Reporting on Covid-19 case studies

            

Case studies on reporting of Covid-19

IPSO will publish case studies of all its rulings and resolutions on topics around Covid-19. These are designed to help editors and journalists understand how the Editors’ Code is applied to these issues and highlight key considerations that should be made when complying with the standards of the Code.

We will regularly update this page as more rulings become available.

 

Various v Daily Express

IPSO received 22 complaints that a photograph included on the front page of the Daily Express was inaccurate. The image, of large crowds on Brighton promenade, accompanied an article about warnings for breaking social distancing rules. Complainants said the photo had been taken last summer, evidenced by the fact that some cranes appearing in the picture had since been removed.

The Express denied the image was inaccurate. It provided the metadata for the picture, which showed it had been taken a day before publication. The publication also provided a Twitter post by a member of the public in which they apologised for initially alleging that the article was inaccurate. This person had since stood from where the photograph was taken from and confirmed that the same cranes that had appeared in the photo were present.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee did not uphold the complaints as metadata provided by the publication demonstrated that the photo was contemporaneous and therefore not misleading.

Full ruling here.

Code consideration

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

Key points

The Code requires journalists to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted images. Consider whether an image may misrepresent or create a distorted impression of the issue being reported on.

In this case, keeping key information (metadata) about the origin of the photograph was helpful in demonstrating care had been taken over accuracy.

See also: IPSO Guidance on social media

Key themes: accuracy/photography/social media

 

Bromley v The Spectator

Publication demonstrated basis for statistics used in opinion piece.

Adam Bromley complained that an article in The Spectator headlined “Ten reasons to end the lockdown now” was inaccurate. The article was an opinion piece, which outlined why a columnist believed lockdown should end. It included the assertion that “Somewhere around 99.9 per cent of those who catch the disease recover”.

The complainant disputed this figure, and said that the article was inaccurate because no peer-reviewed or reliable studies had put the infection death rate of Covid as low as 0.1%. He provided sources which put the death rate much higher ranging from 0.3% to 1.4%.

The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It made the distinction between infection fatality rate (percentage of people who die of all those infected, including asymptomatic patients) and case fatality rate (amount of people who have died divided by the number of confirmed cases). It said that it would take months, or even years, to know for certain what the infection death rate is which is why the article had not said a certain figure, but had described the number as “somewhere around” 0.1%.  It provided multiple studies which reported that 0.1% was within the range of the reported infection death rate.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee noted that publications are free to publish articles, including those by subject experts with a specific point of view, and for them to marshal and defend their choice of valid data and statistics to support their point of view.

The publication had provided studies which demonstrated a range of infection fatality rates and the figure of 0.1% fell within this. The figure had been proceeded by “somewhere around” rather than asserting as fact that the true figure was definitively 0.1%. Furthermore, the article was a comment piece which affected the way in which readers would have understood the passage. On this basis, the publication had not failed to take care to avoid inaccuracy and there was no significant inaccuracy requiring correction.

Full ruling here.

Code considerations

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

Key points

Newspapers are entitled to publish opinion pieces but must take care to comply with the Code, for example not to publish inaccurate, misleading and distorted information. They must clearly distinguish between comment conjecture and fact.

Key themes: accuracy/statistics/opinion pieces

 

Longstaff v Telegraph and Argus

Accuracy complaint resolved with correction.

Chloe Longstaff complained about a Telegraph & Argus article reporting on an unofficial wedding ceremony between a man and his partner. The article did not name the man or his fiancée, but described him as having “a number of medical problems as well as suspected Covid-19”. It stated that those taking part in the wedding wore full PPE.

The complainant, the daughter of the man, said that the article was inaccurate because her father had been tested for Covid and had received negative test results. She also said it was inaccurate to report that those at the ceremony had been wearing full PPE, as she had been on a videocall during the ceremony and provided a photograph of them in hospital without full PPE on.

The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said it had taken care over the publication of the article, and the source of its information had been an article written by the BBC, which also described the man as having “suspected Covid-19” and said the ceremony had taken place in full PPE.

The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties so IPSO began an investigation into the matter. During this, the publication offered to print a correction making clear that the man had tested negative for Covid-19 and did not wear full PPE at the Ceremony. This resolved the matter to the complainant’s satisfaction. The Committee did not make a ruling as to whether or not the Code had been breached.

Code Considerations

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

Key points

Publications should take care over the accuracy of stories.

Key themes: accuracy

 

Pak Hung Chan v Mail on Sunday

Publication demonstrated it had taken care over images.

Pak Hung Chan complained that The Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) in an article reporting on the reopening of live meat markets in China. The article featured pictures of live and slaughtered animals available for sale. The complainant said the photographs were old images taken in Vietnam and featured in an article in a Hong Kong publication in 2015 and therefore were not taken on the date reported. They provided screenshots from social media which they said supported this. They also said that the article discriminated against Chinese people.

The publication denied any breach of the Code. It said that it was assured by the photographer, the proprietor of the news agency which it considered reputable, that the images were taken in China on 28 March 2020. The publication provided the print counterpart of the online article published in the Hong Kong publication and noted that this version did not feature the photographs in question.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee noted that the complainant’s position that the photographs were taken in Vietnam in 2015 was based on information he had seen posted by other individuals on social media and was not based on first-hand experience or knowledge. The publication had provided copies of the 2015 articles by the Hong Kong publication in which the photographs were allegedly published and the images were not featured. The meta-data provided by the publication showed the date that one of the images was created. The Committee was satisfied that the publication had provided material in support of its position that the images were taken in China on 28 March 2020 and there was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information.

The terms of Clause 12 are designed to protect specific individuals mentioned by the press against discrimination on the basis of their race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or any physical or mental illness or disability. These terms do not apply to groups or categories of people, and therefore the complainant’s concerns that the article discriminated against Chinese people in general did not engage the terms of Clause 12.

Full ruling here

Code considerations

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability. 

Key points

The Code requires journalists to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted images. Consider whether an image may misrepresent or create a distorted impression of the issue being reported on.

In this case, keeping key information (metadata) about the origin of the photograph was helpful in demonstrating care had been taken over accuracy.

Publications must not make prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual on the basis of protected characteristics.

See also: IPSO Guidance on social media

 

Imperial College London v The Daily Telegraph

Accuracy complaint about vaccine trial resolved with correction

Imperial College London complained that a Daily Telegraph article about a Coronavirus vaccine trial was inaccurate. The article reported that “the scientists behind the Imperial vaccine” said that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds would not be eligible to take part in the trial in first instance because those groups have shown to be at higher risk from Covid-19.

Imperial College said that it was not the case that people from ethnic minorities would be excluded. It said that instead, the trial would begin with people who were at the lowest risk, regardless of ethnicity, although the trial recognised that people from BAME backgrounds may be at a higher risk.

The Telegraph said the article made clear that it was only in “the first instance” that people from BAME backgrounds would not be able to take part in the trial rather than being entirely excluded, and that a quote from a named scientist set out that BAME people may be at a high risk of adverse outcomes. Nevertheless, it accepted that the print headline did not fully capture this position.

During IPSO’s investigation, the publication agreed to print the following wording in its correction and clarification column and as a footnote to the online article. It also agreed to post a tweet drawing attention to this correction. The complainant said this resolved their complaint satisfactorily. IPSO did not make a ruling as to whether the Editors’ Code had been breached.

Code considerations

Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.