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PCC Ruling on Jon Danzig’s complaints against the Daily Mail

2 September 2014

Our reference: 142229

Dear Mr Danzig

Further to our previous correspondence, the Commission has now made its assessment of your complaint under the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The Commission members have asked me to thank you for giving them the opportunity to consider the points you raise. Their decision is that that the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information in breach of Clause 1 (i), but had offered sufficient action to remedy the initial 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 Commission’s decision itself – you should write within one month to the Independent Reviewer, whose details can be found in our How to Complain leaflet or on the PCC website at the following link:

http://www.pcc.org.uk/about/whoswho/independentreview.html

Thank you for taking this matter up with us.

Yours sincerely

Elizabeth Cobbe


Commission’s decision in the case of

Danzig v Daily Mail

 

Following his own investigations, the complainant submitted a complaint that the article headlined “Sold out! Flights and buses full as Romanians and Bulgarians head for the UK” included a number of inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. He also considered that it breached the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Code and, during the course of the PCC investigation, raised a further complaint that one aspect of the article engaged the terms of Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

Following the publication of the article on 31 December 2013, the Commission received a number of complaints about the article. In accordance with its standard procedures, the PCC selected one complaint, which it felt most successfully encompassed the points being raised across the complaints, for the purposes of its investigation. It was only once that investigation was already underway that the complainant submitted his complaint, on 20 January 2014. The initial investigation was concluded when the complainant accepted the publication of the following print clarification as a resolution of his complaint:

An article on December 31 reported information provided by local travel agents that there was limited availability on flights and buses to London from Romania and Bulgaria in January this year, despite one airline doubling the number of flights. We have since been made aware that some reasonably priced flights and seats on buses were available from Bucharest and Sofia at that time. We are also happy to clarify that some of the additional flights were put in place before January 1.

 The following footnote was added to the online article:

Our reporters in Bucharest and Sofia were informed by travel agents and on websites within the countries that there was very limited availability on flights and buses to London at the start of the new year. We have since been made aware, however, that some readers were able to find a larger number of flights leaving Bucharest and Sofia at the beginning of January with availability, with fares starting from £122. We understand that some seats on buses bound for London were also available at the time. We are happy to clarify that some of the additional flights were put in place before January 1.                

The other complainants were informed of the outcome of the investigation and asked whether they considered this to be sufficient to resolve their complaints. A number of complainants, including the present complainant, expressed dissatisfaction with the outcome. Given that the complainant had raised a number of points not covered in the original complaint it investigated, the Commission then commenced a further investigation in relation to the additional points raised by the complainant.

The complainant made thirteen complaints about points of accuracy. The article reported that, on the eve of the lifting of restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians working in the UK, flights and buses leaving Bulgaria and Romania for the UK were full. It included a number of quotations from individuals, some of whom were anonymous. The complainant had initiated his own investigation into the situation following publication of the article, and had received markedly different information to that contained in the article. Before turning to each of the complaints in turn, the Commission wished to make a general point. Clause 1 (i) of the Code states that: “the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information”. The newspaper stated that the article reflected the outcome of its journalists’ investigations. While the onus was on the newspaper to demonstrate that it had taken sufficient care in compiling its article, the fact that the complainant’s investigations returned different results did not, in itself, demonstrate that the newspaper had failed in this obligation. It was quite possible that sources might give different responses to different individuals or might not wish to confirm whether they had previously spoken off-the-record to a journalist from the newspaper, especially in relation to an issue which was, at the time of the article, a high profile issue. That the complainant had received different responses did not, in the view of the Commission, establish that the newspaper had fabricated information.

The first statement under complaint was that: “One airline has even doubled the number of flights to meet demand”. The airline referred to was Wizz Air. The complainant had been in touch with Wizz Air, who denied it had introduced any additional flights during the New Year period. While the airline had confirmed that it was increasing flights from Romania and Bulgaria to the UK by 30 per cent, that increase was for the summer of 2014. The newspaper said that the airline had increased flights significantly over the course of 2013. Following the complaint, it had tried to obtain confirmation from Wizz Air of the precise increase in the number of flights, but had not received a response. The complainant had obtained the following statement from the airline: “Due to our recently announced intention to float on the LSE we cannot communicate potentially sensitive commercial information. However, this makes no difference to the claims made by the DM on our Romanian business…. It is clear that the DM grossly misrepresented our flight schedule between Romania and the UK and any attempt to forecast future route development is immaterial to the false claims about past growth made in the DM in January.”

The Commission noted that the article stated explicitly that Wizz Air had doubled the number of flights from Romania to England in order to “meet demand”. This claim was made in the context of the restrictions on Bulgarian and Romanian people working in the UK being lifted on 1 January 2014.  While the newspaper had sought to demonstrate that some new flights had been introduced over the preceding year, the Commission noted that the article did not state that Wizz Air had introduced the additional flights over the preceding year; rather, it implied that the flights had been introduced over the new year period. Furthermore, the newspaper had not successfully demonstrated that the number of flights had been doubled. While it was unfortunate that the airline was not willing to provide further information, the Commission established that the newspaper could not support the claim that Wizz Air had doubled its flights to meet increased demand to travel to the UK when the restrictions were lifted. This raised a breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The newspaper was accordingly required under Clause 1 (ii) to correct the misleading impression created, promptly and with due prominence. The newspaper had offered to publish the following further clarification: An article on 31 December about Romanian immigration quoted politician Ion Prioteasa saying that passengers from his region would double this year. Mr Prioteasa has made clear that he was referring to all destinations, not just the UK. While Wizz Air accepts that it has introduced more flights during 2014, it denies that they had doubled in number at the time of the article. We are happy to clarify that a Romanian quoted asking about child benefits on a website was already working here.   In the Commission’s view, while the clarification already published was not sufficient to remedy the point, the revised wording offered by the newspaper would amount to sufficient compliance with Clause 1 (ii), in the absence of more specific information from the airline. It made clear the airline’s position that an increase in flights related to 2014 as a whole, and not the new year period when the article was published. It was appropriate for the newspaper to delay publication of the correction pending possible agreement of its terms, but in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii) it should now be published.

The complainant expressed concern over the reference to the prices of the flights; in particular, he was concerned by the claim that “one-way tickets were selling for up to £3,000 each” and that “no-frills flights were being sold at around £300 each”. The complainant said that, while there were flights available for up to £3000, these were obscure, indirect routes which naturally would not be purchased by an individual seeking to fly to UK, as cheaper direct flights were available. It was therefore misleading to include the claim. Furthermore, flights from Bucharest to London for travel the following day were available on New Year’s Eve for £158. Wizz Air also provided a statement that “Independent screen shots done on our website on 1 Jan confirm that the flights on our Bucharest route for travel in the first week of January were available for last minute bookings for just 235 GBP, and since the peak travel period after the Christmas holiday season, prices have fallen to just 59 GBP”. The Commission concluded that the reference to the £3000 flight was not misleading. The article clearly stated that this was the maximum price for a one-way ticket, and made clear that tickets for substantially less were available. The newspaper said that its reporters had found that a significant number of flights were priced at £300. The investigations of the reporters and the complainant had returned different results. The two positions were not necessarily mutually exclusive; while some flights may have been available for £158, a significant number may also have been available for £300. The newspaper’s results were not significantly different to those confirmed by Wizz Air: that, on the 1 January, flights for the ensuing week were £235. In light of this, the Commission could not establish that the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. Nonetheless, the Commission noted that in its initial clarification the newspaper had reported that others had been able to obtain reasonably-priced tickets.

One of the complainant’s primary concerns was over the claims that “buses leaving Bulgaria capital Sofia until January 9 are fully booked” and “travel agencies in Sofia as well as the Romanian capital of Bucharest reported huge demand for tickets. At the Central Bus Station in Sofia, travel agent Svetlanka Beaucheva said: ‘Everything is booked until Thursday, January 9. There are no seats left’”. The complainant said that on 1 January, the day after the article was published, he had been easily able buy a bus ticket from Sofia to London departing on 3 January. There had been five empty seats. He had been informed by one company that bookings had been down on the previous year. His investigations had been unable to identify anyone by the name of Svetlanka Beaucheva, or similar, at the bus station.

The newspaper said that its reporter had made a thorough tour of the ticket agencies at the bus station in Sofia, enquiring which sold tickets to London. Each was adamant that they had no tickets before 9 January. The reporter asked if there was an alternative way to obtain a ticket, and was told there was not. The newspaper understood that the complainant had been informed by one company, Balkan Horn, that some tickets were held back by the company; this may explain why he had been able to obtain a ticket while the reporter had not. The newspaper provided the reporter’s short-hand notes, and a transcript, which included a note of the name Svetlana Beaucheva and her comment “everything booked until 9 January”, along with a comment from Balkan Horn that it had nothing until 9 January.

The Commission acknowledged that the complainant and the reporter appeared to have been given different information. The newspaper had, however, been able to demonstrate, by providing a contemporaneous short-hand note which supported the claims, that it had taken care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. That the complainant had received different responses, on a different day, did not demonstrate that these notes were incorrect. The Commission was satisfied that the newspaper had been able to support its position, and did not therefore establish an inaccuracy or misleading statement that required correction.  There was no breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) on this point.

The Commission then turned to the following statements: “A manager at coach company Karats Eurolines said prices had gone up due to the high demand”; and “another, at coach firm Balkan Horn, said: ‘It is very busy, many people want to travel to England, especially with the change in EU rules. But everything is booked up, it’s hard to get there.’” The complainant said that Karats Eurolines in Bulgaria denied speaking to the Daily Mail and said that they did not have any buses going to the UK. The Balkan Horn head office denied any knowledge of ever talking with the Daily Mail and said that they would never have given such a quotation, as it was not true.  There were indeed seats available on their buses to London and there was no increased demand. The newspaper said that Karats Eurolines were part of Eurolines, which did have services from Sofia to London. The quotation from Balkan Horn had been given by an employee at the office who wished to remain anonymous, as he did not wish to get into trouble for speaking to the press. He had given the comment on 30 December. The newspaper provided notes supporting the quotation from Balkan Horn. The complainant was concerned by the newspaper’s decision to rely on a quotation from an unnamed source, which could not be checked, rather than obtaining an on-the-record comment from the head office. He had been informed there was no ban on employees speaking to the press.

The Commission made clear that newspapers are entitled to publish information given by confidential sources and have an obligation under Clause 14 of the Editors’ Code to protect their identities. The Commission could not, therefore, request the newspaper to identify its source. That the complainant had received a different response from another individual at the organisation on a different day, albeit from the head offices, did not demonstrate that the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information in publishing what it had been told.

The Commission noted that the short-hand notes supplied by the newspaper did not contain a reference to the comment attributed to a manager at Karat Euroline regarding increased demand. While it seemed the complainant had spoken to a representative of the company about this comment, it did not appear that he was acting on behalf of the company. There seemed to be a discrepancy between the notes and the article on this point. However, without the involvement of the company, either directly or through a representative, it was difficult for the Commission to establish with certainty the company’s position on the issue. Furthermore, it could not negotiate the publication of a statement correcting or clarifying its position on the issue without its involvement, as it could not be sure whether it wished for a statement to be published, or indeed what it would want such a statement to say. If the company did wish for a clarification or correction to be published, it remained free to take forward a complaint, either directly or via a representative.

The final point under complaint which related specifically to travel to the UK was the comment attributed to Ion Prioteasa, President of Dolj county in the south of Romania, that “the numbers travelling from there to the UK will double to 70,000 next year”. The newspaper said that this had been taken from an article published in a local newspaper, which it translated as saying: “Our research has revealed that many people are interested in this destination since many Romanians are working or studying there. It has also revealed that many would like to travel to London, one of the major capitals of the world. In this way, we will probably record 35,000 passengers this year and, most likely, in 2014 we will double this number.” The complainant said that the mayor had in fact been referring to total passengers passing through the airport, not merely those flying to the UK. He gave the alternative translation: ““by opening [the route to London] we have now reached a traffic of 35,000 passengers going through Craiova Airport and most likely next year we will double this figure,” said Ion Prioteasa, Dolj County Council President at the inauguration of the London to Craiova route. According to Mr Prioteasa, the flight from London to Craiova has been added to the already popular routes such as the Craiova to Milan and Craiova to Rome routes, operated from Craiova International Airport, with further destinations being added from next year, such as Dortmund, Bologna and Barcelona”.

In circumstances where the Commission does not have a complaint from the directly-affected individual – in this instance Ion Prioteasa – that their position has been misrepresented, it generally is not in a position to make a finding as to whether the newspaper had breached the terms of the Code. However, in this instance, the comment was taken from an article available in the public domain, so the Commission was in a position to make a finding of fact as to whether his comments had been misrepresented. In this instance, there did appear from the respective translations provided by the parties to be ambiguity surrounding the comment made by Mr Prioteasa, given that the comment regarding the doubling of passengers was made specifically in the context of the route to London. Nonetheless, it appeared from the full translation provided by the complainant that Mr Prioteasa had been referring to the total passenger numbers passing through the airport, rather than just to the UK. This raised a breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code.

The newspaper was accordingly required under Clause 1 (ii) to correct the misleading impression created, promptly and with due prominence. In the Commission’s view, the wording offered by the newspaper to the complainant would amount to sufficient compliance with Clause 1 (ii). It made clear that Mr Prioteasa was not solely referring to passengers to the UK. It was appropriate for the newspaper to delay publication of the correction pending possible agreement of its terms, but in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii) – and subject to the complainant raising any objection – it should now be published.

The Commission then turned to the remaining six points of complaint framed under Clause 1 (Accuracy), which did not directly relate to travel arrangements to the UK. The first statement was the claim that “Bulgarians and Romanians were last night preparing to travel to Britain as restrictions on working here are lifted tomorrow”. The complainant did not consider that the newspaper could support its claim that they were travelling because the restrictions were being lifted. The newspaper said the article reflected the experience of its journalists and that it did not state that they were travelling “because” the restrictions were being lifted.

The Commission, while acknowledging the statement arguably drew an association between those traveling to the UK and the lifting of work restrictions, noted that the statement did not make an express causal link between those travelling from Romania and Bulgaria and the reason for travel. It did not agree that the article suggested that all those travelling to the UK were doing so for this reason. In all the circumstances, the Commission did not consider this general comment was inaccurate or misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code.

The complainant considered that the following statement was misleading: “when controls imposed in 2005 are lifted tomorrow, 29 million from the two countries will gain the right to work in Britain”. Not only was it impossible for the entire populations of Bulgaria and Romania to move to the UK, he said, but both had a significant number of children who had no right to work here. Furthermore, the “controls” had been imposed in 2007. The Commission understood the complainant’s concerns over the claim; however, it did not, on balance, agree that this statement was significantly misleading. It was satisfied that it was sufficiently clear that the article was informing readers that Bulgarians and Romanians were gaining the right to work in the UK; there was no suggestion they would all be exercising that right, or indeed that the UK would allow Bulgarian or Romanian children to engage in child labour. While it noted the position in regard to the year in which the restrictions were imposed, this was not, in the context of the piece, a point of significant inaccuracy such that a correction was required. There was no breach of the Code on this point.

The complainant was concerned that the newspaper had not provided the details of the website from which it obtained the following comment: “My husband and I want to have a child in the UK. We want to know what kind of benefits we can apply for. We are interested in receiving a council house.” The newspaper said it had been taken from a website (www.romani.co.uk), and provided the full quotation: “I have been working as a nurse for two years. My husband and I want to have a child in the UK. We want to know what kind of benefits we can apply for. We are interested in receiving a council house. We don’t have proper conditions for a child in the place where we are now living.” The complainant considered that the newspaper had misrepresented her comment; the newspaper should have made clear that the woman was already working in the UK and paid taxes. His translation made clear she had been working in the UK as a nurse.

As before, in establishing whether an individual had been misrepresented, the Commission would generally require their involvement. However, given that the comment was available in the public domain, the Commission was in a position to make an assessment as to whether it had been misrepresented. In the view of the Commission, the fact that the woman had said she was already working in the UK was relevant in the context of the article. The article reported on Bulgarians and Romanians coming to the UK in the context of the removal of working restrictions in the new year; it was clearly pertinent that the woman making the comment had been working here already for two years. The failure to make this clear raised a breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code.

The newspaper was accordingly required under Clause 1 (ii) to correct the misleading impression created, promptly and with due prominence. In the Commission’s view, the wording offered by the newspaper to the complainant would amount to sufficient compliance with Clause 1 (ii). It made clear that the woman had been working in the UK for two years. While the complainant considered it should refer to taxes, neither he nor the Commission was in a position to establish any facts about the taxes she paid – it was not a point made in her comment. It was appropriate for the newspaper to delay publication of the correction pending possible agreement of its terms, but in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii) it should now be published.

The complainant was concerned by the following statement: “Aleksandra Dzhongova, who runs a legitimate employment agency in Sofia, said other firms had been set up with the specific intention of helping immigrants understand Britain’s welfare system, rather than filling job vacancies.” The complainant said that Ms Dzhongova denied speaking to the newspaper or making this comment. The newspaper said that she had given an interview to a journalist working on behalf of both the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph and had indeed made such a comment.

The Commission had received a complaint from Ms Aleksandra Dzhongova and, as the directly affected party, it was investigating that complaint in correspondence with her. It did  not therefore comment further on this point.

The next point of complaint was over the claim that a firm offered to help its Romanian clients avoid paying fines issued by HM Revenue & Customs and the following quotation from a source at the firm, which helped Romanians find work in the UK: “There are already many using these social benefits without necessarily having an urgent need for them. I hope Romanians in the UK do not tell those from home that they are entitled to claim benefits because everyone will try to claim. If you ask Romanians why are they claiming benefits they say, “If it is allowed by the law, then why not?” They have seen the Brits claiming and other nationalities too, so they want to join the queue.”

The complainant requested further information about the identity of the firm; he had been unable to locate a firm offering such services. The newspaper said that the information came from a source, who wished to remain anonymous, working at the company. She was a Romanian adviser in the UK working for a consultancy company in Britain.  It could not name the company, as this would identify its source.

The Commission acknowledged the complainant’s concerns; however, as preciously noted, Clause 14 (Confidential sources) places an obligation on newspapers to protect the identity of confidential sources. While it noted the complainant’s dissatisfaction at the newspaper’s reluctance to provide further information, the Commission could not compel it to do so without forcing the newspaper to breach the Code the PCC enforces.

In circumstances where the Commission receives a complaint about the publication of a significant allegation made against an individual and the publication relies on information provided by an anonymous source, the Commission will generally expect a newspaper to demonstrate it took additional steps to try and establish the veracity of the information. This situation was different. The information under complaint was provided by an anonymous source talking about her company.  The complainant had no firm grounds to suggest the source did not exist, beyond his own speculation and the fact he could not find a company offering such services. The information did not include any allegations against an individual, but rather reflected the source’s own experience of her work. In all the circumstances, the Commission did not agree that the newspaper’s publication of its source’s comments represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. Furthermore, the Commission did not consider that there were grounds to suggest that the source had been fabricated. There was no breach of the Code on this point.

Finally, the Commission considered the complaint about the reference to Priority Point, which was made under Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Code. The relevant paragraph was as follows: “The Daily Mail asked Priority Point, which gives Romanian migrants advice on settling in the UK, whether they could help a Romanian woman with two children with no legal documents to claim benefits while looking for a job as a housekeeper. A member of staff said they could, for a fee.

The employee said: ‘There is no problem. But first she will need to apply for a national insurance number and then she can apply to receive money for the kids.’

When asked if the company will fill out the paper work, the employee replied: ‘Yes, we will do. For the documents for claiming child benefits you’ll be charged £70.’”

The complainant said that Priority Point denied providing the comment, and questioned whether the newspaper had engaged in subterfuge. The newspaper said that its “Romanian fixer” had spoken to the company in Romanian. She had made clear that she was a journalist and was not asked what newspaper she worked for. At no point did she pretend to be a Romanian woman coming to Britain herself. It provided a note of the conversation. The complainant had confirmed that he was not representing Priority Point in the complaint.

In the absence of the involvement of the directly involved party – Priority Point – the Commission was not in a position to make a ruling on the matter, particularly in relation to Clause 10 of the Code. It had already made clear the organisation remained free to complaint, through a representative or direct. However, the Commission was unable to establish a breach of the Code based solely on the ground that the Priority Point had denied to the complainant making the comment to the newspaper.

The complainant had noted that the transcript of the contemporaneous notes provided by the reporter demonstrated that various comments had been made to him which had not been included in the article. Among these comments was a statement that “these buses are full because people who work or study there go back”; “I like hot weather. Climate is cold not like Bulgaria. It rains too much”; “its politicians saying that lots will go”; “standard of living for a better life for better wages people going are workers or students not benefits not know how many will take the journey this yet. Too early to say”. The Commission noted the complainant’s position; however, it did not agree that the newspaper’s decision not to include these quotations in the article rendered it misleading. The article began by associating increased travel with the lifting of the work restrictions, and mentioned that Bulgarians and Romanians had gained the right to work in the UK. There was no suggestion in the article that all those travelling to the UK over the New Year were seeking benefits; it quoted some as wanting to find “any job they can”. The absence of specific comments on this point was not misleading. Nor did the Commission consider the absence of the comments about the climate or statements by politicians rendered any points of the article inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code on these grounds.

The complainant had also made a complained under Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complainant believed that the article had caused unjustified alarm and indignation, and that there was a case for the PCC to propose to the newspaper that “unfounded inaccurate stories against Romanians and Bulgarians generally could cause unrest in our society, unfair discrimination and dislike of Romanians and Bulgarians, and are not in the public interest”. As the complainant had also acknowledged, however, the terms of Clause 12 prohibit “prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race”. The article did not include reference to the race of an individual Bulgarian or Romanian. While registering the complainant’s dissatisfaction with the scope of the Editors’ Code of Practice, the Commission did not establish a breach of this clause of the Code. Any suggestions regarding the drafting of the Editors’ Code of Practice should be directed to the Editors’ Code of Practice Committee (http://www.editorscode.org.uk/).

Reference no. 142229

Elizabeth Cobbe

Complaints Officer

Press Complaints Commission

Halton House

20/23 Holborn

London EC1N 2JD

 

Tel: 020 7831 0022

Website: www.pcc.org.uk

The PCC is an independent body which administers the system of self-regulation for the press. We do this primarily by dealing with complaints, framed within the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice, about the editorial content of newspapers and magazines (and their websites). We keep industry standards high by training journalists and editors, and work proactively behind the scenes to prevent harassment and media intrusion. We can also provide pre-publication advice to journalists and the public.

 

Follow us on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ukpcc

 

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