SCRIVEN'S 'NEWS OF THE WORLD' SMEAR STORY CONDEMNED BY PCC

'Dr JULIAN LEWIS MP AND THE PRESS COMPLAINTS COMMISSION'

News of the World – 9 August 2009

DR JULIAN LEWIS MP complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article published in the News of the World on 1st March 2009, headlined "Tory secrecy campaigner's £60k payout", was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The complaint was upheld.

The article reported how the MP had received a 'second home' allowance on a property in London, despite the newspaper's claim that it was his main home.

Dr Lewis denied claims in the piece that he was 'hardly' at his constituency home in Hampshire, or that 'locals' had confirmed this: he had letters from neighbours confirming he was regularly there. In fact, he lived at this property for part of every week of the year, and when Parliament was not sitting he was there more. It was not true he had sought to 'censor' the story in advance of publication: he had simply expressed concerns about the identification of his properties, while making clear that there was 'no reason why you can't write exactly whatever story you want to write about'.

The newspaper said the piece had included a long quote from Dr Lewis setting out his position, and that it had been informed by several sources, including a local political rival and the agency that provided the photographs, that he was not often at his constituency home. However, it accepted that it could not substantiate the claim he was 'hardly there'. It offered to publish a correction on this point, and to correct the claim that he had attempted to censor the story.

Dr Lewis said this offer was inadequate so long after the original complaint.

ADJUDICATION:

The Commission was not impressed with the newspaper's evidence for claiming that Dr Lewis was 'hardly' at his constituency home: there seemed to be no convincing reason to doubt his assertion that he was there regularly throughout the year. Nor had the newspaper been able to substantiate the claim that he had sought to 'censor' the story. He had just requested that the precise location of his homes be withheld.

The central claims in the story were therefore misleading, and the newspaper should have offered a prompt and clear correction. It failed to do so until too late. The Commission was satisfied that Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code had been breached and upheld the complaint.

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[NOTE: For Liberal Democrat Terry Scriven’s responsibility for initiating this false and misleading story, click here, here and here.]