A Tory MP who claimed a weekly newspaper’s story about him was “not news” has had his complain thrown out by the press watchdog.
Bill Wiggin, MP for North Herefordshire, went to the Independent Press Standards Organisation over a story in the Hereford Times which reported he was “facing questions of morality over his decision to be a managing director of an offshore financial company.”
As a result of the article’s publication, Mr Wiggin said that people in his constituency had been misled by the article into believing that he was implicated in the ‘Paradise Papers’, which were made public on 5 November 2017 and detailed allegations of legal tax avoidance against a number of individuals.
He had received a number of letters following the Times’s article, published four days later, from constituents he claimed had been “misled” by the piece.
The story stated that “figures disclosing how much the county’s MPs earn from outside financial interests have been revealed in the most recent register released by parliament”, and that this register had shown that Mr Wiggin was “a director of two fund platforms in the Caymans and two in Bermuda.”
In his complaint to IPSO under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Mr Wiggin also said that it was inaccurate to say that his outside earnings had been “revealed” in the latest Register of Members’ Financial Interests, where his entry had been largely unchanged for 9 months, and where the latest update did not reveal anything new about the “offshore” aspects of his earnings.
He argued that the subject of the article was not therefore “news”, as the article merely repeated information which the newspaper had already reported on.
Denying a breach of Code, the Times said that the article had not made reference to the Paradise Papers story, and nothing linking this to Mr Wiggin had been implied.
The newspaper added that the story was being prepared prior to the publication of the Paradise Papers, on the basis of a suggestion from a manager that publications look into the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a source of stories, and that this timing was purely coincidental.
The reference to the information being “revealed” was justified, the Times said, because it was entitled to update its readers on their MP’s outside interests.
Mr Wiggin had used his weekly column in the paper to rebut the allegations on 7 December and he was invited to publish a letter or further column setting out his position.
IPSO found that the story did not imply that Mr Wiggin was involved in the tax avoidance practices revealed in the Paradise Papers, and that the use of the word “revealed” in the story did not represent a significant inaccuracy.
The complaint was not upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.