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Complainant Name:
Messrs Norton Rose on behalf of The Rt Hon Nicholas Brown MP

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Punch


Messrs Norton Rose, solicitors, complained on behalf of their client The Rt Hon Nicholas Brown MP that articles in Punch on 22 November and 6 December 1997 were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice and that the complainant was not given an opportunity to reply.

The two articles set out the background to a controversy in Newcastle surrounding a proposed shopping development, and alleged the involvement of a number of local politicians and others, including Mr Brown. The pieces claimed that Mr Brown's support for one of the proposed schemes was inexplicable. Mr Brown denied this and believed the pieces wrongly suggested he had supported one of the schemes in order to assist its owners with a view to Labour Party fund-raising, rather than to further the interests of his constituents. He also objected to the implication he perceived in the pieces that he was connected with the alleged wrong-doing of others featured in the pieces. He objected that the pieces were distorted as they did not include his reasons for supporting one of the schemes, and he had not been offered an opportunity to reply.

The magazine stood by the accuracy of the two pieces. They said it was their view that Mr Brown's support for one of the schemes was inexplicable. They denied that the pieces either stated or meant that Mr Brown had sought to benefit the owners of a company behind one of the schemes. They also sought to do no more than point out that Mr Brown was a close political ally of some of the local politicians featured in the pieces. They said they had contacted Mr Brown for his comments. However, it appeared to them that he wished to exercise editorial control over what was published and they had therefore withdrawn their offer.



It was not for the Commission to make any finding on the facts of what was clearly a complex matter of local controversy, but to decide whether the Code had been breached. The magazine was entitled, under the Code, to publish robust comment and conjecture, provided this was clearly distinguished from fact.

However, Mr Brown was the principal subject of the pieces, the main thrust of which was the magazines view that his position was inexplicable . Whilst the Commission would not require the subject of an article to be given complete editorial control of what is published, it considered that Mr Brown should have been given an opportunity to set out the reasons for his position, in order that readers would not be misled. As this had not happened, the pieces were distorted under the terms of the Code.

The complaint was upheld.


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