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Watchdog raps news site over lack of proof about housing conditions

NewIPSOThe press watchdog has rapped a regional news website for presenting allegations about housing conditions as fact without proof.

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has upheld a complaint against MyLondon after it reported that people living in a House of Multiple Occupancy had been “provided with portable gas camping stoves to cook on”.

The claim appeared in an account of a woman who had bought a flat in London and stated the owner of the three-bedroom property below had converted it “into a House of Multiple Occupancy with cooking facilities in each of the units”.

The allegation prompted Sofina Aghios, the owner of the lower level property, to complain under Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

Ms Aghios said, among a number of other alleged inaccuracies, no gas had ever been used in the property.

She added she had contacted MyLondon the day after publication and sent a follow-up letter making this clear.

With regards to the claim that the HMO residents had been “provided” with portable gas camping stoves, MyLondon provided IPSO with copies of emails between the subject of its story and the local council, in which the authority confirmed that the tenants’ “own cooking equipment [had been] removed and are now only allowed to use the kitchen”.

The site said this showed the council had found that the tenants were using inappropriate cooking equipment in their rooms, although it accepted it was unable to demonstrate that there had been any portable gas stoves in the property.

Six weeks after the complaint was first made, MyLondon offered to publish a footnote clarification confirming there was no evidence such equipment had been provided to people living in the HMO.

IPSO noted the story was framed as the flat owner’s account of living above the HMO property, but said MyLondon was still required to take care not to publish inaccurate information and to distinguish comment, conjecture and fact.

The Committee found the claim about gas camping stoves had been presented as fact within the article and appeared in the headline in quotation marks, but despite the use of quotation marks in the headline it considered that, in conjunction with the article which reported the use of gas cookers as fact, the headline ‘I’ve been living in fear of my flat burning down after the landlord below created HMO with 3 people cooking on camping stoves’ was misleading.

As MyLondon accepted it was unable to demonstrate the claims were true, and had reported them as fact based on a claim made by a single individual, this represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information.

IPSO further found the time delay in issuing a correction, and MyLondon’s failure to publish a standalone correction, meant the remedial action offered did not represent the due promptness or prominence required by the Editors’ Code.

The Committee dismissed all other aspects of Ms Aghios’s complaint.

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