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Watchdog raps news site for reporting ‘brothel’ claim as fact

NewIPSOThe press watchdog has rapped a local news website after it reported as fact an allegation that a property was being used as a brothel.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has upheld in part a complaint against the Yellow Advertiser after it published the headline ‘Landlord fined after Ilford property used as a brothel’ to accompany a story.

The Advertiser accepted the headline had been misleading and said the story had been based upon a press release issued by Redbridge Council, with copy provided by the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service, and published in good faith.

IPSO found the publication of the headline amounted to a clear failure by the Advertiser to take care not to publish misleading information after an investigation into the matter following the complaint by Vic Chott.

Mr Chott, representing Woodland Properties Management Ltd, complained under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice about the story, which reported the property “came to the council’s attention after multiple complaints from local people that it was overcrowded and a hotbed of antisocial behaviour, including use as a brothel”.

Mr Chott said the headline accompanying the story was significantly inaccurate and misleading as it stated as fact that the organisation was fined because the property was “used as a brothel”, adding that he was not even aware of this particular allegation.

After being contacted by Mr Chottn directly, the Advertiser amended the headline to include the word “allegedly”.

During IPSO’s investigation, it also offered to publish the following wording as a footnote clarification: “An earlier version of this story was posted without the word “alleged” in the headline.

“This was only on our website for a very short time and was altered as soon as it was brought to our attention.

“However, we would like to emphasise that claims about the property being used as a brothel were allegations, as is clearly stated in the article, and should be regarded as such.”

IPSO recognised the Advertiser’s position that the information included had come from trusted and credible sources, but noted the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code are explicit in their requirement that headlines have to be supported by the text of the article.

In this case, the omission of “allegedly” from the headline gave the misleading impression that it had been established as fact that the property in question had been “used as a brothel”.

While the body of the article made clear that the headline reference reflected an allegation, IPSO found this was not sufficient to rectify the misleading impression already given by headline.

IPSO considered the offer to publish a footnote clarification had been offered promptly, especially with the earlier amendment of the online story’s headline, and was of due prominence.

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