Covid case studies

Accuracy & Statistics

Rapidly changing information can present challenging circumstances for reporting. Clause 1 (Accuracy) is clear that the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information, and that headlines not supported by the text.

CfMM v Telegraph - Corrections required after Telegraph headline found to not support text of article on origins of Covid-19.

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 theme(s)

Statistics, Covid Origins

 

Cohen v Mail Online - Dispute resolved after Mail Online amends article on origins of charity television advertisement depicting the NHS.

Cohen v Mail Online

Outcome: Resolved. Headline amended and correction made. 

Mark Cohen complained that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article reporting on reactions to a television advertisement about Santa Claus operating during the coronavirus, which aired in the run-up to Christmas. The complainant said that the headline of the article gave the misleading impression that the advert was funded by the NHS, rather than the separate organisation NHS Charities Together.

Mail Online did not accept that the headline was in breach of Clause 1. It said the headline was supported by and clarified by the text of the article, including the titles and captions of photographs, which made clear that the advert was funded by NHS Charities Together.

Despite an offer of amendment by the publication, the complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to further amend the headline and publish a footnote making clear that the NHS Christmas advert was placed and paid for by NHS Charities Together, resolving the complaint.

Key points

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

Headlines must be supported by the text

Key theme(s)

Accuracy

Commuter Club v The Sunday Times - Correction ordered after partially upheld complaint over accuracy in a Sunday Times article on rail passenger refunds during the Covid pandemic.

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 theme(s)

Statistics

de Naray v metro.co.uk - Metro.co.uk did not breach Editors’ Code in their use of graph showing Covid-19 deaths.

de Naray v metro.co.uk

Outcome: Not upheld

Constantine de Naray complained that metro.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article reporting on the daily number of new cases of Covid-19, which included a bar chart of how many people had died with the virus. The chart had no title, x or y axis labels or key. Above the graph in a red font were the words “New Deaths: 357” and underneath the graph was the caption “A further 357 people have died with the virus in the UK, government data showed.” The complainant said that the scale of the graph suggested that the 357 new deaths reported represented over half of the deaths which had been recorded  at the peak of the pandemic in the spring, whereas NHS and ONS data indicated that the figure represented less than half and less than a third of deaths recorded at the peak.

The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the graph was updated daily and matched the graph used on the UK Government’s website. Nevertheless, the publication offered to add a key to the graph.

The complainant did not dispute that the information in the graph was accurate. However, he considered that the graph was misleading because it gave the impression that 357 deaths was over half the number of deaths which had been recorded at the peak of the first wave of the virus, as this figure appeared in the same colour as the rolling average line. The newspaper had explained the method by which it had constructed the graph and the Committee agreed that readers would understand the difference between the daily figures, represented by the blue bars, and the rolling average, represented by the red line. As it was made clear in the caption that the figure of 357 represented the further number of people who had died, the graph was not misleading by showing this figure in the same colour as the 7 day rolling average line. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point, however the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to add a key to the graph as it made the position clearer.

Key points

The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including in graphs and other measurement visuals accompanying articles

Key theme(s)

Statistics

Forth v The Daily Telegraph - The Daily Telegraph did not breach Editors' Code in article concerning figures on easing of lockdown restrictions in the UK.

Forth v The Sunday 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 theme(s)

Statistics

Forth v The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday Telegraph did not breach Editors' Code in article concerning Covid-19 mortality figures presented to SAGE.

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 theme(s)

Statistics

 

Iles v The Mail on Sunday - The Mail prints clarifications over an article concerning public sympathy towards a potential doctors strike.

Iles vs 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 theme(s)

Statistics

 

Portes v Metro - Front page correction and adjudication required after upheld complaint against Metro reporting of deaths from causes other than Covid-19 in 2020.

Portes v Metro

Outcome: Upheld. Front page reference and adjudication ordered. 

Jonathan Portes complained that Metro breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “DEATH TOLLS SOAR ... NOT FROM COVID”. He said the headline and standfirst gave the misleading impression that non-Covid deaths from a variety of diseases had risen very sharply, when the ONS figures on which the article was based did not show extra deaths from these causes. He said the statistics cited related only to deaths at home and the article failed to mention that deaths in other settings, such as hospitals, had fallen. He also said that the claim that deaths were “up 26,000 on the same period last year” was inaccurate. The increase cited was against the five-year average, not figures from the preceding year.

The publication did not accept that the article breached the Editors’ Code. It said the headline was supported and clarified by the text of the article, which made clear that the headline referred to deaths “at home”, rather than overall deaths. It said this was further supported by the comments included in the article. The publication accepted that the data published by the ONS showed that deaths at home were up 26,000 against the five-year average. It offered to publish a correction in its page 2 corrections and clarifications column, which the complainant said was inadequate as it did not address the main point of his complaint and was insufficiently prominent.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee noted that in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, accurate reporting and presentation of statistics is vital to keeping the public well-informed. Whilst the front-page article included the phrase “deaths at home”, it was not until the continuation on page 6 that the article made reference to the displacement of deaths from hospital settings to home by quoting a statistician. In such circumstances, the figures were presented gave the impression that there had been an increase in overall deaths. As such, the Committee considered that the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish misleading information.

The Committee found that the article incorrectly reported home deaths as being up 26,000 “on the same period last year”. In fact, the newspaper accepting that this was based on the five-year average. This represented a further failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information which required correction. Though the newspaper had promptly offered to publish a partial correction, the proposed wording focused solely on the statistical error and did not acknowledge the significantly misleading impression given by the headline and the article as a whole, or adequately correct it. The Committee therefore found a further breach of Clause 1.

The Committee considered the article was misleading on a matter of great significance during a global public health emergency. In light of the newspaper's failure to take care over the article's accuracy, and its failure to correct the highly misleading headline in line with its obligations it was ordered to publish an adjudication, which should be referenced on the front page of the newspaper.

Key points

Statistics must be presented accurately and within their accurate context, and the body of an article cannot be relied upon to correct a significantly misleading headline.  

Key theme(s)

Statistics

 

Reed v Mail Online - Mail Online issues correction after partially upheld complaint over involvement of coroner in Covid-19 death.

Reed v Mail Online

Outcome: Partially upheld. Corrections to article required.

Alison Reed complained about a Mail Online article about a man’s death from Covid-19. The article reported that a “post-mortem examination was carried out for the Glamorgan Coroner”, which she said was inaccurate as a post-mortem had not taken place. She also said the article had invaded her privacy and intruded into her grief and shock.

The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the reporter had contacted the relevant coroner’s office, who stated over the phone that a post-mortem had taken place, but that this had been off the record. It said that the fact of a death is a matter of public record and can be published, though it appreciated that the family and friends of the deceased may prefer for a death to be private.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee expressed its condolences to the complainant for her loss. The Committee upheld the complaint in part as the newspaper was unable to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of whether or not a post-mortem had taken place as it had no record outside of the phone call. A correction was offered promptly and with due prominence to put the correct position on record. The Committee did not uphold the complaint under privacy or intrusion into grief.

Key points

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

Key themes

Accuracy & Statistics, Privacy

Walker v. Daily Mail - Article on effectiveness of ventilators amended in Daily Mail after partially upheld complaint over accuracy.

Walker v Daily Mail

Outcome: Partially upheld.

Sarah Walker complained to IPSO that Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) in an article headlined “Is this proof ‘life-saving’ ventilators are actually death traps?”. The complainant, a doctor, raised two major issues: first, that the headline was misleading and implied that ventilators were dangerous when in fact they are an important treatment; second, that the claim in the article about patients needing ventilation being “knocked out by sedatives delivered through a throat tube” was inaccurate, as such sedatives are delivered intravenously. The article appeared online in substantially the same format.  

The publication did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said the headline was not a statement of fact that ventilators are death traps. Instead, it was simply a question serving to introduce the views of individuals mentioned by the article. It accepted that the claim about patients being sedated via throat tube was inaccurate, but contested that this was a significant inaccuracy. It offered to amend sentences in the online article about ventilation and the claim that sedatives were delivered through the throat and publish a correction on this point.  

The IPSO Complaints Committee found that the claim that patients requiring ventilation were “knocked out by sedatives delivered through a throat tube” was significantly inaccurate, as it related to the medical care seriously ill Covid patients received. Therefore, the publication of this claim breached Clause 1. It went on to rule that the headline claim was clearly distinguished as a question rather than as factual claim. The Committee did not find breaches under Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock).The publication had offered a prompt correction which rectified the upheld breach of Clause 1, avoiding a further breach under Clause 1(ii). This put the correct position on record.  

Key points

Headlines are still subject to Clause 1 requirement to differentiate between comment, conjecture and fact

Significant inaccuracies must be corrected promptly and with due prominence

Key theme(s)

Statistics

 

West Midlands Ambulance Service v thesun.co.uk - Complaint upheld against thesun.co.uk over headline claiming that half of all paramedics had tested positive for coronavirus.

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 theme(s)

Statistics

 

Covid Measures

Journalists must take care to ensure they take care over accuracy when reporting on Covid measures.

Devlin v dailyrecord.co.uk - Complaint partially upheld and correction required in dailyrecord.co.uk article on Nicola Sturgeon's socially-distanced visit with her parents.

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 theme(s)

Covid Measures

Khan vs birminghammail.co.uk - Birminghammail.co.uk issues clarification on location of Covid-19 testing centre following complaint about accuracy.

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 theme(s)

Covid Measures

Longstaff v Telegraph and Argus - Complaint resolved after Telegraph and Argus issues correction regarding testing and PPE usage in Covid-19 wedding.

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 theme(s)

Covid Measures

 

Treatz Sheff Ltd. v thestar.co.uk - Additional article offered in thestar.co.uk after complaint over reporting of ten Sheffield takeaways breaching lockdown rules.

Treatz Sheff Ltd. v thestar.co.uk

Outcome: Resolved. Follow-up story agreed. 

Treatz Sheff Ltd. complained that thestar.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article which reported that ten takeaways in Sheffield had been fined for breaching a “coronavirus curfew”. The complainant was one of the businesses named and said that the article was inaccurate as it had not been fined by the council, and as the publication had not approached it for comment it had not been able to refute these claims.

The publication said it had been informed by the council that the complainant had been fined. However, it offered to print an interview with the owner of the business to put their side of the story on the record and to expand on the challenges facing local businesses during the pandemic.

The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties, with the publication noting that emails it had sent were not received by the complainant. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

The publication said it received confirmation from the council that the fine against the complainant had been dropped. It offered to write another story about the complainant making this clear. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to its satisfaction.

Key points

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

Information from official sources should be clearly attributed. Where a publication is subsequently notified that the position has changed, and where the claims are significant, it may be appropriate to update the coverage to ensure that it is not significantly inaccurate.

Key theme(s)

Covid Measures

Various v thesun.co.uk - Thesun.co.uk agrees changes to article after 97 complaints made over accuracy of report concerning Covid-19 measures in classrooms.

Various v thesun.co.uk

Outcome: Upheld. Action offered by publication.

IPSO received 97 complaints that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article on proposed Covid-19 safety measures ahead of schools reopening in England. It included a graphic showing a classroom with desks separated by perspex screens and included the sub headline, “How Covid-safe classrooms will look with face masks and screens separating desks”. Complainants said the article was misleading as there was no official guidance or requirement to have the measures depicted in the graphic and described elsewhere in the article.

The publication did not accept it had breached the Code. It said the article made clear that this was conjecture and noted the caption of the graphic, which made clear that it was a depiction of how schools “might” appear. It noted that Perspex screens had indeed been installed in some schools. While not accepting a breach, the publication amended the article headline the day after publication following reader feedback and added a further clarifying footnote during the course of IPSO’s investigation.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee found that the original headline of the article stated, without qualification, that the article showed how schools “will” look upon reopening. This was contradicted by the article and the accompanying graphic, both of which framed claims as possibilities rather than fact. The headline inaccuracy was significant, as it appeared prominently and related to a matter of national concern.. As such, it required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The Committee found a further breach over the inaccuracy regarding the use of Perspex screens. The amended footnote and clarification offered by the publication put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence.

Key points

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

The Press must clearly distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact.

Key theme(s)

Covid Measures

 

Covid Origins

The origins of Covid-19 remain an area of significant public interest. Care must be taken around accuracy.

CfMM v Mail Online - Corrections required after Mail Online headline found to not support text of article on origins of Covid-19.

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 theme(s)

Covid Origins, Statistics

Pak Hung Chan v Mail on Sunday - Complaint against Mail on Sunday not upheld over reporting of live meat markets in China.

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 theme(s)

Covid Origins

Raja v thesun.co.uk - Headline amended after partially upheld complaint against thesun.co.uk article reporting on origin of Covid infections in Pakistan.

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 theme(s)

Covid Origins

Opinion Pieces

The press is free to publish opinion pieces but must take care to comply with the Editors’ Code.

Agyen v Daily Mail - Daily Mail clarifies article in resolved complaint over reporting of vaccination levels in London and the Indian Covid-19 variant.

Agyen v Daily Mail

Outcome: Resolved with clarification

Lisa Agyen complained that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an opinion piece about vaccine take-up which included the reference “In London, where I live, there are already hundreds of cases of the Indian variant. And that’s not because of people returning from the subcontinent: it’s because too few residents have had the jab.”

The complainant said that the article was inaccurate as it was not the case that the “hundreds of cases of the Indian variant” in London were due to “too few residents” being vaccinated, citing evidence about the vaccination roll-out, efficacy and link to returning travellers. The publication did not accept a breach. It offered evidence about the linkage between cases and travel abroad. It noted that, at the time of publication, London had a vaccination uptake which was lower than the rest of the country.

IPSO began an investigation into the matter. The publication offered to print a clarification, in its regular Corrections & Corrections column in print and online, stating that while vaccine uptake in London was lower than the rest of England, there was no intention to suggest that all Indian variant cases were linked to vaccine refusal. The complaint was successfully mediated.

Key points

The Code requires newspapers to take care over the accuracy of claims made in stories, including those in opinion pieces.

Key theme(s)

Opinion Piece, Vaccines

Bromley v The Spectator - The Spectator did not breach Editors' Code in opinion piece on the end of lockdown.

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 theme(s)

Opinion Pieces, Covid Measures

Buchanan v Telegraph.co.uk - Correction and clarification required to telegraph.co.uk article after upheld complaint regarding reporting of Covid-19 infection figures.

Buchanan v Telegraph.co.uk

Outcome: Upheld. Standalone correction and clarification to online article.

Mark Buchanan complained that a comment piece on Telegraph.co.uk was inaccurate. The article said that there was “no reason to think infections were doubling every three or four days in the week before lockdown”. The complainant said that official ONS statistics showed cases of Covid 19 doubling approximately every 3 days in the week prior to March 23.

Telegraph.co.uk said that the article was readily recognisable as a comment piece and that the phrase “there’s no reason to think” was clearly rhetorical, with readers inferring the columnist view was that there was “no [good] reason” to think so. It did not dispute that official figures showed Covid-19 had doubled over the period, though disputed that these figures were a reliable guide to the number of infections.

Columnists are free to campaign, be partisan and express an opinion, including offering an opinion on the state of scientific evidence and questioning official data. However, in the context of this article stating that there was “no reason” to believe infections were doubling constituted a claim of fact for which there was insufficient evidence. The IPSO Complaints Committee ruled that there was a breach of accuracy on a topic of public importance. Standalone correction ordered along with clarification of the online article.

Key points

Newspapers are entitled to carry opinionated commentary, so long as they are clearly distinguished as such. Accuracy requirements still apply to the contents of letters and commentary

Key theme(s)

Opinion Pieces, Statistics

Harrison v Mail Online - Mail Online article amended to resolve complaint over role of dietitians in NHS Covid-19 response.

Harrison v Mail Online

Outcome: Resolved. Article amended. 

Paul Harrison complained that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article which reported that NHS staff unions were calling for a pay rise. A bullet point beneath the article headline read “nonessential NHS services [were] branded ‘cynical’ for piggybacking on pandemic”, and the phrase “nonessential” was repeated throughout in reference to “dietitians, opticians, and podiatrists.” The complainant said that referencing dietitians as “nonessential workers” was inaccurate, as they had played a role on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic by providing life-saving artificial nutrition to patients on ventilation as well as continuing essential services.

The publication did not accept that Clause 1 had been breached. It said it was reporting on comments from a representative of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). It accepted that the article had conflated the term “nonessential” with “non-frontline” but argued this was not a significant inaccuracy. It offered to amend the term used in the article from “nonessential” to “non-frontline”. The complainant said this offer was insufficient to address his concern.

IPSO began an investigation during which the publication offered to amend the article by changing all references to “nonessential” to “non-frontline”, change all references to “dietitians” and print a correction in its regular online Corrections & Clarifications column. The correction made clear the context and subsequent follow-up of the IEA representative’s comment. The complainant said this would resolve the IPSO complaint to his satisfaction.

Key points

The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images. This includes reporting on commentary made by other organisations.

Key theme(s)

Opinion Piece

 

Mullins v telegraph.co.uk - Headline amended in telegraph.co.uk article to resolve complaint over accuracy regarding Kent Covid-19 variant.

Mullins v telegraph.co.uk

Outcome: Resolved. Amended headline and footnote clarification. 

Justin Mullins complained that telegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article reporting on a press conference about a mutant strain of Covid-19. The headline stated, “Kent Covid variant '30 per cent more deadly'”. The complainant said this was inaccurate as it had been made clear at the press conference that the strain “may” be more deadly, whereas the headline gave the impression that this was fact.

The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It stated that the “30 per cent more deadly” part of the headline was in inverted commas, which readers would understand to mean a claim rather than fact. It also said that the body of the article made clear that this was not certain.

During IPSO’s investigation into the matter, the publication offered to amend the headline to read “Kent Covid variant may be 30 per cent more deadly” and to publish a clarification as a footnote to the article. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

Key points

Where scientific claims are highly significant and uncertain, reflecting that uncertainty is part of distinguishing comment, conjecture and fact.

Key theme(s)

Covid Origins

Whitehead v telegraph.co.uk - Complaint upheld and corrections required to telegraph.co.uk article concerning immunity to Covid-19.

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 theme(s)

Opinion Pieces, Covid Measures

Photography

Photos can be a powerful way of communicating things that words cannot. Care must be taken around accuracy and journalists should not photograph anyone without their consent in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Asaf v Midlothian Advertiser - Compensation offered and article amended over use of photograph in Midlothian Advertiser.

Asaf v Midlothian Advertiser

Outcome: Resolved. Correction and payment offered. 

Nosheen Asaf complained that by using her picture alongside an article which reported on Covid infection rates, Midlothian Advertiser had inaccurately suggested she had Covid-19 and intruded into her privacy. She was also concerned that the photograph appeared to have been taken using a concealed camera while she was outside a medical clinic and that she had been singled out due to her ethnicity.

The publication apologised for any distress caused. It said the image was intended to illustrate life in the community during lockdown but accepted that its use in conjunction with the article headline could have potentially misled readers. It did not accept that it had breached the complainant’s privacy; it said the photo had been taken on a public street, not outside of a medical clinic, and by a photographer using a traditional camera rather than concealed device.

Midlothian Advertiser offered to pay the complainant £100 and print a correction apologising for the distress caused. The complainant accepted this as resolution to her complaint.

Key points

The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information and consider photographs in the context of the headline used and article as a whole.

The Code establishes specific privacy protections for matters concerning health. Photographs, even those taken in a public place and apparently innocuous circumstances, may be considered intrusive where they potentially reveal medical information.

Key theme(s)

Photography

 

Coleman v The Spectator - Spectator article amended after partially upheld complaint over number of Covid-19 deaths worldwide.

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 theme(s)

Opinion Piece, Statistics

Tarman v mirror.co.uk - Correction ordered to lockdown cycling article after upheld complaint against picture used by mirror.co.uk.

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 theme(s)

Photography

 

Various v Daily Express - Complaint not upheld against use of Brighton promenade picture after Daily Express provides accurate timestamp.

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 theme(s)

Photography

Privacy

Clause 2 of the Code says everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence.  A person’s Covid status is generally considered private information.

Brian and Declan Arthurs v Sunday World - Adjudication ordered after complaint uphold over Sunday World’s reporting of private medical information of public figures.

Brian and Declan Arthurs v Sunday World

Outcome: Upheld. Adjudication ordered.

Brian and Declan Arthurs complained that Sunday World breached their right to privacy by publishing details of private medical information. The article reported on a former IRA chief’s prognosis and treatment at hospital, with reference to the complainant’s past convictions and alleged involvement in criminal activity.

The publication did not accept that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy, given his notoriety and criminal convictions. It further argued that Covid-19 was not a private health matter, but rather a unique public health emergency around which the expectation of privacy was reduced. The publication considered there was a public interest in reporting.

The IPSO Complaints Committee ruled that the article clearly contained personal medical information over which an individual would have a reasonable expectation of privacy and that this complainant, despite whatever notoriety, was entitled to the same protections offered by these terms as any other person. The Committee acknowledge the role that newspapers play in protecting the health of the wider community, but in this case the publication provided inadequate explanation as to how publishing detailed information about the complainant’s state of health would serve to protect the public. The Committee upheld the complaint and ordered the publication of a long-form adjudication.

Key points

A Covid-19 diagnosis is a matter of health, and therefore information about which individuals can have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest.

Key theme(s)

Privacy

 

A woman v blackpoolgazette.co.uk - Complaint upheld against blackpoolgazette.co.uk after woman’s privacy breached in article concerning a positive test for Covid-19 in a primary school.

A woman v blackpoolgazette.co.uk

Outcome: Upheld. Online adjudication ordered.

A woman complained that blackpoolgazette.co.uk breached Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code in an article which reported on a primary school class that was told to self-isolate following a positive test for Covid-19 by a staff member. The complainant said that the article breached her privacy because although she was not named in the article, she was identifiable as the staff member who had tested positive. The result of her test had not been common knowledge within the school community, and she said the newspaper’s decision to refer to her as “a staff member in a Year One class” made her identifiable to those within the school community and beyond.

The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. While it accepted that the article could identify the complainant to members of the school’s community, it said that it was known within the community prior to the publication of the article that the complainant had received a positive test result. The newspaper did not accept that the complainant could be identified by those beyond the local community and said that there was a public interest in communicating the information to minimise the risk of wider infection.

In deciding whether the woman’s privacy had been breached, IPSO’s Complaints Committee had to consider whether the complainant was identifiable from the information contained in the article, whether the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in respect of her diagnosis, and whether, if the complainant did have a reasonable expectation of privacy, the publication of the information be justified in the public interest.

The Committee found that the article included sufficient information to identify the complainant as the recipient of the positive test result. Whether an individual has contracted Covid-19 is clearly a matter relating to their health, and therefore was information about which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The publication was entitled to make its assessment about what information was in the public interest, but in the view of the Committee, there was insufficient justification that the public interest outweighed the intrusion into the complainant’s privacy. The complaint was upheld and an online adjudication ordered.

Key points

A Covid-19 diagnosis is a matter of health, and therefore information about which individuals can have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest.

Key theme(s)

Privacy

Hawk v Mail Online - Mail Online resolves complaint by removing article concerning lockdown house party.

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 theme(s)

Privacy

 

Vaccines

Journalists should take care over Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code when reporting on complex medical issues such as vaccinations.

Ackroyd v Lytham St Annes Express - Correction offered by Lytham St Annes Express after complaint concerning reader's letter on vaccine development.

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 theme(s)

Vaccines

Imperial College London v The Daily Telegraph - Complaint against Daily Telegraph vaccine headline resolved after correction.

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

Key theme(s)

Vaccines

Khan v Birmingham Mail - Birmingham Mail article on Covid-19 vaccine coverage amended after resolution suggested by complainant.

Khan v Birmingham Mail

Outcome: Resolved - IPSO mediation

Asaf Khan complained that Birmingham Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article which claimed ‘hardly anyone’ in the Lozells area had received a Covid-19 vaccine despite the high prevalence of the virus in the area. It cited “local research” that only one GP practice had received doses to administer, and quoted survey conducted by a local councillor.

The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, offering evidence that more than one GP practice had received doses. The complainant also disputed the accuracy of the survey conducted by the local councillor. The publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate, and said that it had sought confirmation for claims in the article from verified and reliable authorities and was therefore reasonably relying on the information provided. 

Following the launch of an IPSO investigation, the complainant proposed a footnote correction and amended sub-headline to the publication as a means of resolving their complaint. The footnote clarified the methodology of the survey conducted by the local counsellor. The publication published the footnote and amendments.

Key points

The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including surveys and statistics.

Key theme(s)

Vaccines

 

Ormerod v Daily Mail - Daily Mail article amended after complaint concerning the restricted usage of AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe.

Ormerod v Daily Mail

Outcome: Partially upheld. Correction printed.

Steven Ormerod complained that Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article which he said gave the misleading by giving the false impression that the European Union (EU) rather than individual member states had suspended the use of the vaccine. The complainant also said that referring to the AstraZeneca vaccine as the “UK JAB” was inaccurate, as it is an Anglo-Swedish company.

The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that the headline was supported and clarified by the prominent sub-heading which made clear that “EU snub” was a reference to individual members states, such as “France, Germany, Italy and Spain […] halting [the] Oxford vaccine”. It did not consider that it was significant or inaccurate to describe the AstraZeneca vaccine as the “UK JAB”.

The article started on the newspaper’s front page with the headline claim that the “EU” had “snub[bed]” the AstraZeneca vaccine. This was inaccurate and misleading; individual European nations, not the EU itself, had temporarily suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine – against the recommendations of the European Medicines Agency, the EU’s healthcare regulator. Whilst the Committee noted that the sub-headline included a partial list of the individual nations that had suspended the vaccine, with the body of the article including a full list, this was not sufficient to rectify the misleading impression given by the headline. The newspaper offered to publish a clarification three weeks into IPSO’s investigation. The clarification made clear what was being corrected, and put the correct position on record.

Key points

Headline statements should be supported by the text of the article

The body of an article cannot be relied upon to correct an misleading headline

Key theme(s)

Vaccines

Parish v express.co.uk - Article removed from express.co.uk after complaint over reporting of the unrelated deaths of two recently vaccinated pensioners.

Parish v express.co.uk

Outcome: Upheld. Article removed and correction printed.

Vindhi Parish complained that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “Heartbreak as two pensioners die hours after receiving jabs in separate tragic incidents”. The article reported on the unrelated deaths of two pensioners who had died in separate incidents shortly after Covid vaccinations. The sub-headline beneath the paragraph noted that one of the pensioners had died in a “mystery car accident”, while the article went on to report that the other pensioner had died in a choking accident.

The complainant said that the headline of the article was misleading in breach of Clause 1, as it referred to the deaths of two recently vaccinated people without making clear that their deaths were not linked to vaccination. The complainant considered that this would mislead readers into believing that the vaccinations were the cause of, or linked to, the deaths..

The publication accepted that the headline may have been misleading and removed the article and published a stand-alone online clarification.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee upheld the complaint, finding that the headline linking the deaths of two individuals to the Covid-19 vaccine, but not making clear that the deaths were unrelated to the vaccine, was misleading. The article itself made clear the true cause of death in both cases and that the vaccine hadn’t been linked to the deaths; however, this was not sufficient to correct the misleading headline. The misleading headline was significant, as it related to a matter of national concern.

Key points

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

The body of text cannot be relied upon to correct a misleading headline.

Key theme(s)

Vaccines

Richardson v Express.co.uk - Correction ordered to headline after upheld complaint against Express.co.uk article concerning the legality of mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations.

Richardson v Express.co.uk

Outcome: Upheld. Correction offered.

Meryl Richardson complained that Express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “Coronavirus vaccine: Can UK make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory?”. The article contained a sub-heading, stating “THE CORONAVIRUS vaccine being developed is 95 percent effective, scientists revealed today. But as the US plans to make vaccination mandatory for residents, can the UK do the same?”. The complainant said it was inaccurate to say the US planned to mandate vaccinations and that there was no assertion to support or clarify this in the text of the article.

The publication accepted the inaccuracy and changed the sub-heading of the article to “But as the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) passed a resolution urging the state to consider enforcing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in the USA, could the UK see enforced vaccines?". The complainant did not accept that this, or a further offer of correction from the publication, was sufficient to correct the misleading statement.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee noted that the original article had made the clear assertion in the sub-heading that the US planned to make vaccination mandatory, which was incorrect. The Committee said that this inaccuracy was particularly concerning given its prominence and subject as a matter of significant public importance. The Committee ordered that the correction offered by the publication, along with an amended headline, should appear at the top of the article.

Key points

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

Key theme(s)

Vaccines

 

Williams v Sunday Times - Sunday Times did not breach code in article concerning delay of second vaccination shot after complaint over accuracy.

Williams v Sunday Times

Outcome: Not upheld

Jonathan Williams complained that The Sunday Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “Scientists warn over delaying second shot as patients face waiting until March”.

The article reported on the UK Government’s decision to extend the interval between Covid-19 vaccines doses to 12 weeks. It quoted two pharmaceutical companies saying there was no evidence that their vaccines, which require two doses, were still protective if the second jab was given more than three weeks after the first, and that “no other country had followed suit”. The article reported that “leading scientists” – who were also described in the article as “experts” – had expressed concern that delaying the second dose of the vaccine could have a “catastrophic” impact on ending the pandemic. The complainant said the article was misleading as it failed to mention the large body of expert opinion which supported the approach adopted by the UK Government. In addition, the complainant expressed concern that the article was misleading to refer to the three scientists quoted as “experts” within this particular field.

The newspaper did not accept it had breached the Code. It said that the disputed statement that “no other country has followed suit” was accurate at the time of publication as the UK was the only country to extend the gap between doses to 12 weeks. The newspaper made clear that it was not obliged to cite every point of view on a particular issue, acknowledging that this was a short news report focused upon a single matter and thereby naturally limited in its scope.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concern that, reading the disputed statement in isolation, readers might understand it to mean that the UK was the only country that had extended the interval between doses of the Covid-19 vaccines beyond three weeks. However, the Committee had regard for the article as a whole and was satisfied that it was sufficiently clear that the action referred to in the phrase “no other country has followed suit” was the UK’s specific policy. The Committee noted that the selection of material was a matter of editorial discretion, as long as the Code was not otherwise breached. In this instance, there was no suggestion within the article that the views reported represented some form of scientific consensus – but rather that these scientists, who were identified in the article, held specific points of view. The complaint was not upheld.

Key points

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

Where the absence of opposing views does not raise a breach of the Code, newspapers are not required to report views contradicting positions held in an article

Key theme(s)

Vaccines