It’s wrong to use the phrase “charged” if someone has merely been accused of a crime or has not faced official charges by the police or the Crown Prosecution Service, the UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation ruled.
The matter came up when a man complained to IPSO over a July 2019 article by local newspaper the Folkestone Herald. The article reported on the man appearing in court after another man accused him of sending false information about him. The case was a private prosecution, not a public prosecution involving charges brought by authorities.
The accused man was upset, saying he thought the article suggested authorities had charged him, when it was a case brought by another person against him. (The Crown Prosecution Service later “discontinued the case against him due to lack of evidence” and his accuser had to pay costs, IPSO noted.)
In response to his complaints, the Herald updated its article to state that the case was brought by a third party. They also published a clarification to reinforce that and note that the case was later dropped. That clarification reads:
“In the July 18 edition of the Herald we reported Michael Stainer, the former director of The Grand in Folkestone, appeared in court on July 10 accused of knowingly sending “false information” about one of its residents, [named third party].We have been asked to point out this was in fact a private prosecution brought by [named third party]. The case was passed to the CPS and, following a review of the case, it was discontinued because there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution. We are happy to clarify this matter and apologise for any confusion.” The Herald also published a note atop its article reading: “We are happy to clarify that this case was passed to the CPS and, following a review of the case, it was discontinued because there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution.”
The accused was also upset that the original article included a photograph of him but not one of his accuser. Despite the clarification, the Herald defended its article, saying that there wasn’t any “substantial difference between a public and a private prosecution,” IPSO reported.
However, IPSO didn’t agree with the Herald on this point, either. “In this instance, the article had been misleading by failing to make clear that this was a private prosecution as opposed to a prosecution which had been brought in the name of the state following an evaluation of the evidence by the Crown Prosecution Service,” IPSO ruled. “The use of the term ‘charged’ in the report, without making it clear that it was a private prosecution was also misleading in circumstances where the prosecution had not been brought by the state.”
While IPSO ruled that the Herald broke guidelines for publishing misleading information, the clarification and corrections posted by the newspaper were satisfactory, it found. iMediaEthics has written to the Herald.