The Rupert Murdoch-owned The Sun was unrepentant on Wednesday after an industry watchdog passed strictures against it for suggesting in a March headline that Queen Elizabeth supported Britain exiting the European Union.
As the 90-year-old Queen remains non-political, Buckingham Palace complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, an industry body formed in the wake of the Leveson inquiry into phone-hacking.
The headline and report in the mass circulation tabloid caused a sensation in the context of the increasingly acrimonious campaign for the June 23 referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
IPSO said The Sun breached regulations and described the headline “significantly misleading”. The tabloid published the verdict on Wednesday, but editor Tony Gallaghar said he did not accept an error had been made.
IPSO said the article did not breach the Editor’s Code of Practice but “the headline went much further than a claim about what the Queen might think”.
It said, “It was a factual assertion that the Queen had expressed a position in the referendum debate, and there was nothing in the headline, or the manner in which it was presented on the newspaper’s front page, to suggest that this was conjecture, hyperbole, or was not to be read literally.”
The regulator added “it did not follow from the comments the article reported that the Queen wanted the UK to leave the EU as a result of the referendum: that suggestion was conjecture”, and was “significantly misleading – given that it suggested a fundamental breach of the Queen’s constitutional obligations”.
But Gallaghar told BBC: “We made a judgement that the headline was right and that it was backed up by the story.
“We are members of IPSO and we respect the IPSO code and that’s why we publish their judgement in full. You’re asking me if I accept we made a mistake – in all conscience I don’t.”
The Sun said in its editorial it respects IPSO and understands the Queen’s complaint but that it stands by all details in its story.
It pointed out that Ipso ruled only the headline had breached its code and told readers: “Tabloid newspapers like the Sun have long made eye-catching assertions in headlines alongside a smaller headline to qualify or attribute them. It is a standard device.”
The original article quoted two unnamed sources as saying the Queen made critical comments about the EU at two private functions.
Gallagher said: “I don’t think were I doing this again tomorrow, I would act in any way differently whatsoever, given what I know about the detail of the sourcing and given what I know about the detail of the conversation.
“Frankly we would be better packing up and going home as journalists if we didn’t actually put these things in the public domain.”