Ombudsman tries the numbers game

Is Ipswich booming? A front page story printed on November 12 seems to have caused some controversy. Headlined "Ipsrich Town!" the story used statistics provided by Ensors chartered accountants to illustrate the performance of the top ten firms in the town.

Is Ipswich booming? A front page story printed on November 12 seems to have caused some controversy. Headlined "Ipsrich Town!" the story used statistics provided by Ensors chartered accountants to illustrate the performance of the top ten firms in the town.

The article drew a complaint from Brian Collins, who in a letter published in full on November 19, disputed that what was published provided evidence of a boom. He contended that the figures, which were for financial year 2005/6, did not give an accurate reflection of the current economic position of Ipswich. Mr Collins felt that evidence of current employment would be more relevant.

The original article had also made the connection between the town's prosperity and the fortunes of Ipswich Town FC. This again raised the hackles of Mr Collins who disputed the assertion that the club's potential new owners would be "ploughing in a £44 million investment".

As I have said Mr Collins' letter was published in full, nonetheless he later wrote to the editor claiming that the article should not have been printed on the grounds of it lacking accuracy. Subsequently the complaint was referred to me as ombudsman.

One of the problems of reporting financial information is that it usually refers to the last reporting period, normally the previous financial year.

It may well not reflect the current position, but it remains the most up-to-date information available. I cannot however support Mr Collins belief that the article was basically inaccurate and therefore should not have been published.

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All the statistics used, including the £44 million investment for ITFC, came from authorities and checkable sources and were reported faithfully. Indeed it was stated clearly which year was being referred to. I do, however, have some concerns about the headline used for this front page story, as the evidence was of the top ten firms in Ipswich which may not reflect the position of many companies in the area. The Ipsrich headline must have been hard to swallow for the many in Ipswich who are far from rich and maybe even to many firms struggling in what we now know has the credit crash.

I have some sympathy for Brian's view on whether the cash injection to our football club will actually amount to £44 million. There have been numerous stories of what may or may not be happening, just how much will be injected will become clearer in due course. Perhaps we will have a better idea come the January transfer window. However, £44 million was the figure issued by ITFC and was again quoted accurately by the reporter.

Does the evidence support the view of a boom for Ipswich? Well only time will tell, as 2007/8 figures will not be out until 2009, let us all hope that what seems to be the trends of 2005 continue.

Ultimately it all comes down to opinion, Mr Collins does not agree with the editorial staff, which is of cause his absolute right. I am pleased to say that his original letter was published in full, which gave him the opportunity to voice his own contrary opinion.

I find that on this occasion there has been no lack of accuracy in the reporting, although the headline was not necessarily consistent with the evidence base of the story. Also, there has been the opportunity for views contrary to those of the editor to be expressed in full.

This is after all what a free press is all about.

A nice gesture.

Problems recently experienced in the print quality of the Star led to the disappointment for one bride who found her wedding photo had become a victim.

The photographs had become blurred. I know that efforts are being made to ensure that the print quality is of the best possible standards; but this is of little consolation to the lady concerned. The deputy editor arranged for a copy of the page to be printed on high grade paper and sent to the complainant.

I am sure that she will be pleased with the outcome and will like me think this was a very nice gesture under the circumstances.

Another case showed how inaccuracies in reporting family events cause disappointment.

A party was reported as a golden wedding when it was in fact a diamond anniversary, a very notable 60 years of marriage. I can readily understand the family's disappointment, but we can never go back and start all over again.

The cuttings, probably a treasured memento, will never have the same feeling. This is why I would ask all reporters to check the accuracy of reports of family events, and if necessary check again.

Finally, on a lighter note, a report on the opening of a new 'discovery area' in Holywells Park led to some tongue-in-cheek comment by readers. The report showed visitors in t-hirts and shorts, while of course the rest of us were dressed for the winter chill. 'Should Holywells Park be marketed as a winter sunspot?' mused one correspondent. Library pictures can have a lot to answer for!

That is all for this month, but as always if you are dissatisfied by the way the editorial staff have dealt with a complaint you can contact me and I will investigate and take it forward on your behalf.

I can be contacted in writing at The Star or by email at

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