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Councillor loses complaint over weekly’s report of meeting

IPSO_logo_newA parish councillor involved in a confrontation with a member of the public at a council meeting has lost his complaint over a weekly newspaper’s reporting of the incident.

Richard Michette complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Suffolk Free Press breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined ‘Parish councillor given verbal warning by police’, published on 22 October 2015.

The article stated that both parties had claimed to have been assaulted during the dispute and both had been given verbal warnings by police, but Mr Michette said the Free Press had created a significantly misleading impression of the incident at the parish meeting and had made no attempt to contact him for his version of events before publication.

The complainant raised his concerns about the article directly with the newspaper, and he said he was initially informed that the police had supplied the story. However, the police denied this when he contacted them.

When he informed the newspaper of this position, it said that the story had, in fact, come from two “unnamed sources”. As a resolution the Free Press agreed to publish a letter from the complainant and removed the article from its website, but Mr Michette further requested the publication of an article and an apology.

The Free Press told IPSO it had accurately reported information provided by a number of sources and was told about the incident by an individual who had attended the meeting. It noted that a report by another newspaper had corroborated the account and it sought confirmation of the details from the police.

The Free Press provided the notes taken by the reporter during his conversation with the police, which said: “Two common assaults no injuries recorded for each party. Parish council member and member of the public. Verbal warning to both. No further police action.”

The newspaper considered that it had been necessary to name the complainant in order to distinguish him from other parish councillors at the meeting; a confidential source had confirmed that he had been the councillor involved.

The article had not stated that the complainant had assaulted the other party, rather it had reported that both parties had made an allegation of assault and had “accepted police advice”. It believed that the publication of the complainant’s letter was a fair response to the complaint.

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

Other recent IPSO cases involving regional newspapers include:

Sarao v Hamilton Advertiser

Marco Sarao complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy) over a warrant for him to appear in court which appeared in the Hamilton Advertiser.

The Advertiser reported that the Sheriff granted a Crown motion for a warrant to arrest the complainant after he”“failed to appear” in court on charges of threatening behaviour, and that Hamilton Sheriff Court was told that !a court citation for the complainant had not been effected”.

Mr Sarao denied that a warrant had been issued for his arrest because he had failed to appear, and provided evidence that the warrant was in fact issued to secure his attendance at court

The Advertiser denied that the article had reported that a failure to appear warrant had been issued for the complainant; rather, it said that it reported that a warrant was issued when he did not appear at court, in other words, after he failed to appear.

Although its reporter had not been present at court during the hearing, the article was based on the court clerk’s minute of proceedings, a copy of which was provided to IPSO.

IPSO acknowledged that the wording of the article’s headline and first line had created an unnecessary ambiguity, but in the context of the article as a whole, it considered that neither reference was significantly misleading.

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

Wyn v Cambrian News

Hefin Wyn complained the Cambrian News had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) in an article which reported that a trustee of Cardigan Castle had resigned from his role because he had “suffered ‘months of online harassment’ from a local opposition group”.

It stated that a group called Cyfeillion Rhys ap Gruffudd, headed by the complainant, had been accused of “constantly attacking” aspects of the redevelopment of the castle.

Mr Wyn said that the newspaper had wrongly implied that he had been responsible for harassing the trustee and that he had been given insufficient time to respond to a request for a comment on the issue by the News.

In addition, the complainant said that the newspaper had inaccurately reported that his group had set up a petition calling for the reinstatement of Cardigan Castle’s director, who had previously been suspended.

The News said that the trustee had provided several messages from the complainant, which he had said had left him “feeling harassed”, and he had also confirmed that the complainant’s group had been among those who he felt were “attacking him” and had put his family “under pressure”.

The newspaper said it had called the complainant’s mobile phone three times, but the calls had not been answered and there was no answerphone, prior to sending him an email.

After receiving his response after deadline, the newspaper told the complainant that it would be happy to publish his response to the article the following week. It also accepted that the complainant’s group had not set up the petition, and offered to publish a clarification.

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