Ruling

20255-23 White v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      25th October 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 20255-23 White v The Daily Telegraph


Summary of Complaint

1. Robin White complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The culture war will be an election issue, and the Tories can’t allow the woke to win”, published on 29 July 2023.

2. The article was a column, which discussed “woke” opinions in politics and wider society in the wake of the Coutts banking incident. Toward the end of the article, the columnist described “interesting challenges” that had arisen as a result of such opinions, such as “Nicola Sturgeon [having] resigned because of her Gender Recognition Reform Bill” (GRR Bill). It also reported that Rishi Sunak “avoided getting drawn into the self-ID debate. He stuck to the point, which a court confirmed, that the Scottish government was exceeding its constitutional powers” in relation to the GRR Bill.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said a court had not “confirmed” the Scottish government had exceeded its powers, as reported by the article; at the time of the article’s publication, the court case had not yet been heard. She also said that there was no evidence to support the claim that Ms Sturgeon resigned as a result of the GRR Bill.

5. The publication accepted that a court had not yet heard the case at the time of publication, and said that the incorrect information had been included in the article as a result of human error.

6. In its first response to the complainant during the IPSO process, the publication confirmed that it had removed the sentence "which a court confirmed" under complaint, and that it had published the following correction as a footnote to the article:

An earlier version of this article stated that a court had confirmed that the Scottish Government had exceeded its powers in relation to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. This was incorrect. The application has yet to be heard and is due to come before the Court of Session in September 2023. We are happy to correct the record.

30 August, 27 days after its first response to the complainant, it also offered to publish the following correction in print in its Corrections and Clarifications column during IPSO’s investigation:

article "The culture war will be an election issue, and the Tories can't allow the woke to win" (July, 29) incorrectly reported that a court had confirmed that the Scottish Government had exceeded its powers in relation to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. The application is due to be heard by the Court of Session in September 2023. We are happy to correct the record.

7. With regard to the complaint that Ms Sturgeon had not resigned as a result of the GRR Bill, the publication said that the article was an opinion piece, and that the columnist was entitled to have a view about the reasons behind Ms Surgeon’s resignation that may not correlate with the official reasons given. The publication argued that criticism of Ms Sturgeon’s GRR Bill had been widely reported, and that prior to her resignation it had been speculated that she would stand down due to the controversy that surrounded the Bill. It said these factors supported the columnist’s opinion. It also said that, while other factors may have contributed to her decision, it was not practical or necessary to include these in an opinion piece that mostly focused on another subject.

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

8. The article reported that a court case had found that that the Scottish government ”was exceeding its constitutional powers” when, in fact, no such court case had taken place. The publication had said that this was due to human error, and had not explained whether it had taken any further steps to verify the claim presented in the article, or what editorial processes were in place to prevent such errors. As such, the Committee found that the publication of this inaccurate and easily verifiable information represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1(i).

9. The article made a serious claim about the findings of a court case that had not yet occurred. While this was not the main topic of the article, the claim in and of itself was significant enough to require correction as it inaccurately reported that a court case had found the Scottish government was exceeding its constitutional powers.

10. The correction offered by the publication identified the original inaccuracy - that it was inaccurate to state a court had found the Scottish government was exceeding its constitutional powers – and put the correct position on record, which was that this case was due to come before the court in September 2023. The online version of the correction was offered by the publication in its first substantive email to the complainant, with similar wording in print offered during the investigation. While the print correction was offered later in the IPSO process, the Committee acknowledged that the publication had shown it was willing to correct the record promptly once it had become aware of the inaccuracy. Therefore, on balance, it considered the remedial action was offered with due promptness. As the online article had been amended to remove the original inaccuracy, a footnote was sufficiently prominent, as was a print correction in the Corrections and Clarifications column. On this basis, there was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

11. The Committee then considered the reference to Ms Sturgeon resigning due to the GRR Bill. The Committee noted that it was not in a position to say precisely why Ms Sturgeon had resigned, and whether the article was significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted on this point – only Ms Sturgeon herself could say what if any, the bill played in her decision to resign. In such circumstances, without the input of the individual who the alleged inaccuracy related to – Ms Sturgeon – the Committee was not in a position to make a finding on this point of complaint.

Conclusion

12. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial action required

13. The correction which was offered clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence. The print version of the correction should now be published.


Date complaint received: 31/07/2023

Date decision issued: 03/10/2023


Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.