Ruling

11103-22 A woman v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      5th January 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11103-22 A woman v The Daily Telegraph

Summary of Complaint

1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Star Observer columnist is suspended over conduct claims”, published on 3 August 2022.

2. The article reported on the suspension of an Observer columnist “following allegations over his conduct in the wake of a row about trans rights”. It said his “weekly column has been put on hold while the allegations are investigated”.

3. The article contained a quote from Guardian News and Media (GNM), the publisher of the Observer newspaper, which stated that the columnist “had agreed to ‘step back from work’ and will ‘cooperate with the company’s ongoing investigation’”, but that “it gave no further detail on the nature of the investigation”. It also stated that the columnist, when contacted by the publication, had said: “I am afraid I cannot say anything until the inquiry is over.”

4. The article also appeared online in substantially the same terms under the headline “Star Observer columnist suspended after trans rights row”. It also contained a quote from a woman who was said to have complained about the columnist in 2018.

5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said that it was inaccurate to report that the columnist had been suspended because of a “trans rights row”. She believed that his suspension was due to different allegations which had been made against him. She said she was one of a number of individuals who had made such allegations to GNM, but that for various reasons she now considered herself to be “estranged” from GNM’s investigation. The complainant said that a separate publication had published a statement from GNM which set out the reasons for the investigation. The other publication’s article reported that the columnist had “agreed to step back from work for a period of time and cooperate with the company's ongoing investigation".

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article accurately reported: that the columnist had been suspended; that neither the columnist nor GNM had revealed the nature of the allegations; that the investigation came after public allegations regarding “the cancellation of transphobes” had been made by the barrister named in the article; and that the barrister had also invited others to share any complaints they may have about the columnist. The publication also said that the separate article referred to by the complainant did not say what the allegations that were being investigated by GNM were and noted the complainant’s position that she was “estranged” from the investigation.

7. The publication said that it had no knowledge of the nature of the allegations being investigated by the GNM – either at the time of publication or subsequent to the complaint. It also said that the article did not give the impression that the columnist’s suspension was due to “trans issues”. It said that the article reported that this was in the wake of the barrister’s public comments regarding trans and women’s rights, following which the barrister had forwarded unspecified allegations made by a number of individuals to GNM.

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. The Committee first noted the article’s description of the reasoning behind GNM’s investigation. It had reported that the columnist “had agreed to ‘step back from work’ and will ‘cooperate with the company’s ongoing investigation’”. This same statement was included in the other article which the complainant had said was accurate in its description of the investigation.

9. The complainant had said that the article was inaccurate because the columnist had not been suspended over a “trans rights row” – however, the Committee considered that the article did not report this. The Committee was clear that the term “after” (and other terms with a similar meaning) could, in some circumstances, indicate a causal link between two events. However, that was not the case in this instance. The first paragraph of the article reported that the columnist’s suspension followed “allegations over his conduct” and that this had occurred “in the wake of”, and therefore after a row regarding “trans rights” rather than as a result of that issue – which the complainant did not dispute. The article also stated that GNM had given “no further detail on the nature of the investigation” and that the columnist had said he was unable to provide a comment when contacted by the publication. The Committee also noted that the complainant had said that she was “estranged” from GNM’s investigation, and was not complaining on behalf of GNM. The Committee was not provided with any evidence from either party which confirmed the basis for the investigation.

10. The Committee concluded that the article did not claim that the columnist’s suspension had arisen from the “row about trans rights”.  In these circumstances, and in particular where the complainant had said she was estranged from the GNM investigation, the grounds of complaint raised did not demonstrate an inaccuracy within the article, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

11. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

12. N/A


Date complaint received: 05/10/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 02/12/2022