2022, the corrections column had appeared on page 24 and the information under complaint had appeared on pages 67-71. The Committee was concerned however that the material had been published prominently, over several pages, and had the potential to affect individuals’ personal financial circumstances. In addition, while this complaint concerned a sole example, the complainant had submitted complaints in the past raising concerns directly with the publication about the same issue, and the newspaper now appeared to accept that the inaccuracies had been published over a number of years. Given the nature and prominence of the breach, the Committee concluded that the prominence of the correction offered was not, on its own, sufficient, and therefore the requirements of Clause 1 (ii) had not been met. 

16. The Committee next considered the wording of the correction. It was mindful that the correction would be unable to correct all the inaccurate yield figures due to the volume of data. It considered that the correction had identified that the data set had contained inaccuracies and explained that it had removed the yield figures until the publication was able to confidently provide the accurate data. In the unusual circumstances of this complaint, in which the correct position could not yet be reliably established, and would relate to a large volume of data, the Committee considered that the wording was sufficient to address the inaccurate data, however it had failed to address directly the fact that the explanation of the methodology had been inaccurate. The Committee therefore considered the requirements of Clause 1 had not been met.

17. Turning to promptness, the publication had, in its first communication with the complainant, disputed the information was inaccurate. Upon further investigation prompted by the IPSO investigation, the publication accepted the data was inaccurate and offered a correction on 14 March, six months after the publication had been made aware of the IPSO complaint, and several years since it had been made aware of the issue with the data.  While the Committee acknowledged that, during this period, the publication had made some efforts to investigate the complainant’s concerns and to engage with IPSO about the merits of the complaint, the Committee did not consider this to be sufficiently prompt in line with the requirements of Clause 1 (ii) and therefore, there was a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusions

18. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial action required

19. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

20. In coming to a view on the appropriate remedy in this case, the Committee considered the seriousness and extent of the breach of the Code, and the steps taken by the publication to respond to the concerns and to offer a remedy once it had identified the inaccuracy. As noted above, these were significant inaccuracies, spread over several pages, over a period of time, which had the potential to affect readers’ financial decisions. The publication had, when it had received a direct complaint from the complainant, taken steps to investigate the concerns he had raised; it had corresponded with the firm that had provided the data; and had been given assurances that it was accurate, albeit these had proven to be untrue. It also noted the steps taken by the newspaper following the IPSO investigation, such as offering a print correction in its Corrections & Clarifications column, which put the correct position regarding the inaccuracies contained within the data on record. Finally, as noted above, the Committee acknowledged the value of a corrections column as a consistent location for corrections.

21. Notwithstanding this, the Committee had determined that the publication of a correction in the publication’s corrections column was not, on its own, sufficiently prominent to remedy a serious and longstanding breach of Clause 1.  It had also found that the correction had not been offered promptly. Taking into account the factors outlined above, the Committee concluded that an adjudication was the appropriate remedy.

22. The Committee considered the placement of this adjudication. The listings had featured on pages 67-71. The Committee therefore required that the adjudication should be published on the relevant money section, or further forward in the newspaper.  The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, reference the title of the newspaper and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

23. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

Ken Hodgson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in a listing titled, “Equity prices” published on 9 July 2022. The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required The Times to publish this adjudication to remedy the breach of the Code.

The listing recorded various companies and their highest and lowest share prices as well as the calculated dividend yield. Above the listings it stated “Dividend yields. Please note dividend yields are supplied by [financial services firm]. The yield is the sum of a company’s trailing 12-month dividend payments divided by the last month’s ending share price 12 month high and low. Please note the 12 month high and low figures for shares supplied by [financial services firm] are based on intra-day figures, not closing prices.”

The complainant said that the yield percentages were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as they had been calculated with dividends from 2020 payments instead of 2021. The complainant believed that the data supplied by the third party was inaccurate. The complainant said that this had been an ongoing issue which he had contacted both the newspaper and the third party financial services firm about several years prior to his formal IPSO complaint. The complainant said that the data used in the calculations would be from the prior financial year’s declarations and would habitually be updated with the latest financial year’s declarations, 7 - 18 months too late. The complainant had produced another publication’s dividend yield listings which he considered were correct as a point of comparison. The complainant, who said he was an experienced investor, also said he did not consider the meaning of the explainer at the top of the listing to be clear.

IPSO noted that this was a complex issue, which the complainant had been concerned about for several years and had sought to address directly with the publication and the financial services firm prior to their IPSO complaint. It was extremely regrettable that the issue with the data had not been identified and acknowledged by the firm and the publication until the complaint to IPSO. While the specific listing of 9 July 2022 was under complaint, the complainant’s concerns related to the data set as a whole, which had been published over a number of years.

The complainant had provided compelling evidence to suggest that several of the listed dividend figures were inaccurate. During the IPSO investigation, the publication had accepted that the figures were inaccurate when reviewed against its chosen methodology. In circumstances where the publication had been made aware of the potential issues with the data yet had continued to publish it, and where there was now no dispute that the current figures were inaccurate, this represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the data, and this meant there was a breach of Clause 1. The Committee considered the inaccuracy to be significant, in circumstances where the intended use of this information was to inform investors on dividend yields and where the publication had suggested that it had been inaccurate “for some time”.

IPSO considered the explanation of the method, which appeared at the top of the listing. It noted that it was accepted that because of the errors made in compiling the data, the explanation stated did not accurately summarise the method used to create the data that had been presented. Given that the explainer would help investors and people interested in this information understand the way in which the data had been calculated, the Committee considered that this inaccuracy was significant. There was a breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Date complaint received: 27/06/2022 

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/06/2023