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PCC upholds accuracy complaint against local newspaper for front-page fraud story

The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint against the Alloa and Hillfoots Wee County News under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice, after it published a front-page article about a local housing association which it said was involved in "fraudulent and improper activities". The complainant, the director of the housing association, said that the article was fundamentally inaccurate and that rather than being a suspect in a police investigation into fraud, the housing association was in fact the alleged victim.

The newspaper said that the basis for the story was a confidential source who had provided it with two sets of minutes from the housing association's management committee which included an update on the status of the police investigation into the allegations. The newspaper maintained that previous members of staff were suspected of involvement in the case but offered to publish a reply from the complainant. At a late stage in the correspondence, it also offered to publish a clarification and apology confirming that the Association was the victim of the fraud.

The Commission found that the newspaper's coverage was in "clear breach" of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code. It noted that the internal documents provided by the newspaper to corroborate its story did not confirm that either the complainant or the housing association was a suspect, and in fact "strongly indicated to the contrary". It ruled that the newspaper had not taken appropriate care over the accuracy of the story and that its late offer to apologise was not sufficient to remedy the breach. It upheld the complaint.

Charlotte Dewar, Head of Complaints and Pre-publication Services said: "The allegations contained in the story were of an extremely serious nature and the newspaper was slow to recognise that clarification of the Association's position was needed. This ruling serves as a reminder that taking care over the accuracy of the story is particularly important where the story has the potential to damage the reputation of an individual or an organisation."

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1. To read the adjudication (which has been published in this week's edition of the newspaper on pages 1 and 6), please click here.

2. The Commission has published the results of its complainant satisfaction surveys from 2012. One result shows that 86% of respondents who gave an opinion said that PCC staff were either very helpful, helpful or satisfactory. To read the full results of the survey, please click here.

3. For more information, please contact Jonathan Collett on 020 7438 1246, 07740 896 805 or jonathan.collett@pcc.org.uk

09/01/2013




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