Clarke and Times fail to resolve 'quotes' row

Clarke: rejected Times solution

Labour Party chairman Charles Clarke and The Times remain at odds over quotes attributed to him which he claims were invented but which the newspaper denies its journalist made up.

Despite negotiation through the Press Complaints Commission and the Times editor’s offer to print a re-worded letter from Clarke, omitting any reference to quotations being invented, he has refused to accept this solution.

Clarke had complained to the PCC that an article on 9 February, headlined "Blair ally leads push against Speaker", contained inaccurate material when it said he had come to regard the Speaker of the House of Commons as a liability.

The piece said that Clarke had "told friends" that the Speaker had "lost credibility" and "become an embarrassment".

Clarke denied that these were his views and claimed the quotes had been invented. He objected to the fact that no one had contacted him before publication and said that the editor had refused to publish a letter from him making his position clear.

The newspaper denied that the journalist had invented the quotations – the story was based on a confidential source that it was obliged to protect, it said. The editor had in fact offered to carry a letter from the complainant but proposed some amendments with which Clarke had not been satisfied.

After the PCC complaint, the editor revised his offer and said that he would publish a letter very similar to the one that the complainant had submitted, omitting only the reference to the quotations being invented.

The PCC pointed out that the Code of Practice makes clear that journalists must protect confidential sources of information but newspapers could not simply rely on this when defending complaints about material based on anonymous sources. The news-paper must be able either to produce corroborative material or to demonstrate that the complainant had a suitable opportunity to comment.

"In this case," the commission said in its adjudication, "the newspaper had not provided any corroborative material. It is not possible for the commission – which does not have legal powers of investigation or subpoena – to decide whether the quotations had been invented or not given that there was a straight clash between the parties, and it could not therefore oblige the newspaper to accept that they were invented."

The commission considered that the newspaper’s revised offer to publish a letter making Clarke’s denial clear – and calling the original piece incorrect – was a suitable remedy and no further action was necessary.

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