The Independent Press Standards Organisation has delivered its verdict on the Daily Record’s coverage of the Smith Commission recommendations on 27 November 2014, after we lodged a complaint with the watchdog body.
We attach its findings below. (Emphases ours.)
Decision of the Complaints Committee
Various Complainants v The Daily Record
Summary of Complaint
1. Six complainants complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that an article headlined “The Vow delivered”, published in the Daily Record on 27 November 2014, and an article headlined “The Vow delivered: Scotland to be responsible for more tax and welfare worth billions of pounds in radical devolution package”, published on the Daily Record’s website on 26 November 2014, were inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
2. The article was about the Report of The Smith Commission, which considered the further devolution of powers to the Scottish Parliament. A front page sub-headline claimed, “Scottish Government budget to nearly double”. The article went on to report that “the Scottish Government’s current budget of about £30 billion a year will rise by two thirds to about £50 billion”.
The online article reported that “the historic power shift from Westminster should see the Scottish government’s current budget of about £30 billion boosted by over 50 per cent”. The newspaper said that the online article appeared on the home page of the Daily Record’s website
3. The complainants said that the recommendations of the Smith Commission would not “nearly double” the Scottish Government’s Budget. Some complainants referred to paragraph 95 (3) of the Smith Commission report, which stated that there should be no change in the size of the Scottish Government budget simply as a result of the initial transfer of tax and/or spending powers, before considering how they were used.
Some complainants said that while certain tax receipts would be devolved to the Scottish Government under the recommendations, paragraph 95 (3) (a) made clear that this would be accompanied by an equivalent reduction in the block grant.
4. The newspaper explained that it had received information about the contents of the report shortly before its publication from a source with first-hand knowledge. It accepted that it had misunderstood the information provided to it on this point.
It offered to publish a correction in the “Corrections and Complaints” column on page 2 of the Daily Record. It proposed the following wording:
“In our report of November 27 we stated that the Smith Commission on Devolution would recommend that the Scottish Government budget should “nearly double” and that the current budget of about £30bn would rise to about £50bn. This was based on a misunderstanding of information provided by a source close to the Smith report.
The estimated “doubling” related to the proportion of the budget raised from taxes devolved to the Scottish Government, rather than the overall size of the budget; the £50bn estimate for the “increased budget” was therefore incorrect. The impact of the increased devolved powers such as tax, welfare, air passenger duty and Crown Estates budget is yet to be fully determined.”
5. The newspaper amended the online article, and offered to publish a correction, which it said would either be published at the bottom of the original online article, or as a stand-alone item published on the first news page of the Daily Record’s website. It would then be published on the corrections and clarifications page of the website.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
(i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
(ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
Findings of the Committee
7. The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s prompt recognition of the fact that it had misunderstood the information provided to it by a source. Nevertheless, in stating that the Scottish Government budget would “nearly double”, or that it would be “boosted by over 50 per cent”, the newspaper was making significant claims.
The newspaper’s publication of these claims, following a significant misunderstanding of the information provided to it, demonstrated a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information. The complaint under Clause 1 (i) was therefore upheld.
As a consequence of the inaccuracy, the article significantly misrepresented the fiscal consequences of the Smith Commission’s recommendations. The article was therefore significantly inaccurate in a manner that required correction in accordance with Clause 1 (ii).
8. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial action required
9 Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1(i), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee has the power to require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is to be determined by IPSO. It may also inform the publication that further remedial action is required to ensure that the requirements of the Editors’ Code are met.
10 The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s prompt acknowledgment of the inaccuracy and offer of a correction. The wording and prominence of the print correction offered was sufficient to correct and address the initial error in the print article. In order to avoid a breach of the Code, this correction should now be published.
11 It noted that in some instances, depending on the nature of the original inaccuracy, it may be sufficient for a publication to amend the online article and append a footnote to the article. In this instance, however, the inaccuracy was particularly significant and prominent.
In order to remedy the breach of Clause 1, the newspaper was now required to publish this wording both as a footnote to the online article under complaint, making clear to readers that the article had been amended, and as a stand-alone item linked for no less than 24 hours from the home page of the Daily Record’s website, with a headline indicating the subject of the correction.
The stand-alone item should then be archived on the corrections and clarifications page of the Daily Record’s website.
Independent Press Standards Organisation
c/o Halton House
London EC1N 2JD
It has taken almost three months for IPSO to deliver its verdict, but it’s a damning one. The organisation very rarely upholds complaints, but its language is strong.
As far as we can make out, the Record doesn’t actually have to print its correction for another two weeks, and despite IPSO’s comment that “The newspaper amended the online article”, as we write this the original story on its website is still the wildly inaccurate version.
The paper’s excuse is pretty pathetic, as is the wording of the apology – only a complete idiot could have imagined that Holyrood’s budget was actually going to double, or that “Scotland’s Parliament will be responsible for billions of pounds of extra tax and welfare spending”. The Record can’t possibly not have known that it was printing total rubbish. But as these things go the correction should at least be a relatively prominent one.
It’s remarkable, given IPSO’s statement that the paper acknowledged the error “promptly” on receipt of the complaints in November, that the Record has nevertheless allowed its website to continue to carry the inaccurate claims for three months, almost as if it wanted people to keep believing them.
But when it comes to telling Scots the truth, we suppose it’s better late than never.