IPSO upholds complaint by Scottish actress against Sunday Post

Joanne Thomson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Post breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “I was very uncomfortable about doing it but scared not to. Then the directors, both well- known in the industry, told me not to tell anyone. I was so terrified I said yes” published on 15 October 2017. The article was also trailed on the front page with the headline, “I never met any men like Harvey Weinstein when I was in Hollywood. I met plenty in Scotland though.”

The article was an interview with the complainant, which reported on her experience of the so-called “casting couch culture” while working as an actor in both Scotland and the United States of America. The strapline of the article said, “Actress speaks out in wake of casting couch scandal and says sexism and harassment in Scotland is as bad as Hollywood,” and the article went on to report Ms Thomson as stating, “All I know is that I did not experience the problems there that I have done here.”

The complainant said that the article had misreported the interview, and had given the impression that she believed that the so- called “casting couch culture” was worse in Scotland than in the United States. This was not the case. She also denied that she had said that “all I know is that I did not experience the problems there that I have done here,” as reported in the article. The complainant provided a recording, and transcript of the interview.

The newspaper apologised for any upset the article caused but did not accept it had breached the code. It denied the article suggested the scale of sexual harassment within the film industry in Scotland was as bad as in America; rather it suggested that when it happened it was as bad as in America. It pointed out that Scotland does not have a single film studio. In addition, Ms Thomson was repeatedly quoted in the article saying the scale of the problem in Scotland was not the same.

The newspaper did not have a note of the quote “All I know is that I did not experience the problems there that I have done here” but claimed it was accurate. It also claimed the quote had an identical meaning to the front-page headline “I never met any men like Harvey Weinstein when I was in Hollywood. I met plenty in Scotland though.” This was approved by the complainant before publication. The newspaper provided the reporter’s notes of the interview and claimed that, when taken in context with the front-page headline, the size of Scotland’s film industry, and the complainant’s quotes, the meaning of the strapline was clear. The complainant had made clear throughout the conversation that she did not believe that the situation in Scotland was comparable to that in Hollywood, noting that figures in the Scottish industry did not have the same level of power, and that her experiences in the United States were limited. The newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the inside strapline claim that the complainant had said that sexism and harassment was as bad in Scotland as in Hollywood. This was a breach of Clause 1 (i).

Reporting this, in the context of widely reported allegations about various figures in Hollywood, misrepresented the comparison the complainant had made between the two industries, and suggested that the allegations she had made were more serious than those included in the article. This represented a significant inaccuracy, requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).

Neither the reporter’s notes, nor the transcript, recorded the complainant saying “all I know is that I did not experience the problems there that I have done here”. While the reporter said he had written the article shortly after the interview, the Committee observed that there was no note of this, and it seemed to contradict the complainant’s position in the recorded section of the interview, and the reporter’s notes. In these circumstances, the Committee considered that the newspaper had failed to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of the report of this comment, in breach of Clause 1(i). This quotation also added to the significantly misleading impression created by the inside strapline, in breach of Clause 1 (ii). The complaint under Clause 1 was upheld.

 

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