Ruling

18524-23 Barnwell v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      31st August 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 18524-23 Barnwell v The Times

 

Summary of Complaint

1. Charles Barnwell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Imagine you were reviving a venerable carmaker”, published on 24 April 2023.

2. The article reported on a “strategy update” from the car-making group JLR. It reported that, as part of this strategy, the group had “[i]In a journey to scrapping all internal combustion engines by 2036, […] jettisoned its existing range of Jaguar cars to be replaced by all-new, all-electric models.” The article then said that the group’s “acting chief executive […] convene[d] a meeting last week at the company’s headquarters […] to explain what happens next. He said the first electric Jaguar […] would go on sale next year for first deliveries in 2025”.

3. Part of the article appeared in a question-and-answer format; one question read “Why is JLR so late to the electric party?” Part of the answer to this question referred to “the fallout from ‘dieselgate’. The Volkswagen emissions-cheating scandal sealed the fate of diesel in the eyes of environmentalists, consumers, legislators and regulators. This was catastrophic for JLR. Not only was up to 90 per cent of its annual production of vehicles diesel […] “In 2019 [the group] plunged to £3.6 billion of losses. […] Only then did serious work begin on electrification.”

4. The article was accompanied by an photograph of an older model of jaguar and a more recent model. The caption for both photographs read: “The E-Type Jaguar was, in the words of its designer, ‘a copy of nothing’; cars like the all-electric I-Pace, left, aim to take stock of this lesson”.

5. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline “Will JLR’s Reimagine strategy get the carmaker back on the road?” This version of the article had two photograph captions rather than one; the caption under the recent model of Jaguar read: “The I-Pace, Jaguar's first all-electric car”.

6. The complainant said that the article inaccurately reported that the first electric Jaguar would go on sale in 2024, in breach of Clause 1. He said that, in fact, the first electric Jaguar had been announced and shipped in 2018. This also meant, he said, that it was inaccurate for the article to report that Jaguar had “only” begun its “serious work on electrification” after 2019. He also said that Jaguar was not “late” to the electric vehicle market; rather, he said, it leads the European market for electric vehicles.

7. The publication did not accept that the article breached Clause 1. It said that the reference to the “first electric Jaguar” to go on sale came after an explanation that JLR had “jettisoned its existing range of cars to be replaced by all-new, all-electric models”, and was attributed to the acting chief executive of the group speaking about its strategy update. Therefore, read in the context of the article as a whole, the publication said it was clear that the reference to the “first electric Jaguar” referred to the first of this new line of vehicles being released as part of the new strategy, according to the acting chief executive – rather than a claim that this was the first electric Jaguar ever to be manufactured.

8. The publication then noted that the article asked the question “Why is JLR so late to the electric party?” The paragraph then dealt with the question of why it had taken the group longer than some of its rivals to abandon a business strategy focused on diesel vehicles in favour of one which prioritised electric vehicles. It said that the account of the sequence of events which led to the strange of strategy was not inaccurate or misleading.

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 Committee considered that the reference to the “first electric Jaguar” could be interpreted in two ways. The complainant’s interpretation, based on the plain meaning of the words read in isolation, was that this was a claim that an upcoming electric vehicle would be the first of its kind to be manufactured by Jaguar. The publication relied on the context of the article to make clear that this was in fact referencing the new line of all-electric vehicles, given that the article was reporting on the car group’s upcoming business strategy.

10. The Committee accepted that the article could be interpreted as reporting that the car was the first of its kind. However, it did not consider that this rendered the article significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted, or that there had been a failure to take care over the claim on the part of the publication. It considered this to be the case taking into account the context of the article – which was an examination of the new strategy, one part of which was an all-electric range, rather than a report about the car group’s electrification plans – and the fact that the complainant had not disputed that the acting chief executive of the group had referred to the upcoming car in such terms. Any inaccuracy was not significant within the context of the article as a whole, and the publication was entitled to rely on comments by the group’s chief executive and doing so did not represent a failure to take care over the article’s accuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

11. The Committee did not consider that reporting that “JLR [was] late to the electric party”  and had “only” begun its “serious work” on electrification after 2019 was an inaccurate characterisation; this was not a claim that JLR had not manufactured any electric vehicles. Rather, read in the context of the article, it was a claim that, prior to 2019, the company focused on its diesel-output and that its rivals did not. Where the article reported that, prior to “dieselgate”, 90% of its annual vehicle production was diesel, the Committee considered that there was a factual basis for this characterisation. There was no breach of Clause 1

Conclusions

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

13. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  20/05/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  11/08/2023