Decision of the Complaints Committee 00390-21 Collins v Daily Mail
Summary of Complaint
1. Nick Collins complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Eat for immunity pullout / Start eating a RAINBOW of colours to bolster immunity”, published on 12 January 2021.
2. The article under complaint was a diet pullout, which included recipes which it said would “bolster immunity” and set out different methods to “keep your immune system in shape.” There was a reference to the pullout on the front-page of the newspaper, in which it was referred to as an “Eat for immunity pullout.” The pullout referred to Covid-19, including the statement that “there’s no doubt that being able to fight off infection and disease has taken on a new and urgent significance, with Covid sweeping the planet”; it also referenced the higher risk of being admitted to hospital with severe Covid symptoms associated with obesity and a study which found reduced bacteria diversity in the stools of Covid-19 patients.
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline “Start eating a rainbow of colours to bolster immunity: Chickpea patties, fennel and pak choi, and a one pan miso aubergine... try these delicious ways to eat yourself healthy”.
4. The complainant said that the pullout was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as there was no evidence which showed that diet could provide immunity to diseases in general or Covid-19. He further said that the headline of the pullout was misleading, as the headline claim was presented without proper context.
5. The complainant also said that the front-page reference to the pullout – which referred to it as an “Eat for immunity pullout” – breached Clause 1. He said that the claim was presented without qualification and context and was therefore inaccurate – the complainant said that it was not possible to “[e]at for immunity”, and noted that an individual would not be able to eat the diet advertised in the pull-out and somehow gain immunity to disease.
6. The publication said it did not accept that either the article or headlines were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. It first noted that the pullout headline referred to “bolster[ing] immunity”, and that it was clear from the context of the article that this referred to the ability to resist disease and not to prevent it altogether; there was no claim that the diet provided immunity from Covid-19 or indeed any disease. It also noted that the pullout itself made clear that the diet and nutrients referred to in the pullout could help “keep your immune system in shape.” Therefore, it said, the headline of the pullout, read in conjunction with the pullout itself as intended, was not misleading; the pullout made clear what was meant by stating that the diet could “bolster immunity”. It also noted that the pullout contained several references to the “immune system” and how the diet could benefit it; it considered that it was clear that the pullout was referring to “bolster[ing] immunity” through eating foods to help “keep your immune system in shape” and that it was not claiming that the diet would confer immunity.
7. The publication further said that the front-page reference to the pullout was intended as a brief summary or “nib” to act as a promotional teaser for the pullout. It considered it to be a concise and accurate summary of the content of the pullout, and that readers would be aware they would need to read the full pullout to understand the context of the claim. It provided examples of similar ”nibs” which had appeared in publications and argued that, therefore, readers would be aware of the nature of such nibs and that they are intended only to act as a brief summary of the article and should be read in the context of the article as a whole. The publication also said that the terms “immune system” and “immunity” are often used interchangeably, and provided examples of headlines from other publications in which the terms were used as such. It said that readers would understand that the front-page nib was not promising that a certain diet would confer immunity to diseases.
8. The complainant reiterated that he considered both the headline and the front-page summary to be inaccurate, and said that the publication appeared to have conflated immunity – defined as the “prevention of the development of pathogenic microorganisms” – with eating well to boost a weakened immune system, noting that a strong immune system was not the same as immunity; an individual with a strong immune system could still be infected by infections such as Covid-19. He noted that the general public would understand immunity in the context of protection from a disease, and this was not what the pullout diet offered.
Relevant Clause Provisions
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.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
9. Clause 1 (i) requires that publications take care not to publish headlines which are not supported by the text of the article. It does not require a headline to give the full context of the story in question, but the article must support the headline.
10. The headline of the pullout recommended “eating a rainbow of colours to bolster immunity”. The phrase “bolster” indicated that the diet was designed to strengthen or enhance; it was not an unequivocal claim that the diet would confer immunity from disease. The text of the pullout itself, in its first paragraph, explained that it concerned “getting [the] immune system into shape” and, throughout, contained repeated references to the immune system. The Committee considered that the reference to the diet “bolster[ing] immunity” in the headline was supported by the text of the pullout, which made clear that it was concerned with the benefits to the immune system of a healthy diet. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
11. The front-page reference – “Eat for immunity pullout” – was a brief promotional reference and included no details about the diet or the nature of the immunity with which the pullout was concerned. The Committee did not consider that this four-word reference constituted a factual claim that the diet described in the pullout would confer immunity from disease. Further, it did not find that the omission of additional information about the diet and its benefits amounted to a failure to take care, or that there was a significant inaccuracy requiring correction.
12. The complainant had expressed concerns that the article may mislead readers into believing the diet offered immunity to Covid-19. The Committee considered that, although Covid-19 was mentioned in the pullout, it did not claim that the diet would offer immunity to Covid-19; the references to Covid-19 served only to illustrate that there was a “new and urgent significance” to understanding the ability of a strengthened immune system to combat infection. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 12/01/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 28/06/2021Back to ruling listing