Press Complaints Commission
spacer spacer
SEARCH FOR Or try the cases search
Cases Banner
spacer
Making a complaint
Code of Practice Information
Cases
Code Advice

Complainant Name:
Mr Michael Day

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: The Independent on Sunday

Complaint:

Mr Michael Day, Founder & Trustee of The Tiger Trust, complained that a report headlined "Save tiger cash mystery" in The Independent on Sunday on 6 October 1996 contained a number of alleged inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.

The piece reported that questions had been raised about how the charity's funds, donated by the public and business, had been spent. It referred to inquiries made by the Charity Commissioners and included quotes from spokesmen for other wildlife organisations as well as from the complainant.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

The Commission was concerned by the amount of time taken by the newspaper in responding to the Commission's enquiries into this complaint. In adjudicating under the Code, the Commission considered that the newspaper was entitled to raise a number of concerns about the operation of a charity raising large sums of money from the public and others, especially as queries about the operation of the Trust had been raised by the Charity Commissioners and others. The Commission's findings in respect of the particular complaints were as follows:

The Tiger Trust said it did not collect hundreds of thousands of pounds from the public annually. The total received in its three year existence amounted to 478,000; an average of 159,337 a year. The newspaper said the article made clear it had received 225,193 in 1994-5.

The Commission found no significant inaccuracy. The charity had collected a sum of 478,000 over three years and the figure for 1994-5 had been accurately stated in the article.

It was misleading to say "other leading environmental organisations are expressing concern" as those quoted - World Wild Life Fund UK (WWF) and Care for the Wild - were "wildlife" oranisations and were not "leading" organisations. The newspaper said some organisations had expressed concerns and it was not materially misleading to describe them as environmental, rather than animal welfare organisations. The spokesmen for those organisations had been quoted accurately.

The complainant also said The Tiger Trust had received field equipment but not money from the WWF, and denied the WWF had received "zero feedback" from it. He provided details of the feedback he had sent. A quote from a Care For The Wild spokesperson was misleading because that organisation had stopped helping to fund The Tiger Trusts project in Thailand. Nor was it true that it had received "no satisfactory account" of the money they had donated to The Tiger Trust. The complainant provided details to support this.

The newspaper replied there had been widely published disagreements between The Tiger Trust and the WWF and there was no significant difference between providing a donation or field equipment. The WWF spokesman's view had been quoted accurately that they had received inadequate feedback and this had been published in good faith.

The Commission did not believe there was any significant inaccuracy in respect of these complaints. The quotes from the spokesmen for the WWF and Care For The Wild clarified the references earlier in the text to the concerns expressed by "leading environmental organisations" . It was clearly presented as their view that they had not received "adequate feedback". The Commission received no complaint from them that their views had been misrepresented. It believed that it was not unreasonable for the newspaper to call the WWF and Care For The Wild, "leading environmental organisations" if that was the newspaper's view, and agreed that there was no significant difference between providing a donation and providing field equipment. The WWF spokesman had been quoted accurately; the newspaper had published his view on feedback in good faith, notwithstanding that the complainant had provided some details of feedback which he said he had sent to the WWF.

It was misleading to say the Charity Commissioners were "concerned" that The Tiger Trust appeared to have only two trustees (the complainant and his wife), as this matter had been resolved prior to publication. The newspaper replied the reporter had been informed by the Charity Commissioners that they were aware The Tiger Trust had only two trustees and that they had asked The Tiger Trust to explain this. The newspaper knew that another trustee had since been appointed.

The Commission considered there was no significant inaccuracy. The newspaper was entitled to point to what had occurred. The complainant had provided evidence showing that the Charity Commissioners had asked him for information concerning the number of trustees and he was quoted in the piece as saying this was "purely an administrative step" and there was a third trustee. He was also quoted as saying he had adequate answers to the questions posed by the Charity Commissioners and the caption under the photograph read "Day: 'Can answer critics'". While it would have been better if the newspaper had confirmed that a third trustee had since been appointed, the Commision considered that even if this were to be treated as a significant inaccuracy it was not a matter for censure in the circumstances.

The complainant said that with regard to the claim that he had, as a trustee, received part of the staff costs, the Charity Commissioners had not "attached the seriousness to the situation" which the allegation implied. He said the piece contained a distorted presentation of the accounts. The Charity Commissioners were not investigating The Tiger Trust; it had volunteered its accounts for inspection. The complainant had received money not as a trustee but as an employee. He also said that he had been quoted out of context as saying that his salary amounted to 18,000. Furthermore, the figure quoted from the accounts as being the complainants salary (18,140) was in fact the figure for total salaries and expenses.

It was wrong to describe the figure in the accounts showing expenses reimbursed to the complainant and his wife as "personal" expenses as this implied wrongly they were for their private use. The reference to
"travel, conferences and investigations" as a separate item in the expenses reimbursed to the complainant suggested wrongly that he had been dishonest in receiving money for his own benefit. This expense item, however, was part of the total expenses reimbursed to him.

The newspaper denied that there was any implication, in the reference to the complainant's salary, that he had obtained financial gain by dishonestly claiming money as staff costs. The reporter had been informed by the Charities Commissioners that they had asked the trustees to provide further details of the staff costs shown in the accounts. A spokesman for the Charities Commissioners was quoted accurately in the piece as saying: "The charity's governing document says that no trustee should be paid for his or her work, and this is a reflection of trust law. We think it would be in the interests of the charity to clarify the present position for the record".

The newspaper said the accounts were unclear on salaries. 18,140 was given as the salaries and wages. However, in the note to the accounts, staff costs were given as 18,113, of which 14,488 was attributed to the complainant. Furthermore, the complainant had been quoted accurately as saying to the reporter that he took "little more than a pittance at 18,000 a year". They said the main point was that it was open to question whether the complainant, as a trustee, should have taken any money at all. They understood from the Charity Commissioners that the case was still open and that the Charity Commissioners had to grant special permission before a trustee could be paid for his or her work.

The term "personal" was used in the article to clarify the fact that the reimbursed expenses which appeared in the accounts had been specifically allocated to the complainant and his wife individually.

There was no intention to mislead the reader in quoting the complainant as saying "I have already explained to them [the Charity Commissioners] that we do not have the luxury of credit cards and incur costs in travelling the world in defence of tigers" as well as pointing out that " travel, conferences and investigations" were given as a separate item in the accounts.

The Commission considered there was no significant inaccuracy. The newspaper was entitled to raise the question of payments made to the trustees in the circumstances. The evidence provided by the complainant showed that the Charity Commissioners had asked him for information concerning the "staff costs" shown in the accounts. The article clearly stated that the Charity Commissioners were "inquiring into this item" and the Commission had received no complaint from them that their spokesperson had been misquoted. The complainant was quoted describing this as a "grey area" and the organisation as a "tight ship" . His view that the Charity Commissioners were more interested in the expenses was also quoted. The complainant had not disputed the quote from him regarding his salary save that it was taken out of context. However, the Commission found no implication that the complainant had been dishonest.

The Commission did not find the description of the reimbursed expenses as " reimbursed personal expenses" was misleading. It noticed that there was some confusion over the presentation of specific expense items (travel, conferences, investigations), distinct from the total reimbursed personal expenses but did not consider that a reader would be misled by such reference since the piece quoted the complainant as clearly saying that he had explained to the Charity Commissioners that the trustees did not have credit cards and incurred all travelling expenses themselves.

A quote from a Mr Galster about a project in Russia (Operation Amba) was misleading. It was not true that donations to this project from The Tiger Trust had been suspended in 1994. The complainant provided bank statements to show that money had been transferred more recently. He had given the newspaper an opportunity to verify his continuing association with Russian Government officials prior to publication, yet the newspaper had failed to follow up this matter. The newspaper replied that the facts of the dispute concerning Operation Amba were reported even-handedly. The piece made clear The Tiger Trust had transferred money for Operation Amba but that the funds had been stuck in a bank account in Russia. The complainant was quoted explaining these details. The newspaper confirmed receipt of information from the complainant prior to publication, which would have verified certain matters relating to the ongoing association of the Russian Government and The Tiger Trust, but took the view that such verification was not necessary since it was not relevant to the issues raised in the article. The Commission considered there was no complaint that the quote attributed to Mr Galster was inaccurate and the newspaper had quoted the complainant at length explaining that money had been transferred but appeared to be stuck in a Russian bank account. The Commission had some sympathy with the complainant's contention that the newspaper should have made an independent investigation, as it was invited to do, of the Trusts continuing association with the Russian Government. In view of the fact that the newspaper merely reported the contentions of both sides in some detail and had not adopted Mr Galsters opinions as its own, the Commission did not find there was any signficant inaccuracy in this regard. If there was, it could have been dealt with by the publication of a letter from the complainant dealing with the matter, rather than an adverse finding under the Code.

The complaints were all rejected.

Report:
41



<< Go Back
spacer