Ruling

11161-22 Park’s of Hamilton Limited v The Scottish Sun

    • Date complaint received

      11th April 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11161-22 Park's of Hamilton Limited v The Scottish Sun


Summary of Complaint

1. Park's of Hamilton Limited, Park's of Hamilton (Holdings) Limited, Park's of Hamilton (Townhead Garage) Limited, Park's of Hamilton (Coach Hirers) Limited, Douglas Park Limited and Park's (Ayr) Limited (referred to collectively in this decision as the complainant) complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Sun (News UK) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Deal cinch perfect for Gers now”, published on 19 June 2022.

2. The article was a comment piece by a regular columnist which referenced a dispute arising from a sponsorship deal entered into between the car retailer cinch and the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), and the position of Rangers FC that being required to display cinch’s branding would be in conflict with a pre-existing sponsorship arrangement with the complainant. The article commented that a “sponsor gives you money NOT to display their logo or mention their products? That’s surely the commercial department’s dream”. It stated that “[s]o everyone's a winner – including the SPFL, who after a year of staying schtum over the whole silly misunderstanding now appear free to put their side of the story given that Gers, via chairman Park's car company, have broken a legally-binding confidentiality agreement. Should be interesting to hear what’s included in the ‘full and frank narrative’ they’ve promised to unleash’”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate because it suggested that it had breached or procured the breach of a legally-binding agreement. It said this was not true. The complainant said the article was, therefore, in breach of Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code and that the inaccuracy was significant as it had the potential to cause harm to its reputation.

4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article was a light-hearted opinion piece about the dispute but accepted that the reported claim that “Gers, via chairman Park's car company, have broken a legally-binding confidentiality agreement” was a statement of fact. It said that it had taken care over its accuracy by carefully reviewing the terms of press releases which had been issued by both the complainant and the SPFL. It said that the complainant had issued a lengthy press release which offered detailed commentary on the arbitration proceedings between the SPFL and Rangers FC., which the complainant had petitioned to join. In response, the SPFL had issued its own press release: “We note with interest [the complainant’s] version of events. We are currently bound by the confidentiality of the legal process. Frustratingly, we have had to keep our counsel throughout. However, we have written to Rangers and [the complainant] seeking confirmation that this confidentiality no longer applies…” The publication said that it was clear from the press release issued by the SPFL that it considered that by commenting on the arbitration proceedings, the complainant had breached the confidentiality of the process. Whilst it accepted that the complainant had not breached an agreement, it said that the report was not significantly inaccurate in circumstances where the complainant had breached the confidentiality of the arbitration process. The publication said that the confidentiality of the arbitration process had been confirmed by the Inner House of the Court of Session in a Judgment of 20 October 2021, in which the Lord President said: "It is, of course, correct to describe arbitration as a private process" and “The phrase occurs in the context of an arbitration clause whose purpose is to prevent disputes relating to football and football clubs being litigated in the public forum. The airing of such disputes may carry a reputational risk to the game and its participants which the SFA, as the supervisory body, will be keen to avoid”.

5. Whilst the publication did not consider that the article required correction, it offered to publish the following clarification in order to resolve the complaint:

On 19th June 2022, we published a column by Bill Leckie headlined "Deal cinch perfect for Gers now" in which it was stated that Rangers via chairman Douglas Park's car company had broken a legally-binding confidentiality agreement. We were referring to the private arbitration process between Rangers, Parks of Hamilton (Holdings) Ltd and the SPFL. We are happy to clarify that Rangers had not entered into a separate confidentiality agreement; rather it was the privacy of the arbitration process itself that had been breached.

6. The complainant said that the publication’s understanding of the situation was incorrect, and that it was not in fact bound by any duty of confidentiality arising from the arbitration process. The complainant said that it was not yet formally a party to the arbitration proceedings and that because the information included in its press release was already in the public domain, issuing the press release would not have placed it in breach of any duty of confidentiality in any event. The complainant reiterated that the article had made the specific claim that it had breached a “legally-binding confidentiality agreement”, which the publication had conceded was not the case. The complainant said that even if it had breached the confidentiality of the arbitration process, which it disputed for the reasons above, there was a material difference between the two situations and the article was, therefore, significantly inaccurate.

7. In addition, the complainant did not accept the clarification offered by the publication in resolution of the complaint. It said the proposed wording contained a new inaccuracy that “the privacy of the arbitration process” had been breached, which it said was not the case and the proposed clarification therefore contained the same material inaccuracy as the article under complaint.

8. The publication maintained that by issuing its press release and speaking about the arbitration proceedings, the complainant had breached the confidentiality of the process, by which it was bound after successfully petitioning to join the proceedings. It said that there was no practical distinction between breaching the confidentiality of the arbitration process and breaching a confidentiality agreement .

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

9. It was not in dispute that the reported claim, that “Gers, via chairman Park's car company, have broken a legally-binding confidentiality agreement” was a statement of fact. The Committee considered that the reference to the complainant in the statement amounted to a claim that it had breached or had been responsible for the breach of a legally-binding confidentiality agreement.

10. The publication had accepted that it had not been able to demonstrate that the complainant had breached or had been responsible for a breach of a confidentiality agreement. The Committee noted that the publication had relied upon the press statements issued by the complainant and the SPFL but that neither of the press statements supported the reported claim. The SPFL had said that it was “currently bound by the confidentiality of the legal process” and that it had “written to Rangers and [the complainant] seeking confirmation that this confidentiality no longer applies”. The Committee considered that the SPFL press statement fell far short of being evidence that the complainant had breached a “legally-binding confidentiality agreement”. Further, the article did not make clear that the reported claim was conjecture based upon the press statements, or that the claim was referring to the confidentiality of the arbitration process; instead, the statement explicitly claimed that the complainant was in breach of a legally-binding confidentiality agreement. The publication had not put this allegation to the complainant in advance of publication and the complainant’s position in relation to the reported claim had not been included in the article. In these circumstances, the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information, and there was a breach of Clause 1(i).

11. The Committee next considered the publication’s position that the reported statement was not significantly inaccurate in circumstances where the complainant had breached the confidentiality of the arbitration process; it said that it was not material how the breach of confidentiality arose. However, the publication had not demonstrated that a finding that the complainant had breached the confidentiality of the arbitration process had been made, for example by the arbitrator or by the court. In the absence of such a finding and where the claim that the complainant had breached a legally binding agreement had the potential to commercially harm its reputation, the inaccuracy was significant and required correction under Clause 1(ii).

12. The publication had offered to publish a clarification to the article – however the wording stated that it was the “privacy of the arbitration process itself that had been breached” – where no such finding had been made by the arbitrator or by the court. The proposed wording, therefore, did not correct the inaccuracy in the article and there was a breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusions

13. The complaint was upheld.

Findings of the Committee

14. Having upheld the complaint, 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 nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

15. The Committee had found that it was significantly inaccurate to report that the complainant had broken a legally-binding confidentiality agreement. The Committee had found a breach of Clause 1(ii) given that the correction offered did not correct the inaccuracy. The appropriate remedy was, therefore, the publication of an upheld adjudication.

16. The headline of the adjudication must make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint against The Scottish Sun and must refer to its subject matter; it must be agreed with IPSO in advance. The adjudication should be published on the same page of the newspaper as the regular columnist’s column, with a reference to the adjudication in the established corrections and clarifications column.

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

Park's of Hamilton Limited, Park's of Hamilton (Holdings) Limited, Park's of Hamilton (Townhead Garage) Limited, Park's of Hamilton (Coach Hirers) Limited, Douglas Park Limited and Park's (Ayr) Limited (referred to collectively as the complainant) complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scottish Sun (News UK) breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Deal cinch perfect for Gers now”, published on 19 June 2022.

The article referenced a dispute arising from a sponsorship deal entered into between the car retailer cinch and the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL). It stated “that Gers, via chairman Park's car company [the complainant], have broken a legally-binding confidentiality agreement”.

The complainant said that the article was inaccurate because it suggested that it had breached or procured the breach of a legally-binding agreement. It said this was not true. The complainant said the article was, therefore, in breach of Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code and that the inaccuracy was significant as it had the potential to cause harm to its reputation.

IPSO found that the publication was not able to demonstrate that the complainant had breached, or had been responsible for a breach, of a confidentiality agreement. Further, the article did not make clear that the reported claim was conjecture based upon press statements issued by the complainant and the SPFL. The publication had offered a correction, however it did not correct the inaccuracy in the article. IPSO thus upheld the complaint as a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code and ordered the publication of this ruling.

 

Date complaint received:  13/08/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  21/03/2023