Ruling

11288-22 Baillie v The Mail on Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      12th January 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11288-22 Baillie v The Mail on Sunday

Summary of Complaint

1. Stuart Baillie complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Red light rats!”, published on 21 August 2022.

2. The article reported that over an hour period, the Mail on Sunday had “counted a rider every two minutes brazenly jump a red light outside Buckingham Palace”. The article went on to state that “[d]uring rush hour alone – between 7am and 8am – 26 cyclists ignored the traffic signal and ploughed on with blatant disregard for people crossing”. The article was accompanied by a composite picture comprised of multiple photos at the same location edited together to appear as one picture, showing a number of cyclists who appeared to be cycling through a red light. The picture was captioned: “GREEN MAN? WHAT GREEN MAN: A composite picture taken over an hour showing cyclists disregarding red traffic lights and green pedestrian signals on a crossing outside Buckingham Palace”.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format and also contained the composite picture.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as he believed that the way the composite picture had been created meant there was no way to confirm if any of the cyclists pictured had “jump[ed] a red light”. He said that, according to social media, the road in question had been closed to motor vehicles at the time the photos were taken, but the traffic lights had remained operational as they were synchronised to nearby sets. He said that he was under the impression that police had been present at the scene and were telling cyclists to continue if there was no one waiting to cross, as there was no traffic coming from the other side of the junction. The complainant provided a tweet from a third party, which appeared to suggest that there had been police present, and that they had advised cyclists that they could ride through the red light.

5. The complainant also added that he considered the article was an attempt to create “road rage” towards cyclists and which was compounded by describing the cyclists as “rats”

6.  The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said that the road in question had not been closed at the time its journalist and photographer had been present and photographed the cyclists going through the red light. It said that it was aware people on social media had been claiming it was closed, however, the road had in fact been functioning as normal and no police had been present. The publication provided seven photographs taken while its journalist and photographer were present at the scene, which showed cars and vans stopped at traffic lights while the green man was on or while the adjacent digital display showed a countdown, and people were crossing the pedestrian crossing. In all the photographs, cyclists could be seen cycling over the crossing while the motor vehicles waited.

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

7. The newspaper had demonstrated that its journalist and photographer had been present at the scene, and taken the photographs used to create the composite picture. The photos showed that cars and vans in both directions were stopped at the traffic lights while the green man was on or while the adjacent digital display showed a countdown, indicating that they were stopped at a red light. The photos also showed a number of cyclists passing through the crossing while the green man was on, while pedestrians were crossing and while the cars remained stationary. Where the publication had been present, and counted the cyclists passing through the crossing, there was sufficient basis for the publication to state that “26 cyclists ignored the traffic signal and ploughed on with blatant disregard for people crossing”. In addition, the publication had said that there had been no police present and the road had been functioning as normal – which again was supported by the pictures it had provided. The Committee also noted that the complainant had not been present at the scene and was speculating that the road had been closed based on information from social media. Taking all this into consideration, it was the Committee’s view that the publication had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information, and it was not inaccurate or misleading to claim that the cyclists had “ignored the traffic signal” and “jump[ed] a red light”. There was no breach of Clause 1.

8. The Committee also noted the complainant’s concerns regarding the phrase “rats” and that he considered this was an attempt to create anger towards cyclists. The Committee noted that the Editors’ Code of Practice makes clear the press has the right to be partisan, to give its own opinion and to publish individuals’ views, as long as it takes care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact. In this instance, the description of the cyclists as “rats” was clearly the opinion of the newspaper, and clearly attributed to it. Further, this was a subjective characterisation, and while the Committee noted the complainant disagreed with this description, this did not in itself mean that the article was inaccurate or misleading to include it. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusion(s)

9. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

10. N/A


Date complaint received: 21/08/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 19/12/2022