PCC raps Castle Point Echo for 'out of context' FoI story

The Press Complaints Commission has upheld a complaint against the Castle Point Echo in Essex after it published material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act “out of context”.

Last September, the Echo published a story headlined: “Island High St Hygiene Shock”, based on environmental health reports of four local restaurants.

The story described what it called “shocking food hygiene failures” at the eateries on Canvey Island.

But one, a fish and chip shop called Dave’s Plaice, said the piece had “a number of inaccuracies” that “severely affected the business”.

The story said the restaurant had “a stash of dirty equipment”. In fact, the report only mentioned one dirty blade on a heavy can opener.

The restaurant’s owner also said the report, described as the “latest food safety report”, was nine months old, and took place shortly after they took over.

The Echo said that although the report’s date was not mentioned, it was, in fact, the latest available.

It did, however, offer to run a follow-up, a letter, or an apology, correcting the can opener point and making clear the inspection’s timing.

But the restaurant’s owner refused the offer, demanding a front-page apology.

The PCC, in upholding the complaint, said: “The commission was concerned that the newspaper had published strong and prominent criticisms of the complainant’s restaurant that could not be fully justified by the inspection report.

“The article was misleading in its failure to make clear when the inspection took place (some nine months before publication) and in its overstatement of the severity of the alleged hygiene concerns.

“In light of the possible damage that such reporting could have had on the complainant’s business, the newspaper should have taken much greater care to ensure the coverage was accurate.

“The complaint also demonstrated the importance of not taking material obtained under the Freedom of Information Act out of context.

“While the commission welcomed the eventual offer to apologise to the complainant, it felt that this was a significant breach of the code that could not be remedied with an apology.”

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