Covid case studies

Imperial College London v The Daily Telegraph

Outcome: Resolved. Correction in Page 2 corrections column, footnote on online article and corrective tweet

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.

Key points

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

Themes

Headlines/accuracy/vaccine trials

 

Khan v birminghammail.co.uk

Outcome: Resolved. Clarification included on online article

Asaf Khan complained that birminghammail.co.uk inaccurately reported on the location of a coronavirus testing centre.

The publication said the alleged inaccuracies identified were minor and not significantly misleading and that the information was supplied by a press release by Birmingham City Council.

During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to amend the location listed in the online article and publish a footnote clarifying the amendment from the earlier version. The complainant accepted this to resolve the complaint. The Committee did not make a ruling as to whether or not the Code had been breached

Key points

The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images

Where a significant inaccuracy is identified this must corrected promptly and with due prominence

Key themes

Accuracy/testing

 

Longstaff v Telegraph and Argus

Outcome: 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 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.

During IPSO's investigation, 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.

Key points

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

A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence

Key themes

Accuracy/personal accounts

 

Hawk v Mail Online

Outcome: Resolved. Removal of article.

Stuart Hawk complained that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), and Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) in an article concerned a house party allegedly thrown by the complainant and subsequent fine by the police for breaking lockdown rules. The complainant said the article was inaccurate, as he had not been fined, nor been spoken to by the authorities about the party. Furthermore, the complainant said that quotes attributed to him had not been given to members of the press.

The publication said it had been tipped off to the identity of the party host and been informed that the residents of the home had been fined by police. The publication said that it was satisfied the quotes were accurate, as a news agency reporter was sent to the property and had spoken to an individual who identified themselves as Stuart Hawk.

During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to remove the article to resolve the complaint and the complainant accepted this offer. The Committee did not make a ruling as to whether or not the Code had been breached.

Key point

The Code requires newspapers to take care over the accuracy of claims made in stories.

Key themes

Accuracy/lockdown/policing/fines

 

Tarman v mirror.co.uk

Outcome: Upheld. Standalone correction and amendment to online article

Glen Tarman complained that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article about cyclists allegedly ignoring lockdown rules. The article was accompanied by a photograph of six cyclists stopped at a junction.

The complainant, one of the cyclists pictured, said that the article and image were misleading. He said that he had been cycling for exercise with one other member of his household, as permitted by government guidelines at the time. He said that he did not know or engage with any of the other cyclists pictured and always maintained a two-metre distance from them. He said that the angle of the photo gave a distorted impression of the distance between him and the other cyclists.

The publication did not accept it had breached the Code. It maintained that the photo did not distort the position of the cyclists and provided photographs taken by the photographer in the same series which it said demonstrated the same. It said that the distance kept between the cyclists in the disputed image was not in line with the government's guidelines at the time of publication.

The Complaints Committee found that the suggestion that the complainant was ignoring lockdown rules was significant, given that he was clearly identifiable. Just because he was shown cycling in close proximity to others, when guidelines at the time did not allow people to meet members of a different household, did not mean he was breaking or ignoring the rules. The complaint was upheld and standalone correction ordered in addition to amendment to online article.

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.

Editors should consider whether an image may be misleading when read in conjunction with the text of the article.

Key themes

Accuracy/images/social distancing/lockdown rules

 

Various v Daily Express

Outcome: Not upheld

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.

Key points

The Press must 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/images/social distancing/lockdown/social media

 

Pak Hung Chan v Mail on Sunday

Outcome: Not upheld

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.

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

Key themes

Accuracy/Images/social media

 

Devlin v dailyrecord.co.uk

Outcome: Partially upheld. Correction to social media post required

Michael Devlin complained that dailyrecord.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article about the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s socially-distanced visit with her parents. The complainant said that the article and its accompanying Facebook post were inaccurate because the accompanying photograph (which was taken prior to the Covid pandemic) gave the misleading impression that Ms Sturgeon had breached social distancing guidelines when she had visited her parents.

The publication said the headline of the article made clear that the visit had been “socially distanced” and that this was reiterated throughout the article.

IPSO Complaints Committee noted that the article made clear the socially-distanced nature of the First Minister’s visit and that the online version that the accompanying photograph had been taken before the pandemic. However, the Facebook post did not contain any reference to the fact that the visit had been socially distanced, nor that the image had been taken prior to lockdown and that this was misleading.

The Committee determined that as the misleading statement had been confined to the Facebook post, the publication should publish a correction on the same Facebook account as the original post setting the correct position on record.

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.

Just as with headlines, social media posts must be supported by text of the linked article. Posts cannot rely on the article text to correct actively misleading impressions.

Key themes

Accuracy/social distancing/lockdown rules

Bromley v The Spectator

Outcome: Not upheld

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.

Key points

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

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. 

Publications must clearly distinguish between comment conjecture and fact.

Key themes

Accuracy/statistics/opinion pieces

 

Whitehead v telegraph.co.uk

Outcome: Upheld. Corrections to print and online articles required

James Whitehead complained that telegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in a comment piece on Britain pursuing a coronavirus ‘herd immunity’ strategy. The complainant said that the basis of the authors claim was inaccurate, as no natural immunity to Covid-19 would be gained by people who have had a common cold caused by a coronavirus. The complainant said that therefore the author’s claim that London would reach herd immunity on this basis was also inaccurate.

The publication did not accept it had breached the code. It emphasised that the article was clearly presented as an opinion piece on a topic of considerable scientific uncertainty.

The Committee ruled that in the context of this article, readers would judge the term ‘natural immunity’ as meaning possessing antibodies offering protection from contracting Covid-19, which was not accurate in this circumstance. As a result, both statements were significantly misleading and the Committee ordered a stand-alone correction and correction added to the online article.

Key points

The Code requires care is taken to ensure accuracy, even in comment and opinion pieces.

Publications must clearly distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact.

Key themes

Accuracy/reporting of scientific research/comment pieces

 

CfMM v Telegraph

Outcome: Partially upheld. Corrections to articles and tweet required.

The Centre for Media Monitoring (CfMM) complained about a Daily Telegraph article concerning the origin of Covid infections. They said the article and accompanying tweet were incorrect to claim that half of Britain’s imported coronavirus cases originated in Pakistan and this created a misleading perception for readers.

The publication did not accept that it had breached the Editors’ Code.  While it accepted that the online headline was potentially misleading, it said that readers would be aware that the reference to “half of UK’s imported infections” would have referred to a specific time period, which was reported in the body of the article. Nevertheless, it said that the online article had been amended to make this distinction clearer and offered to publish a correction in print and online.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee noted the explicit requirement in Clause 1 (Accuracy) that the headline be supported by the text of the article, and that the body of the article cannot be relied upon to correct an actively misleading headline or tweet. It partially upheld the complaint under Clause 1. The Committee considered the corrections offered by the publication and concluded that they were an appropriate remedy. The publication was also ordered to publish a tweet making clear the correct position.

Key points

Headlines must be supported by the text.

Information contained in the body of an article cannot be relied upon to correct a misleading headline.

When an aspect of a publisher’s social media post is ruled in breach of the Code, the Committee may require appropriate remedial action is taken reciprocally on social media.

Key themes

Accuracy/reporting of statistics/headlines/social media

 

CfMM v Mail Online

Outcome: Partially upheld. Correction required

The Centre for Media Monitoring (CfMM) complained that the Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article concerning the origin of imported coronavirus infections. CfMM said the article’s headline gave a false impression about the origin of UK Coronavirus cases.

The publication did not accept that it had breached Clause 1. They said the body of the article made clear that the headline claim only applied to the month of June. Further, the publication argued that given the fast-changing nature of the public health emergency, readers would be aware that the headline claim referred to recent statistics. The publication amended the headline four days after publication and added a footnote. However, the complainant considered the correction inadequate and therefore IPSO began an investigation.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee found that the headline gave a strong misleading impression about the origin of imported Coronavirus cases. The Committee upheld the complaint partially under Clause 1 but deemed the correction offered by the publication had put the correct position on record and was sufficiently prompt and prominent to satisfy Clause 1(ii).

Key points

The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images

Headlines must be supported by the text

Key themes

Accuracy/Statistics/Headlines

 

West Midlands Ambulance Service v thesun.co.uk

Outcome: Upheld. Corrections required

West Midlands Ambulance Service complained that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in reporting that half of all paramedics at the ambulance service had tested positive for coronavirus. The complainant said that headline was inaccurate, as the group tested included the entirety of ambulance service staff not just paramedics, and in that the thrust of the article was inaccurate because at the time of publication only half of the results which had been received had come back positive, not half of all tests.

The publication did not accept that it had breached Clause 1. With regards to the headline it noted that the article made clear the number reported on was tests taken generally, though in response to IPSO’s investigation it amended the online article. It further asserted that the information within the article was accurate at the time of writing.

The Committee found that the headline was inaccurate, and that the publication had not taken care to report the correct proportion and which staff members had tested positive. The Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction and was ordered as footnotes to the articles and as a standalone correction on the publication's website.

Key points

Headlines must be supported by the text.

Key themes

Accuracy/use of statistics/headlines

 

Iles v The Mail on Sunday

Outcome: Resolved. Print and Online clarifications offered

David Iles complained that The Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article concerning a potential doctors’ strike. The complainant said it was inaccurate to claim that doctors were seeking to exploit public sympathy in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic to increase pay and that it was misleading to include the pay of GP partners as a comparator in the article as GP partners are not NHS employees and would not be affected by a potential pay rise.

The publication said that the article’s reference to doctors seeking to “exploit public sympathy for NHS workers in the wake of the coronavirus” was based on a motion on the agenda at BMA’s Annual Representative. It said reference to GP partners’ pay was intended as an example of pay within the medical profession in the UK. While the publication did not accept that the Code had been breached, it amended the online article to make clear that GP partners would not be affected by any pay rise  for NHS staff.

During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to print a number of clarifications both in-print and online to clarify GP partner pay structure. This was accepted by the complainant as resolution to his complaint. The Committee did not make a ruling as to whether or not the Code had been breached.

Key points

The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images

Key themes

Accuracy/Statistics/the medical profession

 

Forth v The Sunday Telegraph

Outcome: Not upheld

Chris Forth complained that The Sunday Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in a report on information presented to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). The complainant said that the number of new cases of Covid-19 in the article was inaccurate and pointed to World Health Organisation data showing a lower number of recorded cases at the time in question.

The publication did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that figures on Covid-19 infections are compiled by various bodies and that inevitably there would be discordant results based on differing methodologies. In this case, the publication said it was reporting accurately on figures given to SAGE.

The Committee recognised that when reporting on COVID-19, there are multiple sources which newspapers are entitled to rely on but they must make clear the basis of their claims. In this instance, the article had accurately reported information provided by a person who attended SAGE meetings, and had made clear it was discussing the findings of SAGE. It did not purport to be reporting the official daily confirmed infection rate released by the Government, and therefore was not misleading in the way the complainant had suggested. The publication had taken care not to publish inaccurate information. The complaint was not upheld.

Key points

The Code requires journalists to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.

Journalists and editors must take care to make clear the source of evidence relied upon in report to avoid inaccuracies.

Key themes

Accuracy/reporting of statistics

 

Forth v The Daily Telegraph

Outcome: Not upheld

Chris Forth complained that the Daily Telegraph breached the Editors’ Code in reporting the easing of lockdown restrictions in the UK. The complainant said that figures given in the article, from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), were inaccurate and pointed to differing data from by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that it was clear the article was reporting on the results of ONS testing, rather than the daily COVID-19 cases given by the Government or WHO.

The Committee found that that the article made clear it was reporting on ONS statistics and had accurately reported the information shared. Where the article had presented the figures as deriving from the ONS, and accurately reported these, it had taken care not to publish inaccurate information, and there was no breach of the Code.

Key points

The Code requires journalists to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.

Journalists and editors must take care to make clear the source of evidence relied upon in report to avoid inaccuracies.

Key themes

Accuracy/reporting of statistics

 

Commuter Club v The Sunday Times

Outcome: Partially upheld. Correction ordered

Commuter Club complained that The Sunday Times inaccurately reported on its operations in two articles concerning rail passenger refunds during the Covid pandemic. The alleged inaccuracies included a description of the company as a rail loan provider, delays to refund requests, and a quote from a customer about a partial refund who had in fact been refunded in full.

The publication pointed to statistics on the number of customers waiting on refunds and quoted from the complainants’ website to support their description of the company. However, the publication accepted that although true at the time, the quoted individual had since been issued a full refund by the company. The publication amended the online article and published a correction in print to put the correct position on record.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee investigated each point of accuracy raised by the complaint. Aside from the inaccurate quotation about the customer’s partial refund, they ruled that there were no significant inaccuracies and that the publication had taken sufficient steps to ensure accuracy. The Committee upheld the complaint in part under Clause 1 (Accuracy). The correction offered by the publication clearly addressed the inaccuracy and was offered promptly and with due prominence.

Key point

The Code requires that when publications become aware of significant inaccuracies, they must correctly promptly and with due prominence.

Key themes

Accuracy/reporting of statistics 

 

Coleman v The Spectator

Outcome: Partially upheld. Correction ordered

Vernon Coleman complained that an opinion piece published in The Spectator was inaccurate to claim that Covid-19 was “killing millions worldwide” and threatened to overwhelm health provisions. The complainant gave evidence that at the time of publication, the global number of Covid-19 deaths was just over half a million.

The publication accepted that this figure was incorrect and consequently published a follow-up statement in a piece by a separate columnist, then amending the online version of the article to clarify that COivd-19 was killing “hundreds of thousands worldwide”. The publication did otherwise not accept that there had been a breach of the Code.

The Committee noted that the error had been acknowledged two weeks after the inaccuracy had been published. However, it did not consider that this fulfilled the necessary criteria in order to be recognised as a correction under the Code. Whilst the Committee appreciated that corrections and clarifications may take different forms, it must be clear to readers that it is, in fact a formal correction and should be easily located by those who had seen the original inaccuracy. As such, the Committee did not consider that a different columnist referencing the mistake as part of their column constituted a correction. Publication of a correction was thus required, with due prominence.

Key point

A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence.

Key themes

Accuracy/reporting of statistics

 

Ackroyd v Lytham St Annes Express 

Outcome: Resolved. Correction offered.

Peter Ackroyd complained that a reader-submitted letter which described two major vaccines as “experimental” and “rushed”, was inaccurate, as the safety and efficacy phase trials were complete at the time of publication.  

The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that readers’ letters are clearly marked and that the page acts as a forum for readers’ opinions. It said it did not wish to censor the opinions of readers, but offered the complainant the opportunity to write a rebuttal letter. 

During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to print a substantial correction, making clear the extensive testing and safety processes each vaccine had been through and the thorough review conducted by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. The complainant was satisfied with this outcome. As the complaint was resolved IPSO’s Complaints Committee did not rule on whether the Editors’ Code was breached.

Key point 

Newspapers are entitled to carry letters and opinionated commentary, so long as they are clearly distinguished as such. Accuracy requirements still apply to the contents of letters and commentary, and any significantly misleading or inaccurate statements must be corrected promptly and with due prominence.   

Key themes

accuracy | opinion and commentary | vaccines

 

Raja v thesun.co.uk

Outcome: Partially upheld. 

IPSO received a high number of complaints about a thesun.co.uk article concerning the origin of Covid infections in Pakistan. Of these complainants, Zafar Raja was selected as the lead complainant taking forward complaints under Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination). Raja complained that the article was incorrect to claim that half of Britain’s imported coronavirus cases originated in Pakistan and this created a misleading perception for readers.

The publication did not accept that it had breached the Editors’ Code. It said that the headline of the article can only ever act as a limited summary of a story and that by reading the headline in the context of the article, the correct position was made clear. While the publication did not accept that the Code had been breached, it noted that it had amended the headline 3 days after the article’s publication.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee noted the explicit requirement in Clause 1 (Accuracy) that the headline be supported by the text of the article, and that the body of the article cannot be relied upon to correct an actively misleading headline. It partially upheld the complaint under Clause 1. The complaint was upheld in part. The Committee considered the amended headline and footnote identifying the inaccuracy to have put the correct position on record.  

Key points

Headlines must be supported by the text.

Information contained in the body of an article cannot be relied upon to correct a misleading headline.

Key themes

Accuracy/reporting of statistics/headlines