Mike Nesbitt, pictured left, leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Portadown Times had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article printed prior to May’s General Election.
The article reported the findings of an “independent opinion poll” carried out by an unnamed “professional polling company” in the parliamentary constituency of Upper Bann, Northern Ireland, which predicted Mr Nesbitt’s party would finish third after the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein.
The article included comments from the DUP candidate, expressing concern that Sinn Fein might benefit from a split in the unionist vote, and noting that he was the “only candidate who can ensure that Upper Bann continues to have full-time unionist representation”.
Mr Nesbitt, a former sports reporter with BBC Northern Ireland, said that it was misleading for the article to report that the poll was “independent”, and not to state that it had in fact been commissioned by the DUP.
He noted that an article had been published after the election, in which the DUP responded to UUP criticism of the poll, and confirmed that it commissioned research on a regular basis.
Mr Nesbitt considered this to be evidence that the original article was inaccurate in describing the poll as “independent” and cited British Polling Council (BPC) guidelines, which noted that, when assessing whether a poll was reliable, journalists should take account of who conducted the poll, and who paid for it.
He also objected to the fact that the article had only included comment from the DUP candidate, adding it had damaged the campaign of the UUP candidate.
The Times did not accept a breach of code, saying it had been informed of the name of the company, the date on which the poll was carried out, and details of the methodology.
It was a condition of publication that the article not include the name of the polling company.
While the poll had been commissioned by the DUP, there had been no deliberate attmept to cover this up and it had been carried out professionally.
IPSO found the Times was entitled to make a commercial agreement with the polling company that its name not be published, but it was obliged to ensure that readers were not misled.
The Committee added readers were entitled to receive accurate information about the source of the poll and in circumstances where the article had not made clear that the poll had been commissioned by the DUP, it was misleading in breach of Clause 1 to describe it as “independent”.
Concern was also expressed that the newspaper had not made clear that the poll had been carried out 6 weeks prior to publication.
IPSO ordered the Times to carry its adjudication on either page 26, or further forward, in its newspaper, as well as on the homepage of its website.
The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.