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Complainant Name:
Clive Soley MP

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: The Sunday Times

Complaint:

Clive Soley MP complained to that an article headlined “Labour says the old are racist” published in The Sunday Times on 16 April 2000 was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.

The article said that senior Labour figures had warned about hostility to the party among pensioners. It said that the party had given up hope of winning a majority of pensioners’ votes and also reported the concerns of Labour party sources that many pensioners unfavourably compared the government’s treatment of pensioners with its treatment of asylum seekers.

The article said that the complainant had admitted telling a Labour Party strategy meeting that pensioners were ‘predominantly Conservative’ and ‘often racist’. It said that he had told the newspaper’s reporter that he ‘might’ have used the term racist at the meeting and that although he would not describe all pensioners’ letters to him as racist, he could provide some that were ‘deeply racist’ and many that complained about immigrants receiving benefit.

The complainant denied that he had said that pensioners were ‘often’ racist and objected to any implication that he agreed that the pensioner vote should be written off. In fact, he said, the point of his talk to the strategy meeting was to underline the need to party workers to make an extra effort to attract the votes of pensioners. He also said that the headline was inaccurate.

The newspaper said that it had not claimed that the complainant himself had suggested that the pensioner vote should be written off and pointed out that the article had included a quotation from a party spokesman insisting that the party would ‘chase every vote’. However, the newspaper said that it had taped a conversation with the complainant in which he had admitted that he might have used the word ‘racist’ at the meeting and accepted that some letters that he received from pensioners were ‘certainly’ racist. It had obtained a briefing note that suggested that pensioners were a hard target for the party as they traditionally had conservative tendencies. However, the newspaper offered to publish a clarification stating the complainant’s position that some letters, but not all, that he received from pensioners were racist, and that he believed that the party should work harder to attract the pensioner vote. The complainant suggested another form of words to clarify the article but the newspaper thought that its own offer was adequate.

Decision:
Sufficient remedial action offered

Adjudication:

In considering complaints under the Code the Commission will always have regard to any efforts by the newspaper to resolve matters. Indeed, one of the key successes of self-regulation is that editors have been encouraged to remedy substantive complaints at an early stage. In this case, the Commission had to consider whether the newspaper’s offer was sufficient to remedy the complaint. In doing so, it bore in mind that the complainant was one of several sources for the newspaper’s article and that his comments were part of an overall context and not the sole basis for the article. It also noted that the complainant had accepted that some of the letters that he received from pensioners were racist.

The Commission did consider that the newspaper’s offer recognised the validity of the complainant’s arguments in that it would have recorded, at a reasonably early stage, the complainant’s belief that the party should work harder to attract the pensioner vote and also that some, but not all, of the letters that he received from pensioners were racist. The Commission believed that such a clarification would adequately have addressed the points of complaint as they affected the complainant and there was therefore no remaining breach of the Code for the Commission to rule on.

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The complainant also complained about an article in the Daily Record published on the 17 April 2000. He said that the article contained the same inaccuracies as those in The Sunday Times but that they were compounded by the fact that it had not referred to the denial that he had issued after publication of the piece in The Sunday Times.

Solicitors for the newspaper said that the complainant had approached the newspaper which had replied promptly apologising for any errors and offering to publish a letter from the complainant setting out his position. They also said that the newspaper had relied on a report from a news agency which it accepted may have been inaccurate in some respects.

The complainant did not accept this offer and thought that the newspaper should publish an apology to him.

The Commission noted the newspaper’s contention that it had obtained the material from a news agency report and was pleased that it had offered to publish a letter from the complainant outlining his position. This offer - which had been made at an early stage - would have promptly recorded the complainant’s objections to the piece and the Commission regretted that the complainant had not wished to accept it. However, although it could understand the complainant’s irritation at any inaccuracies in the article it considered that in the circumstances such a prompt offer was a sufficient remedy under the Code.

Report:
52



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