Ruling

13329-21 Nightingale House Hospice v Daily Post

    • Date complaint received

      25th August 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 13329-21 Nightingale House Hospice v Daily Post

Summary of Complaint

1. Nightingale House Hospice complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Post breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Hospice 'bans' supporters after Welsh-language row”, published on 4 December 2021.

2. The article, which appeared on page 8, reported that a “group of Welsh-speaking fundraisers have been ‘banned’ from interacting with a charity in North Wales following a row over the use of the language. Supporters of Nightingale House Hospice (Hospis Ty’r Eos) in Wrexham said they were ‘banned from further interaction’ with the hospice after expressing concerns about the charity’s ‘lack of respect’ for the Welsh language.” The article went on to include a quote from a man, “a spokesperson for the group, [who] said they received a letter from the hospice’s Chief Executive and Board of Trustees which thanked them for their 30-year contribution but said ‘this is the end of our communications’”.

3. The article also reported that “[t]he group said they had raised concerns that correspondence sent out by the charity was written only in English, without including a Welsh translation. [The spokesperson] said these concerns were met with ‘resistance’ from charity trustees, which is said to have led to the charity cutting ties with the group altogether.”

4. The article included a statement from the Hospice:

[A]ddressing [the spokesperson’s] claims [which] confirmed the group had been asked to ‘desist from seeking to interfere with and influence the Hospice’s work.’ The statement said: ‘Regrettably, the situation escalated to a position where employees of the Hospice were left distressed and in tears as a result of interactions with members of this group and the Hospice was left with no alternative but to cut ties with the group concerned. […] Addressing the claims that the hospice was not supportive of the Welsh language, the [Hospice] said: ‘The Hospice is very proud of its record in using the Welsh language whenever it can. Whenever possible the Hospice’s publications are produced in English and Welsh and the Hospice seeks to engage in Welsh with as many of its patients and families who wish to do so.’ The statement continued: ‘The Hospice has nothing to hide or fear in relation to its use of the Welsh language and wishes to be entirely transparent about this matter. In an attempt to be transparent, the Hospice’s solicitors have asked the individual who is pursuing the complaint for permission to put all the correspondence in the public domain, but he has not responded to that request.’

5. The article also appeared online under the headline “Hospice 'cuts ties' with fundraising group after 30 years in row over Welsh language”. The online version of the article included an additional sub-headline, which read: “Supporters of Nightingale House said they have been 'banned' from interacting with the organisation”. The online version of the article was published on 2 December 2022.

6. Prior to IPSO becoming involved with the complaint, on 3 December 2021, the publication made several amendments to the online version of the article: The sub-headline was changed from “Supporters of Nightingale House said that they have been ‘banned’ from interacting with the organisation” to “But Nightingale House Hospice says criticism of its bilingual policy was ‘unfair and unwarranted’”. In addition, the first line of the article was changed from “A group of Welsh speaking fundraisers have been ‘banned’ from interacting with a charity in North Wales following a row about the language” to read “A hospice has ‘cut ties’ with group of Welsh speaking fundraisers in North Wales following a row over the use of the Welsh language”. Also, references to a “spokesperson for the group” were changed to refer to the individual by name, and to refer to him as “a supporter of Nightingale House Hospice”.

7. Several additions were also made to the online article on this date. The sentence “A Nightingale House Hospice spokesperson rejected criticism of its commitment to the Welsh language as ‘unfair and unwarranted’" was added; a sentence was also added referring to the “Chairman of the hospice's fundraising group 'Group of Friends' [who] said [the spokesperson] is not a member of the fundraising group and had not been appointed as a spokesperson on its behalf, but did not wish to comment further.”

8. A further comment from the Hospice was also added to the article on this date: “The hospice's statement also addressed a complaint which was raised in relation to the hospice’s Spring 2021 newsletter. The statement said: ‘The print version of that newsletter was only produced in English due to the cost of producing additional printed copies in Welsh. This complaint was received at a time when the Hospice, along with all other charities, was experiencing the most difficult of times in raising funds to enable its primary services to continue operating. The Hospice did though produce digital versions of the same newsletter in Welsh and English and made these available to the public online. However, the individual concerned pursued the matter in correspondence with the Hospice and escalated it to the extent that the Hospice’s Chair of Trustees was singled out for inappropriate comment and the Hospice was forced to instruct solicitors to deal with the issue.’"

9. The following footnote was also added to the online version of the article on this date:

*This article has been amended to make clear [named individual] is not a ‘spokesperson’ for, nor a member of, the Nightingale House Hospice fundraising group. We are happy to clarify this and apologise for any confusion caused.

10. Also prior to IPSO becoming involved with the complaint, on 22 December 2021, the newspaper published the following print correction on page 8:

On Saturday, December 4, on page eight of the Daily Post, an article was published about a Welsh-language dispute between Nightingale House Hospice (Hospis Ty’r Eros) and a hospice fundraising group. In the article we described [named individual] as a “spokesperson” for the group. [Named individual] is neither a member of, nor a spokesperson for, the group. We are happy to clarify this and apologise for any confusion this has caused.

11. The complainant said that the article included several inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1. He first noted that the individual who the article repeatedly referred to as being the spokesperson of the Supporters of Nightingale House Hospice group was not in fact a spokesperson for the group, nor indeed a member of the group. The complainant provided an email from the Chairman of the now defunct group to support its position on this point, and noted that the Chairman had contacted the publication prior to the publication of the print version of the article to make it aware of this point, and that he had spoken with a reporter who had acknowledged and replied to his concerns. With this in mind, the complainant also said that it was inaccurate for the article to report that the Hospice had “cut ties” with the group over the issue; it had in fact, ceased its relationship with the group for unrelated reasons.

12. It also said that it had sent the publication its own press release, prior to the article’s publication, setting out its position regarding the claims and its record on the Welsh language. The statement said that the Hospice was “concerned to learn that a member of the public is seeking to create adverse publicity for the Hospice and has approached a number of media outlets for this purpose. The issues raised relate to the Hospice’s support for the Welsh language and issues around a group of fundraisers previously associated with the Hospice […] Due to the continuing actions of a particular support group which raised funds for the Hospice, correspondence had to be entered into asking the group’s members to desist from seeking to interfere with and influence the Hospice’s work.”

13. The complainant then said that, by publishing information from the individual who claimed to a spokesperson without further verification, the publication has not taken care over the accuracy of the article. It also said that it gave the comments of the individual inappropriate credence and veracity.

14. The complainant then said that further inaccuracies had arisen from publishing the comments of the unverified spokesperson, as doing so had created a misleading picture of the Hospice’s attitude and effort in relation to its use of the Welsh language. It said that these allegations arose from a single incident, in which the Hospice had been unable to publish a hard copy of a single document in Welsh as well as English – though it had provided a Welsh copy of the document in question on its website. It said that this was not referred to in the article.

15. The complainant finally said that the article and the manner in which it was written was biased in favour of the Hospice’s critic – the man who had claimed to be a spokesperson. He said that this was demonstrated by the fact that the publication had only published a portion of a lengthy statement it had provided, while the critic was seemingly allowed “carte blanche” to criticise the Hospice and its record on the Welsh language.

16. The complainant accepted that the publication had amended the online version of the article 24 hours after its initial publication. However, it said that these amendments were not sufficient where they did not give notice to people who had already read the incorrect version of the article, nor did the amendments include a comment making clear why the article had been amended. It said that it wished for the newspaper to publish a full and unreserved apology prominently on its website. It also said that it wanted the full statement provided by the Hospice to the newspaper to accompany the online publication of the apology, and that this should be done at a similar time of day that the original article was published.

17. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that it had been contacted by an individual who purported to be the spokesperson for the fundraising group, and who had previously been considered a reliable contact of the publication. It said that, where this was the case, there was no reason not to take his assertion that he was a spokesperson of the fundraising group at face value. It said that the fundraising group had no website, social media, or public presence and this was the first time – to its knowledge – it had been contacted by the group. It had therefore published the claims of the unverified spokesperson in good faith, it said.

18. The publication provided a copy of the statement from the unverified spokesperson to support its position. While the statement did not state that the man was a spokesperson for the Supporters of Nightingale Hospice House, it stated that “[a] group of Welsh speaking supporters of the hospice for over 30 years have been shocked by being banned from ‘further interaction’ with the hospice by the Chief Executive and trustees. The ban was imposed after they expressed concerns at the lack of respect shown to the Welsh language within the publications, fund raising and retail divisions.” It also referred to a “group” of supporters throughout the statement.

19. While the publication accepted that the unverified spokesperson’s claims were the sole basis for reporting that the hospice had “’cut ties’ with fundraising group […] in a row over Welsh language”, it said that it had put the claims to the Hospice and a substantial portion of the Hospice’s lengthy response was included in the article. It said that the reporter had not named the unverified spokesperson when seeking comment, however, its statement included a reference to an “individual” who was “pursuing the complaint”. It appeared, therefore, that the Hospice was aware of the unverified spokesperson and their claims, and had not sought – prior to publication – to make clear that they were not acting on behalf of fundraising group.

20. The publication then said that the article did not report as fact that the Hospice did not treat the Welsh language with due care and respect. These claims were attributed to the unverified spokesperson, and clearly presented as his view of the Hospice’s activities, Moreover, it noted that the Hospice’s response to these claims was also included in the article, therefore putting its position on record regarding the allegations.

21. The publication also did not accept that omitting parts of the Hospice’s statement from the original article rendered it inaccurate, misleading, or distorted. It noted that the statement was a lengthy one, and that it therefore had to be edited down for space constraints and legibility. However, while it did not accept that omitting a portion of the statement represented a breach of Clause 1, it did accept that including a reference to the digital version of the newsletter – which was omitted from the original statement as published – would have provided greater context. This was why, it said, it had amended the article to include this part of the statement.

22. The publication also did not accept any allegation of bias. It said that the article had set out both sides of the story, and that a significant portion of the article focused on the Hospice’s rebuttals. It further set out its position that the article did not adopt or endorse either of the positions set out in the article.

23. The publication proposed to publish an additional print correction, to appear on page 2 of the newspaper; the additional correction was proposed on 23 May 2022 – over 5 months after the complainant first contacted the publication; 2 months after IPSO made the publication aware that the article raised a possible breach; and a month after IPSO began its investigation.  The correction would read as follows:

In our article “Hospice ‘bans’ supporters after Welsh-language row” published on December 4, 2021, in regards to the term 'ban', the trust has advised that its decision to cut ties with the fundraisers was nothing to do with a row over use of the Welsh language and was for entirely unrelated reasons. The article also stated that correspondence sent out by the Nightingale House Hospice (Hospis Ty’r Eros) was written only in English, without including a Welsh translation. We are happy to clarify that this related to one newsletter published in Spring 2021, which was printed in hard copy only in English, but was, in fact, also available online in Welsh. The hospice says that due to financial considerations during the Covid 19 pandemic, it sought to avoid the cost of printing additional copies. However, the hospice points out that the newsletter was always available electronically on its website in the Welsh language version for those wishing to access it We apologise for any confusion caused.

24. The publication also said that it would be happy to expand the wording of the online footnote clarification to apologise for any embarrassment caused; to change the caption of the Facebook post linking to the article and to add a correction as the first comment on the Facebook post; and to publish a tweet highlighting the change and linking to it.

25. The complainant again expressed concern that the newspaper had not attempted to verify that the man was a spokesperson for the fundraising group, given that it had not offered any evidence to support their assertion that he was a trusted source, and where it had also admitted that it had not had any prior interaction or contact with the fundraising group.

26. The complainant also said that it would have had no reason to dispute that the man was not a spokesperson for the Supporters of Nightingale House Hospice, where the publication had not advised the Hospice of the name of the man or that he was claiming to be acting on behalf of the Supporters of Nightingale House Hospice. It noted that a journalist working for another media organisation had contacted the Chairman of the Supporters group to verify whether the unverified spokesperson was speaking on their behalf, and had been informed of the correct position. The complainant did not accept, therefore, the publication’s argument that it could not verify the man’s position within the fundraising group.

27. Finally, the complainant said that the correction proposed by the publication was in fact inaccurate, where the decision to not publish a hard copy version of a newsletter in Welsh was not prompted by the pandemic.

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

28. Both parties accepted that the individual whom the article referred to as being a spokesperson for the Supporters of Nightingale House Hospice did not hold this position, and in fact was not a member of the group in question. Where this was indisputably inaccurate, the first question for the Committee was therefore whether the publication had taken care not to publish inaccurate information on this point.

29. The Committee carefully reviewed the statement from the unverified spokesperson, and noted that it did not refer to the Supporters of Nightingale Hospice; rather, it referred to an unspecified “group” of supporters. The statement therefore did not provide a basis for linking the spokesperson with the group and, moreover, the publication had not attempted to verify the man’s alleged links with the Supporters of Nightingale House Hospice. This represented a failure to take care, in breach of Clause 1 (i). This breach had led to the publication of information which was significantly inaccurate, where the Committee considered there to be a material distinction between an individual raising concerns about an organisation’s approach to the Welsh language and a named group of supporters and fundraisers raising such concern.  The publication was therefore required by the terms of Clause 1 (ii) to correct this information.

30. Where the publication was required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii) to correct the inaccurate information, the Committee turned next to the question of whether the action undertaken by the publication was sufficient to avoid a further breach of the Clause. Prior to IPSO being made aware of the complaint, the newspaper had published both online and print clarifications, making clear that the unverified spokesperson was not a member of the group, nor was he a spokesperson. These clarifications had been published on page 8 of the print edition – the same page as the original article – and at the bottom of the amended online article. The Committee was therefore satisfied that the remedial action put the correct position on record, had been published promptly, and had been published with due prominence. There was no further breach of Clause 1 (ii) on this point.

31. The complainant had said that it was inaccurate to report that the hospice had “cut ties” or “banned” the Supporters of Nightingale House Hospice group over concerns about the Welsh language, and that it had cut ties for unrelated reasons. It said this position was set out  in the press release it had circulated to the press – including the newspaper – prior to publication.

32. The Committee noted that the Hospice’s press release – which responded to the circulation of allegations of a “ban” – and a substantial part of its comment had been included in the article, setting out the position that the “ban” was in fact due to “a position where employees of the Hospice were left distressed and in tears as a result of interactions with members of this group”. The Committee was therefore satisfied that the article made clear that this was a claim on the part of the spokesperson, by including the publication’s rebuttal to the claim and setting out its position. In circumstances where the article set out the Hospice’s response to the claims, which were distinguished as such, there was no failure to take care on this point, and the article was not significantly inaccurate, distorted, or misleading on this point. There was therefore no breach of Clause 1.

33. The complainant had raised further concerns that the article gave a misleading picture of the Hospice’s attitude and effort in relation to its use of the Welsh language. It considered this to be the case where the concerns raised by the unverified spokesperson related to a single incident, in which a hard copy of a newsletter had not been published in Welsh. The Committee first noted that the article made clear that the man had said that he “had raised concerns that correspondence sent out by the charity was written only in English, without including a Welsh translation” – therefore, it was made clear what the concerns related to. In addition, the article included a lengthy response from the Hospice, setting out its position that “The Hospice is very proud of its record in using the Welsh language whenever it can. Whenever possible the Hospice’s publications are produced in English and Welsh and the Hospice seeks to engage in Welsh with as many of its patients and families who wish to do so. […] The Hospice has nothing to hide or fear in relation to its use of the Welsh language and wishes to be entirely transparent about this matter.” Therefore, the Committee did not consider that the article was misleading in relation to the Hospice’s attitude and effort in relation to its use of the Welsh language; it made clear the grounds for concern, as well as the Hospice’s position that the concern was unwarranted. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

34.  The complainant had also expressed concern that the first version of the article omitted part of a statement it had made. The initial version of the article had omitted the following in its statement from the Hospice: “The print version of that newsletter was only produced in English due to the cost of producing additional printed copies in Welsh. This complaint was received at a time when the Hospice, along with all other charities, was experiencing the most difficult of times in raising funds to enable its primary services to continue operating. The Hospice did though produce digital versions of the same newsletter in Welsh and English and made these available to the public online . However, the individual concerned pursued the matter in correspondence with the Hospice and escalated it to the extent that the Hospice’s Chair of Trustees was singled out for inappropriate comment and the Hospice was forced to instruct solicitors to deal with the issue.”

35.  However, the Committee did not consider that omitting this portion of the statement rendered the article significantly misleading, distorted, or inaccurate; it was not in dispute that the version of the newsletter which was sent out by the Hospice had only been published in English, notwithstanding the specific reasons for this decision. The Committee noted that the term “correspondence” was somewhat ambiguous, and could be read as referring to multiple pieces of correspondence rather than a single newsletter. However, where the Hospice’s statement as published in the article set out that “[w]henever possible the Hospice’s publications are produced in English and Welsh and the Hospice seeks to engage in Welsh with as many of its patients and families who wish to do so”, the Committee did not consider that omitting the fact that the complaint arose from a single piece of correspondence rendered the article significantly inaccurate or misleading.

36. The Committee did not consider that omitting this part of the statement represented a breach of Clause 1; nevertheless, it welcomed the newspaper’s decision to add this portion of the statement to later versions of the article.

37. The Editors’ Code of Practice does not address issues of bias. It makes clear the press has the right to be partisan. Therefore, a concern that the article was biased did not, in and of itself, raise a possible breach of the Code.

Conclusion(s)

38. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial Action Required

39. The published clarifications put the correct position on record and were offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.


Date complaint received: 16/03/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/08/2022