Resolution Statement – 01178-22 Beswick v manchestereveningnews.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. James Beswick complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that manchestereveningnews.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “New Highway Code rule means drivers can be fined £200 for listening to music”, published on 27 January 2022.
2. The article reported on recent changes to the Highway Code which would affect motorists and focused on the introduction of a fine should a driver be caught changing music on their phone. The original headline was updated to “New Highway code rule says drivers must change how they listen to music”. The sub-headline said “All the changes come into place at midnight”. The article also included a video which described some of the new DVLA rules and driving laws being introduced in 2022.
3. The original headline was repeated as an image caption and the image displayed a car steering wheel which had inbuilt controls to change music. The article claimed, "All drivers in the UK have been warned about listening to music in their car" and "People have been warned that, if caught changing a song, they risk an immediate £200 fine". The end of the article clarified the rule: "New laws aimed at cutting out dangerous driving now state that people changing the song on their phone while they drive can be hit with a fine”. The article was promoted with a Facebook post which included the original headline and image of the steering wheel, and a tweet which stated the changes came in at midnight.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as he considered the original headline “New Highway Code rule means drivers can be fined £200 for listening to music” to be misleading. He said it was not supported by the text of the article as listening to music was not against the new Highway Code rule, and there was no reference to “music” in the new rules. He further believed the updated headline “New Highway code rule says drivers must change how they listen to music” was also misleading and not supported by the article as he said the new rule related specifically to the use of mobile phones to change music and that the article only made this clear towards the end of the article.
5. Furthermore, he believed the claim in the body of the article that "All drivers in the UK have been warned about listening to music in their car” was misleading as, again, the new rules did not specifically mention music. He also said the article’s claim that "People have been warned that, if caught changing a song, they risk an immediate £200 fine" - which appeared as the original headline - was misleading for the same reasons.
6. He also believed the image was misleading as it showed controls on the steering wheel, whereas the fine only applied to those who were using their phones to control audio. In addition, the complainant said that the tweet was inaccurate as the changes would come into effect from 29 January 2022, not midnight. He further stated that there was no further information about when the changes would come into effect in the body of the article.
7. The publication accepted that if the two previous versions of the headlines were read in isolation, readers would need further clarity on the rule change. It changed the headline to “Highway Code warning to drivers who stream music in their car” and amended the disputed statement within the article to “People caught using their mobile phone to change the song could be fined up to £200.” It further published a clarification on Facebook and a footnote correction which said:
“An earlier version of this article included a headline and sentence which may have misled readers about the circumstances in which a driver could be fined when streaming music. The current version has clarified this point.”
8. The complainant said that, given the article referred to a change to the Highway Code which had been and gone, the article should be removed and a new clarification post published on Facebook. He also said that he still had concerns about the opening sentence: “All drivers in the UK have been warned about listening to music in their car” as he considered the majority of the article, which detailed several alterations to the Code, was not about the change described in the headline.
9. The publication did not accept that it was appropriate to remove the online article.
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.
10. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
11. During IPSO’s investigation the publication apologised for its oversight in relation to the tweet and offered to publish a correction on Twitter.
12. The complainant did not consider the clarifications to be of suitable prominence and said that the tweet should have been published immediately after recognising the oversight. He provided a list of changes which he said would resolve his complaint. These included: changing the headline to “People caught using their mobile phone to change song whilst driving could be fined up to £200”; changing the sub-headline to a clarification; removing instances on the homepage and social media platforms where the steering wheel image was paired with the article; posting a new clarification post on Twitter and Facebook clarifying the changes made to the article using the following text: “This article has been updated as it may have previously misled readers about the circumstances in which a driver could be fined when streaming music”; and commit to reviewing existing articles pertaining to the Highway Code to identify any similar issues.
13. The publication agreed to change the headline and add a clarification below the video in line with its style which said: “This article has been updated as some readers may have been misled about the circumstances in which a driver could be fined when streaming music.” It agreed to remove the steering wheel image, and to publish new social media posts with amended wording in line with its style: "This article has been updated as some readers may have been misled about the circumstances in which a driver could be fined when streaming music.” The publication also said it had not received any other complaints in relation to accuracy about other articles relating to the Highway Code but it remained happy to investigate and address any specific complaint.
14. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
15. 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: 27/01/2022
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 23/05/2022Back to ruling listing