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News site rapped after repeating councillor’s inaccurate Facebook claims

Facebook-icon-1The press watchdog has rapped a regional news website after it repeated inaccurate claims made by a councillor without taking further steps to establish whether it was true.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has upheld a complaint against Kent Online after reporting a GP surgery had stopped “allowing telephone renewals.”

The claims were based on information taken from a Facebook post published by a councillor for the area served by the surgery, Mote Medical Practice.

The surgery said it had never allowed renewals of prescriptions by telephone, and therefore it was inaccurate to report it had stopped doing so.

IPSO sided with the surgery on these points on the grounds that Kent Online had not put the specific allegations to it when researching the story.

Kent Online’s story reported the surgery had “stopped allowing patients to post repeat prescriptions at the Boughton Lane practice or allowing telephone renewals”, and went on to say that another surgery was in talks to buy it from Mote.

Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Mote said it had never allowed renewals of prescriptions by telephone, and therefore it was misleading to report that it had stopped “allowing telephone renewals”.

It also claimed to have no record of Kent Online trying to contact it for comment.

Denying a breach of Code, Kent Online said the intention of the story was not to suggest the surgery used to accept telephone prescription renewal requests and had stopped, but rather that after disallowing patients to post renewal requests, it would not allow telephone renewals in place of this.

The site also provided a Facebook post written by the councillor quoted in the story which claimed the surgery “began refusing phone prescriptions” and that it would re-open in October once the sale had been completed.

It said a reporter had contacted the surgery on two occasions for comment and outlined the nature of the query, but was told that no one was available, and provided emails to IPSO it had sent to the surgery that was planning to buy the branch from the surgery, in which it asked for “information please on the surgery’s plans to take over the practice”.

Kent Online also noted that a joint statement was issued by the two surgeries, and said that therefore it was aware of press enquiries.

IPSO found the joint statement had been provided after the publication had asked the surgery buying the branch for “information” about the “plans to take over the practice”, but this email did not refer to the specific allegations included within the story which had been taken from the Facebook post.

It added Kent Online email either Mote Medical Practice or the other surgery to confirm the specific allegations within the Facebook post after receiving the statement.

In addition, the site had not taken any further steps to confirm whether the surgery had stopped, or had ever allowed, telephone renewals, and had therefore failed to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information.

IPSO said Kent Online had inaccurately implied that the surgery had at one point given renewed prescriptions by telephone and had now stopped and that the branch surgery planned to reopen in October.

Where this was not the case, and misled people about how they could receive healthcare services, this was a significant inaccuracy.

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