Resolution Statement – 00671-21 Charlesworth v express.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. John Charlesworth 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 “Fire alarm sounds at Houses of Parliament as ‘smoke’ seen rising from building”, published on 24 January 2021.
2. The sub-heading of the online article reported that a fire had broken out at the Palace of Westminster, “with an alarm sounding across Westminster Bridge and smoke seen rising from the iconic London landmark.”. The article reported that an eyewitness had posted footage of the incident on social media, with the following caption: “There’s a fire alarm and a lot of smoke coming out from Parliament in London.”
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1. He said that the Palace of Westminster had confirmed that the “smoke” was not from a fire but rather steam produced from generators, with the fire alarms part of a planned drill.
4. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article was updated regularly, with a later version clarifying that the House of Commons had confirmed it was in fact steam coming from the generators, and that the fire alarms were being sounded as planned tests. It said that the following footnote was appended to the piece recording these alterations:
“A previous version of this article stated that there was a Westminster fire. In fact, the 'smoke' was in fact steam coming off from the generators. We are happy to clarify this.”
5. Whilst the complainant welcomed this addition, he did not consider the amendment of the article and addition of a clarification footnote to be adequate. He expressed concern that the headline still contained the word “smoke” and that the article had been based upon the account of a single individual, who later retracted their own statement regarding the incident.
6. In response, on 1 March, the publication offered to remove the online article and published the following standalone correction:
“The original version of our article of 24 January 'WESTMINSTER FIRE: SMOKE SEEN RISING FROM HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT IN LONDON AS ALARM SOUNDS', reported that there was a fire at Westminster. In fact, the 'smoke' was in fact steam coming off from the generators. The Commons confirmed that it was “just steam” from generators, which was exacerbated by the cold weather, and that the fire alarms in the Palace of Westminster were undergoing planned tests throughout the day'. We are happy to clarify this.”
7. The complainant said this proposed action was insufficient to resolving his complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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.
9. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
10. During IPSO’s investigation the newspaper offered to share a link to the standalone correction on social media.
11. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
12. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 24/01/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/03/2021Back to ruling listing