Ruling

12648-22 Grandon v hadleigh.nub.news

    • Date complaint received

      8th June 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 12648-22 Grandon v hadleigh.nub.news

 

Summary of Complaint

1. Cllr Kathyrn Grandon complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that hadleigh.nub.news breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles:

  • An article headlined “Attempt to promote respectful politics dredges up council rifts by Hadleigh councillor as Tory leader votes against motion”, published on 23 November 2022.
  • An article headlined “Wise words as Rowland Taylor's Ghost gets to the point”, published on 29 November 2022.

2. The complainant and the Editor of the publication under complaint are both serving councillors for Babergh District Council.

3. The first article – which appeared online only – reported on a meeting of the council, during which a motion was approved to support the Local Government Association's (LGA) campaign against the abuse of politicians. The article stated that the complainant and another councillor “were known to have taken part in [a] protest, which led to a Hadleigh Conservative being arrested and handed a suspended sentence”.

4. The second article – which also appeared online only – was a satirical comment piece that focused on the “virtue signalling behind the [LGA’s] Debate not Hate campaign, recently endorsed by Babergh councillors”. While condoning the “use of threats and intimidation”, the article referenced an incident “when 'Footsie' Grutchfield led the likes of Councillors 'Queenie' Dawson and 'Grandone' Grandon to remonstrate with 'Generalissimo' Ward and some [by] joining a convoy and ended up scaring [the child of the Council’s leader], who was home alone at the time.”

5. The complainant said both articles were inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1. She denied that she had been involved in the protest. While she accepted that she had been present at the assembly point for the demonstration – a car park – she said she had done so unknowingly. She said that once she had been informed of the purpose of the demonstration, she had departed; confirming to those present that she would not be attending the protest.

6. The complainant also said that the Editor of the publication had breached Clause 3. She said that on 22 November 2022 – and the day before the first article was published – she had informed the Editor that she had been asked not to invite him to attend a charity event due to concerns by other attendees about recent, unspecified coverage by the publication. The complainant said that the Editor became “loud and angry” on hearing this, stating that he “would not be attending [the event] with his Editor hat [on] but [rather] as Vice Chair”. The complainant said that she then explained he was viewed by some as being too “closely associated” with the publication and even the publication itself by others. In response, she said that the Editor alleged her actions were part of a party-political scheme, telling her that he would ensure she would not serve as Chair of the council again and in doing so stated: “I will destroy you. You will regret this. I will finish you”. She then said that she told the Editor he was “threatening” her to which he responded: “I’m not threatening you; I’m advising you”. The complainant said his tone while delivering this sentence was “menacing”, and his conduct throughout the exchange had been threatening and “out of control”.

7. The complainant said that during this exchange the Editor had threatened to destroy her career as a local politician, and felt he was “weaponising” the publication against her. While the complainant accepted that the Editor did not make explicit reference to the publication and/or his role as Editor during this exchange, she said that such a reference was unnecessary: he was the Editor and regularly referenced the publication and his position during council meetings.

8. To support this position, the complainant said that the reference to her attending the protest had been added to the first article by the Editor. She supplied an email from the reporter which said that the disputed statement had not appeared in the original copy of the article, but had instead been added in by the Editor; and noted that the disputed statement did not appear in other articles syndicated to sister publications.

9. The complainant had contacted the publication shortly after the first story was published to express her concern that the article was inaccurate. She addressed her concerns directly, via e-mail, to the reporter and the Editor and requested that the online article be corrected.

10. While it accepted the challenges presented by the Editor’s dual role as a councillor and a journalist, the publication denied a breach of Clause 3. It noted the context of the exchange between the Editor and complainant: it related to the workings of the local council and represented a continuation of political antipathy between the two individuals. Though it accepted that there may have been a “lack of tact” on part of the Editor, it said that there was clearly historic and personal animosity involved on both sides.

11. The publication provided to IPSO a written statement by the Editor, who maintained that the coverage was accurate, and that his actions did not constitute harassment or intimidation. He denied threatening the complainant. He considered that the complainant’s contention that his comments during the exchange had been menacing and threatening as a distortion: he had explained that her demands were unreasonable and without justification as he had a duty to attend the council event in his capacity of vice-Chairman; and left the meeting immediately after the complainant said she thought he was threatening her.

12. While it recognised that the complainant was best placed to comment on her active involvement with the protest, the publication also denied a breach of Clause 1. It maintained that its coverage was accurate: it was not in dispute that the complainant had been present in the car park where the protest assembled, and from which the convoy commenced, which led to criminal offences taking place. It noted that her presence had been noted by a number of individuals and said it was therefore reasonably assumed that she was part of the demonstration.

13. In its first response during IPSO’s investigation, and 64 days after it had first been notified of the complaint through direct correspondence from the complainant (the day the first article was published), the publication suggested that it would have considered amending the online articles had its “formal complaints handling process” been followed. Notwithstanding this, the publication then offered to publish a clarification and invited the complainant to propose wording that would resolve her complaint; the complainant did not accept this offer, and the publication did not offer any specific wording for this item or specify where it would appear – either at the time or during IPSO’s investigation when explicitly asked to do so.

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.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Findings of the Committee

14. The Editor’s conduct in his role as a Councillor fell outside the scope of IPSO regulation. His dual role as a councillor and a journalist therefore required the Committee to consider to what extent he was acting in his capacity as an Editor in his interactions with the complainant.

15. The Committee considered first the complaint with respect to the complainant’s conversation with the Editor about his potential attendance at the charity event. It noted that the two parties had differing accounts of what was said and the meaning of the Editor’s comments. The Committee noted that the interaction had occurred after a council meeting – which both parties had attended respectively in their capacity as councillors. The complainant acknowledged that the Editor had not made express reference to his role at the publication, although in her view it was implied by his comments. While it was accepted that the Editor had made amendments to the first article after the interaction, there was no evidential basis to suggest a direct causal relationship between these two events. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concerns about the Editor’s conduct, it concluded that there was an insufficient basis to establish that the Editor had been speaking in his role as Editor during this interaction or that his actions could reasonably be considered part of the newsgathering process. The Committee did not find a breach of Clause 3 in relation to this interaction.

16. The Committee next considered the concerns raised under Clause 1. Both articles reported that the complainant took “part” in / “join[ed]” a protest which led to criminal offences taking place. While the complainant maintained that she did not actively participate in the demonstration, it was not in dispute that she had been present at the location where the protest assembled and from which the convey commenced. In such circumstances, the Committee did not consider that the articles were inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusion(s)

17. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

18. N/A 

 

Date complaint received:  28/11/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  23/05/2023