Ruling

17497-17 Linfield Football Club v Daily Record

    • Date complaint received

      2nd November 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee 17497-17 Linfield Football Club v Daily Record

Summary of complaint

1. Linfield Football Club complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Record breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “We had red dots on us when we played Linfield... we kept moving”, published on 24 June 2017. The article was also published online with the headline “Former Celtic winger [the player’s name]: We had red dots on us when we played Linfield so we just kept moving”.

2. The article reported comments made by a former Aberdeen Football Club player, about a football match at Linfield FC’s ground, Windsor Park, in the 1990s. The article reported that the player “wasn’t laughing as he recalled a training session when he feared he had become target practice at Windsor Park”. It reported that the player had said that during a friendly between Linfield and Aberdeen, “there were red dots on us for the whole 90 minutes”. The article also reported that the player had stated that when he and other Aberdeen players were walking near the grounds “they all flooded out of a pub at the top of the street, so we just continued walking while they were all shouting and bawling at us.” The print article had the sub headline: “Says [the player’s name]”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, as no football match had taken place between Aberdeen and Linfield at any point in the 1990s. It said that the newspaper had published the damaging allegations on the word of the individual interviewed, without any independent fact checks.

4. The complainant also said that the article was an attempt to stoke up sectarian tension, and was discriminatory as it suggested that the grounds were not safe for members of the Catholic faith.

5. The newspaper said that it had reported the player’s recollection of the game, which he had recounted at a recent press conference. It said that following the press conference, the reporter challenged the player on the veracity of his comments, and was assured that events had taken place in the manner he had described. The newspaper said that when the reporter returned to the office, he had been unable to find a record of the game having taken place, and therefore contacted the player again to challenge his memory. It said that the player had assured the reporter that it was a ‘friendly’, and there would not necessarily be a record of it. The newspaper said that the incident was from the 1990s, involving unidentifiable fans, and that it took reasonable steps prior to publication to take care not to publish inaccurate information. It denied breaching Clause 1 (i).

6. The newspaper said that after publication, it became clear that the details about the game at Windsor Park were significantly inaccurate, and required correction under Clause 1 (ii). The newspaper said that where the inaccurate information had come from the player’s recollection, it was appropriate that the correction and apology came through his words. On 28 June, it published an article in the sports pages of the print newspaper headlined “[The player’s name]: I’M SO SORRY”. The article was also published online with the headline “[The player] apologises to Linfield over claims he was targeted by fans at Windsor Park”. The article explained what had been claimed in the article under complaint, and reported the following comments from the player: “during an interview last week with several members of the Scottish press I recounted an event but I got the grounds mixed up. I realise that now. I mistakenly thought it was Windsor Park but it wasn’t. This event occurred over 25 years ago and my memory has let me down. I apologise to Linfield Football Club for any offence taken. These comments weren’t intended to be a slight on the club or their fans.” The newspaper also wrote a letter to the complainant’s chairman, apologising for any upset caused by the original article. The article under complaint was removed from the newspaper’s website.

7. The complainant said that the published apology was exceptionally qualified, suggesting that events may have taken place somewhere else in Northern Ireland. It said that the newspaper should publish a full apology for its failures in this instance.

Relevant Code provisions

8. 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.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

9. In response to hearing the player’s recollection of events surrounding a football match at the complainant’s grounds, the newspaper took steps to verify the accuracy of the information. These steps included checking for records of the game in question, and twice challenging the player on his recollection, to reduce the possibility that it published information which had been misremembered. The events in question were alleged to have taken place many years ago, and in publishing the claims, the newspaper took care to present them as the player’s recollection of events as he had witnessed them. Given the nature of the claims, and the manner in which they were presented, the newspaper had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate information, and there was no breach of Clause 1 (i).

10. It had later become evident that the player had inaccurately referred to the events he described as having taken place during a match with the complainant at its grounds. His reported comments were significantly inaccurate, such as to require a correction under Clause 1(ii). The wording of the correction identified the inaccuracy. In this case, an apology was appropriate, as the inaccurate information represented a serious allegation about the past conduct of the complainant’s supporters, and this requirement was met by the publication of an apology from the player concerned. The article had been published in the sports section of the newspaper, on the inside back page. It was also published in the sports section of the website. The correction was published four days later, also on the inside back page, and on the sports section of the website. The correction was sufficiently prominent and prompt to satisfy the requirements of Clause 1 (ii). There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).

11. The terms of Clause 12 protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of certain characteristics, outlined in the Code. The complainant’s concern that the article suggested the football club’s ground was not safe for members of the Catholic faith did not engage the terms of Clause 12.

Conclusion

12. The complaint was not upheld

Remedial Action required

13.  N/A

Date complaint received: 11/08/2017
Date decision issued: 16/10/2017