The Independent Press Standards Organisation has ruled on a complaint brought by the journalist Dennis Rice against Press Gazette.
IPSO said Press Gazette breached clause one of the Editors' Code (accuracy) with a mistake which was made in an extract from the book Beyond Contempt by Peter Jukes published on 21 August, 2014. But it said Press Gazette has already made sufficient remedial action by publishing this correction which appeared the following day, and by editing the original piece.
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IPSO said the breach was "not so serious as to warrant the requirement that the website publish a critical adjudication". But in the interests of full disclosure, the adjudication is reproduced in full below.
As stated in Press Gazette's previous correction and apology to Dennis Rice, the nub of the complaint is around the fact that the piece quoted a Tweet from Rice to Jukes which read: "So I am now going to write a blog about @peterjukes and his family – so he can enjoy a taste of his own medicine." The extract mistakenly gave the impression that this message was sent in June 2014, around the time of a dispute over the reporting of the cost of the hacking trial.
In fact Rice posted the Tweet in January.
SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT
Decision of the Complaints Committee
0071-14 Rice v Press Gazette
1. Dennis Rice complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Press Gazette had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Beyond contempt: how Peter Jukes invented a new way of funding court reporting and found himself investigated by the press”, published on 21 August 2014.
2. The article contained an extract from “Beyond contempt”, a book by a freelance journalist who had live tweeted the phone hacking trials. The extract detailed his experiences, including how he had obtained crowdfunding to undertake this work. It reported that, in June 2014, “soon after” it was disclosed that the journalist had received a £500 donation from the campaigning group Hacked Off, the complainant had “threatened to investigate” the journalist and tweeted, “So I’m now going to blog about @[the journalist] & his family”.
3. The complainant said that the claim about the timing of the tweet was inaccurate. In fact, this had been sent on 31 January 2014 in response to comments, posted online by the journalist, which had referred to the complainant’s family. The article therefore contained the misleading impression that the complainant had mounted an unprovoked attack on the journalist and his family. The complainant argued that this inaccuracy, and the failure to put the allegation to him before publication, breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. The complainant also complained, under Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), that he had not been provided with an opportunity to reply before publication. Further, he said that his inclusion in the article had been unjustified and had breached Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code.
4. The website accepted that the article had contained an error regarding the timing of the tweet; this was the result of the complainant’s comments having been retweeted by a third party in June 2014. Having been contacted directly by the complainant, the website had removed the reference to him from the article, and subsequently agreed the terms for publication of a correction and apology; this was published within 24 hours of the original article’s publication and was given equal prominence to the original. The website said that the book had been read by a media lawyer; however, following publication, it had discovered that the timing of the tweet had not been put to the complainant for comment – as the journalist believed he was dealing with undisputed facts and was concerned that an approach to the complainant would be construed as harassment.
5. The complainant did not accept that the correction published in response to his direct complaint was sufficient; in his view, a correction could not make up for the damage caused by the inaccuracy. He was further concerned that the article had not been immediately removed from the website and that there had been a delay, he said of over 30 hours, before the article had been corrected.
RELEVANT CODE PROVISIONS
It is the responsibility of editors and publishers to apply the Code to editorial material in both printed and online versions of publications. They should take care to ensure it is observed rigorously by all editorial staff and external contributors, including non-journalists, in printed and online versions of publications.
7. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
(i) The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information including pictures.
(ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
8. Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity to reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
9. Clause 3 (Privacy)
(i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence; including digital communications.
Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual’s private life without consent. Account will be taken of the complainant’s own public disclosures of information.
FINDINGS OF THE COMMITTEE
10. Although the website had relied on checks to which the book had been subject as part of the process of publication, it was fully accountable under the Editors’ Code for these processes.
11. The journalist said that the complainant’s Twitter account had been “protected” at the time the article was written. The source of his information was therefore a retweet by another individual.
12. On balance, the Committee concluded that in these circumstances additional steps should have been taken to ensure the accuracy of the claim for the following reasons. First, the journalist was relying on second-hand information from a highly flexible medium in which misunderstandings can occur. Second, the tweet – and in particular, the timing of the tweet – was presented in a context that suggested the complainant was threatening to write about the journalist’s family as a response to the disclosures about his funding, when in fact the tweet had been written before that information had entered the public domain.
13. While the journalist said he believed that the retweet was contemporaneous – as was likely to be the case, given the nature of the medium – in these circumstances, the complainant should have been contacted to check the claims, or other steps should have been taken to verify the nature and timing of the tweet. Indeed, the website acknowledged that it should have provided him with the opportunity to comment on the claim before publication. The failure to do so breached Clause 1 (i). This aspect of the complaint was upheld.
14. The website had recognised, when contacted by the complainant, that it had published a significant inaccuracy. The remainder of the complaint under Clause 1 related to the sufficiency of the newspaper’s correction and apology under 1 (ii).
15. The correction contained substantively the same wording as that requested by the complainant – which satisfactorily explained and corrected the error. Further, there was no dispute that it had been published with equal prominence to the original article. While the Committee noted the complainant’s concern about the time it had taken, the website had published a correction and apology, using agreed wording, less than 48 hours after the original inaccuracy had appeared. This did not amount to a failure to correct the error “promptly” as required by the Code.
16. While the complainant contended that the article should have been removed in its entirety while the matter was being investigated, this is not a specific requirement of Clause 1 (ii); further, the website had removed the complainant’s name from the article shortly after it was contacted by him. The complaint under Clause 1 (ii) was not upheld.
17. It did not appear to the Committee that the complainant had made any request for an opportunity to reply following publication – instead, he had called for the publication of a correction. The complaint under Clause 2 was not upheld.
18. Finally, the Committee noted the complaint under Clause 3. The information contained in the article related only to the complainant’s comments on a matter which could not be considered to be private. Their publication did not constitute an intrusion into the complainant’s private life, and as such, no justification was required under the terms of Clause 3. The complaint under Clause 3 was not upheld.
19. The complaint was upheld in part.
REMEDIAL ACTION REQUIRED
20. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1 (i), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee has the power to require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is to be determined by IPSO. It may also inform the publication that further remedial action is required to ensure that the requirements of the Editors’ Code are met.
21. The Committee considered both the nature of the breach of Clause 1 of the Code and the resulting inaccuracy. While it had concluded, on balance, that the complainant should have been contacted to check the claims, or that other steps should have been taken to verify the nature and timing of the tweet, the Committee did not consider this to be an egregious failure. The breach of Clause 1 (i) was not so serious as to warrant a requirement that the website publish a critical adjudication. Nonetheless, it was not in dispute that the result had been a significant inaccuracy with the potential to affect the complainant’s reputation. The appropriate remedial action was the publication of a correction.
22. Generally, the Committee considers that an effective correction should (i) identify the inaccuracies which require correcting; and, (ii), set out the corrective (accurate) position. In this instance, a correction needed to:
(i) Acknowledge that the article had inaccurately reported the timing of the tweet;
(ii) Report the correct time, and make clear to the reader the complainant’s explanation of the context in which the tweet was posted.
23. The website had published the following correction and apology:
Press Gazette yesterday published an extract from a book by Peter Jukes, Beyond Contempt, which referenced freelance journalist Dennis Rice.
It quoted a Tweet from Rice to Jukes which read: "So I am now going to write a blog about @peterjukes and his family – so he can enjoy a taste of his own medicine." The extract mistakenly gave the impression that this message was sent in June 2014, around the time of a dispute over the reporting of the cost of the hacking trial.
In fact Rice posted the Tweet in January. He said it was in response to a tweet from the author which read: "You were hacked over a story about someone else's private life Dennis. Yours was never outed."
Rice has pointed out that (as the Guardian revealed last year) his wife and sister were also hacked. He said he pointed this out to Jukes, who then wrote about this exchange on his blog (published on 11 January):
The Jukes blog post stated: "Twitter is not the ideal place to have a nuanced argument, and Rice has since revealed his family was targeted. This is a privacy violation of the first order.”
Jukes has told Press Gazette that it was his impression that the Rice tweet about his family was sent in June because it was retweeted from another user's account (via an MT) around that time.
Press Gazette has removed the reference to Dennis Rice from the article and would like to apologise to him for the mistake, and for not offering him right of reply in advance of publishing the extract.
24. This was sufficient to meet the requirement for remedial action.