IPSO Blog: Covid case studies

Head of Communications Vikki Julian on how IPSO’s Covid case studies can help editors and journalists understand how the Editors’ Code applies and highlight key considerations.

The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly demonstrated the importance of trusted, reliable news.

As Alison Gow, the President of the Society of Editors, said in response to the recent Journalism Matters campaign: “The media has consistently risen to this challenge, exposing errors, seeking to explain complex issues in fast-changing environments, celebrating those who risk their health to care for others, and also – let’s not forget the importance of this – bringing people the kind of news and entertainment that adds a bit of colour to life”.

Whether local, regional, or national, in print and online, newspapers have supported the public with vital information – and more – during the pandemic. That said, reporting on Covid-19 is not always easy. There are still many unknowns, much is open to debate and interpretation, and in certain circumstances harmful misinformation is circulating widely online.

In these challenging circumstances, newspapers may not always get it right, but the key difference between them and content in the wilds of the internet and social media is accountability.

Publishers who are regulated by IPSO – the majority of national newspapers, almost all local newspapers, and many magazines – follow an agreed set of standards in the Editors’ Code of Practice and are accountable to IPSO as their independent regulator.

That means that if you see something that you think potentially breaches the Code, you can complain to IPSO. If that complaint is upheld, we can order sanctions including the publication of a correction or long form ruling (adjudication) specifying the wording, size and prominence, including on a newspaper’s front page if the breach is sufficiently serious.

As regulator, IPSO has a wider press standards role, including helping regulated publishers to comply with the Editors’ Code through issuing guidance. IPSO's guidance is designed to help editors and journalists understand how the Editors’ Code is applied to specific issues and highlight key considerations that should be made when complying with the standards of the Code.

In order to support reporting of Covid-19, we will publish case studies of all IPSO’s rulings and resolutions in relation to the topic along with how these relate to the Editors’ Code. As well as being useful for editors and journalists, we hope it will allow other interesting in reporting of Covid to understand how IPSO is dealing with complaints in this area. We will regularly update it as more rulings become available.

Read our Covid case studies here.

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 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.

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/