Ruling

12003-22 A man v The Spectator

    • Date complaint received

      30th March 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 12003-22 A man v The Spectator


Summary of Complaint

1. A man complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Spectator breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “National disasters”, published on 24 September 2022.

2. The article was a comment piece which discussed the writer’s opinion of the annual grant-in-aid by Arts Council England; specifically, that the English National Opera (ENO) and the English National Ballet should not be given the grant. One paragraph of the article described ENO, and the writer’s criticisms of it; such as their opinion that its “right to call itself ‘National’ is purely historic, because it hasn’t performed outside London for decades” and that the Coliseum, ENO’s theatre, was “acoustically unsuited to opera, offering no office, rehearsal or storage space and few opportunities for catering”.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Why the Arts Council should kill off ENO and ENB”.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that it was not the case that ENO had not performed outside London in decades – it had performed at the Henley festival in Oxfordshire in 2018. He said the newspaper had also omitted to mention that ENO is not allowed to tour as a condition of its Arts Council England funding, and that the article, therefore, was misleading in its criticism of the organisation.

5. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to report that the Coliseum had "no office, rehearsal or storage space and few opportunities for catering" as it had backstage catering, four bars that served food and drink, a coffee bar, and ice cream vendors. He also said there was a rehearsal room and some office and storage space backstage.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. With regards to the first point raised by the complainant, the publication stated that ENO’s press office had informed it that the ENO had not staged a full-scale production, as opposed to an occasional “one-off” performance, outside London since 2000. Whilst it therefore did not consider the article to be significantly inaccurate to report that ENO “hasn’t performed outside London for decades”, it did amend the online version of the article to report that it “has hardly ever performed outside London for decades”. The publication also said that it could not confirm that ENO was forbidden to tour outside of London, but that in any case, this omission did not make the article misleading and this strengthened the newspaper’s point that it did not tour outside of London.

7. The publication accepted that there was rehearsal and some office and storage space backstage at the Coliseum, and amended this line in the article to state that it offered “little office, rehearsal or storage space and few opportunities for catering”. However, it said that this did not amount to a significant inaccuracy, where the point being made within the article was that the Coliseum wanted for space backstage. It noted that the former general director of ENO had said that after its renovation it was “more cramped than ever”.

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

8. The Committee first considered the piece as a whole to note the context of the alleged inaccuracies. The article was an opinion piece about Arts Council England funding, and described why, in the writer’s opinion, both the ENO and the English National Ballet did not deserve this funding. The points under complaint appeared in a single paragraph of the article.

9. The article reported that ENO had not performed outside London for decades. The complainant had identified a single time it had performed at a music festival over four years ago. Where this was a single performance at a festival outside of London, rather than a full tour, the Committee did not consider this to be a significant inaccuracy in the context of an article focusing on Arts Council England funding. Where the point being made was that the ENO did not engage in substantive activity outside of London – which did not appear to be in dispute. Therefore, this concern did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

10. The complainant had noted that there was one rehearsal room, some office and storage space and several catering venues at the Coliseum, in contradiction with the article’s claim that there was ”no office, rehearsal or storage space and few opportunities for catering”. Whilst the publication had accepted that this was inaccurate, and had amended the article to refer to the limited office, rehearsal and storage room, the Committee did not consider that this was a significant inaccuracy, where the point being made was that these areas were limited. In addition, it believed that the catering venues described by the complainant could be described as representing “few opportunities for catering”, where they were limited in scope and number and the assessment was necessarily a subjective one. On this basis, there was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

11. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

12. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  20/10/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  15/02/2023