Ruling

21105-23 Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited v The Scotsman

  • Complaint Summary

    Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scotsman breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Trump's first hotel in Scotland fails food hygiene test”, and an article headlined "Make Trump resort restaurant great again", both of which were published on 16 September 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      1st May 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 21105-23 Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited v The Scotsman


Summary of Complaint

1. Trump International Golf Club Scotland Limited complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Scotsman breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Trump's first hotel in Scotland fails food hygiene test”, and an article headlined "Make Trump resort restaurant great again", both of which were published on 16 September 2023.

2. The first article – which appeared on page 14 and 15 – reported on “an official control intervention” at Trump International Golf Links, a golf resort operated by the complainant. It reported that “Donald Trump’s inaugural property in Scotland has been told to make a raft of improvements by environmental health officials after an array of cleanliness and food safety issues saw the high-end hotel and golf resort fail to achieve a pass grade under a national food hygiene scheme”. It also reported that, “following a Freedom of Information request, The Scotsman obtained reports and correspondence detailing why the property failed to achieve a pass. Mr Trump’s hotel was first served with an ‘improvement notice’ following an official inspection in March last year. Aberdeenshire Council confirmed to The Scotsman this week that its status remains unchanged.” The article detailed some of the reported issues at the resort such as “[d]irty chopping boards and appliances, food handlers failing to wash their hands properly, and sausage meat found to be nearly three months out of date”.

3. The article concluded: “The Scotsman asked the Trump organisation if it had acted on the improvements specified by inspectors, and whether Mr Trump was aware his property had failed to pass the food hygiene inspection before declaring it one of the world’s greatest hotels. The company did not respond”. It also included a photograph of the hotel.

4. The second article – published on page 26 of the same edition – appeared as a leader column and commented on the inspection described by the first article. The article said that it’s “probably fair to say that the failure of the Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire to pass a food hygiene inspection is among the former US President’s lesser problems right now, given his current legal troubles. But it is, at least, rather ironic that the self-confessed germophobe’s business should have been ordered to make improvements by environmental health officials over cleanliness and food safety issues.” The article concluded: “As for the other diners, some might say one would have already needed to have a strong stomach to put money into the pockets of a man as morally repugnant as he is.”

5. Both articles also appeared online in substantially the same form. The first article appeared under the headline: “Revealed: Donald Trump's resort fails hygiene inspection amid food safety issues” and the second article appeared under the headline: “Trump resort's customers unlikely to be deterred by food hygiene fail”.

6. The complainant said that the articles were inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1, as they had created a false narrative that the resort was currently operating an unsafe environment for consumers and that the problems were ongoing. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to report that the resort had “failed” anything – it explained that during an unannounced inspection in March 2022 at the golf clubhouse, some improvements were identified. The complainant said these were immediately resolved and that the council did not return to complete a follow-up check. The complainant said that, following the inspection described in the articles under complaint, there was a second interaction with the council in February 2023 where minor issues were raised. The council returned less than two weeks later and confirmed that the issues had been addressed which led to the receipt of a ‘pass’ certificate in March 2023. Therefore, the complainant said there had been no failure. It said that the failure of a hygiene inspection would have serious connotations for a hospitality outlet, which could lead to financial loss or its immediate closure. The complainant said that the publication should have been aware, or should have made itself aware, of its current ‘pass’ status.

7. The complainant said that the print article had included a photograph of MacLeod House, which is the hotel at the Trump International golf resort. It said this gave the inaccurate impression that there were ongoing issues at the hotel. The complainant said that the hotel had not failed any inspection; it had not been inspected at all, and it was the golf clubhouse which had been inspected.

8. The complainant further said that the first article inaccurately claimed the publication had contacted Aberdeenshire Council for comment, which it said had the effect of adding credibility to the report. The complainant said it had spoken to the council, which disputed that it had been contacted for comment. The complainant speculated that the publication had taken information regarding the status of the resort from the council’s website, which the council had since confirmed was inaccurate.

9. The complainant also said it was inaccurate for the article to claim the publication had approached it for a response to specific questions. It said it had not received any approach or questions from the newspaper, and therefore did not have an opportunity to set the record straight prior to publication.

10. Prior to making a complaint to IPSO, the complainant contacted the publication on the day of both articles’ publication. It requested the removal of the online articles and a prominent written correction and apology to be published online and in print. The complainant said that, since the publication of the article, it had been required to issue a statement. In response, on the same day, the publication offered the complainant a “right of reply”. It also removed the second online article in error, and it was reinstated after a few hours.

11. The complainant responded to the publication with a statement which said:

“TRUMP INTERNATIONAL CATEGORICALLY REJECTS INCORRECT CLAIMS OVER FOOD HYGIENE

Following an article published by The Scotsman today asserting that the Trump International, Scotland, resort in Aberdeenshire had failed a food hygiene inspection, [a named individual], Executive Vice President, issued the following statement: “We categorically reject the incorrect claims made in The Scotsman newspaper today. This resort has never failed a food hygiene inspection and has a Pass Certificate dated March 2023. Aberdeenshire Council has reaffirmed this today and stated that their website does not reflect our status.

‘As all hospitality businesses know, it is routine for all food hygiene inspectors to make improvement recommendations, and such recommendations are always implemented.

‘Sadly, this false media coverage has created a hugely misleading and inaccurate impression of the high standards that are maintained at our resort in Aberdeenshire. We’ve instructed our lawyers to take action on this report and anyone who repeats it.”’

12. On 17 September the publication amended the online version of the first article under complaint to include part of the complainant’s statement. The amended article said:

“The Scotsman asked the Trump Organisation if it had acted on the improvements specified by inspectors, and whether Mr Trump was aware his property had failed to pass the food hygiene inspection before declaring it one of the world’s greatest hotels. The company did not respond before publication. However, on Saturday afternoon, [a named individual], Executive Vice President, Trump International Scotland, claimed they ‘categorically reject’ the report and suggested a Pass Certificate had now been achieved. The statement read: ‘This resort has never failed a food hygiene inspection and has a Pass Certificate dated March 2023. ‘As all hospitality businesses know, it is routine for all food hygiene inspectors to make improvement recommendations, and such recommendations are always implemented.’”

13. On 28 September, the complainant contacted the publication again, reiterating its original complaint, and that it had no record of having been contacted by the publication for comment. It further said that its pass certificate was visible online and there were no food hygiene issues with the business.

14. On 29 September the publication amended the first article’s headline to “Exclusive: Donald Trump's resort rapped by hygiene inspectors over food safety issues” and amended the second article’s headline to “Trump International Golf Links' customers unlikely to be deterred by hygiene inspection rap – Scotsman comment”. It inserted the following text at the beginning of the articles: “*This story has been updated following new information from Aberdeenshire Council confirming improvements have now been made and the resort has now passed an inspection – see footnote”. The footnote said:

“Prior to publication The Scotsman confirmed with Aberdeenshire Council that improvements were still required following the inspection on February 24 this year. We were told by Council officials that they were. It has now emerged that a revisit was made on March 9 this year where all food safety improvements were found to have been met and a pass certificate issued. The incorrect information was supplied to The Scotsman because the council’s systems were not updated properly, for which they have apologised to The Scotsman. We are happy to clarify this.”

15. On 30 September the publication published a print correction on page 3 which said the following:

“In an article on Saturday, September 16, headed ‘Trump’s first hotel in Scotland fails food hygiene test’ we reported that an ‘improvement required’ notice was in place following an inspection on February 24. Aberdeenshire Council now confirm a revisit was made on March 9 where the resort achieved a pass. The incorrect information, published in good faith after The Scotsman made pre-publication checks with the council, was supplied to The Scotsman because the council’s systems were not updated properly, for which they have apologised. We are happy to clarify this.”

16. On October 3, the publication confirmed to the complainant it had gone back to Aberdeenshire Council to understand the origins of the contradictory information the council provided to it and the complainant. It said the council had admitted to having incorrect information on its website and having incorrectly confirmed the website's accuracy prior to publication. The publication provided this correspondence during the investigation to support its position. In light of this, the publication had published the above corrections.

17. The complainant said that the amendments the publication had made to the article were themselves inaccurate. It said the clarification’s claim that “improvements have now been made and the resort has now passed an inspection” suggested that the pass rating has happened between 16 and 29 September – the date of the article’s publication and the date on which the correction had been published – whereas this had been achieved in March 2023. Furthermore, it said the clarification suggested the resort had “now passed an inspection” it had initially failed - it maintained that the resort had not failed the first inspection.

18. The complainant said the print clarification was inadequate as it had appeared in a supplement called “24 Hours” and therefore would be difficult to place in the context of the original article. It also said it appeared two weeks after the article, despite the complainant having contacted the publication to set the record straight on 17 September. The complainant further said the publication had not consulted with it in regard to the clarification and therefore it had not had opportunity to contribute to it.

19. The complainant also said the publication had been contacted twice before it chose to amend the online headlines. It noted that it had only published part of the complainant’s statement and had omitted: “Sadly this false media coverage has created a hugely misleading and inaccurate impression of the high standards that are maintained at our resort in Aberdeenshire. We have instructed our lawyers to take action on this report and anyone who repeats it”. It said this was a breach of Clause 1 (ii) as no apology was offered and it failed to correct significant inaccuracies. The complainant also believed this article had breached Clause 1 (iii) as it was not given a fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies, given that its statement was not published in full. The complainant also noted that the article continued to report that it had been approached for comment whereas it considered it had not been given a fair opportunity to respond in the first instance.

20. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said the article had reported on a kitchen at the Trump International Golf Club which had failed to meet the minimum legal standards in an announced visit from environmental health officials from Aberdeenshire Council, under Food Standards Scotland’s Food Hygiene Information System initiative. The publication said it had taken care over the accuracy of the articles in various ways. It had obtained a series of documents through an FOI request, contacted the council to fact-check information, and had given the complainant an opportunity to respond to questions prior to publication.

21. The publication said the reporter had contacted The Trump Organisation via an email address they had previous received a response from, but in this instance received no reply. The publication provided this email which was sent on 12 September - it asked for a response to the FOI which had shown the kitchen had failed to meet its legal requirements under a national food hygiene information scheme and set out the various issues. During the investigation, the publication provided the report from the council dated 24 February 2022, which had evaluated the premises as “improvement required”, as well as a letter to the complainant confirming this rating. The inspection document explained that the venue should contact the Council for a follow up inspection once the identified issues had been addressed.

22. The publication obtained information from the council’s website regarding the resort’s status. Following this, the publication said it approached the council to fact-check this information. The publication said the council had confirmed the complainant still had an "improvement required" notice against it following an inspection. The publication provided an email from the council dated 12 September, prior to the publication of the article, in response to the journalist which said: “I’ve heard back from the service and they’ve confirmed the status hasn’t changed – it’s still ‘improvement required.’” The publication provided further correspondence between it and the council, following the complaint; in an email of 29 September, almost two weeks after the publication of the article, the council confirmed:

“In terms of the timescale for this, at the time of your Freedom of Information request and your subsequent check with ourselves in the comms team, the information on the Food Standards Scotland system showed that improvements were still required. This information was passed to you in good faith, and it was only after the publication of your article that it became apparent that information was incorrect. Following the revisit on March 9, the council’s reporting system should have been updated to reflect that the required improvements had been made, which would have in turn updated the Food Standards Scotland system. Unfortunately, this task was overlooked.”

23. Following the publication of the article, once it had been contacted by the complainant, the publication said it immediately incorporated the complainant’s statement into the first online article.

24. The publication said it had set out the basis for the article’s claim that the complainant had “failed” the food hygiene test: it had detailed the issues in the kitchen which meant it was failing to meet the legal minimums required of it in the article. It explained that adequate food safety and hygiene practices were required by law, and as the FOI documentation noted, some improvements were required immediately. It said the kitchen did not pass the test, despite having prior warning and being closed to days before, during which it could have been cleaned. Further, the publication said the senior environmental health officer noted his disappointment at the cleaning issues. The publication said this was the definition of a failure to pass an inspection. It also argued that Aberdeenshire Council's website noted: "Food enforcement officers have powers to take action against food businesses who fail to comply with the law. This enforcement action is contained in the Food Law Enforcement Policy and Procedure and can range from verbal advice or a warning letter to the issue of Formal Notices for improvement or prohibition from operating or even referring major deficiencies to the Procurator Fiscal for prosecution." The publication said this confirmed that “fail” referred to a failure to comply with the law, with a wide range of potential follow-up actions.

25. With regard to the complainant’s position that the footnote correction and amendments to the article had introduced further inaccuracies to the story, the publication said the footnote was “straightforward and factual”. It said it made clear that a revisit took place on March 9 2023, when a pass certificate was issued. The publication said the complainant’s contention that it never failed an inspection was contradicted by evidence which included the requirement for improvements to meet minimum legal standards, and by the subsequent issuing of a pass certificate when those improvements were made.

26. The publication did not accept an apology was necessary; it said an error was introduced to the report as a result of inaccurate information provided by the council which it was entitled to rely on. Further, it had not received a response to its inquiry from the complainant prior to publication, which could have identified and corrected any alleged inaccuracies within the story prior to publication. The publication said that when the council's error was confirmed, it took steps to clarify the matter prominently both online and in print. The publication said an apology would suggest it had made errors in its reporting, when it took every reasonable precaution to check the information it had published. It said it would also suggest it regretted the other aspects of its reporting, which it did not.

27. The publication said it amended the headline of the articles on 29 September following confirmation from the council the information it had shared was inaccurate. It changed the headline to "Revealed: Donald Trump's resort rapped by hygiene inspectors over food safety issues"” to remove any ambiguity that could arise from the use of the present tense “fails”. The second article’s headline was changed to “Trump International Golf Links' customers unlikely to be deterred by hygiene inspection rap – Scotsman comment”.

28. With regard to Clause 1 (iii), the publication said it had published the substantive part of the complainant’s statement. In addition, it considered that the section of the response it omitted to publish was inaccurate, did not address the specifics of the article, and would lead readers to believe that "high standards" were maintained at the resort, whereas the article showed this had not been the case. The publication said it was not obliged by the Code to publish responses which are, themselves, likely to be a breach of Clause 1 of the Code.

29. On 28 November, the publication identified an error in its clarification which referred to the date of the first inspection as having occurred in 2023, whereas the inspection had actually taken place in 2022. It said this error was introduced during the complaints process by the complainant and offered the following clarification:

“Footnote: Prior to publication The Scotsman confirmed with Aberdeenshire Council that improvements were still required following the inspection on February 24 2022. We were told by Council officials that they were. It has now emerged that a revisit was made on March 9 this year where all food safety improvements were found to have been met and a pass certificate issued. The incorrect information was supplied to The Scotsman because the council’s systems were not updated properly, for which they have apologised to The Scotsman. This footnote was also corrected after it wrongly stated the inspection took place on February 24 2023, when - as our article states - the inspection was a year earlier. We are happy to clarify these points.”

30. In response to the publication’s defence of its reporting, the complainant said that the publication was fully aware of the location and contact details for the business in Aberdeen and designated website. It said that the publication had used a generic email address to make its approach, when the relevant point of contact was widely known and often quoted in the media. It said the email address the publication had contacted had not been used very often by the reporter, and when it had, it was concerning US political or court matters – not Scottish issues.

31. The publication noted it had received a response from the address it contacted on 27 September in relation to a different story and therefore argued it was an active email address.

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

32. The complainant said the articles inaccurately claimed the resort had failed the inspection, and had implied it had not passed since the inspection had taken place. First, the Committee noted that the article had set out the basis for the term “failed”: it explained that the resort had not met the requirements to achieve a “pass” status and therefore could be characterised as having “failed”. It did not consider there was a breach of Clause 1 on this point.

33. The publication had gone to some lengths to ensure the accuracy over the information and any potential update to the inspection’s findings: it had made an FOI request regarding the inspection; checked the council’s website; contacted the council to verify whether the information on its website was correct in regard to the inspection status; and had also attempted to contact the complainant with several questions. The council had confirmed that the website was accurate and the status, which was not a pass, remained “unchanged”. None of these steps provided information which indicated that the claim was inaccurate. For these reasons, the Committee was satisfied that the publication had taken sufficient care over the accuracy of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i) on this point.

34. Turning to the location of the inspection, the complainant said this had occurred at the golf clubhouse, not the hotel. The Committee noted that the first article had referred to location of the “fail” is several ways: “Trump’s first hotel in Scotland”, “Donald Trump’s inaugural property in Scotland”, “high-end hotel and golf resort”, “Mr Trump’s hotel”. The second article referred to it as “Trump resort restaurant” and “Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire”. While the Committee acknowledged that the improvements notice was issued in relation to the golf clubhouse, it did not consider it was significantly inaccurate to refer to the location as the hotel or illustrate the article with a picture of the hotel as the resort was comprised of the hotel and golf clubhouse. For this reason, the Committee did not identify a breach of Clause 1 on this point.

35. The Committee next considered whether the information was significantly inaccurate and in need of correction as required by the terms of Clause 1 (ii). While the Committee was satisfied that the publication had taken care not to publish inaccurate information, it acknowledged that the resort had, in fact, passed an inspection in March 2023, prior to the article’s publication. However, the first article had stated: “Aberdeenshire Council confirmed to The Scotsman this week that its status remains unchanged.” This status had changed in March 2023, and therefore was inaccurate. The Committee considered this inaccuracy was significant given it related to the hygiene standards of a resort which would likely have an impact on its custom and reputation. Therefore, the article required correction in accordance with Clause 1 (ii).

36. The Committee noted that the second article was a leader column which commented on the recent “fail” of the resort, and did not refer to a change of the status. Where the Committee had established a factual basis for the term “failed”, and the article did not explicitly state that the status had not changed, the Committee were content that the article was not significantly inaccurate, and there was no breach of Clause 1 in relation to this article.   

37. The next question for the Committee was whether the publication had corrected the inaccuracies in the first article with due prominence and promptness. The Committee noted that on 17 September, the day after the complainant had contacted it, the publication had amended the first article to include part of the complainant’s statement. Following further correspondence from the complainant on 28 September, the publication sought to verify the contradictory information the council had given it in relation to its current status. The day after receiving confirmation from the council that it had made an error, on 29 September, the publication updated both the headline; amended the articles to state it had been updated following the new information from the council; and published a footnote correction. On 30 September, it published a print clarification on page three, two days after receiving the information. The Committee was satisfied that it was proportionate for the publication to wait until it had verified the complaint’s position with the council before correcting the article. It considered publishing the online and print clarifications one to two days respectively after the council had verified the information to represent due promptness. In terms of prominence, the print correction appeared on page three, earlier in the paper than where first article had originally appeared. Therefore, this was sufficiently prominent.

38. The Committee had regard for the wording of the correction, which made clear the article had reported an ‘improvement required’ notice was in place following an inspection on 24 February but that “Aberdeenshire Council now confirm a revisit was made on March 9 where the resort achieved a pass.” The publication later noticed an error with the dates in the correction which had been introduced during the complaints process – it corrected this and also made clear it had corrected the clarification. The Committee noted that the publication had not issued another print clarification to correct the dates. The original clarification had not included the year of the first inspection which was in 2022, however, the Committee was satisfied that the original article had made clear the original inspection was in 2022 and the clarification corrected the significant inaccuracy that at time of publication the resort had not received a pass certificate – and made clear it received a pass certificate on 9 March 2023. The Committee were satisfied the corrections corrected the record. For these reasons there was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).

39. The Committee also considered whether it was necessary for the publication to apologise for the significant inaccuracy within the article. The Committee were of the view that the publication had taken care over the accuracy of the article, had corrected the error promptly and prominently, and had included a substantial part of a statement supplied by the complainant. For these reasons, an apology was not necessary and there was no breach of Clause 1 (ii) on this point.

40. The Committee next considered the first article’s claims that the newspaper had approached the complainant with specific questions. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that it had no record of this approach and the publication had used an email address which was not typically used for the resort’s media enquiries. However, the publication was able to provide correspondence which showed it had contacted the Trump Organization – the conglomerate to which the complainant belonged, and that no response had been received. The Committee considered this approach was satisfactory due to the three-day lead prior to publication and the scale and sophistication of the organisation which could have alerted the complainant. Therefore, it was not inaccurate for the article to state “The Scotsman asked the Trump Organisation if it had acted on the improvements specified by inspectors, and whether Mr Trump was aware his property had failed to pass the food hygiene inspection before declaring it one of the world’s greatest hotels. The company did not respond.” Further, the publication had been able to show it had also approached the council to verify the information on its website. Therefore, while the information the council had provided turned out to be inaccurate, it was not inaccurate for the article to indicate it had confirmed with the council what the status was. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

41. Finally, the Committee considered the complainant’s concerns that the first article had breached Clause 1 (iii) as it had not included the complainant’s statement in its entirety. The Committee noted that on receipt of the email which contained the complainant's statement, the publication published a substantial portion which said: “This resort has never failed a food hygiene inspection and has a Pass Certificate dated March 2023. “As all hospitality businesses know, it is routine for all food hygiene inspectors to make improvement recommendations, and such recommendations are always implemented.” The Committee were satisfied that this statement made the complainant’s position clear: that it disputed that it had failed any inspection, and that it had gained a “pass” in March 2023. The Committee also noted that the publication had further published a print and online clarification which made clear the council’s error. There is no requirement within Clause 1 (iii) for publications to publish everything a complainant may wish to include as a reply, and there was no breach of Clause 1 (iii).

Conclusions

42. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

43. N/A


Date complaint received: 05/10/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 19/03/2024


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.