Ruling

20293-23 Mendes v Western Mail

  • Complaint Summary

    Rafael Mendes complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Western Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Pair had £11,000 worth of drugs”, published on 3 August 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      11th January 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 20293-23 Mendes v Western Mail


Summary of Complaint

1. Rafael Mendes complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Western Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Pair had £11,000 worth of drugs”, published on 3 August 2023.

2. The article, which appeared on page 9, reported on the complainant’s conviction for drug possession. It reported that the complainant and another individual “were found in possession of up to £11,000 worth of cannabis when pulled over by police” – before reporting that the pair were found to be in possession of “498g of cannabis, valued between £5,800 and £11,140”. The article also reported that “a sentencing hearing at Cardiff Crown Court heard police also discovered £7,000 in a cash […] as well as £100 worth of cocaine.”

3. The article also appeared online in substantively the same format; this version of the article was published on 1 August 2023, under the headline “Pair pulled over by police found with £11,000 of cannabis”.

4. The complainant said that the article contained several inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1. Firstly, he said that the article inaccurately reported that the cannabis was valued at “between £5,800 and £11,140”; he stated it was valued at approximately between £2000 and £3000, significantly lower than the reported amount.

5. The complainant also said that “there was a very small amount of cocaine found in the car” – meaning it was not possible to ascertain its value. Therefore, he said the reported figure of £100 was inaccurate. Finally, the complainant said the article inaccurately reported that £7,000 of cash was found in the car – he said that £740 had been found in the car.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. Firstly, it said that its reporter’s notes, taken during the complainant’s hearing, supported the article’s claim that it had been heard in court that cannabis found was valued at “between £5,800 and £11,140”. The publication provided IPSO with a copy of the reporter’s shorthand notes. The notes said “Cannabis” and then, on the line beneath, “£5,800 - £11,140”. The publication said that, given this, the article could not be significantly inaccurate to state that the defendants were found with £11,000 of cannabis. It also said that the article clarified that the value of the cannabis was between these two amounts.

7. Turning to the alleged inaccuracy regarding the value of cash found, the publication said this figure had been taken from the court charge list. The court charge list, which the publication supplied to IPSO, stated: “On 01/07/2023 at Cardiff you [the complainant] acquired, used or had possession of criminal property, namely £700”.

8. The publication therefore accepted, a month after first being made aware of the complaint via IPSO, that it was clear from the court charge list that the amount of cash found was £700, rather than £7000 as reported in the article. It therefore amended the text of the online article to instead report that the complainant had been found with £700. It also added a footnote correction to the article, which read as follows:

“A previous version of this article reported that police had discovered £7000 in cash. This was incorrect. In fact, police found £700 cash. We are happy to clarify this and the article has been amended accordingly.“

9. The publication also published a print correction the next day, which appeared on page 2 of the newspaper. The correction read as follows:

“Our article ‘Pair had £11,000 worth of drugs’, August 3, reported the conviction of [named individual], and Rafael Mendes, 22, after they were stopped by police in Cardiff and found in possession of drugs. The article also reported that the police discovered £7,000 in cash. This was incorrect. In fact, the police found £700 cash. We are happy to clarify this.”

10. The publication said it was not inaccurate to report that the cocaine found in the complainant’s car was valued at £100. Again, it stated that this figure was heard in court, and supported by its reporter’s shorthand notes. The notes supplied to IPSO stated: “cocaine worth between £40 and £100”.

11. Upon receipt of the publication’s position, the complainant stated that the article was not “fair and balanced”. He accepted, however, that the disputed values of the cocaine and cannabis were heard in court; but believed they were “not factually proven in court” and were “highly estimated”.

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

12. First, the Committee considered the allegedly inaccurate headlines. The Committee noted the importance of headlines, given their prominence and visibility, and ability to potentially mislead readers. However, the Committee had regard for the fact that a headline can only ever be a summary of the information set out in an article; provided it is not distorted, misleading, or inaccurate, and is supported by the text of an article, summarising information in a concise manner will generally not breach the Code.

13. In this case, the headline reported that the complainant had been found with “£11,000 worth of drugs” (“£11,000 worth of cannabis” in the online version). The opening paragraph of the article made clear that the value of the cannabis given during the court proceedings was “up to £11,000”; the second paragraph expanded on this, by stating the value was “between £5,800 and £11,140”. It was also not in dispute that this value-range had been heard in court. In these circumstances, the Committee was of the view that headline accurately summarised the article, and that, when read as a whole, the value of cannabis given during the court proceeding was made clear. The headlines were not inaccurate and were supported by the text of the article; there was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1.

14. Next, the Committee considered the alleged inaccuracy arising from the article’s reporting of the amount of cash found in the complainant’s car. The Committee recognised that, by the publication’s own admission, the article had inaccurately reported that the complainant had been in possession of £7000. The publication had said that this information had been taken from the court charge list. However, the court charge list provided by the publication did not tally with the information reported in the article – it stated the complainant had been in possession of £700. The publication had accepted during IPSO’s investigation that this was an error.

15. While the article was inaccurate on the above point, the Committee noted that the error arose from the seemingly inadvertent addition of a single zero. While it was regrettable that the error had occurred, the Committee did not consider that inaccurately reporting the value of the cash represented a significant inaccuracy, nor did it consider that the typographical error constituted a lack of care taken over the accuracy of the article on the part of the publication, in circumstances where the charge the complainant had faced, as well as his sentence, were accurately reported. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Notwithstanding this, the Committee welcomed the publication’s decision to correct the error.

16. The article reported the value of the cocaine found in possession of the complainant was £100. While the article did not make clear that the figure heard in court was “between £40 and £100”, the Committee had regard for the relatively small difference between the reported figure of £100 and £40; it also noted that, given the court had not established the exact value of the cocaine, it could not say with any certainty that the article was inaccurate on this point. In light of this, there was no breach of Clause 1.

17. The Committee also noted the complainant’s concern that the article was not fair or balanced. Under the Editors’ Code, articles do not need to be fair or balanced, as long as publications take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. Where the Committee did not uphold any alleged inaccuracies in the article, there was no breach arising from the fact that the article was not fair and balanced. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

18. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

19. N/A


Date complaint received: 01/08/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 19/12/2023