IPSO rejects complaint from Cambridge professor who said assassinated scientists claims were 'off the record'

The Independent Press Standards Organisation has rejected a complaint from a Cambridge professor against The Times for reporting him as suggesting “assassins may have murdered scientists who were seeking to reveal how rapidly global warming was melting Arctic ice”. (Shutterstock picture of Cambridge)

The Times reported the comments made by Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics, in July this year. Wadhams went to IPSO over the story and made his complaint public.

He complained to IPSO under clauses one (accuracy), two (right of reply) and 14 (confidential sources).

Wadhams said:

  • His comments to The Times were not reported accurately (clause one)
  • The journalist did not contact him between the interview and publication, as he said had been arranged (clause two)
  • And that the conversation he had had with the journalist was off the record (clause 14).

But The Times defended its story:

  • Providing IPSO with a tape recording of the interview
  • Saying it “regretted that the journalist had not telephoned the complainant again prior to publication, as he had indicated he would do" but adding that it "did not have a policy of offering pre-publication copy approval to interviewees”
  • And noting that “at one point the complainant had requested that the conversation go ‘off the record’, making clear that he was aware the conversation prior to that point had been ‘on the record’ and intended for publication. The newspaper had not published material provided by the complainant during the ‘off the record’ part of the conversation. At the end of this section, the journalist had told the complainant that he was ‘switching back to “on the record”’.

IPSO found that The Times did not breach any clauses of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

After investigating, it said:

  • The article “had accurately reported his position as he had explained it to the journalist”
  • Clause two does not require publications “to seek pre-publication comment; rather, it provides an opportunity to reply to inaccuracies”
  • And “the complainant had not requested during the interview that he be treated as a confidential source, nor had he made reference to any such request in the course of his complaint”.

Read the full adjudication here.

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