Clauses Noted: 1
Publication: The Guardian
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) and the Metropolitan Police Service complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "Revealed: man whose shooting triggered riots was not armed; Mark Duggan investigation finds he was not carrying gun when killed in Tottenham", published in The Guardian on 19 November 2011, was misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.
The newspaper had taken sufficient remedial action to remedy an initial breach of the Code.
The article reported that an IPCC investigation into the death of Mark Duggan on 4 August 2011 had found no forensic evidence existed that Mr Duggan had been carrying a gun when he was shot, and that a gun he had collected earlier on the day of his death was recovered between 10 and 14 feet from his body. The complainants' concerns related to the headline and subheadline of the article, which they considered to be substantially misleading and unsupported by either the text of the article or the facts as they were known at the time. The complainants said that, contrary to the headline's suggestion, the IPCC investigation was ongoing and had not yet established the sequence of events that had led to the death. The suggestion that it had determined that Mr Duggan "was not carrying [a] gun" was misleading.
The article had been published first online on the evening of 18 November, and the IPCC - which had provided comment before publication - had contacted the newspaper within hours to express concerns about the headline. Although the sub-headline had been changed on the website story and in some later print editions of the newspaper that appeared the next day - to say that there was "no forensic evidence" that Mr Duggan was carrying a gun when he was killed - the main headline had been published unaltered. After further, public statements of concern by the complainants on 19 November, the headline to the story on the newspaper's website was changed to "New questions raised over Duggan shooting" that evening.
On 26 November, the newspaper published a correction and apology - in its established Corrections & Clarifications column - that referred to the headline as "seriously misleading" and accepted that "it [was] wrong to infer that Duggan was unarmed from the fact that the gun was not found on him". In addition, the newspaper's Readers' Editor examined the editorial process that had led to the publication of the headline and published his conclusions in his weekly column on 28 November, ruling that the headline had misled readers about the contents of the "acutely sensitive" story and criticising the time it had taken the newspaper to respond to the concerns raised by the IPCC. The newspaper accepted the Readers' Editor's findings but maintained that the error was not the result of neglect or bad faith, as the headline had been given close consideration ahead of publication.
The Commission has ruled in the past that it does not consider headlines in isolation: they must be examined as one part of the whole presentation of a story, and the Commission takes account of the difficulties of expressing complex situations in a few words. Nonetheless, the requirement of Clause 1 (i) - that "the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information" - still applies.
The Commission has previously made clear (El-Atar v Evening Standard) that newspapers have an "over-riding" responsibility to take care over the presentation of stories at particularly sensitive times. The shooting of Mr Duggan had been widely perceived as the catalyst for riots that broke out in London and elsewhere in August 2011. There was thus particular reason for the newspaper to focus on the manner in which it presented this material. While the newspaper explained that the decision to proceed with the headline had not been the result of "neglect", the Commission believed that the error was significant and avoidable.
The newspaper had thus breached the terms of Clause 1 (i) by failing to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. The headline had wrongly implied that the IPCC had reached a conclusion that Mr Duggan had not been armed at the time of his death. The terms of Clause 1 (ii) - which require that "a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published" - were therefore engaged.
The newspaper had taken steps to remedy the error, which included issuing a correction and apology and publishing a critical explanation of its editorial processes by its Readers' Editor, who referred to "serious failings".
The Commission considered the adequacy of the remedy the newspaper had provided.
The newspaper's initial delay in recognising the problem was a matter of regret: had it taken full account of the IPCC's concerns on the evening of 18 November, it would evidently have been in a position to revise the main headline online and in at least some print editions of the newspaper.
Nonetheless, once the newspaper had recognised its error, it reacted quickly to put it right, in accordance with the terms of Clause 1 (ii) of the Code. Given the sensitivity of the issue, its apology was also appropriate.
In dealing with the complaint, it was the role of the PCC to give external scrutiny to the newspaper's internal processes, including on this occasion the work of its Readers' Editor. It established that the newspaper had initially breached the Editors' Code but had properly fulfilled its obligations under Clause 1 (ii) of the Code to provide a remedy. There were no further issues to pursue.
El-Atar v Evening Standard (2005)
A man v The Voice (2006)
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