Ruling

16962-23 Shaw v The Sentinel (Stoke)

    • Date complaint received

      21st September 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 16962-23 Shaw v The Sentinel (Stoke)


Summary of Complaint

1. Stephen Shaw complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sentinel breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Residents demand action at flats ‘neglected’ for 10 years”, published on 7 November 2022.

2. The article reported that “residents in a block of flats have accused their landlords of ‘neglecting’ them – for a decade” and that the complainant, “aged 38, has lived in his flat in the listed building for more than a decade.” It included quotes attributed to the complainant which said: “this is the first property I had on my own and it was great at first. But then I came to realise how small it was and that the landlord does not do anything to help improve it.” It included further quotes from the complainant, in which he said: “we have had various people managing [the flats], latterly Stoke-on-Trent Housing Society. In all that time hardly anything has been done. It needs modernising. There are cracks in the walls that appeared since they put new UPVC windows in […] the windows look good from the outside but from the inside it is appalling […] the flats need rewiring, new heating systems, new kitchens and new bathrooms because nothing has been done since 1998 when it opened. This part of the building is listed and it is just being left to rot.”

3. The article also appeared online in a substantially similar format under the headline “'Neglected' tenants left in 'appalling conditions' slam landlord”.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because he said it misattributed words said by his neighbour to him. He said he did not say: “but then I came to realise how small it was”; “we have had various people managing [the flats], latterly Stoke-on-Trent Housing Society. In all that time hardly anything has been done. It needs modernising”; or “the windows look good from the outside but from the inside it is appalling.” The complainant said, although he and his neighbour felt “more or less the same” about the condition of the property, they expressed themselves differently and he would not have used words such as “latterly”.

5. The complainant also disputed the accuracy of the article’s headline “Residents demand action at flats ‘neglected’ for 10 years”. He said he had never said this. He also said it was inaccurate to state the flats had been neglected for 10 years. He said issues had been ongoing since before he had first moved to the property 12 years earlier, and that some residents had been dealing with the issues for at least 20 years.

6. The publication initially did not accept the article was inaccurate. It supplied the reporter’s notes of the conversation between him and two residents at the block of flats, one of whom was the complainant. These notes said:

I have lived here 12 years in November. This is the first property I had on my own. It was great. But in time I came to realise how small it is. The landlord does not do anything. We have had various people managing them, latterly Stoke-on-Trent Housing Society. In all that time nothing has been done. It needs modernising. There are cracks in the wall that appeared since they put new UPVC windows in. The windows look good from the outside but from the inside it is appalling. The flats need rewiring, new heating systems, new kitchens, new bathrooms. Nothing has been done since 1998 when it opened. This part of the building is listed and they are just letting it go to rot.”

7. It also said the article was focused on the complainant’s experiences, and seeing as he had lived there twelve years, it was not inaccurate to say the problem had been ongoing for a decade – there was not a substantial difference between twelve years and ten years. It also said the complainant’s quote, “nothing has been done since 1998 when it opened” was included in the article and so the complainant’s position that there had been issues in the block of flats for a longer period of time was set out, albeit that the focus of the article was on his and his neighbour’s experience of the block.

8. The complainant did not accept the reporter’s notes demonstrated he had said what he was quoted as saying in the article. He said his neighbour and him had talked over each other as they had been interviewed and he knew some of the words – such as latterly – would not have been used by him.

9. During the course of IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to correct the article. It offered to publish the following correction in print on page 2:

article 'Residents demand action at flats 'neglected' for 10 years', 7 November 2022, reported that Stephen Shaw had been living in his flat and experiencing the issues for 'more than a decade' and suggested he had stated that 'little or no work has been carried out in the past 10 years'. In fact, Mr Shaw has been a resident of the flats for over 12 years and expressed that 'nothing has been done since 1998'. We are happy to clarify this.

The publication also offered to remove the first paragraph of the online article and publish the following, as a footnote correction:

previous version of this article reported that 'residents in a block of flats have accused their landlords of 'neglecting' them for a decade' and suggested that Mr Shaw had stated 'little or no maintenance work has been carried out in the past 10 years'. In fact, Mr Shaw has been a resident of the flats for over 12 years, and expressed that 'nothing has been done since 1998'. We are happy to clarify this.”

10. The complainant did not accept these corrections as a resolution to his complaint.

Relevant Clause Provisions

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

11. By the end of IPSO’s investigation, it was not in dispute that the publication had inaccurately attributed quotes to the complainant. However, the complainant accepted that he and his neighbour felt “more or less the same” about the issues discussed in the article. The complainant did not allege the article had inaccurately represented his thoughts or feelings, but rather that it had inaccurately captured how he would have expressed himself. The quotes selected, regardless of whether attributed to the complainant or his neighbour, still conveyed the overall message of the complainant’s position: that he, along with his fellow residents, was unhappy with the condition of the properties. While there was a dispute about whether the publication had inaccurately attributed quotes this did not render the article inaccurate or misleading, where the complainant accepted his views were not materially different from his neighbour’s. Although the Committee welcomed the efforts from the publication to resolve the complaint by offering a correction, where it did not find the inaccuracies in the article to be significant, correcting the article was not necessary under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

12. The Committee then considered whether it was inaccurate to report problems had been ongoing for “a decade”, when the complainant’s position was that problems had existed for longer than a decade, and he had never said problems had only occurred over the last ten years. The Committee noted at no point did the article report the complainant had said the problem had been ongoing for only a decade – it in fact included a quote stating, “nothing has been done since 1998 when it opened”, making it clear there were issues with the property going back further than ten years. In any event, where the complaint’s position was that problems had been ongoing for at least the last ten years, it was not significantly inaccurate to report the problems had been ongoing for a decade, where the point was problems had existed for too long and residents felt neglected. There was no breach on this point.

Conclusions

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

14. N/A


Date complaint received: 03/03/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/09/2023