Clarification regarding a story in The Globe and Mail on October 18, 2012
On October 18, 2012, The Globe and Mail daily newspaper published a story headlined “Beware: Transat faces more turbulence,” which was erroneous.
At Transat’s request, the Globe and Mail published a clarification on-line on October 23, which was updated on October 29.
The following letter was sent to the Globe and Mail’s public editor on November 7, 2012.
Montreal, November 7, 2012.
Ms. Sylvia Stead,
The Globe and Mail
By email at email@example.com
Dear Ms. Stead,
I am writing in reference to an article by David Milstead published in The Globe and Mail on October 18, 2012, headlined Beware: Transat faces more turbulence. The article occupied approximately half of Page B16. A “clarification” was published online on October 23. It was updated on October 29.
The initial story contained a major factual error that Mr. Milstead readily acknowledged when contacted by us. In essence, Mr. Milstead had calculated a ratio of 11.25 when dividing enterprise value (including off-balance-sheet aircraft leases, as he explains) by EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization), and concluded that the company’s stock price was less attractive than it seemed. Hence the dark tone of the headline.
The problem was that Mr. Milstead’s calculation was flawed. It should have included aircraft rents in the denominator. As he says in his clarification: “How much difference does it make? A lot.” And he then explains that the ratio of enterprise value to EBITDAR(the “R” standing for “Rents”) comes out at 3.0, not his original 11.25.
In his original clarification of October 23, Mr. Milstead, as we said, readily recognized the problem, and even spoke of “multiple malpractice on my part,” quite a strong statement for an error obviously made in good faith, and we thank him for his openness. That said, in that clarification, Mr. Milstead continued to present his calculation as legitimate when he qualified the proper ratio (the one including aircraft rents) as an “alternative” valuation to “his” approach. He erroneously backed this position with comments from financial analyst Ben Vendittelli. We suggested that Mr. Vendittelli call Mr. Milstead, which he did. Mr. Vendittelli confirmed that aircraft rents simply cannot be ignored. Mr. Milstead’s original approach is indeed not viable, and the ratio of reference, including aircraft rents, is not an “alternative”. Mr. Vendittelli’s comments were then “unpublished” from the clarification, but the idea of an “alternative” ratio remained in the headline. We contacted Mr. Milstead again on November 1 to ask for the headline to be corrected.
As of November 7, as we address this letter to you, the headline stands incorrect and unchanged, the nature of the update of October 29 remains absent and content was unpublished, all of this being in breach with journalism standards. The Canadian Association of Journalists says: “When we make a mistake, whether in fact or in context, and regardless of the platform, we correct it promptly and in a transparent manner, acknowledging the nature of the error. We publish or broadcast all corrections, clarifications or apologies in a consistent way. We generally do not “unpublish” or remove digital content...”
We would respectfully like to make the following comments.
The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business is a very credible news medium that has a solid and well-deserved following among investors. The original article of October 18, essentially conveying that Transat stock may present risks that are not reflected in its price, or are not well understood by the market, may have had, or may still have, consequences. Did some investors sell? Did others refrain from buying? How many retail brokers or investors marked a little dark cloud above our company? We will never know. But we know for a fact that one of our competitors was quick to tweet a link to Mr. Milstead’s original article to who knows how many people, all of whom will never be advised of the clarification(s) and may have re-tweeted the link. The mention in the paper of a clarification, tiny and inconsequential as it was, and the subsequent versions of the online-only, incomplete clarification, do not even come close to rectifying the problem caused by the original article, prominently displayed with photo and headline.
Our paramount point, in the circumstances, is to deplore the disappearance of fact-checking as standard procedure in journalism.
In this case, we contend that the error, obviously made in good faith, was nevertheless significant, that the original headline was damaging, with possible financial consequences, and we believe there should have been a call made to us in advance of publication to check the facts. Like many large corporations, we have a full-time media officer available, exactly for cases like this. A call from The Globe and Mail would have been returned quickly. Readers would have been better served, and our reputation would have emerged intact.
Please note that this letter will be posted on our website for the benefit of our shareholders.
Vice-President, Communications and Corporate Affairs
Transat A.T. Inc.