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Salmond IPSO complaint prompts row over definition of ‘fake news’

SalmondA complaint to the press watchdog prompted a row over the definition of “fake news” between Alex Salmond and a daily newspaper.

The former Scottish National Party leader, pictured, went to the Independent Press Standards Organisation after Glasgow-based daily The Herald used the term in an online report about the first broadcast of his programme on Russian government-funded channel RT UK.

The Herald reported Mr Salmond had “sparked a ‘fake news’ row” after reading out a series of tweets on his show from two accounts – one of which didn’t exist and another which had never been posted on the social networking site.

After correspondence between the two parties following the article’s publication, Mr Salmond said that one of the accounts in question had been miscaptioned on the show, while the other was sent in by a person that had asked that a certain Twitter handle be used, presumably to protect his anonymity.

These responses were added into the online article once received.

In a complaint to IPSO under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, he said an allegation of “fake news” is an allegation of a systematic attempt to distort the news agenda with false information, adding the article’s use of this term was totally unjustified by either the text of the article, or the facts of the case.

Mr Salmond claimed all of the emails, tweets and queries used on the programme were real questions from real people, and he noted that The Herald’s own legal adviser shared this view when he advised that the words “fake news” be removed from the headline.

In response, The Herald said that “fake news” was a contrived term, which was why it was placed in inverted commas in the article, adding that its meaning could not be confined in the manner suggested by Mr Salmond because “fake news” is spread just as easily by careless journalism as it is by design.

The paper said that the headline reference to “fake news” was clearly supported by the text of the article, which dealt with questions about the reliability of RT’s output.

The headline was later altered to remove reference to “fake news” because it was trying to strike the right tone overall, but claimed that this should not be regarded as an admission that the headline lacked justification.

IPSO found the article had made clear the basis of the “fake news” claim – that there were discrepancies between what appeared on Twitter, and what the programme had claimed had been tweeted, which had given rise to criticism of the programme.

Where the programme appeared to have broadcast inaccuracies about the tweets it had received, IPSO found The Herald had a reasonable basis for characterising the response to this as a “‘fake news’ row”.

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