Following an article published in the Daily Telegraph on 24 and 27 December 2016, Gordon Brown complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
Posted on: 16 May 2017 07:54
"This was a serious, unjustified allegation, and an apology was required under the terms of the Code."
IPSO upheld the complaint and has required the Daily Telegraph to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.
The article (which was headlined ‘For hundreds of years, Britain’s commitment to a free press has helped make this country a beacon of freedom for the world…But all this is now under threat from MPs and Lords’) said that the freedom of the press was under threat from the possible enforcement of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. It said that Section 40 would “make it impossible to conduct serious investigative journalism, since people whose wrongdoing was exposed would be able to bring ruinously expensive legal actions against newspapers”. It said that it was “only because of the Telegraph that voters learned how MPs were abusing their expenses”. The piece was illustrated by three small images of front-page stories, including the Daily Telegraph’s first front page relating to the expenses scandal, which was headlined “The truth about the Cabinet’s expenses” and included an image of the complainant and his brother.
The complainant said that the publication of the image of the 2009 article, which included his and his brother’s photographs and stated “Brown paid his brother more than £6,000 for ‘cleaning expenses’” had given the significantly misleading impression that he was an example of someone “whose wrongdoing was exposed”. The article had failed to make clear that following the original publication of this story, the newspaper had accepted that it had inaccurately reported that he and his brother had abused the MPs’ expenses system, and it had agreed to publish a correction. The newspaper had failed to correct this further inaccuracy promptly, and the correction it had offered to publish had failed to include an apology.
The newspaper said that the image under complaint was one of three partial front covers used as generic examples of public interest journalism. Its use of this front page had not given the impression that it had exposed the complainant engaging in wrongdoing; the article was not about the complainant; it was about the threat to freedom of expression and the free press. The newspaper said that the 2009 coverage of the complainant’s cleaning expenses claim had been both fair and accurate. It had never accepted that there was any need for a correction or an apology; rather, it had offered to publish some additional wording as a clarification.
The Committee considered that the use of the complainant’s image to illustrate a piece which referred to MPs “abusing their expenses” had given the significantly misleading impression that he was one of those MPs who had been found to have abused the expenses system.
While the newspaper had offered to publish a correction promptly, it had failed to acknowledge that it had effectively made a fresh allegation of “abuse” against the complainant. This was a serious, unjustified allegation, and an apology was required under the terms of the Code. The complaint was upheld.
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