Ruling

16843-23 Meacham v The Sunday Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      22nd June 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 16843-23 Meacham v The Sunday Telegraph


Summary of Complaint

1. Zara Meacham complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Canterbury boys’ choir opens doors to state schools”, published on 19 February 2023 and an article headlined “Canterbury decision will create a quiet revolution”, published on the same date.

2. The first article reported on a change in rules to entry to Canterbury Cathedral choir. Its opening paragraphs stated:

Canterbury Cathedral will open its Boys’ Choir to singers form state schools to improve ‘equality and inclusion’.

Choristers were traditionally recruited from boarders at the nearby independent day and boarding school […] but the cathedral’s leadership has decided to reform the rules following a review.

Canterbury’s 25-strong choir will be open to nearby state schools […]

The cathedral said it is ‘committed to progressing equality and inclusion; the requirement that singers are boarding pupils at the neighbouring school [will] be dropped in light of this.

3. The first article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Canterbury Cathedral opens Boys’ Choir to state schools in diversity drive”.

4. The second article was only published online, under the first article on the same page. It was a related comment piece which stated that if a reader surveyed “the typical cathedral choir […] what you find is a sea of white, male voices; listen to the chat in the vestry afterwards, and the Received English accents tell you those white male singers are also overwhelmingly middleclass”.

5. The complainant said that the first article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said that the cathedral had previously recruited boys by holding auditions at both state and private schools and had accepted children who had attended state primary schools.

6. The complainant also said the second article was inaccurate to report that “the typical cathedral choir” was majority white and middle class, as the current iteration of the Canterbury Cathedral choir had children of a multitude of nationalities and ethnicities, whose parents worked in various jobs, including those typically considered to be “working class” employment.

7. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the first article was based on a press release by the Cathedral. It said the press release made clear that there had been a partnership with a specific private school since 1971, which entailed male choristers having to both be educated and live as boarding students at the school. It said that this partnership had now ended, so that students need not be educated at the private school. The publication also said it had not received a complaint from the Cathedral about the article.

8. Furthermore, the publication said that the complainant had misinterpreted the second article. It said that the second article was a comment piece of choirs in general, and was not making a comment on the make up of the current Canterbury choir. It said that this was clear where the article referred to “the typical cathedral choir”.

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

9. The change of rules by Canterbury Cathedral was that male choristers had previously been required to be educated and boarded at a specific school, but this was no longer a requirement. The article stated that children were “traditionally” recruited from boarding students from a particular school. Where the article made clear the school’s new policy, namely that the choir would also “be open to nearby state schools", the Committee did not consider the article to be inaccurate in the way the complainant suggested. There was no breach of Clause 1 in relation to the first article.

10. With regards to the second article, the Committee noted that it made no reference to the races or social classes of the children in the Canterbury Cathedral choir, but rather a “typical” choir. Where this was clearly an opinion piece, and the complainant was not complaining about the racial and social class make up of all choirs, there was no breach of Clause 1 in relation to the second article.

Conclusions

11. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

12. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  23/02/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  05/06/2023