Decision of the Complaints Committee 01248-14 Elton-Campbell v Daily Mail
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. B.Y. Elton-Campbell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Ebola scare as woman dies at Gatwick”, published online and in print on 4 August 2014.
2. The article reported that a 72 year-old woman who had arrived in Britain from Sierra Leone had been tested for the Ebola virus after collapsing at Gatwick Airport, and that this had led to fears that the virus may reach Britain. In fact, the cause of death had been entirely unrelated to Ebola. The articles had stated in the first paragraph that the woman had died at the airport, but had later made clear that she had died in hospital. The online article had the headline “Ebola scare at Gatwick: Fears disease may reach Britain grow after passenger collapsed and died after getting off flight from Sierra Leone”, with sub-headlines reporting the woman’s symptoms, the fact that the plane had been quarantined, and that tests had confirmed that the woman did not have the virus.
3. The complainant is the sister of the woman who died. She said that her sister was the only 72 year-old woman from Sierra Leone on the flight, and the article had inaccurately suggested to members of their community that she had contracted the Ebola virus. She also said that, contrary to assertions in the article, her sister had not lost her life at Gatwick Airport, but at a nearby hospital. Nor had the plane been quarantined.
4. The newspaper expressed its condolences to the complainant following the death of her sister, and apologised if the article had caused further distress. However, it did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It apologised for the inconsistency in reporting in the first paragraph of the article that the complainant’s sister had died at Gatwick Airport, and then subsequently that she had died later in hospital. It said that this was due to time pressure on journalists, and the online article had been amended to state that the complainant’s sister “fell ill at Gatwick airport and died later in hospital”. Nonetheless, this error did not alter the overall meaning of the article, and did not represent a significant inaccuracy in breach of Clause 1. The newspaper’s reporter had been alerted to the incident by an article on another news website, and had telephoned Public Health England who had confirmed that the complainant’s sister had been tested for Ebola, but that the test was negative. This was reflected in the article. A Gatwick Airport press release had confirmed that the aircraft, along with relevant airline and airport staff, had subsequently been “isolated” as a precaution, and that passengers were not permitted to board the outbound flight. It was not therefore misleading to state that the aircraft had been “quarantined” while tests were carried out.
5. The newspaper noted that it had not named the complainant’s sister, nor given any identifying details beyond the fact that she was 72 years old and was from Sierra Leone. Nonetheless, on the complainant’s request, it offered to assist her with repatriation of her sister’s body as a goodwill gesture.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.
Findings of the Committee
7. The Committee wished to extend its condolences to the complainant following the death of her sister, and acknowledged that she had been further distressed by the publication of the article.
8. The Committee was satisfied, however, that the article had made clear that tests for Ebola had been negative, and that in fact the complainant’s sister had died of natural causes. It had stated that “the woman did not have the virus”, and included a statement from Public Health England that the “symptoms had suggested Ebola was very unlikely but the tests were carried out as a precaution”. Further, the headline had referred to an “Ebola scare”, and had not stated that there had been a confirmed case of the virus at Gatwick Airport. While the Committee expressed concern about the headline of the online article, which may have left some readers with the impression that the woman’s death had been linked to Ebola, the online version had included a sub-headline, stating that “tests which were carried out as a precaution showed she did not have the virus”. While the complainant was concerned that the article had identified her sister, as she was the only 72 year-old woman from Sierra Leone on the flight, and stated that as a consequence those that knew her believed that she had died of Ebola, the Committee was satisfied that neither the print nor the online article contained misleading information on the cause of death, and that both had made clear that the woman had not in fact contracted the virus.
9. In circumstances where the airport had confirmed that the plane and certain staff had been “isolated” and outbound passengers had not been permitted to board, it was not misleading for the article to state that the aircraft had been “quarantined”.
10. The article had contained inconsistencies regarding where the complainant’s sister had lost her life, stating in the first paragraph that she had “died at Gatwick”, and later that she “died in hospital”. The newspaper should have taken greater care over this point, and the information was available from an airport press release. However, the inconsistency did not materially affect the overall meaning of the article. Accordingly, there was no breach of Clause 1. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s decision to amend the online article to make clear that the complainant’s sister had died in hospital.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 10/10/2014
Date decision issued: 12/01/2015Back to ruling listing