Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01442-21 Wood v thetimes.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Jackie Wood complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thetimes.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Breastfeeding is now chestfeeding, Brighton’s trans-friendly midwives are told”, published on 9 February 2021.
2. The article reported on a document published by Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust which set out the Trust’s policy on gender inclusive language in its perinatal services. In addition to the headline, the article reported that “Midwives have been told to say ‘chestfeeding’ instead of ‘breastfeeding’ and to replace the term ‘mother’ with ‘mother or birthing parent’ as part of moves to be more trans-friendly”. The article gave several examples of terms that the policy said should be used, and what these terms would replace: “‘breastmilk’ should be replaced with the phrases ‘human milk’, breast/chestmilk’ or ‘milk from the feeding mother or parent’”; “‘woman’ with ‘woman or person’ and ‘father’ with ‘parent’, ‘co-parent’ or “second biological parent”, depending on the circumstances”. The article described the policy document as stating “that staff should not stop using the word ‘woman’ or other terms describing motherhood but they should consciously start adding in the word ‘people’ and other more inclusive language” and that the language changes would “be implemented in the trust’s webpages, leaflets and communications such as letters and emails. Staff will be asked to use language that reflects people’s ‘own identities and preferences’ when talking to patients”. It also included a statement from the Trust which noted that “Our chosen approach to inclusive language is additive rather than neutral.”
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said that the headline inaccurately reported the Trust’s guidance, and that the terms “is now” and “are told” in the headline implied that the use of inclusive language was imposed and compulsory, which did not reflect the guidance. The complainant said that as the article had a paywall, many readers, including her, would only have seen the headline and not the rest of the article.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the headline was supported by the text, which the complainant had not read. It said the story explained at length that the proposed language was additive rather than exclusive. It said that the article described what the new instructions entailed and explained clearly the circumstances in which this would apply, noting that it had reported that: “the language changes will be implemented in the trust’s webpages, leaflets and communications such as letters and emails. Staff will be asked to use language that reflects people’s ‘own identities and preferences’ when talking to patients”. The publication also noted the “specific language replacements” included in the Trust’s mission statement: "Previous: maternal consent New: informed consent Previous: maternal notes New: hand-held notes Previous: Breastmilk New: Human milk or breast/chestmilk or milk from the feeding mother or parent Previous: The value of breastfeeding as protection, comfort and food New: The value of breast/chestfeeding as protection, comfort and food". It said, therefore, with this further context, the headline was not inaccurate.
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
5. The Committee noted that headlines summarise articles and cannot be expected to include all the details of the story; however, the requirement in Clause 1 to take care over accuracy applies to headlines as well as articles. The Code is clear in its requirement that headline statements should be supported by the text of the article. The Committee emphasised that the body of the article cannot be relied upon to correct a misleading impression given by a headline.
6. Although the complaint in this instance was solely against the headline, the Committee considered the headline in the context of the article as a whole. The headline had stated that “Brighton’s trans-friendly midwives” had been told that “Breastfeeding is now chestfeeding”. The article had stated that “Midwives have been told to say ‘chestfeeding’ instead of ‘breastfeeding’” and had described the policy document as stating that the language changes would “be implemented in the trust’s webpages, leaflets and communications such as letters and emails. Staff will be asked to use language that reflects people’s ‘own identities and preferences’ when talking to patients”. It included a statement from the Trust that “Our chosen approach to inclusive language is additive rather than neutral.”
7. The Committee considered that the headline suggested that the new policy required that the term “breastfeeding” could no longer be used on its own and should be replaced universally by the term “chestfeeding” in all of the Trust’s activities.
8. The Committee reviewed the guidance issued by the Trust. The Committee noted that the guidance was concerned with communications at a “population” and “departmental and Trust-wide level”. It proposed a range of new terms on a “gender-additive” basis. This meant using “gender neutral language alongside the language of womanhood”. One of the changes proposed was the use of the full phrase “breast/chestfeeding” to replace “breastfeeding”.
9. The guidance also made clear that these new terms would not apply “when discussing or caring for individuals in a one-on-one capacity” and in those circumstances staff should use language that reflected the individual’s own identity and preferences. In neither case did the guidance advocate a universal replacement of the word “breastfeeding” with the word “chestfeeding” on its own. Rather it suggested that the term “breast/chestfeeding”, not just “chestfeeding” alone, should replace “breastfeeding” in the Trust’s literature and communications, or that a bespoke approach be taken when discussing or dealing directly with particular individuals.
10. The headline stated simply that “breastfeeding” would be replaced by “chestfeeding” which was not the case. The publication argued that, notwithstanding the fact that the complaint was against the headline, the reference was clarified by the text. For example the article had contained a quote from the Trust explaining that the language terms were additive in nature. It also stated that “the language changes will be implemented in the trust’s webpages, leaflets and communications such as letters and emails. Staff will be asked to use language that reflects people’s ‘own identities and preferences’ when talking to patients”. The Committee emphasised that it will always consider headlines in the context of the full article but that the text cannot be relied upon to correct a misleading headline. The Committee also noted that the text repeated the misleading claim, saying that midwives had been “told to say ‘chestfeeding’ instead of ‘breastfeeding’”.
11. The Committee found that the headline claim represented a failure to take care not to publish misleading information and breached Clause 1(i). The suggestion that the term “breastfeeding” should universally no longer be used was significant and required clarification under Clause 1(ii). As no clarification had been offered, this represented a further breach of Clause 1(ii).
12. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.
Remedial Action Required
13. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
14. The Committee considered that the publication did not take the necessary care when summarising the Trust’s policy in the article headline and that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on record. A correction was considered to be sufficient, as the claim was explained further in the article giving context to the headline.
15. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. This correction should be added to the article – either directly following the headline if the headline remains unaltered, or as a footnote if the headline is altered - and appear as a standalone correction in the online corrections and clarifications column. This wording should include information required to correct the misleading information: that the term “breastfeeding” would not be universally be replaced by the word “chestfeeding” alone, but that only in documents and at population level “breast/chestfeeding” would be used. The wording should also be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. If the publication intends to continue to publish the online article without amendment, the correction on the article should be published beneath the headline. If the article is amended, the correction should be published as a footnote which explains the amendments that have been made.
Date complaint received: 11/02/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 04/10/2021Back to ruling listing