An investor named Ken Hodgson repeatedly complained to The Times and its data supplier, a financial services firm, about figures in the equity price listing over the course of several years. He eventually made a formal complaint to IPSO over the 9 July 2022 listings.
The Times had previously investigated and received assurances from the supplier that the data was accurate, but this turned out to be untrue. IPSO said: “It was extremely regrettable that the issue with the data had not been identified and acknowledged by the firm and the publication until the complaint to IPSO.”
The regulator found there had been a serious breach of Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice because the case involved “significant inaccuracies, spread over several pages, over a period of time, which had the potential to affect readers’ financial decisions”.
Times accepts there were inaccuracies ‘over a number of years’
The listings included the highest and lowest share prices for various companies as well as their calculated dividend yields.
In the listings on pages 67 to 71 for 9 July 2022, Hodgson said the percentages had been calculated using dividends from 2020 payments instead of 2021. In general, he said, the listings used the previous year’s financial information and were updated somewhere between seven to 18 months late.
IPSO said: “In circumstances where the publication had been made aware of the potential issues with the data yet had continued to publish it, and where there was now no dispute that the current figures were inaccurate, this represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the data.”
The regulator added that the inaccuracy was “significant” because the “intended use of this information was to inform investors on dividend yields”, adding that The Times now appears to “accept that the inaccuracies had been published over a number of years”.
Methodology explanation adds to inaccuracy
There was an explanation of the methodology at the top of the listing and this reflected a “standard way to calculate these figures”, IPSO said, but “because of the errors made in compiling the data, the explanation stated did not accurately summarise the method used to create the data that had been presented”.
Hodgson had no problem with the methodology itself – which The Times explained as the “sum of a company’s trailing 12-month dividend payments divided by the last month’s ending share price 12 month high and low” – but with the use of out-of-date figures.
This was a further significant inaccuracy, the regulator said, since the explanation should “help investors and people interested in this information understand the way in which the data had been calculated”.
Adjudication needed, IPSO says
The Times published a correction in its corrections and clarifications column in March which stated: “The dividend yields published in our share price listing pages (Business) were found last month to contain errors. We have temporarily suspended publication of this data while our supplier identifies and resolves the problem.
“As soon as we are satisfied that the data supplied to us is correct, publication will be resumed. We apologise for any inconvenience in the meantime.”
However IPSO said that even though the correction sufficiently addressed the inaccurate data, it had “failed to address directly the fact that the explanation of the methodology had been inaccurate”.
IPSO also deemed that offering a correction in March 2023 “six months after the publication had been made aware of the IPSO complaint, and several years since it had been made aware of the issue with the data” was not sufficiently prompt.
It therefore ordered The Times to publish a formal adjudication in the newspaper’s money section, or further forward, with an agreed wording.
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