London, May 18: Britain's press watchdog today ruled that 'The Sun' had misled readers with a front page article claiming that Queen Elizabeth II was in favour of the country leaving the EU in next month's referendum even though the newspaper stood by its story.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid was found to be in breach of press regulations over its report headlined "Queen backs Brexit" published on March 9, following which Buckingham Palace had complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) as the British monarch is considered politically neutral.
IPSO said in its decision that while the article itself did not breach the code of practice, the headline did and the complaint was upheld under clause one of the code which refers to accuracy.
"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," IPSO ruled.
"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," it added.
IPSO, set up in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal in the UK, ordered the newspaper to publish its decision "as a remedy," which appeared at the bottom of page two of the paper, with a headline on the front page also referring to it.
Tabloids like the 'Sun' have long made eye-catching assertions in headlines alongside a smaller headline to qualify or attribute them and it is a standard device. "But IPSO decided it wasn't right though it had no problem with the story beneath it, about Her Majesty's Eurosceptic remarks which two impeccable sources confirmed.
We stand by all of it," 'The Sun' said. In the article, the paper had reported that two unnamed sources had claimed the Queen made critical comments about the EU at two private functions, with a supporting headline.
"We made a judgement that the headline was right and that it was backed up by the story. You're asking me if I accept we made a mistake in all conscience I don't," 'Sun' editor Tony Gallagher told the BBC.
One source was quoted by the newspaper as saying that they had witnessed a "bust-up" between Queen Elizabeth II and pro-EU former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in 2011, which it said left "no room for doubt about her passionate feelings over Europe".
But Buckingham Palace alleged the headline implied the Queen was a supporter of the 'Leave' campaign in the June 23 referendum, which it said was "misleading, distorted, and unsupported by the text". Clegg had also called the story "nonsense" but 'The Sun' said it stood by its story.