The Press Complaints Commission has rejected claims by Gordon Brown’s office that an article reporting how the former Prime Minister has received more than £2m in fees and expenses since leaving office amounted to a “deliberate slur”.
The article, published on 9 December 2012 and headlined “Globe-trotting Gordon Brown loses his voice”, reported that Brown had “not spoken in parliament for more than a year while crisscrossing the globe to maintain an international profile”.
A complaint was made to the watchdog by Charlie King, who works for the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown, relating to the paper’s reporting of payments for non-parliamentary activities such as speech-making, which Brown had declared in the parliamentary register of financial interests.
It reported that Brown had “received” more than £2m in fees and expenses since leaving office but it “made clear the money had not been used for his personal gain”, according to a report in yesterday’s Sunday Times.
King accused the paper of publishing a “deliberate slur”, suggesting the use of the word “received” was inaccurate because Brown did not personally receive the money.
In its defence The Sunday Times said “no reasonable person would misunderstand the meaning of ‘received’ in the context of the article.
In its adjudication the PCC said: “There was no dispute over the figures included in the article.
“It was for the commission to consider whether, in these circumstances, it was inaccurate or misleading for the newspaper to say that Gordon Brown had ‘received’ the payments.
“It was the commission’s view that the newspaper had not misrepresented the situation. The payments related to activities undertaken by Gordon Brown — institutions or organisations made the payments in return for his services.
“In such circumstances, whether Mr Brown or his office directly ‘received’ the payments did not represent a significant distinction, provided it was made clear the money was not for his personal gain.
“Indeed, the fact that Mr Brown had declared these payments on the register of members’ financial interests demonstrated that he, as an individual, could not be divorced from the payments and his office to the extent the complainant appeared to consider appropriate.
“The article had made clear repeatedly that the payments were not for the gain of Mr Brown personally — it stated that the money was ‘not for personal gain’, that it had ‘all been ploughed back into his public and charitable activities’ and that ‘each payment goes to the Office of Gordon and Sarah Brown for the employment of staff to support my ongoing involvement in public life’.
“The latter quotation reflected the qualification of the payments Mr Brown had entered in the register of members’ financial interests. The commission did not agree that readers would be misled by the use of the term ‘receive’ into understanding that Mr Brown received the fees for personal gain. There was no breach of clause 1 (accuracy) of the editors’ code of practice.”
Brown's office today noted that despite the most recent ruling News International titles have printed seven corrections or clarifications since October. These include:
Brown's extra £114k 'duty' bill (The Sun); Brown in £20,000 expenses row (The Sun); Gordon is Browned off (The Sun); Toby Young: Toffs who play at being comrades (The Sun); Rampant migration a bad thing? Who’d have thought it
it? it haveought it, Ed (The Sunday Times); Brown’s think tank hit by ‘theft’ (The Sunday Times); How some MPs are making the most of life outside the House (The Times)