Ruling

13584-16 Gibbins v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      3rd July 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 13584-16 Gibbins v The Sun 

Summary of complaint 

1.    Angela Gibbins complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “GEORGE & THE DRAGON”, published in print on 26 July, and published online with the headline “GEORGE & THE DRAGON Three-year-old Prince George hit by vile rant from British Council boss paid thousands by taxpayers to promote UK”, and a further article headlined “GEORGE'S DRAGON SLAYED £80k-a-year British Council boss who launched vile rant against Prince George is facing disciplinary action”, published online on 26 July. 

2.    The first article reported that the complainant “sparked fury on Facebook with an attack on Prince George”. The subheadline of the article, which appeared on the front page of the newspaper, claimed that “3-yr-old Prince hit by vile rant of boss paid to promote UK”.  The text on the front page reported that the complainant was a “boss at the taxpayer-funded British Council, which promotes UK culture worldwide”, that the complainant had said that Prince George “was an example of ‘white privilege living off public money’”, and that the complainant “made her comments on a snap of him which had the caption ‘Prince George already looks like a f****** d***head’ “. 

3.    The article reported that the complainant had “made her comments beneath the three-year-old’s picture, which someone had posted on Facebook with the vile caption ‘Prince George already looks like a f****** d***head’”. The article was accompanied by an image of this meme. A meme is an image easily shared on social media, often accompanied by a short amount of text. In the article, the image of the meme had the caption “Facebook Troll” at the top.  Below this image, was an image of the complainant’s Facebook comment on the post, which were: “White privilege. That cheeky grin is the (already locked-in) innate knowledge that he’s Royal, rich advantaged and will never know *any* difficulties or hardships in life. Let’s find photos of 3yo Syrian refugee children and see if they look alike, eh?”. The image of the post had the caption “Charity Exec’s poison” above it. The article reported that in response to being challenged, the complainant had responded by saying “I’m sound in my socialist, atheist and republican opinions…I don’t believe the royal family have any place in a modern democracy least of all when they live on public money. That’s privilege and it needs to end”. 

4.    The online version of the first article was largely similar to the print version. However, when it was first published at 11:22pm on 25 July, the first image in the article, a photograph of the complainant, was captioned: “Troll with it…Angela Gibbins caused fury with her attack by saying “Prince George already looks like a f**** d***head”. This was amended at 12:20pm on 26 July to “troll with it…Angela Gibbins caused fury with her attack”.  The article was also accompanied by an image of the meme which had the caption “Facebook Troll” at the top, and was captioned “Antisocial media…Gibbins made her comments beneath the three-year-old’s picture, which someone had posted on Facebook”. The third sentence in the body of the article stated that “Gibbins made her comments beneath the three-year-old’s picture, which someone had posted on Facebook with the vile caption”. 

5.    The second article reported that “The British council boss who launched a scathing attack on Prince George will face disciplinary action for calling him ‘privileged, rich and living off public money. As revealed by The Sun, Angela Gibbins made the comments below the tot’s picture which somebody had posted on Facebook with the vile caption: ‘Prince George already looks like a f***** d***head’”. The article included a picture of the Facebook meme, with the caption: “Facebook Troll”, at the top of the image, and with the caption: “Facebook troll…Angela Gibbins posted the comments on a private Facebook page”, at the bottom of the image. A caption to a further image in the article stated that “Sweet Prince George was the victim of a cutting attack on social media when British Council boss trolled him”. 

6.    The complainant said that the articles gave the clear impression that she had made the comment that Prince George looked like “a fucking dickhead”, which was inaccurate, and which the newspaper knew was inaccurate. She said that the identity of the Facebook user who had actually posted the meme had been removed from the image of the meme accompanying the article, which was published directly opposite a large image of her, again, giving the clear impression that she had made the “fucking dickhead” comment. The references to her having made a “vile rant” supported the suggestion that she had made this comment. She noted that where the article did refer to someone else having posted the picture of Prince George, it did not make clear that the caption to this picture was also made by someone else, rather than her. In circumstances where she was accused of a “vile rant”, and a “Facebook attack”, this suggested she had made the comment in question. 

7.    In relation to the online version of the article, the complainant noted that it referred to her as a “troll”, and that it also had an image of the meme with the caption “Facebook troll”. She said that this suggested that she had made the meme. 

8.    In relation to the second online article, the complainant noted that it referred to her “trolling” Prince George, and that it also contained an image of the meme captioned “Facebook Troll” at the top, and captioned “Facebook troll…Angela Gibbins posted the comments on a private Facebook page”, at the bottom. 

9.    The complainant said that her comments on white privilege were made from her private Facebook account, in a sub-thread in the comment section below the meme, in which there was a discussion amongst her friends relating to all children enjoying the same rights and protections. The complainant was concerned that the newspaper had not reported a further comment she had made in the thread, which showed her in a more favourable light, and in which she said “all I wish to suggest is that most children in the world don’t have as many reasons to smile”. The complainant said that she was not a British Council “boss”, but was head of the department responsible for managing the organisation’s property. She said that she was one of a large number of senior managers, her role was not external-facing, and it was not to promote the UK, as reported. 

10. The newspaper denied that either the print version of the first article, the amended online version of this article, or the second article suggested that the complainant had made the comment accompanying the meme. It noted that the articles made clear that the complainant had made her comments beneath a meme posted by somebody else. It said that while it was aware of who had reposted the meme, it appeared that it had been copied from another post; the newspaper had not taken the decision to remove the identity of the creator of the meme. It said that in the article, the meme had the headline “Facebook troll”, and that underneath, the complainant’s comments were headed “Charity Exec’s poison”. It said that if it had been alleging that the complainant had made the comments accompanying the meme, it would have been captioned accordingly. 

11. The newspaper said that while the complainant was entitled to her views, it was entitled to characterise them as a “vile rant”. It said that it was not inaccurate to refer to the complainant as a British Council “boss” or “chief”, where she was “Head of Global Estates”. The newspaper noted that the British Council’s patron was the Queen, and said that its entire ethos was to promote the UK abroad. 

12. At a late stage of the IPSO investigation, the newspaper said that on the morning of the 26 July, the journalist had received a telephone call from the British Council in relation to the online version of the story referring to the complainant as having called Prince George a “f******* d***head”. The journalist raised the issue with a senior member of the website’s editorial staff, and an amendment was made to a picture caption which had claimed that the complainant had made the comment accompanying the meme. 

13. The newspaper accepted that this caption had been inaccurate, and said that the only explanation it could provide was that a sub-editor has misread the article. It said that the mistake was rectified when it had been brought to its attention by the British Council. At this stage of the IPSO complaints process, the newspaper offered to publish the following correction and apology, above the online article. It subsequently offered to publish this wording on its website’s homepage for 24 hours, and archived in its corrections and clarifications section: 

An incorrect picture caption on a story about Prince George suggested that Mrs Angela Gibbins called him a 'F****** D*******.  In fact Mrs Gibbins was commenting on a meme published on Facebook by somebody else.  We are happy to clarify and apologise to Mrs Gibbins. 

14. The complainant said that for several months, the newspaper had denied having claimed that she had made the “f****** d***head” comment.  In those circumstances, she was concerned that it was only at a late stage in the complaints process that the newspaper confirmed that the online version of the article had an image caption which claimed that she had made this comment when first published. She said that the inaccurate caption was evidence that the newspaper’s online journalist had understood her to have made this comment from the article that appeared in the print edition. She was concerned at the length of time taken for the newspaper to amend the online article when the British Council had brought it to the newspaper’s attention.  

Relevant Code provisions 

15. 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 

16. In large part, this complaint related to whether the articles, in their presentation of the story, claimed that the complainant had herself written the post that Prince George looked like “a fucking dickhead”, in addition to making the comments it was accepted she had made in response to the post. 

17. When first published, the online version of the first article contained a picture caption which inaccurately claimed that the complainant had said that “Prince George already looks like a “f****** d***head”. As was clear from the remainder of the coverage, the newspaper knew that the complainant had not made these comments. This was a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, and a breach of Clause 1 (i).  

18. The words accompanying the meme were an insult directed at Prince George, using offensive language. They were of a different quality to the comments the complainant had in fact made, and for these reasons, the Committee considered that the inaccuracy was significant, such as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).  The Committee was extremely concerned that the error in the caption had not been brought to the attention of either IPSO or the complainant until a late stage in the complaints process. 

19. The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to correct and apologise for this error. However, the newspaper had been aware of the inaccuracy since soon after the article was first published, and had amended the article accordingly. The Committee made clear that the Code’s requirement that significant inaccuracies should be corrected is not met by simply amending an article. The publication had failed to correct the article sufficiently promptly, and the complaint was upheld under Clause 1 (ii). 

20. The Committee next considered the second article. It acknowledged that the second sentence of the article stated that the complainant had made the comments “below the tot’s picture which someone had posted on Facebook with the vile caption: ‘Prince George already looks like a f*****g d***head’“. However, the image of the meme which appeared later in the article was captioned “Facebook Troll”, at the top, and was captioned “Facebook troll…. Angela Gibbins posted the comments on a private Facebook page”, at the bottom. This clearly implied that the complainant had posted the meme to Facebook, which was inaccurate, and directly contradicted the suggestion in the second sentence of the article. The presentation of this image, including the captions, represented a failure to take care not to publish misleading information, in breach of Clause 1 (i). The image of the meme and its captions was significantly misleading, such as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The newspaper had not offered to publish a correction on this point, and this aspect of the complaint was upheld as a breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

21. The print version of the first article placed the meme, captioned “Facebook troll”, adjacent to the complainant’s comments, captioned “Charity’s Exec’s Poison”. On both the front and inside page, the article began by setting out the comments it was accepted the complainant had made. The text on the front page explained that the complainant had “made her comments on a snap of him which had the caption: ‘Prince George […]’“. The second sentence of the full article on the inside page made clear that the complainant had made the comments on a picture that “someone had posted on Facebook with the vile caption: “Prince George […]’” 

22. The newspaper was entitled to draw attention to the context in which the complainant had made her comments about Prince George, which had been on a meme which contained an offensive insult towards him. Taking in to account all the circumstances, the Committee considered that the print version of the article made sufficiently clear that the “fucking dickhead” comment had been made by the person who originally posted the photograph of Prince George, rather than the complainant. The newspaper had not failed to take care over the accuracy of the article, in this respect. The article was not misleading in the manner alleged, and this aspect of the complaint did not breach of Clause 1. 

23. The Committee then considered the amended online version of the first article. In this article, the caption was first referenced in the third sentence of the article, which said that “[the complainant] made her comments beneath the three-year-old’s picture, which someone had posted on Facebook with the vile caption”. The words “fucking dickhead” first appeared in the image of the meme itself, the caption of which made clear that the complainant had made her comments “beneath the three-year-old’s picture, which someone had posted on Facebook”. For this reason, in addition to the reasons given in relation to the print version of the article, the Committee considered that the amended version of the online article was not significantly misleading in its presentation of the complainant’s comments. 

24. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the newspaper had not reported a further comment in the thread. The further comment was less hostile to Prince George, but it did not seek to draw back from the comment on which the newspaper’s coverage was based. The fact that the articles did not report this further comment, did not make them significantly misleading. The complainant was a senior manager at the British Council, and it was not misleading to refer to her as a “British Council Boss”. These aspects of the complaint did not breach Clause 1. 

Conclusions 

25. The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial Action Required 

26. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1 (i) and Clause 1 (ii) in relation to the original online version of the first article, and the second article, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee considered that the failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, and the failure to comply with the obligation to correct significant inaccuracies promptly would be appropriately remedied by the publication of an adjudication. 

27. The adjudication should be published on the publication’s website, with a link to the adjudication (including the headline) being published on the homepage for 24 hours. It should then be archived in the usual way. The headline of the adjudication must make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, and refer to its subject matter; it must be agreed in advance. 

28. In relation to the online version of the first article, if the publication continues to publish this article, without the addition of the offered correction above it, the full text of the adjudication should also be published on that page, beneath the headline. If the publication publishes the offered correction above the article, a link to the adjudication should be published with the article, explaining that it was the subject of an IPSO adjudication. 

29. In relation to the second article, if the newspaper intends to continue to publish the article without amendment to remove misleading statement identified by the Committee, the full text of the adjudication should also be published on that page, beneath the headline. If amended to remove the misleading statement, a link to the adjudication should be published with the article, explaining that it was the subject of an IPSO adjudication. 

30.  The terms of the adjudication to be published are as follows:  

Following publication of two online articles 26 July headlined “GEORGE & THE DRAGON Three-year-old Prince George hit by vile rant from British Council boss paid thousands by taxpayers to promote UK”, and “GEORGE'S DRAGON SLAYED £80k-a-year British Council boss who launched vile rant against Prince George is facing disciplinary action”, Angela Gibbins complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required The Sun to publish this adjudication on its website. 

The articles reported on Facebook comments the complainant had made about Prince George on a meme, created by someone else. The complainant’s comments in the thread below the meme related to Prince George, and “white privilege”. However, the meme had the caption “‘Prince George already looks like a f****** d***head’”, and this complaint related to whether the articles, in their presentation of the story, claimed that the complainant had herself written the caption on the meme, in addition to making the comments it was accepted she had made in response to the post. 

A picture caption in the first article stated that: “Troll with it…Angela Gibbins caused fury with her attack by saying ‘Prince George already looks like a f**** d***head’”. The complainant said that this was inaccurate; she had not created the meme, and had not called Prince George a “f****** d***head”. 

An image of the meme in the second article was captioned “Facebook Troll” at the top, and “Facebook troll…Angela Gibbins posted the comments on a private Facebook page”, at the bottom. The complainant said that this inaccurately suggested that she was the “troll” who had posted the meme. 

The newspaper accepted that the picture caption on first article was inaccurate, and said that the only explanation it could provide was that a sub-editor has misread the article. It said that when the British Council brought the mistake to its attention on the day after publication, it amended the caption to remove this claim. During the IPSO complaints process, it offered to publish a correction and apology to the complainant on its website. The newspaper denied that the image of the meme in the second article was misleading. 

The publication of the inaccurate caption in the first article was a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information. The newspaper had been aware of the inaccuracy since soon after the article was first published, and had amended the article accordingly. However, the Code’s requirement that significant inaccuracies should be corrected is not met by simply amending an article. While it subsequently offered to publish a correction and apology, the newspaper had failed to correct the article sufficiently promptly, and the complaint was upheld under Clause 1 (ii). Furthermore, where the amendment that had been made to the online article was clearly relevant to the complaint, the Committee was extremely concerned that the newspaper had not brought this to the attention to either IPSO or the complainant until a late stage of the complaints process. 

The presentation of the image of the meme in the second article clearly implied that the complainant had posted the meme to Facebook, which was inaccurate. This represented a further failure to take care not to publish misleading information. The publication had not offered to correct this, and the complaint was also upheld as a breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

The Committee considered that the appropriate remedy to the breach of the Code was publication of this adjudication.   

 

Date complaint received: 24/11/2016

Date decision issued: 14/06/2017