Decision of the Complaints Committee 00696-17 Hawker v Daily Express
Summary of Complaint
1. Thomas Hawker complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Ukip chief predicted to trounce Labour in by-election”, published on 25 January 2017 and “ANOTHER POLITICAL EARTHQUAKE: Ukip leader on track to EASILY win Stoke by-election” published online on 25 January.
2. The article was published ahead of the Stoke Central by-election, which took place on 23 February 2017. The article reported that “according to a poll” the UKIP leader was “on track to easily win the Stoke Central by-election and cause a political earthquake”. It said that a “new survey, commissioned by Labour Leave” had shown that “UKIP has a strong lead in the traditional Labour stronghold with 35 per cent, 10 points ahead” of Labour. The article said that “according to the poll 30 per cent of the Stoke Central voters who indicated "Don't Know" for the upcoming by-election previously voted Labour. And a massive 81 per cent who intend to vote Ukip are former Labour voters.”
3. The online article reported that “the results have been taken by leading Brexiteers in Labour to call on the party to stop dithering over Article 50 and pick a pro-Brexit candidate in Stoke”. It referred to the poll as a “poll commissioned by Labour Leave” throughout, and was otherwise substantively similar to the article that appeared in print.
4. The complainant expressed concern over the use of the word “poll” in the article. He said that the “poll” had been undertaken on Labour Leave’s Facebook page, and therefore was a survey of individuals who would have been already seeking a relationship with Labour Leave. He said that it was inaccurate, in those circumstances, for the article to report that the poll had been “commissioned” by Labour Leave, as it suggested that it had been conducted by an independent polling company.
5. He further said that given fact that the article had drawn inferences beyond the data, the use of the word “poll” created the inaccurate suggestion that its findings had been based on data from a representative sample of the wider Stoke electorate.
6. The newspaper said that the poll information had been provided to it in a press release from Labour Leave. It said that the article had reported the findings contained in the press release, accurately, and the methodology of the poll had not been known at the time the article was published.
7. The press release had stated: “In the upcoming by-election our poll indicates that Labour will receive 25% (-14), Conservatives 10% (-12) and UKIP 35% (+13) of the vote share with 24% still undecided”. It also included a quote from a Labour Councillor, who had said: “Stoke-on-Trent is the Brexit capital of the United Kingdom. If Labour lose this by-election then up to 50 seats in the Midlands and the North could fall to our opponents. Labour will be relegated to minority party status. We must have a radical change of direction now by fully supporting Article 50 and working for a prosperous Britain in a post-Brexit world.”
8. The newspaper said that the poll was commissioned by leading “Brexiteers” in order to get Labour to call on the party to pick a pro-Brexit candidate in Stoke. It further said that the ordinary meaning of the word “commissioned” is to authorise an act, and as such, does not definitively mean that it was conducted by an external organisation.
9. However, in order to clarify the source of the poll and the methodology by which it was conducted, the newspaper offered to publish the following correction in print:
Stoke Central by-election “poll” - Correction
In our article “Ukip chief predicted to trounce Labour in by-election” published on 25 January 2017 we reported that a poll, commissioned by Labour Leave, put Ukip ahead of Labour. In fact the “poll” referred to was a survey undertaken by Labour Leave on Facebook and not a poll conducted by an independent polling company.”
The newspaper offered to amend the online article so that the word “poll” would be changed to “survey”, and the word “commissioned” would be changed to “conducted”. It also offered to publish the following correction online:
Correction - Survey commissioned by Labour Leave
A previous version of this article reported that “According to the poll commissioned by Labour Leave, Ukip has a strong lead in the Labour stronghold with 35 per cent 10 points ahead of Labour.” We have been asked correct that this was a survey, run by the group 'Labour Leave' and conducted on the social media platform Facebook in which more than 182 people participated. It was not a poll undertaken by an independent polling company.
Relevant Code Provisions
10. 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
11. The newspaper had relied upon information contained in a press release, published by Labour Leave, which stated that its findings had been obtained from a “poll”. The newspaper had adopted the language which had been used in that press release, in those circumstances, and where the press release suggested that it had been a representative poll, the use of the term “poll” in the article, did not represent a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i).
12. However, the manner in which the survey had been presented in the article, in circumstances where information about its methodology was omitted, gave the significantly misleading impression that this was a representative poll carried out by a third party polling company. The omission of this information required correction under Clause 1 (ii). The Committee noted that the newspaper had offered to publish a correction in print and online to address this point. The correction offered was sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1(ii), and the correction should now be published.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 30/01/2017
Date decision issued: 20/06/2017Back to ruling listing