Ruling

14333-16 Gray v Inverness Courier

    • Date complaint received

      25th May 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 14333-16 Gray v Inverness Courier

Summary of Complaint

1. Bruce Gray complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Inverness Courier breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Newcomers to clubs have probably forgotten that there ever was a curfew”, published on 25 November 2016.

2. The article reported that the midnight curfew, which was imposed on pubs and clubs in Inverness in 2003, had been abolished in November 2012 following a final decision by the Highland Licensing Board’s chairwoman, Councillor Maxine Smith. The midnight curfew required that pubs and clubs in Inverness were to refuse entry to customers after midnight. The article reported that the police had, at that time, “actively campaigned for the restriction to remain in place”. It further reported that the complainant, who is a Police Sergeant of the Liquor and Civic Licensing Department, had now “admitted they were wrong, stating: ‘overall the removal hasn’t resulted in a notable increase or decrease in city centre crime’”. The article noted that the complainant had said “this was down to licenses and the police” and also reported him saying that “through mediums such as Pubwatch…despite the removal of the midnight curfew, Inverness remains a safe place to socialise”.

3. The article was published on pages twelve and thirteen of the newspaper under the headline “Newcomers to clubs have probably forgotten that there ever was a curfew”. It was trailed on the newspaper’s front page, with the strapline “’We were wrong’”.

4. The complainant said that both the article and the front page strapline were inaccurate as he had not stated, that the police were “wrong” in supporting the curfew, instead he had said that “there was no notable increase or decrease in city centre crime”  following the lifting of the curfew. However, this did not mean that the police were wrong: they had only ever claimed that lifting the curfew could (rather than would) increase crime, although he accepted that the Chief Constable had said at the time, in a consultation response, that this would “almost certainly reverse the positive trends previously cited”. The complainant said that the newspaper had deliberately misquoted him.

5. The newspaper did not accept that the article breached Clause 1. The newspaper said that it had published a number of examples of senior officers saying that there “would” be an increase in crime if the curfew was lifted; it noted that the complainant later said that there had not been an increase in crime, and that paraphrasing the complainant’s statement as an admission by the police that they were wrong, did not breach Clause 1. It said that although the article did not make clear that this was the newspaper’s characterisation, the article did not directly quote the complainant saying the police were wrong, and the statements were clearly attributed to the police, not the complainant.

6. The newspaper offered to publish the following clarification on page three of the Inverness Courier within the News Digest column:

In an article published on 25 November 2016 headlined “Newcomers to clubs have probably forgotten that there ever was a curfew”, we reported that Sergeant Bruce Gray admitted that the police were wrong by saying crime would increase if the curfew was lifted. He did say that crime had not increased but at no time said that police were wrong. We are sorry for any confusion caused.”

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

8. The Committee emphasised the need for publishers to take particular care when paraphrasing speech attributed to a particular indvidual, because of the risk of misrepresentation or distortion. The complainant described how policing plans had changed in light of the end of the curfew, and said that crime rates had not been affected by lifting the curfew. The newspaper interpreted this as an admission by the police, that they were “wrong” in supporting the curfew.

9. Reporting that the complainant “admitted [the police] were wrong” amounted to a misleading paraphrasing of his comments, in circumstances where he had given an alternative explanation as to why the crime rate had not changed. Although other comments which had been made by the complainant were quoted accurately and at length within the article, in circumstances where the complainant did not make any admission that the police, nor himself, “were wrong”, the Committee considered that this statement was significantly misleading. The Committee also noted that the use of quotation marks on the front page strapline gave the impression that it was direct speech, or a close paraphrase. This represented a failure to take care not to publish misleading information, and there was a breach of Clause 1 (i).

10. The newspaper had published significantly misleading information which required correction under Clause 1 (ii). The Committee considered that the clarification offered by the newspaper adequately addressed the misleading information, that the complainant “admitted [the police] were wrong”, and made clear the correct position. The article was trailed on the front page; however, given that the main content of the article was published on pages twelve and thirteen, the Committee considered that the offer to publish the clarification on page three, in the News and Digest column, was sufficiently prominent. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusions

11. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

12.  To remedy the established breach of the Code, the newspaper should now publish the clarification as offered.

Date complaint received: 22/12/2016

Date decision issued: 15/05/2017