Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00768-21 Hanney v express.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Jon Hanney 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 “Car tax changes could make the cost of driving more expensive for thousands of drivers”, published on 29 January 2021.
2. The article reported that “[t]he Chancellor [was] said to be considering a new pay per mile system to replace the current Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) charges and fuel duty costs.” The article included comments from a spokesperson for a motoring website, and included a quotation from him which stated that: “The calculations we [the website has] done, it could be pretty heavy in terms of cost. If effectively you’re going to be charged let's say £15 per day for a 20-mile round trip. That's £70 per week. If you're going to be doing it every week it could be around £4,000 per year.” The article proceeded to say that: “The Treasury is eyeing up the move after informing the Chancellor of a £40 million budget black hole in public spending through the switch to electric cars.”
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He noted that, should drivers be charged £15 for a “20-mile round trip”, that would equate to a 75 pence per-mile charge. The complainant considered that this was both inaccurate and scaremongering, as there was no indication that the government would levy a 75 pence per-mile charge. He also noted that 75 pence per-mile charge would raise £246 billion a year – far more that the “£40 million budget black hole” predicted by the article. He noted that such a charge was, in his view, extremely unlikely to be levied, where £246 billion was nearly equal to revenue raised from income tax, VAT, business rates, council tax and corporation tax combined.
4. The publication said it did not accept that Clause 1 had been breached. It noted that the article did not state definitively that there would be a 75 pence per-mile charge – this was conjecture on the part of the quoted spokesperson. It provided a recording of the interview from which the quote had been sourced, and noted that the spokesperson had been quoted accurately. It went on to note that the article was clearly framed as conjecture, with the headline stating that “[c]ar tax changes could make the cost of driving more expensive” and the quoted spokesperson stating that the proposed changed “could be pretty heavy in terms of cost” and making clear that the 75 per-mile figure was based on “calculations” done by the website. The publication therefore considered that the article had accurately reported comments made by the spokesperson in accordance with the terms of Clause 1 (i), and had correctly distinguished between comment, conjecture, and fact in accordance with the terms of Clause 1 (iv).
5. The complainant said that, having listened to the recording of the interview, he believed that the website spokesperson had been led to state that drivers may be charged “£15 per day for a 20-mile round trip”, as the reporter had made reference to a potential 75p per-mile charge earlier in the interview.
Relevant Code 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.
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
6. The Committee was satisfied that the article accurately reported comments made by the quoted spokesperson; the quote under dispute had been said by the spokesperson during a recorded interview. Regardless of whether the quote had been prompted by the publication’s questions, the spokesperson had adopted the figure and it was clear that his organisation had made calculations based on the figure. The publication accurately quoted the spokesperson, and there was no breach of Clause 1 (i).
7. Clause 1 (iv) makes clear that publications must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. The quote from the spokesperson was clearly presented as conjecture on his part, and made clear that his view was based on “calculations” on the part of the website he worked for, and not any official government figures. The Committee also noted that the entirety of the article was framed as conjecture, with the headline stating that charges “could” make driving more expensive; there was no implication therefore that the 75 pence per-mile figure was based on fact. The article correctly distinguished between comment, conjecture, and fact; there was no breach of Clause 1 (iv).
8. The complainant had noted that a 75 pence per mile figure would raise far more than was needed by the government to fill the “£40 million budget black hole” referred to in the article and was therefore an extremely unlikely outcome. The Committee noted the complainant’s position on the accuracy of the scenario forecast by the expert; however, where the article had accurately reported the comments in question and had clearly presented them as conjecture, the publication was entitled to publish the opinion of the expert. The inclusion of his calculations based on the 75 pence per-mile figure did not, therefore, raise a breach of Clause 1.
9. The complaint not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 29/01/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 13/05/2021Back to ruling listing