Ruling

10375-21 Warde v Bridport & Lyme Regis News

    • Date complaint received

      7th April 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10375-21 Warde v Bridport & Lyme Regis News

Summary of Complaint

1. Deborah Warde complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Bridport & Lyme Regis News breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Improve conditions for drivers”, published on 30 September 2021.

2. The article was a weekly opinion piece on current news topics, written by the local MP, and published on the letters page – page 12 – of the newspaper. In the article, the MP referred to France being excluded from an international military agreement between the UK, the US, and Australia. The article went on to state that “France are actively forwarding migrants across the Channel. They are intentionally disrupting our fish supply chain and I think that it is time that our Government shows the French that if they are going to continue to treat a strong ally in this way, we are more likely to do business with other nations”.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form, under the headline “[Named columnist] column on petrol shortage”.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as the columnist’s claims that “France are actively forwarding migrants across the Channel” and “intentionally disrupting our fish supply chain” were unsubstantiated.

5. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 12, as she considered that the article discriminated against French people and was intended to create hatred against them.

6. The publication said it did not accept that the article breached the Code. It first said that the article was clearly a comment piece, rather than a news article: it appeared on the letters page of the newspaper, and was accompanied both in print and online with a prominent by-line and photograph of the MP in question. Therefore, it said, it was clearly distinguished as the columnist’s opinion on the UK’s relationship with France. It noted that the topic under discussion was an emotive one and the columnist was simply expressing his opinion that the French state was not doing enough to tackle the problems set out in the article.

7. The publication set out the factual basis for the columnist’s views. It said that, regarding the claim that “France are actively forwarding migrants across the Channel”, it had been reported in recent news coverage both that the number of migrant crossings had doubled, and that “the French Police have been ‘enforcing misery’ on migrants living in and around Calais”. It said that it was clear from the coverage “that the tactics used by the French Police are to make life for migrants living in and around Calais and other such ports so unbearable that in many cases they are forced to make the journey across the English Channel.”

8. Turning to the claim that France “are intentionally disrupting our fish supply chain”, it noted that French fisherman had intentionally blocked fish deliveries to Britain, and that the situation had escalated to the point where the French Ambassador was summoned by the Government to the Foreign Office in relation to the issue. Therefore, the publication was satisfied that the factual basis on which the columnist’s view was based in regard to both alleged inaccuracies was accurate.

9. Where the article did not include a reference to a protected characteristic held by an individual, the newspaper did not consider that the complainant’s concerns engaged the terms of Clause 12.

10. The complainant said that the location of the article was not sufficient to flag that the article was based entirely on the columnist’s views, and that there was no factual basis for the views as set out in the article.

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 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

11. The Committee recognised that the column’s characterisation of the actions of France within the article – that it was “are actively forwarding migrants across the Channel” and “intentionally disrupting our fish supply chain” – reflected the columnist’s interpretation of the actions of the country. Such interpretations are a matter of opinion. However, the fact that these statements were the columnist’s interpretation and therefore a matter of opinion did not in itself absolve a newspaper of its obligations under Clause 1. The newspaper was required to demonstrate that there was a reasonable factual basis to support the columnist’s position.

12. The publication had provided contemporaneous news reports from several sources which claimed that French authorities – including the Police and Coastguard – were engaged in a policy of moving migrants out of Calais and, therefore, onto Britain. The Committee therefore considered that there was a sufficient basis for the writer’s assertion that “France are actively forwarding migrants across the Channel”, and there was no breach of Clause 1 in relation to this claim.

13. Turning to the accuracy of the claim that France “are intentionally disrupting our fish supply chain”, the Committee noted that the publication had provided sources to support the columnist’s interpretation of events: contemporaneous news coverage showing that fisherman had blocked fish deliveries and that the French Ambassador was summoned by the Government to the Foreign Office in relation to the issue. The Committee was therefore satisfied that publication had demonstrated that there was a factual basis for the columnist’s assertion on this point and that there was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1.

14. The terms of Clause 12 relate only to specific individuals, rather than groups or categories of people. Where the complainant did not say that the article discriminated against a specific individual, and her concerns related to French people in general, the terms of Clause 12 were not engaged.

Conclusion(s)

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

16. N/A


Date complaint received: 02/10/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/03/2022