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Complainant Name:
Mike Jempson

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Daily Mail

Complaint:

Mike Jempson, Director of the MediaWise Trust, complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "EU uses public cash to back groups that want to stifle Press freedom", published in the Daily Mail on 15 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 a number of groups and initiatives which it claimed had received European Union funding for projects relating to media regulation and accountability. While the complainant 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 focussed on the issues that directly related to himself and to MediaWise. The Commission considered his complaint on this basis.

The complainant denied that MediaWise seeks to "stifle" press freedom (as the headline had implied). He also denied that MediaAcT, an EU programme, had "channelled about 100,000 of European cash directly to a key Hacked Off ally, the MediaWise campaign group". 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. The complainant also objected to a description of MediaWise as an "ally of Hacked off", noting that the organisations are independent.

The article followed up on coverage elsewhere, and the newspaper said that its headline reflected its interpretation of the effect of "state-backed" regulation of the press. It said that the complainant supported this and, in its view, such regulation would stifle press freedom. The newspaper's position on this point was well known, and was shared by a number of media organisations in the UK and abroad. Whilst the complainant might disagree with its view, the newspaper was entitled to publish this, and doing so did not raise a breach of the Code. It pointed out that MediaWise and Hacked Off share and link content online, and that the complainant had acknowledged that the organisations were associated. The newspaper did not accept that it was significantly inaccurate for it to have reported that MediaWise had been the recipient of EU funds, as it was not in dispute that the money had been received by the complainant's university as a partner in MediaAct. It did however offer to clarify that the project had been formally transferred from MediaWise to the University of the West of England prior to EU funding being approved, and that, therefore, no money had been paid directly to MediaWise.

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." Clause 1(i) encompasses both the steps taken to ensure accuracy during the newsgathering process, and the care taken over the presentation of information when published to ensure that readers are not misled.

The Commission first considered the complaint about the article's description of MediaWise's funding. It was not in dispute that MediaWise was originally designated as the partner for, and remained involved in the management of, the MediaAcT project in the UK. However, the MediaAcT project had been transferred to UWE before the EU funding had been dispersed. Given this, the Commission considered that, on balance, the use of the word "directly" to refer to funding being "channelled" to MediaWise was significantly inaccurate so as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). Given that this had been presented as established fact, the Commission established a breach of Clause 1(i). The newspaper had offered a correction which made clear that no funds had been paid to MediaWise, and this should now be published without delay.

The Commission acknowledged the complainant's evident disagreement with the newspaper's reference to his organisation being one which seeks to "stifle press freedom". However, it was satisfied that it was clear from the article that this was an expression of the newspaper's opinion concerning the impact of "state-backed regulation of newspapers". It acknowledged the complainant's position that the model of regulation advocated by MediaWise, one "underpinned" by statute, did not constitute a restriction on press freedom, but noted that such a view is not uncontroversial. The potential impact of the many competing proposals for regulation of the press, including allegations that any role for the state in the process would represent an opportunity for it to exercise control over the press or individual journalists, is a matter of widespread and serious contention. Whilst the complainant clearly disagreed with the newspaper's assessment of the impact of a "state-backed" model of press regulation, the newspaper had been entitled to present its interpretation so long as it did so in compliance with the terms of Clause 1(iii). The Commission did not consider that, in presenting its interpretation, the newspaper had failed to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. It did, however, welcome the newspaper's offer to include the complainant's position that the regulatory model supported by MediaWise would not "stifle press freedom", as part of its proposed correction.

Finally the Commission did not consider that the reference to MediaWise being a "key Hacked Off ally" had been significantly misleading. The article had not suggested that the organisations were not independent of each other.

Date Published:
26/11/2013



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