PCC: no need for prominence in libel reports

Regulator rejects Ashcroft complaint

The Press Complaints Commission has not upheld a complaint by Lord Ashcroft that The Independent broke clause 1 of the Code of Practice in reporting the outcome of the peer’s recent libel claim against the paper’s former publishers, and a former editor and journalist.

The 2009 action related to reports, including a front page lead, containing serious allegations. A settlement was announced in an agreed court statement on 26 November 2012. The publishers confirmed they had found “no evidence whatsoever” of involvement with activities concerning politicians, public officials or others “which might be considered to represent bribery or indeed any other corrupt practice”.

The Independent had passed to new owners meanwhile. Initially it carried no report of the statement. When Lord Ashcroft complained to the PCC, a report was published. It appeared on  on 4 December 2012 on p23 of the print edition, headed “Ashcroft drops libel action after apology“. It made no reference to the publisher’s “no evidence” confirmation. The peer’s complaint was pursued on additional grounds of lateness, unfairness, inaccuracy and lack of prominence.

In a ruling published on 28 February 2013 the PCC held that the change of ownership did not remove the paper’s duty under clause 1(iv) of the Code to report fairly and accurately the outcome of the action. That is an important ruling, in line with a judgment of Eady J in the libel action. The Commission concluded, however, that the paper had discharged its duty under clause 1(iv). Lord Ashcroft’s complaints that the report was late, unfair, inaccurate, and lacking in due prominence were not upheld.

The PCC found that the requirements in clause 1(ii) for a prompt and prominent correction do not apply when a publication is reporting a public correction made as part of the outcome of a libel action in which it has been involved.

Lord Ashcroft commented that in the light of this decision “I continue to have little confidence in the effectiveness of the Press Complaints Commission”.

5RB’s Mark Warby QC and Adam Speker acted for Lord Ashcroft.