A weekly newspaper that failed to apologise to one of its advertisers after wrongly implying he was bankrupt has been rapped by the press watchdog.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation has upheld a complaint by garage owner Gary Doherty after claiming the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald misleadingly conflated him with a car dealer of the same name.
Mr Doherty had complained over a story which reported that a woman had “won a legal battle against a Saltcoats car dealer after the motor she bought from him was plagued with problems”.
The car dealer had, according to the story, subsequently claimed to be bankrupt and the Herald named him as “Gary Doherty, who is connected to several businesses in Saltcoats including GJD Garages”.
But Mr Doherty, the owner of GJD Garages, said his business was entirely unconnected to his car dealer namesake.
The Herald attempted to defend making the connection but IPSO dismissed this, noting it was clear from a front page advertisement on the Herald itself that the garage did not operate from the same address as the car dealer.
Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Mr Doherty said the Herald misleadingly conflated him with the other Gary Doherty, whose business he was entirely unconnected to, and therefore inaccurately reported that he was bankrupt.
He considered that the statement in the story that “[t]here are no public records of Doherty’s bankruptcy, and the Herald called GJD Garages on 13 July and was able to book an MOT for this week” inaccurately implied that the car dealer was the owner of GJD Garages, rather than him.
Mr Doherty further noted that he often worked with the Herald for advertising purposes, and therefore it would have been aware of his contact details to check the accuracy of the story prior to publication.
Denying a breach of Code, the Herald said it had been aware before publication that there were two Gary Dohertys, one the car dealer and one the owner of the garage, but maintained there was justification for the way it had reported the story.
The paper said it had only reported that the car dealer was “connected” to the business, not that he was its owner or an employee, which it did not consider to be inaccurate because the car dealer had recommended to the woman that she take her car to Mr Doherty’s garage, and the two Gary Dohertys were Facebook friends.
The Herald also said that it had not reported that either Mr Doherty or his namesake was bankrupt because it made clear that “[t]here are no public records of Doherty’s bankruptcy”.
The paper said that it had also approached the court for more information prior to publication and that it had sought legal advice on the story prior to publication, but subsequently published a correction making clear that “Mr Gary James Doherty owner of GJD Auto Care, has no connection with the Gary Doherty who sold [the woman] the vehicle”.
In response, Mr Doherty said the address which the woman said the car dealer operated from was no longer the address for GJD Garages, which had moved to a new premises six months prior to the story’s publication and prior to the newspaper phoning it to book an MOT.
He provided an advert, printed on the front page of the Herald at the time of the move, which showed both that he was no longer located at the address flagged by the woman and that the paper was aware of this fact.
IPSO found the story was misleading because GJD Garages was not involved in selling the car and Mr Doherty was not and had not claimed to be bankrupt.
The Committee said the Herald was not able to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of the story.
IPSO further considered that an apology would have been appropriate in the circumstances where the original misleading statements had the potential to have a damaging effect on the reputation of Mr Doherty and his business, and ordered the Herald to publish its adjudication.
The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.