Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01413-21 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 see families charged almost £7,000 more to use the roads”, published on 11 February 2021.
2. The online article reported that “[c]ar tax changes which could see a new pay per mile system introduced may see motorists forced to pay five times more to use the roads according to the new data seen exclusively by Express.co.uk”. The article reported that “based on predictions from [a first named person] that a pay per mile system will be priced at around 75p, charges will dramatically rise”. The article included a quotation from [a second named person] who said that: “75p per mile will cost a family petrol car driver an eye-gouging £6,500 more than they annually pay now in Fuel Duty and VAT”. The article proceeded to say that: “The Treasury is considering a new pay per mile system to help fill a £40billion gap in public finances caused by the switch to electric cars”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). The figure of 75 pence per mile was both unsubstantiated and constituted scaremongering. He considered that this proposal was highly unlikely to be implemented, as it would amount to a six-fold increase on the current charge of around 10.6 pence per mile. He also noted that a 75 pence per mile charge would raise an estimated £267 billion a year – far more than the “£40 billion gap in public finances caused by the switch to electric cars” reported in the article.
4. The publication said it did not accept it had breached the Code. It noted that the article did not claim as fact that the 75 pence per mile system would be introduced, but rather presented such a system as the conjecture on the part of a named individual, whose background in the field was referenced. It went on to note that the article was exploring the “could be” costs that people could face based on what was an estimated figure. The publication emphasised that the article had accurately reported the estimated figure made by the individual 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).
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.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
5. Clause 1(iv) makes clear that publications must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. The 75 pence per mile proposals and the calculations made based on it were clearly presented as conjecture on the part of a named individual about what might happen if the government introduced such a scheme. The Committee also noted that the entirety of the article was framed as conjecture, with the headline stating that changes to car tax charges “could” lead to people being charged more. The article clearly distinguished between comment, conjecture, and fact; there was no breach of Clause 1(iv).
6. The complainant had noted that a 75 pence per mile figure would raise far more than the Government needed to fill the “£40 billion gap” referred to in the article and was therefore highly unlikely to be implemented. The Committee noted the complainant’s position on the accuracy of the scenario forecasted by the individual; however, where the article had accurately reported the “predictions” in question and had clearly presented them as conjecture, the publication was entitled to publish them. There was no requirement on the newspaper to prove that such speculation was credible. The inclusion of the 75 pence per mile figure did not, therefore, raise a breach of Clause 1.
7. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 10/02/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 9/6/2021Back to ruling listing