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Watchdog dismisses complaint over ex-JP boss’s solar farm link

IPSO_logo_newA campaigner against a proposed solar farm, whose directors include a former senior Johnston Press executive, has had a complaint against one of the publisher’s newspapers dismissed by the press regulator.

Helen Scott complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Bedford Times & Citizen had breached Clause 13 of the Editors’ Code of Practice, which covers financial journalism, in a story highlighting the potential benefits of the project.

The complainant claimed that as one of the directors of Harrold Renewable Energy (HARE), the employee in question could stand to benefit financially if its plans for a solar farm in the village of Harrold went ahead.

Graham Russell, who until last month was group research manager at Johnston Press, is listed as a director of the company on the Harrold Renewable Energy website.  However, neither IPSO or the Times & Citizen were willing to confirm that Graham was the unnamed employee mentioned in the regulator’s adjudication.

The complainant was concerned that he could have worked with the newspaper in the preparation of the article, and that her opposition group was not asked for comment prior to publication.

The newspaper explained that the employee who is a director of HARE has no influence over the newspaper’s editorial content, nor of any other newspaper or website within the same publishing group, as he worked in the marketing and research department.

The information for the article had been supplied by HARE after an interview with another director of the organisation, following submission of its planning application.

The Times & Citizen considered its reporting to be balanced, and offered to publish a reader’s letter form the complainant.

The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.

Other recent IPSO cases involving regional newspapers include:

Roberts v Lancaster Guardian

John Roberts complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy) over a letter, which had been attributed to him and was published in the Lancaster Guardian.

He said he had not sent the letter, which urged pedestrians to campaign for safer streets.

The Guardian said it had published the letter in good faith.

It had received the letter from the same email address the complainant was using for his correspondence with IPSO and provided a copy of the email it had received.

The letter was not controversial in any way, and the Guardian had no reason to suspect it wasn’t genuine.

The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.

O’Connor v Romsey Advertiser

Matt O’Connor, the founder of campaign group Fathers4Justice, complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) over an article which reported a judge had dismissed harassment claims made by him and his wife against a Conservative MP and a former Conservative lobbyist.

Mr O’Connor said the newspaper had not asked him to comment on the story or verified its accuracy with him before publication.

Instead, it had published a statement that he had given to its sister publication, the Daily Echo, and had denied him the right to reply.

The complainant, who was not present at February’s hearing, also claimed several further inaccuracies, including a quote from the presiding judge which was taken from a statement issued by the MP concerned.

The newspaper said as the complainant had not attended the February hearing, it did not consider that he was in a position to dispute the defendant’s account.

It added it would be willing to publisher a letter from the complainant, though denied it had offered him the right to reply.

The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.


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  • June 18, 2015 at 8:46 am

    Even after reading the full adjudication, it is difficult to make a valued judgement on this without seeing the original article. On the face of it, though, I have concerns. The ruling says information for the article was provided by the windfarm company (a press release?). Even if the paper prints opposition views and letters at another time, an article based on information from a commercial company on such a controversial issue should not be published without a counter balance there and then. That’s a basic principle. Another basic principle is this: if the Editor, or whoever has editorial control, was aware that Graham Russell (decent bloke) was a director of the company proposing the scheme, he/she should not have touched such a pro-company piece with a bargepole. I would have chucked it in the bin and told everyone why.

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  • June 18, 2015 at 9:53 am

    Concerns shared, although almost impossible to get a sense of what has happened as there is (oddly) no link to the offending piece.
    At first glance, I thought the JP bloke must be simply a non-exec on the board of a national solar-power provider, but then you see that this is a tiny corporate vehicle, set up for (implicitly) one scheme in one village, and bang on the paper’s patch.
    You’d hope that the editor would have tried their hardest to avoid any appearance of editorial favouritism/bias/impropriety,but seemingly not.

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  • June 18, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Sorry to keep going on about this but yet again IPSO and a paper have been dragged through an investigation following a complaint about a court hearing from someone who was not present.

    Why aren’t these dismissed instantly?

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  • June 19, 2015 at 12:54 pm

    I knew nothing of this matter until reading this HTFP article! Given IPSO’s decision, I am bewildered that HTFP should deem it appropriate to mention my name in this piece. Perhaps David Sharman might care to explain? David, just so you know, you got my job title wrong, so too my date of departure from Johnston Press. Great effort, fella.

    For the record, HARE is a community benefit society (a form of co-operative) seeking to develop a community-owned solar farm in North Bedfordshire. As well as generating as much electricity as our village uses, we expect the green, clean solar farm to generate over £1m for local charities. I have not made, and will not make, a single penny from this project. As with the other villagers in HARE, I am an unpaid volunteer who believes local communities should do their bit to combat climate change and who want any renewable energy scheme in our local area to directly benefit the local community and not just fill the pockets of a commercial developer.

    This complaint is the first time that anybody from the opposition group has broken cover. To date, the antis have chosen to remain anonymous, using social media and email to spread lies about HARE and the proposed solar farm. Indeed, at the time of the Times & Citizen article, there was no way of contacting the opposition group that the complainant appears to represent! The Times & Citizen and the other local newspaper, Bedfordshire on Sunday, have published numerous letters and articles about the solar farm project, both before and since the December 2014 article that Helen Scott chose to complain about in April 2015. IPSO were absolutely right not to uphold a complaint that would appear to have been motivated by vindictiveness and/or desperation.

    Idle Rich, thanks for the kind words. David Sharman, let’s be hearing from you.

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  • June 19, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    Hi Graham

    The title group research manager is what is stated on your LinkedIn page while the date of your departure was given to us by the JP press office. Apologies if either of these details were incorrect – happy to correct them if so.

    Given that you are publicly listed as a director of HARE on its website it seemed appropriate to mention you by name.

    David Sharman

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  • June 19, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    David, both details are incorrect but the bigger issue is your judgement. One assumes I was not mentioned in the IPSO adjudication either because my identity was unknown or because IPSO deemed it irrelevant. That you chose to name a hitherto anonymous, innocent party is not, I contend, remotely appropriate, especially when you appear to have made no effort to contact me for background or additional information. It’s shoddy and unnecessary.

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