Complaints against three regional newspapers were among the first adjudications to be made by the successor to the PCC.
IPSO received 3,000 complaints in its first three months of business, with some of the new regulator’s initial verdicts having now been made public.
Among them are a complaint against the Edinburgh Evening News which was upheld and one against Aberdeen title The Press & Journal which was partially upheld.
Another complaint, against the Swindon Advertiser, was not upheld.
The complaint against the Edinburgh Evening News concerned the publication of a photograph of the complainant’s house on the front page of its 13 September edition with the caption ‘Who lives in a house like this?’, referring readers to pages four and five for the full story.
These pages featured an entirely unrelated article about a man convicted of sexual offences, with the story about the complainant’s house appearing on pages six and seven.
The unnamed complainant said that the error inaccurately suggested that a sex offender lived in his home, in breach of Clause One (Accuracy) of the IPSO Editors’ Code of PRactice.
The newspaper apologised for the error, offered to write a private letter of apology, published a correction in the paper, and offered to make a £50 donation to a local charity – which the complainant did not consider sufficient.
The IPSO committee found the Evening News had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information on its front page – but deemed no further remedial action was required.
The complaint against the Press & Journal concerned a page three article in its 10 December edition surrounding critical comments made by a Facebook group called Clan Donald Worldwide about Highland Titles Ltd, which sells plots of land and titles to fund conservation projects.
Complainant Douglas Wilson, of Highland Titles, said the article had deliberately confused the Facebook group with Clan Donald itself, suggesting the criticisms had been made by the Clan rather than the group.
He also denied that he had told the newspaper before publication (as had been reported) that Highland Titles was a charity and also objected to a fact file accompanying the piece, which noted guidance issued by Trading Standards on buying “souvenir plots”.
In his view this inaccurately suggested his company had acted improperly, or that Trading Standards were investigating its work.
The newspaper accepted that it was inaccurate for it to have attributed the comments to a Scottish clan, removed the online article and offered to publish a correction on page five or six – amends which were not accepted by Mr Wilson.
The complaint under Clause One was partially upheld on the grounds the paper had failed to distinguish Clan Donald from the Facebook group, but did not see its reporting of the company as a “charity” as a breach of the same Clause in light of the fact that Highland Titles was wholly owned by a charitable trust.
The committee also found Mr Wilson had been offered the right of reply under Clause Two, and so that portion of the complaint was not upheld.
The case involving the Swindon Advertiser saw George Hart complain it had breached Clause One (Accuracy), Clause Three (Privacy) and Clause Five (Intrusion into grief or shock) in an article headlined ‘Police plea after legal highs death’, published on 11 September 2014.
The article reported that police had issued a warning about the dangers of legal highs following the death of Simon Morse, the complainant’s brother-in-law, on 9 August.
The complainant regarded the publication of the article, without the consent of his family, as cruel and damaging.
He said that it had caused serious intrusion, and had informed at least one family member of the details of the death that the family had hoped to keep from her.
Further, the complainant said that the article was significantly inaccurate: Mr Morse’s death had not been attributed to legal highs; he had died following an infection, which was recorded on the death certificate as “bacterial endocarditis due to MRSA and multi organ failure”.
He had not been found dead in his home on 9 August; he had died on 18 August after five days in hospital.
The newspaper expressed regret that it had inadvertently caused the family distress at a difficult time and it had not intended to cause upset but to highlight an issue of considerable public concern, following several deaths in the local area connected to legal highs.
While the newspaper noted that it had been relying on information provided by police, it accepted that the claims in the article regarding the timing and location of Mr Morse’s death had been inaccurate, offered to publish a follow-up “tribute” from the family’s point of view and to correct and apologise for the inaccuracies in the article.
The complainant said that this offer (and the newspaper’s reliance on information from the police) was inadequate.
In response, the committee found the Advertiser’s story had been “published in good faith based on information provided by an apparently authoritative source” and the decision not to take additional steps, such as by contacting the family for comment, did not constitute a failure to take care over the accuracy of the piece – and accepted the wording and prominence of the correction proposed was sufficient to comply with the requirements of Clause One (ii).
It also found the publication of the deceased’s name and the area he lived did not constitute a breach of Clause Three and that not obtaining the family’s consent did not constitute a breach of Clause Five.