the ruling - LSE Blogs

Robyn Kelly <[email protected]>
28 January 2015 16:32
Our reference: 143815
Dear Mr Ward
Further to our previous correspondence, the Complaints Committee has now made its assessment of your complaint
under the Editors’ Code of Practice.
The Committee members have asked me to thank you for giving them the opportunity to consider the points you
raise. Their decision is that the newspaper failed to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i)
of the Editors’ Code of Practice, but has offered sufficient remedial action to remedy the breach. A full explanation
for the decision is below.
If you are dissatisfied with the way in which your complaint has been handled - as opposed to the Committee’s
decision itself - you should write within one month to the Independent Reviewer.
Thank you for taking this matter up with us.
Yours sincerely
Robyn Kelly
Complaints Committee’s decision in the case of
Ward v Mail Online
The complainant was concerned that the newspaper had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of
Practice. It had published an article which reported Professor Richard Tol’s allegation that he had become subject to
a smear campaign by the complainant. The complainant considered that it was misleading to report Professor Tol’s
allegation because he had not engaged in a smear campaign. He was also concerned that the article had contained a
number of additional inaccuracies. The complaint was received more than three months after publication. As such, it
was considered as a complaint against the online article only, in line with the Press Complaints Commission’s policy
on delayed complaints. The complaint was on-going as of 8 September 2014, at the time of the closure of the PCC.
It was therefore considered by the Complaints Committee of the Independent Press Standards Organisation in
accordance with the procedures of the PCC.
Clause 1 (i) states that “the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information
including pictures”. Clause 1 (ii) states that “a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once
recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published”.
Clause 1 (iii) states that “the press, while free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture
and fact”.
The complainant was concerned that the newspaper had reported that he “admits that the errors are ‘small’”. The
complainant said that this added to the misleading impression that he considered the errors to be insignificant and
that his attempts at drawing attention to them were part of a smear campaign. The Committee had sight of the
relevant email exchange between the complainant and Professor Tol, in which he had described some of the errors
as “small”. However, he had also clearly regarded the mistakes as significant and requiring correction: he had said
that there were multiple errors, that the calculations should be checked, and that he had “very serious concerns”
about accuracy. On this point, the Committee found that the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish
misleading information; the article was significantly misleading and requiring of remedial action. The Committee
noted that the newspaper had offered to remove the phrase from the online article and append an explanatory
footnote. This was sufficient to remedy the established breach of the Code. It was appropriate that the newspaper
had postponed publication of the amendments, pending the Committee’s decision. In light of the decision, the
amendments should now be made promptly in order to remedy the established breach of the Code.
The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that he had not been engaged in a smear campaign.
However, it took the view that the claim that the complainant was engaged in a smear campaign against Professor
Tol was plainly presented as Professor Tol’s characterisation of his activities. The allegation was clearly
distinguished as his own comment, in line with the newspaper’s obligation under Clause 1 (iii) of the Code. It was
accepted by the complainant that he had been party to an on-going dispute with Professor Tol regarding the latter’s
reluctance to correct errors in his work. While the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that he had
highlighted Professor Tol’s reluctance to correct his work as part of his role as an IPCC reviewer, it remained the
case that Professor Tol considered the continued claims against him to be a “smear”, and the newspaper had been
entitled to report this concern. Further, the newspaper had put the claim to the complainant, prior to publication,
and included his comments on the matter in the article, noting that “he denied his actions were a smear campaign,
insisting that he was merely fulfilling his role as an IPCC reviewer and claiming that he still did not know which
‘errors’ Tol was prepared to correct.” The article had also quoted the complainant as saying that “if Tol thinks I am
engaged in a smear campaign because I have pointed out his errors he is redefining what a smear campaign means.
It is his behaviour that is unreasonable.” The article had further noted the complainant’s position that Professor Tol
had made comments towards him which he considered to be aggressive. There was no failure to take care over the
accuracy of this element of the article, nor any failure to distinguish comment from fact. Further, the Committee did
not identify any significant inaccuracies which would require correction under Clause 1 (ii) of the Code.
The complainant considered that the article had given the clear impression that Professor Doug Arent had
described an error found by the complainant as “a tiny, statistical error”, which was inaccurate as Professor Arent
had not made this comment. The Committee acknowledged that attributing this comment to Professor Arent was
inaccurate. However, this comment was one of a number of assertions in the article that the errors in question were
minor. The Committee took the view that this inaccurate attribution was not significant in the context of the article
as a whole, such that a correction would be required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
The complainant was concerned that it was misleading to report that he had sent “an email disparaging Professor
Tol’s research to several leading IPCC scientists and officials,” as it suggested that the email was sent out of malice.
The complainant said that this email was sent as part of his duties as a registered reviewer for the IPCC. The
Committee found that the article had appropriately established the complainant’s role as an IPCC reviewer, and had
noted the “disparaging” emails in this context. The Committee was satisfied that the article was not misleading on
this point.
The complainant was concerned that the article was inaccurate to report that Professor Tol had volunteered to
correct “a handful of highly technical, minor numerical mistakes”. He said that Professor Tol had not “volunteered”
to the complainant to correct these errors, and that the errors were significant, rather than minor. The Committee
took the view that the article had not suggested that Professor Tol had communicated his willingness to correct the
errors to the complainant. Further, it was agreed that some errors had been corrected. While the Committee
recognised that the complainant had an opposing view on the seriousness of the errors, and had established a breach
of the Code in the way the article had reported the complainant’s view, the newspaper had been entitled to
characterise the mistakes as “minor”, and the Committee considered that whether an error is serious is, to a certain
extent, open to interpretation. This phrase identified by the complainant did not raise a breach of Clause 1.
The complainant expressed concern that it was inaccurate of Professor Tol to say that “the errors made no
difference to his conclusion that global warming of up to 2.5°C may have a net beneficial impact on the world
economy”. The complainant’s view was that the error did affect Professor Tol’s conclusions and that this was
demonstrated by the correction Professor Tol subsequently published in The Journal of Economic Perspectives.
While it acknowledged that Professor Tol may have made some amendments to his report, and that Professor Tol
and the complainant disagreed about the significance of the errors, the Committee noted that there was no
suggestion that the article had been inaccurate in its reporting of Professor Tol’s comments as at the date of
publication. The Committee was satisfied that there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
There were no further matters for the Committee to consider.
Robyn Kelly
Complaints Officer
Independent Press Standards Organisation
c/o Halton House
20/23 Holborn
London EC1N 2JD
Tel: 0300 123 2220
IPSO is the independent regulator of the newspaper and magazine industry. We exist to promote and uphold the
highest professional standards of journalism in the UK, and to support members of the public in seeking redress where
they believe that the Editors’ Code of Practice has been breached. We are able to consider concerns about editorial
content in newspapers and magazines, and about the conduct of journalists.
Follow us on Twitter:
Email Disclaimer
The information contained in this email and any attached files are confidential and intended for the named addressee only. It contains information which may be
confidential and legally privileged and also protected by copyright. Unless you are the named addressee (or authorised to receive for the addressee) you may not
copy or use it, or disclose it to anyone else. If you received it in error please notify the sender immediately or the system manager ([email protected]) and
then delete it from your system. We make every effort to keep our network free from viruses. However, you do need to check this e-mail and any attachments to
it for viruses as we can take no responsibility for any computer virus which may be transferred by way of this e-mail. Use of this or any other e-mail facility
signifies consent to any interception we might lawfully carry out to prevent abuse of these facilities.
Independent Press Standards Organisation (CIC), c/o Halton House, 20-23 Holborn, London EC1N 2JD
This email has been scanned by the Symantec Email service.
For more information please visit