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Daily rapped for relying on single source to estimate protest size

The press watchdog has rapped a regional daily after it relied on a single source to estimate the size of a protest.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has found against Dundee daily The Courier after it reported “police broke up a crowd of around 40″ in a story about a demonstration on its patch.

The story, which appeared on The Courier’s front page in January, prompted a complaint to IPSO from Moira Brown, who was reported as having been charged with “culpable and reckless conduct” at the protest.

Ms Brown was not named in the story and the charges against her were later dropped, but she complained on the grounds that only six individuals were involved in the gathering instead of what the newspaper had reported.

Courier IPSO
The Courier had relied on a single eyewitness account that a crowd of “30-40″ had gathered in reporting its estimate, but the watchdog found this was not corroborated by either the police or a video of the demonstration.

Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Ms Brown acknowledged that a few more individuals gathered following the arrival of police officers, but maintained that the number of those in attendance only reached 10 to 12 and not the figure of “30-40″ reported by the newspaper.

She said that video footage of the incident on social media demonstrated this and her account was also supported by a summary of evidence she had received from Dundee Sheriff Court which stated that “about 1210 hours, said police witnesses arrived at locus and traced approximately six persons who congregating around a public bench. Present within the group were [the complainant and the other woman]”.

Denying a breach of Code, The Courier said it had taken care over the accuracy of the story by seeking comment from the eyewitness and Police Scotland, and had quoted their comments in the article.

It noted the story had clearly reported the recollection of an eyewitness that a “small crowd” of “30-40″ had been present and said Police Scotland had provided the following statement: “Officers attended and most of the group dispersed after advice was given.

“A 52-year-old woman was arrested and charged in connection with culpable and reckless conduct. A 74-year-old woman was arrested and charged in connection with breach of coronavirus regulations.”

The Courier said that the reference to a “protest” in the police statement and it being “dispersed” supported the idea that a larger crowd had been involved than six, while had not seen the “summary of evidence” cited by Ms Brown did not believe that this was a public document.

The paper maintained that the footage cited by Ms Brown was shot at a “close angle” and did not fully show the scene at the time of the arrest.

It provided a further video, shot at a wider angle, in order to demonstrate that more than six people were present in the immediate areas while she was being arrested.

The Courier maintained that it had taken reasonable steps prior to publication to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1 and denied that the complaint had established an inaccuracy.

IPSO found The Courier had relied on three sources of information – the statement by the police, the statement by the eyewitness and the video.

The police statement referred to a “protest” that had been “dispersed” but did not refer to the numbers involved, while the eyewitness account referred to a crowd of “30-40″ but was not clear about when the crowd had gathered.

The Committee acknowledged that The Courier had attempted to exercise caution in reporting on the incident, but it concluded that in circumstances where the witness statement was ambiguous and the claim was not supported by either the police statement or the video, reporting as fact that the alleged protest involved a crowd of “around 40″ constituted a failure to take care over the story.

The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.