A weekly newspaper has been rapped by the press watchdog over a story based on information provided by a former member of its staff.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation found in favour of school headteacher Joe Brian after he complained about a story in the Rotherham Advertiser which reported a parent’s claims that he had been unprofessional.
The accusation was made after Mr Brian banned two parents from the school grounds after comments made on Twitter, while the Advertiser also reported he “stopped [one of the parent’s] 11-year-old daughter from attending a school trip – despite a doctor’s note saying she was fit to attend”.
But IPSO ruled the paper should not have reported that claim as fact without making it clear that this was the view of the child’s parent.
Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Mr Brian said the decision to stop the child from going had been taken by the venue the pupils had been due to visit in line with its sickness policy, and this decision was not affected by the child’s doctor’s note.
Mr Brian added he had been contacted by the Advertiser before publication and had said that there was “no truth” in the claims, noting that he had “just emailed the parent a letter from [the venue] which makes that clear – maybe she will let you see it”.
During IPSO’s investigation he provided a copy of the letter, in which the venue said it took “full responsibility” for the decision.
Mr Brian later declined the Advertiser’s offer to publish a correction.
The Advertiser denied that its assertion Mr Brian had stopped the child attending was misleading because he had passed on the medical information that led to the venue’s decision.
The paper said it had contacted him on several occasions before the article was published asking if he “would like to make any comment”, “make a statement” or if he “wish[ed] to respond” regarding the allegations that he stopped the pupil going on a trip.
Mr Brian denied the original allegations sent by the Advertiser and had declined to comment, other than by saying “there is no truth in what you have written” and that “I’m sure any decent journalist would be reading what was written for themselves”.
The Advertiser provided IPSO with several email chains between its staff and Mr Brian, but acknowledged the exchange “had not gone well” and had been at points “childish”. However, it did not accept that any staff who emailed him had engaged in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
IPSO found the Advertiser had reported as fact that Mr Brian had stopped one of his pupils from attending a school trip.
Before publication, he had made the paper aware of a letter which he said disproved the claim and therefore the Committee found that reporting that he had “stopped” the child attending the trip, without making it clear that this was the view of the child’s parent, represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the information.
IPSO added it was a matter of regret that the exchange of emails between Mr Brian and the Advertiser had become heated and that the paper’s manner did not meet the standards of professionalism expected, but found the exchange did not constitute harassment, intimidation or persistent pursuit.
The Committee further noted Mr Brian’s general concern that the article was based on information provided by a former member of the paper’s staff, but said the Advertiser was entitled to report the information which it had received, as long as it did so in accordance with the terms of the Code.
The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.