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

 

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 themes

Accuracy/reporting health procedures

 

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 themes

Accuracy/images

 

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 themes

Accuracy/headlines

 

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 themes

Accuracy/the medical profession

 

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 themes

Accuracy/impact of pandemic on local businesses

 

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 themes

Accuracy/headlines

 

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 themes

Accuracy/headlines/Reporting of statistics

 

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 themes

Accuracy/Headlines/Vaccines

 

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 themes

Accuracy/Statistics/Graphs

 

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 themes

Accuracy/Survey/Methodology

 

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 themes

Privacy/The public interest