Clauses Noted: 1
Publication: The Times
Mr Paul Tyler CBE MP complained that an article published in The Times on December 19 1998 headlined "Dark days for Darkie Day" contained inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.
The complaint was not upheld.
The article was a feature about the 'Darkie Day' tradition in which residents of the Cornish town of Padstow apply black make-up and proceed through the streets to raise money for charity. It said that the tradition was under attack from anti-racist campaigners and had also attracted the attention of the National Front who had threatened to go to Padstow to help to preserve it. It quoted a disapproving remark attributed to Eileen Bortey, the Chairwoman of Cornwall's Council for Racial Equality.
The complainant said that the article had given the impression that Ms Bortey had spoken directly to The Times but that she had denied doing so. He also provided a letter from the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) which denied that the CRE had made a comment describing the festival as 'sad and pretty offensive'. He questioned how the newspaper knew that the National Front had planned to go to Padstow and said that the article gave an outdated and inaccurate impression that the festival was still the subject of local controversy.
The newspaper replied that the reporter had made numerous attempts to contact Ms Bortey and that having failed to do so had quoted her views, which she had made public eleven months previously, from press cuttings. The newspaper provided the reporter's short-hand notes from his conversations with the National Front in Plymouth and with the CRE press office, although the reporter had not obtained the name of the press officer to whom he spoke at the CRE.
The complainant doubted whether there was any way of checking the authenticity of the reporter's notes of the conversations and thought that the explicit statement of the Chairman of the CRE was more reliable than the anonymous one attributed by the paper to a press officer.
The Commission understood and shared the complainant's concern to ensure accurate reporting about a subject which both sides acknowledged had previously caused some local controversy. With regard to Eileen Bortey's comment, which the complainant had said was not contemporaneous and had changed, the Commission noted that it did appear in the article to have been made recently. The Commission, at the complainant's suggestion, therefore invited Ms Bortey to comment but she did not appear to wish to do so. The Commission noted that the quotation had been taken from her publicly recorded comments and although it was some months old the Commission could not in all the circumstances conclude that its presentation would have misled readers significantly.
The Commission also noted that the newspaper had provided notes of the journalist's conversation with a representative from the National Front in Plymouth and it did not therefore appear that there was any matter to pursue under this part of the complaint.
The Commission regretted that the newspaper had not been able to provide the name of the press officer who had apparently commented on behalf of the Commission for Racial Equality. However, even if this comment did not reflect the official view of the CRE, the Commission noted that it seemed to have been obtained correctly through the CRE's press office and it could not therefore criticise the newspaper for reporting it.
Although it understood the complainant's strong views, the Commission did not find that by omitting to mention the amicable resolution of some minor concerns the article gave a misleading and negative impression of the festival. The Commission examined the entire context of the article and noted that much of it was clearly presented, in accordance with the Code, as the personal recollection of the journalist who had travelled to Padstow in order to obtain the views of the locals. The Commission further noted that locals had been extensively quoted supporting the tradition and expressing their dismay at the perceived attempts of others to undermine it. It did not therefore conclude that the article was misleading in the way that the complainant feared and although it sympathised with the complainant's desire to protect the festival from inaccurate press reports it did not consider that in this case there were any matters to pursue under the Code.
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