Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00855-18 Dey v The Herald
Summary of Complaint
1. Lorna Dey complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Herald breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Scotland’s widening inequality gap is ‘out of control’ / Gulf deepens between Scotland’s haves and have nots”, published on 22 January 2018.
2. The article’s sub-headline was “Oxfam report finds nation’s richest 1% has more wealth than the bottom 50%”. The article, which was presented in the context of a new report released by Oxfam, stated that the gap between “the haves and have nots” in Scotland was growing. It said that the new report revealed “that in Scotland, the richest one per cent has more wealth than the bottom 50 per cent combined”. It went on to state that Oxfam was “urging governments around the world, including Holyrood” to respond to the problem. It said that Oxfam’s new report, ‘Reward Work Not Wealth’, had been published on the same day. The article reported the view of a senior Oxfam researcher that the problems of inequality were being felt in Scotland as well as more widely around the world; she said that it was “grimly apparent that the inequality crisis is out of control”. The article appeared on the front page of the publication, and in a substantially similar format online.
3. The complainant said that the article gave the misleading impression that the new Oxfam report had referred to Scotland, and that this was the source for the article’s key claims. In fact, the report had not mentioned Scotland at all - it had referred to the UK as a whole, and a range of other countries. She also said the sub-headline suggested that the statistic it had quoted had come from the Oxfam report, when it had not, and that the subsequent claim in the first paragraph that inequality in Scotland is “deepening” came from the new report. She said that the second paragraph was inaccurate as it again attributed the statistic regarding wealth distribution to the new report, which it had not been included in. She also said it was misleading to suggest that Oxfam had urged the Holyrood government to act on the matter, when it had not been referred to in the report.
4. The publication denied a breach of the Code, although it accepted that, due to an editing error, one statistic had been misattributed in the article. It said that the claim that inequality was “out of control” and the reference to the Holyrood government had been based on the comments made by the Oxfam researcher. It said that the figures referred to in the sub-headline and the second paragraph were, in fact, from a 2015 Oxfam report, which the organisation had highlighted to media outlets when releasing the new report, and that an error in the editing process had misattributed them to the new report. It denied that this represented a significant inaccuracy in the context of the overall piece. The publication did not consider that the article gave the impression that other claims, such as those made in the first paragraph, had come from the new report. It provided a copy of an email from Oxfam itself indicating support for the publication’s coverage. Nevertheless, the publication offered to publish a clarification in its page 2 corrections column as follows:
“In our lead story of January 22 we reported that a new report from Oxfam revealed that, in Scotland, the richest one per cent had more wealth than the bottom 50 per cent combined. Infact, the figures, which were also used in the secondary headline in the context of the Oxfam report, were not from the new report Reward Work, Not Wealth on global wealth inequalities published that day but from a 2015 Oxfam report on wealth inequality in Scotland. The new report had not referred to Scotland in particular but to the UK in general. We apologise for that error. Our main headline, “Scotland’s widening inequality gap is ‘out of control’, came from an Oxfam researcher whose observations on poverty in Scotland were accurately reported in the headline and in our story”.
5. The complainant said that, as the article had appeared on the front page, there should be a reference to the correction on the front page.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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
7. The article’s sub-heading and second paragraph clearly attributed a statistic regarding wealth distribution in Scotland to a newly-published Oxfam report. In fact, the statistic had come from a 2015 report; there was no mention in the article of an earlier report. In these circumstances, the implication that the figures derived from the new report was unavoidable. Similarly, the first paragraph of the article said that inequality in Scotland was increasing, and the fifth paragraph said that Oxfam had urged the Holyrood government to act. When these paragraphs were read in conjunction with the sub-headline and second paragraph, which both referred to an “Oxfam report”, a misleading impression was given that the new report had referred specifically to Scotland. The new report had not included the statistic and it had not referred to Scotland. The report was readily available, so this represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i). Because the article distorted the contents of the new report, by suggesting it referred to Scotland, and by misattributing the statistic, it was significantly inaccurate, and required correction to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii).
8. The correction offered by the publication addressed both the misattribution of the statistic regarding wealth distribution, and the misleading impression that the new Oxfam report had referred to Scotland. Its content therefore provided the correct information to remedy the inaccuracies identified. The Committee noted that front-page claims will often require front-page corrections. However, in this instance, the breach of the Code had related largely to the misattribution of information which was otherwise accurate. The concerns the article raised which went beyond the new report were largely ones which Oxfam had raised either in previous reports or through its representatives, and the Committee noted the correspondence from an Oxfam representative in support of the coverage. In these circumstances, there was no requirement for a front page reference to the correction, which should be published with due prominence in the publication’s corrections column on page 2. This correction was sufficient to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii), and should now be published.
9. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial action required
10. The correction offered was sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii): it addressed the inaccuracies identified within the article, and had been offered with due promptness and prominence. It should now be published.
Date complaint received: 22/01/2018
Date decision issued: 03/05/2018Back to ruling listing