Decision of the Complaints Committee 00389-17 Mower v express.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Matthew Mower complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “UK and USA are WEAK: Angela Merkel calls for German-led EU ARMY to defend Europe”, published on 13 January 2017.
2. The article reported on a speech which had been given by Angela Merkel in Brussels, which centred upon the relationship between the EU and the UK and US, following the Brexit referendum, and the election of Donald Trump. It reported that “Angela Merkel has renewed her call for the European Union to have its own army, warning the bloc will not be able to rely on others to guarantee its security with Donald Trump in the White House and Britain set to leave”. It reported that Chancellor Merkel had said that “Brussels will have to take on more responsibility in the world” and that she had “predicted a cooling in trans-Atlantic ties under the Eurosceptic President-elect”.
3. The article explained that Chancellor Merkel’s comments had come as “eurocrats continue to press forward with plans for much closer European cooperation on military matters - a so-called ‘Defence Union’ - which is seen by most observers as the back-door creation of an EU army.” It reported that she had said, “Let’s not fool ourselves. From the point of view of some of our traditional partners - and I am thinking here as well about the transatlantic relations - there is no eternal guarantee for a close cooperation with us Europeans. I’m convinced that Europe and the EU will have to learn to take on more responsibility in the world.”
4. The complainant expressed concern that the article’s headline had inaccurately reported the contents of Chancellor Merkel’s speech. He said that she had not referred to the UK and USA as “weak”, nor had she had requested “a German-led” EU army to defend Europe.
5. The publication said that, given Germany's primacy within the structure of the EU, when the leading politician within the EU delivers a speech with these comments, the meaning is that Europe cannot rely upon the armed forces of the UK and US, and the EU must establish military assets outside of NATO. However, the newspaper accepted that the headline, including the words ‘The US and UK are weak’ was inaccurate, although it did not accept that it was a significant inaccuracy given the context of the speech.
6. In response to a number of complaints about the article, the publication had amended the article’s headline to "Merkel calls for EU army to defend Europe as relations with UK and USA weaken". The newspaper had also published the following correction on the online article:
This article was amended on 10 February 2017. The headline originally stated "UK and USA are WEAK: Angela Merkel calls for German-led EU ARMY to defend Europe". The original headline did not quote Chancellor Merkel directly and was potentially open to misinterpretation. Chancellor Merkel's speech was intended to convey that the traditionally strong relations between the UK and US, and the rest of the EU could not be assumed in the future and that Europe needs to be ready to take on more responsibility. The phrase 'more responsibility' has been interpreted to mean increasing military assets. The reference in the headline to any combined European force being 'German-led' was not drawn from the Chancellor's speech but was based on an inferences that Germany would eventually be the largest individual contributor to the European Defence Fund. Details of the actual composition and command structures of any eventual force have yet to be established though the generality of the plan was examined in the EU's global strategy for the EU's Foreign and Security Policy presented by Federica Mogherini on 28 June 2016.
7. The complainant did not accept that the published correction had adequately addressed his concerns.
8. The publication further offered to amend the correction, to include the following wording, and offered to publish this updated correction on the publication’s homepage:
In addition we have been asked to clarify that Angela Merkel did not state that the ‘UK and USA are Weak’, rather the original headline was intended to convey the declining military relationship between the US, UK and Europe.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
(i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
(ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
(iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
(iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
10. The publication had failed to demonstrate that Chancellor Merkel had suggested that the UK and US were “weak”, in her speech in Brussels, or that she called for a “German-led EU army”. In those circumstances, and on balance, the Committee considered that the headline was not supported by the accompanying text, which represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i).
11. The newspaper had published significantly inaccurate information which required correction under Clause 1 (ii). The Committee considered that the amended correction offered by the newspaper adequately addressed the inaccurate information, that Chancellor Merkel had said that the UK and US are “weak”, and that she had supported a “German led EU” army; the correction had made clear that this information had been an inference, and had not been drawn from her speech. The Committee considered that the publication’s offer to publish the correction on the online article, as well as on its homepage, was sufficiently prominent. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).
12. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial Action required
13. To remedy the established breach of the Code, the newspaper should now publish the amended correction as offered.
Date complaint received: 19/01/2017
Date decision issued: 19/06/2017Back to ruling listing