Ruling

10300-21 Brant v kentlive.news

    • Date complaint received

      10th March 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10300-21 Brant v kentlive.news

Summary of Complaint

1. David Brant complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that kentlive.news breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Henry VIII at Hever: Popular Sevenoaks pub forced to shut over chronic shortage of hospitality staff”, published on 16th September 2021.

2. The article reported that a “popular” pub had “been forced to shut ‘until further notice’ because of a chronic shortage of hospitality staff It said the pub informed customers in an answerphone message that “it will contact all those who have made bookings”. It included an image that was captioned, “The Henry the Eighth in Hever, that has had to close due to lack of staff”.

3. The complainant, who was the owner of the pub, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because at the time the article was published, the pub was no longer closed. He said the pub had been closed due to “severe staff shortages and sickness” from Thursday 9th to Sunday 12th September and reopened on Wednesday 15th September, as the pub did not currently operate on Mondays and Tuesdays. The complainant said he disputed the article’s claim that the pub was closed “until further notice” as he said this was not a phrase used in the pub’s messaging regarding the closure. He also said the phrase “until further notice” implied that an update was expected shortly and that it was misleading to include this without making clear in the article the time and date the newspaper had contacted the pub and heard the message regarding the closure. The complainant provided an image of the sign that was put on the door of the pub that said:

“Pub Closure

Due to severe staff sickness & shortages the pub is currently closed.

We have made every effort to contact all impacted guests, defaulting to recorded messages where necessary.

We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

He said this sign was removed on Monday 13th September. The complainant could not be completely sure of the wording that was used in the answerphone message informing customers of the pub’s temporary closure but said that it had definitely been re-recorded on 13th September to reflect normal operating hours.

4. The complainant said he had contacted the editor on the day the article was published to alert him to the inaccuracy, but after initially acknowledging the complaint, the editor had not contacted him further.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said the reporter had seen the notice on the door of the pub following an attempt to visit the premises for lunch on Sunday 12th September, and had then phoned the pub on the 13th September and left a message introducing herself and asking to discuss the closure further. The publication stated the journalist had called again on 14th September and had heard the answerphone message that had said the pub would be closed “until further notice”. The reporter believed that there had also been a similar message on the pub’s website. In addition, the publication said the use of the phrase “until further notice” where it indicated “that a situation will not change until another announcement is made” was appropriate, given that the note on the door and the answerphone message had not indicated a date for reopening. The publication acknowledged that the pub had reopened at the time the article was published and on 13 October, following the complaint to IPSO, offered to remove the article if it would resolve the complaint.

6. The complainant said that there had not been anything on the pub’s website regarding the closure but that the online booking system had only been blocked out between 9th and 12th September.

7. The complainant said, whilst he wanted the article to be removed, it would not resolve his complaint.

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

8. Clause 1 (i) of the Editors’ Code stipulates that the press must take care not publish inaccurate or misleading information. The newspaper had contacted the pub on two occasions on consecutive days in order to discuss the closure in more detail but had been unable to reach someone able to provide further information. The Committee noted that both parties provided a different account with regard to the pub’s voicemail and when it was updated. The complainant stated that it was changed to reflect normal operating hours on Monday 13th September; however, the publication asserted that on that date it was still advising of a closure, making the point that the reporter would otherwise not have known about this message. Whilst the Committee was not in a position to confirm which version of events was correct, it could make a decision on the level of care taken by the publication to avoid publishing inaccurate or misleading information. The journalist had seen the sign on the door, which had not indicated when the pub would reopen, and, therefore, the Committee considered that “until further notice” was an accurate reflection of the messaging regarding the pub’s closure. After seeing this sign, the reporter had called, unsuccessfully, on consecutive days to try and find out more information, the final contact being made two days prior to publication. In these circumstances, the Committee found that sufficient care had been taken not to publish inaccurate information and there was no breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code.

9. The Committee then considered the complaint under Clause 1 (ii) which states that a significant inaccuracy or misleading statement must be corrected promptly and with due prominence. The publication had acknowledged that it was “unfortunate” that at the time of “official publication”, the pub was in fact open to customers again. While the Committee acknowledged that the publication had made appropriate efforts to establish the opening date prior to publication, in the intervening period the situation had changed, and the pub was operational at the time of publication. The information contained in the article – which reported that the pub was currently closed and would be until further notice – was, therefore, outdated and consequently inaccurate.

10. The Committee noted that the complainant had contacted the publication directly on the day of publication alerting it to the inaccuracy but had not received a substantive response; the article had not been updated or corrected. The operational status of a business was a point of significance, especially where this claim was made in the headline. The article was significantly inaccurate as of the time it was published and, as such, required correction. Although the publication had, following the complaint to IPSO, offered to remove the article from in website in order to resolve the complaint, it had not offered to correct or update it either in response to the initial contact from the complainant, or following the complaint to IPSO. There was, therefore, a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusion(s)

11. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

12. 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 an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

13. The Committee considered that stating a pub was closed to business when it was in fact operational was a significant inaccuracy and that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on record. A correction was considered to be sufficient given that sufficient care had been taken by the publication, and because the pub had, at one point, been closed due to staff shortages.

14. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. This correction should be added to the article, where it still remains online, directly beneath the headline. If the article is removed, the correction should appear as a standalone article. The wording of the correction should include information required to correct the misleading information: that contrary to the claim in the article, the pub had in fact been open at the time of publication. The wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.


Date complaint received: 28/09/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 10/02/2022