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Residents group member named in weekly letter has complaint dismissed

IPSO_logo_newA residents group member who complained over the publication of her name in a weekly newspaper has had her grievance dismissed by the press watchdog.

Despite the nature of her initial complaint against the Watford Observer, Gaybrielle Butler was unsatisfied when a clarification by the newspaper did not include her name.

She complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Observer had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in a reader’s letter sent on behalf of the Bushey Residents Group, of which she is a member.

The letter, attributed to ‘Gay Butler, The working group for Bushey Residents Group’, expressed grave concern about the proposals for the establishment of an eruv (a defined area in which Jewish people may carry or push objects while observing the Sabbath) in the town of Bushey.

It suggested that the eruv would disturb the local community and identify Bushey as a “Jewish area”, adding that Jewish law was incompatible with democracy and discriminatory.

The complainant had submitted comments to the Observer on the group’s behalf for inclusion in an article, following a request from a journalist.

She said she had made clear the comments were not from her personally and she didn’t want her name attached to them.

The complainant received abusive messages after the letter was printed. She said the publication of the comments in the form of a letter rather than as part of an article represented a breach of Clause 1.

The week after publication of the letter a number of readers’ letters were published which were critical of the views expressed. The group then submitted a further letter which was intended to address the points raised, but was told that it had missed the newspaper’s deadline by two hours.

The complainant was told the Observer would not publish the letter the following week, as it believed that both sides to the debate had already had an appropriate opportunity to air their views.

She said this refusal represented a breach of Clause 2.

The Observer denied a breach of Code, saying the comments had been emailed after deadline for inclusion in the article and that instead they would be published as a letter the following week.

The complainant was the group’s spokesperson, and had read out a statement on its behalf at a public meeting the same week that the letter was published.

The Observer added it was policy not to publish letters without a name, even when the letter is submitted on behalf of a group, but agreed it would have been preferable to check the sender’s identity and whether the comments were intended as a letter for publication.

A clarification was printed, but the complainant was concerned it had not included or name or made the group’s position fully clear.

IPSO said it was “concerned” by the Observer’s failure to inform the complainant in advance that it intended to publish the comment she had submitted as a letter.

However it found no breach of Code, and the full adjudication can be read here.