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Complainant Name:
Mr Geoffrey Martin

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: The Mail on Sunday

Complaint:

Mr Geoffrey Martin, Head of Representations in the United Kingdom of the European Commission, complained that an article headlined “EC plans poll tax on phones” published in The Mail on Sunday on 10 September 2000 was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.

The complaint was rejected.

The article said that the European Commission had been planning a yearly levy of £30 on all phone lines within the European Union. It said that the proposal would be discussed at the Nice summit in December 2000.

The complainant said that the document on which this claim was based was two years old and part of a study that the EC was obliged to undertake into finding possible new sources of funding. The EC thought the idea to be flawed and had not planned to discuss it in Nice.

The newspaper said that it had taken the document from an official EC website which carried no identification that it was no longer relevant. Subsequent to the article being published the reference to the proposed tax had also appeared on a website prepared for the Nice summit and the newspaper maintained that this showed that the tax remained a ‘live issue’. Furthermore, in taking care to check the accuracy of the story the newspaper phoned Luc Veron, an EC spokesman in Brussels, twice, but received no substantive response to its request for information. The article had not said that the EC had advocated the introduction of the tax and the editor offered, if the complainant could show any documentation showing that the proposed tax had finally been rejected, to report that fact.

The complainant said that as the tax had never been proposed there was no documentation showing that it had been rejected.

Decision:
Not Upheld

Adjudication:

The Code of Practice requires that newspapers ‘take care’ not to publish inaccurate or distorted material. In this case, the newspaper clearly had a source on which to base its claims, had telephoned the EC for comment prior to publication and had made clear in the article that the proposals would be considered but had not been adopted or indeed promoted by the EC. In the gathering and presentation of the material the Commission considered that sufficient care had indeed been taken not to publish inaccurate material. The Commission noted the complainant’s position that it was not possible to point to any documentation rejecting the idea as it had never been a proposal. However, the article had clearly been based on an EC report that had referred at some stage to a proposed new communications tax and the Commission did not think it unreasonable for the newspaper to ask to see documentation showing the EC’s final rejection of the idea before publishing a statement to that effect.

Report:
53



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