The London Evening Standard was today criticised for a ‘serious breach’of the Press Complaints Commission‘s Code of Practice over a story that warned protesters were to bring Heathrow airport to a standstill.
The PCC ruled that the paper broke clause one of the code, Accuracy, in a front page story on 13 August last year, headlined ‘Militants will hit Heathrow”.
The story warned that protestors based at the Camp for Climate Action outside the airport who were angry at the building of the airport’s third runway, were set to send hoax packages and assault its security fence. The article said that ‘two-man teams’had ‘used the cover of darkness to look for weak points along the perimeter fence”.
But the paper’s evidence for this was conversations overheard by an undercover reporter who spent two days at the camp. The reporter, who handed over notes to the commission, also saw one two-man team inspecting the fence and the paper offered to clarify the suggestion that there had been more – though the complainant declined the offer.
Alex Harvey of the Camp for Climate Change complained that the story contained allegations that had been ‘fabricated’and said the paper had not contacted the camp for comment on these specific claims.
The commission said the Standard should have recognised the breach of the code earlier and should have been ‘more forthcoming in its attempts to remedy the complaint”.
In its adjudication, the PCC said that beyond the comments by a ‘man in his late 20s’in the story, whose identity was not made clear, there was no other evidence for the paper’s claims.
It said: ‘This was a matter of concern for the Commission. There was nothing in the headline to indicate to readers the insubstantial basis of the claims. Neither was there adequate qualification in the text of the article.
‘The subject matter of the piece would have been of considerable importance to those living in and travelling to London, yet adequate care had not been taken over the presentation of the piece, which was materially misleading. This was a serious breach of the Code. The Commission considered that the newspaper should have recognised this at an early stage and been more forthcoming in its attempts to remedy the complaint.
Harvey made another complaint over a story published the next day on 14 August about the climate camp, but the PCC said this could be settled by the publishing of a clarification and letter for the complainant.
A spokesman for the Evening Standard said: “The Evening Standard is a firm supporter of the PCC and, of course, accepts its ruling. As readers of the Evening Standard would expect, we published extensive coverage of this major protest at Heathrow airport which was deliberately timed for the busy August holidays.
“As well as the page one story which the PCC adjudication addresses, one of our experienced reporters spent two days undercover at the protest camp and wrote a report about what he saw and heard. It is significant to note that the PCC did not uphold a complaint about this background story. In its finding, the PCC said the Evening Standard was entitled to publish a report on what was a controversial demonstration.
“The PCC said on this complaint that it was clear that the journalist had been present and had provided notes in support of his report.The PCC said it was important to state that the Commission would never be able to resolve definitively what the journalist saw or heard when he was at the camp.
“It said it would have been clear to readers from the article that it was the subjective experience of the undercover reporter. It said that other people would have had different experiences and views of the camp.”