The press watchdog has rapped a weekly newspaper after it published an apology containing a serious allegation which was not checked.
The apology in question related to an article which reported Craig Finlay, pictured, chair of Crieff Community Council, as saying a “question of trust” had arisen after another councillor distributed the draft minutes of a meeting to the public before they had been approved.
The subsequent apology to this unnamed councillor then stated Mr Finlay’s statement was “inaccurate” and that he had granted permission for the minutes to be distributed at the meeting in question.
In his complaint to IPSO under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Mr Finlay said his statement had been correct, and that the effect of the newspaper’s apology had been to call him a liar.
He said the councillor concerned had proposed that the draft minutes be approved, but he said this could not be done because all other councillors who had attended the previous meeting had since resigned.
The councillor in question then began distributing copies of the draft minutes to members of the public present without Mr Finlay’s permission, but he did not want to cause a “scene” by reprimanding her there.
The Perthshire-based Herald said it had been contacted by an individual present at the meeting acting on behalf of the councillor concerned, who claimed Mr Finlay clearly gave the councillor permission to hand out the minutes and advised those present they had 10 minutes to read them.
The newspaper provided minutes from the meeting where the dispute took place, which stated: “It was proposed by [the councillor] that the September minutes could be approved by local councillors. [The councillor] then distributed draft minutes to each community councillor and the public in attendance.”
The newspaper said the lack of dissent from Mr Finlay had implied consent, and it decided to print the apology to resolve the councillor’s complaint on the basis of this information.
IPSO found the Herald’s apology contained the serious allegation that Mr Finlay had made an inaccurate claim about the councillor’s conduct, and considered his lack of dissent at the councillor’s distribution of the minutes did not provide an adequate basis for the apology’s unqualified claim that, contrary to his earlier accusation about the councillor’s conduct, he had in fact granted her permission to distribute the minutes.
The Herald had adopted the councillor’s denial as fact in the apology and claimed explicitly that Mr Finlay had made an inaccurate statement about her without taking additional steps to ascertain the correct position.
The complaint was upheld, and the Herald was ordered to publish the terms of IPSO’s adjudication.
The full adjudication can be read here.