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Complainant Name:
Mike Jempson

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: The Sunday Telegraph

Complaint:

Mike Jempson, Director of the MediaWise Trust, complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "EU pours millions into groups seeking state control of the press", published by The Sunday Telegraph on 14 April 2013, was inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information in breach of Clause 1(i) and had published a significant inaccuracy, but had offered sufficient action to remedy the breach.

The article had identified several groups and initiatives which it claimed had received European Union funding, and which, it alleged, were seeking state control of the press. Although the complainant had raised a number of general concerns about the accuracy of the coverage, including its characterisation of the European Commission's policies in this area, he made clear that his complaint to the PCC was limited to the issues that directly related to him and to MediaWise. The Commission considered his complaint on this basis.

The complainant denied that MediaWise is seeking "state control" of the press (as the headline to the article implied); denied that MediaAcT (one of the EU programmes mentioned in the article) had "channelled about 100,000 of European cash directly" to MediaWise; objected to the impression given by the newspaper's statement that "EU money does not appear in [MediaWise's] published accounts", which he considered falsely suggested impropriety; challenged the suggestion that EU funding "appears to account for almost all of MediaWise's recent income"; and complained that it was untrue that he had called for press regulation on the ground that it will ensure that minority views and voices are heard.

With regard to the claims in the article relating to the funding of MediaWise, the complainant explained that MediaWise had ceased to be the UK partner for the MediaAcT project prior to the dispersal of EU funding and that it had, therefore, never received money direct from the EU. In relation to his reported views about the need for press regulation, the complainant expressed concern that the newspaper had attributed to him the statement that press regulation can "ensure that minority views and voices are heard" when, in fact, this phrase was taken from an academic work and was a summary of the views of "many civil society groups" and not his personal view.

More generally, the complainant said that it was not the case that the EU is "quietly" making grants to organisations supportive of state-backed regulation of the press, as claimed in the article, and he challenged, in particular, the claim that the activities of Mediadem (a research project separate to MediAcT) were "previously unpublicised".

The complainant raised a number of additional concerns about the accuracy of the coverage. He disputed that Lord Soley (then an MP) had been a "founder" of MediaWise (at that time known as "PressWise"), which he said was founded by victims of media abuse. He also said that he had not written for the website of Hacked Off, which had simply reproduced blogs he had posted elsewhere.

The newspaper cited MediaWise's evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in support of its claim that it seeks "state control" of the press. MediaWise had called for the creation of two taxpayer-funded bodies set up by statute, an "office of media ombudsman" (which would be able to dictate corrections) and a "media corrections panel" which, together, would "incorporate the PCC and the content and complaints role of Ofcom". MediaWise had described this proposal as fitting the "pattern of co-regulation developed at Ofcom" and, in the newspaper's view, MediaWise's comparison of its proposals to Ofcom's control of broadcasting justified the claim that it seeks state control of the press.

The newspaper denied that the article had contained any allegation of impropriety in relation to MediaWise's funding. The newspaper accepted that the University of West of England had taken over the role of UK partner for the MediaAct project from MediaWise, but noted that, as was stated in MediaWise's annual report and accounts, "the work is done by MediaWise personnel" on MediaWise premises, with costs for staff time and office space being reimbursed to the university from EU funds. The newspaper emphasised that the article had included the complainant's position that the funding came "via the university". The newspaper did not accept that it had significantly misrepresented Lord Soley's involvement with MediaWise and considered that the lack of general awareness of the activities of Mediadem justified the description as "previously unpublicised". Nonetheless, it offered to publish a clarification in relation to each of these issues.

With regard to the reporting of the complainant's views, the newspaper maintained that MediaWise could be considered to be one of the "civil society groups" which calls for regulation to give a voice to minority groups and that this was a fair characterisation of the views of the complainant given the public statements of MediaWise. The newspaper also maintained that the references to the complainant's links with Hacked Off were accurate.

Decision:
Sufficient remedial action offered

Adjudication:

Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice states that (i) "the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information" and that (ii) "a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion, once recognised, must be corrected promptly and with due prominence."

The Commission first considered the complaints about the article's description of MediaWise's funding. As the newspaper accepted, the MediaAcT project had in fact been transferred to UWE before EU funding had been dispersed. As a result, no EU funds had been paid to MediaWise. Given this, the Commission found that the claim that MediaWise had received the funding and that the funds had not appeared in its accounts amounted to a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information in breach of Clause 1(i) of the Code. The Commission expressed concern over the article's potential to give a false impression of financial irregularity, particularly given that MediaWise is a charitable trust, and the newspaper was therefore required, under the terms of Clause 1 (ii), to publish a correction promptly and with due prominence. It had offered to do so in terms that - in the view of the PCC - constituted a sufficient remedy.

The Commission turned to the complainant's concern about the claim that MediaWise is "seeking state control of the press". The Commission acknowledged the distinction that the complainant drew between "state control of the press", which he firmly denied, and "state-backed regulation of the press"- the phrase used in the first paragraph of the article, which the complainant referred to in correspondence as "a different thing altogether". The Commission also noted that the model for press regulation advocated by MediaWise is one "underpinned" by statute and funded, in part, by public money. In reaching its decision, the Commission had regard for the newspaper's strongly held view that any role for the state would represent an opportunity for it to exercise control over the press or individual journalists, a matter of great contention among commentators. The Commission understood the complainant's concerns but, on balance, considered the text of the article sufficiently made clear to readers the nature of the state intervention being considered. It did, however, welcome the newspaper's offer to include the complainant's position that the regulatory model supported by MediaWise did not amount to "state control", as part of its proposed correction. The Commission made clear that had the article not provided significant contextualisation for the headline claim, this would have been a matter of some concern.

The Commission next considered the complainant's concern over the reporting of his views about regulation. It was plain that the phrase attributed to the complainant in the coverage had, in fact, been his summary of the position adopted by a number of third parties, rather than his personal view, and the Commission expressed its strong concern about the practice of incorrectly attributing such observations as personal opinion. However, in the context of the article as a whole, and where the Commission did not consider that the view expressed had reflected adversely on the complainant, being neither particularly controversial nor apparently inconsistent with the stated aims and objectives of MediaWise, the Commission did not consider that the attribution of the comment had been significantly misleading so as to breach Clause 1.

With regard to the remaining issues, the Commission did not consider that, in circumstances where material written by the complainant had been republished on the Hacked Off website with his consent, it was significantly inaccurate to refer to his having "written for" that organisation. The Commission welcomed the newspaper's offer to clarify the role played by Lord Soley in the foundation of MediaWise, although it did not consider that this point was significantly misleading in light of his involvement, as highlighted on the MediaWise website. The Commission considered that the description of the Mediadem project having been "previously unpublicised" was largely a subjective opinion and, given that it was accepted that it had not been the subject of coverage by the media, did not raise an issue under the Code. Nevertheless, the Commission welcomed the newspaper's offer to publish a correction on the point. There were no further issues to pursue.

Date Published:
25/11/2013



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