A regional daily has been censured by the Press Complaints Commission over a headline it said was written at a remote subbing hub.
The Swindon Advertiser wrongly claimed that a garage, S&R Motors, was being investigated by trading standards officers.
However while it was true that a customer complaint had been referred to trading standards officers, it was not being investigated.
In an adjudication published today, the PCC upheld a complaint by the firm under Clause 1 of the Editor’s Code, which covers accuracy.
The adjudication also revealed that there was a delay of 13 days before the article was removed from the paper’s website, and a further 42 days before it provided a response to the complaint.
The PCC said: “The Editors’ Code requires publication of a correction or clarification “promptly and with due prominence” once a significant inaccuracy is recognised.”
The original story was published on 30 January under the headline “Trading Standards investigate garage.
It reported concerns by a member of the public about an alleged defect in a used car she had bought from the complainants.
As well as complaining at the headline, the garage disputed the customer’s comments and denied what they understood as the suggestion that they had behaved dishonestly or negligently by allowing her to drive an unsafe vehicle.
According to the adjudication, the newspaper initially did not respond to the Commission’s request for its comments for 13 days and a further delay of 42 days before it provided a substantive response to the complaint.
At this point it accepted that the headline was inaccurate and explained that it had been written by a sub editor at its “remote subbing hub.” It offered to publish a clarification on this point.
The PCC said: “The power of a remedy is inevitably weakened the longer the original inaccuracy is permitted to remain uncorrected.
“In this instance, the complainants had made the newspaper aware of a straightforward and easily verifiable inaccuracy on the day of publication, which had stemmed from a failure to take appropriate care over the article’s headline.
“It was unacceptable that the newspaper had not offered a clarification on this point until two months had passed; this was not “prompt”, and therefore it was insufficient to remedy the initial breach of Clause 1.
“In addition, the preamble to the Code makes clear that editors must “co-operate swiftly with the PCC in the resolution of complaints. The Commission was extremely concerned by the deficiencies in the newspaper’s complaints handling process, as exhibited in this instance.”