· Decision of the Complaints Committee 01743-15 Tysoe v Daily Express
Summary of complaint
1. Andy Tysoe complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Express had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in print articles headlined “Coffee fights Alzheimer’s” published on 27 November 2014; “Pill that may halt misery of dementia”, published on 1 January 2015; and “Sleep to beat Alzheimer’s”, published on 24 January 2015; and online articles headlined “Simple way to fight dementia: Healthy lifestyle is the key to beating the killer disease”, published on 5 June 2014; and “Cutting calories can beat dementia, says experts”, published on 18 November 2014.
2. Two of the print items under complaint were front-page articles reporting that studies had revealed that drinking coffee or getting plenty of sleep could prevent the symptoms of dementia. The third front-page article reported that a pill was in development that might treat a particular form of hereditary dementia. The online articles reported that studies had shown that a healthy lifestyle or a low-calorie diet could also prevent symptoms of dementia.
3. The complainant, a dementia nurse and campaigner for dementia awareness, said the headlines were untrue and had given the false impression that dementia could be simply treated. In fact, “dementia” was an umbrella term for more than 100 brain diseases. He said the misleading headlines had given false hope to people living with dementia and their carers, who might have believed that dementia could be “beaten” or “cured” by simply having more sleep or drinking coffee.
4. The newspaper said the headlines when read in conjunction with the articles as a whole were not misleading. It did not consider that any of the articles had claimed that dementia could be cured.
5. The newspaper said the article reporting on a pill that “may halt dementia” had clearly said the pill “may” or “could”, in future, treat one form of dementia. The article had also quoted an Oxford University professor saying that it was unlikely that a cure for dementia would ever be found.
6. The newspaper said the articles about the effect of sleep or drinking coffee on Alzheimer’s had made clear that these were preventative measures for lowering the risk of developing the disease. As “dementia” covered a broad range of brain diseases with common symptoms of a decline in mental ability or cognitive function, the articles’ references to “dementia” were not misleading.
7. The newspaper said the article reporting on the effect of a healthy lifestyle on brain function had referred to a study that had looked at the lifestyles of 18,000 people aged 18 to 99 that had found that certain aspects of an unhealthy lifestyle had increased the likelihood of memory loss in all age groups. Its reference to “dementia” related to the symptoms that brain diseases have in common, and was not misleading. Similarly, the article about the effect of a low-calorie diet on dementia had not stated that it could be cured or prevented. Nevertheless, the newspaper offered to amend the headlines to both online articles to make clear that dementia was not one disease, and the references to it concerned the common symptoms of the diseases covered by the term.
8. The complainant did not accept that headlines should be read in conjunction with articles as a whole. He said the headlines had not reflected the content of the articles, and not everyone who had read them would go on to read the whole piece.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
Findings of the Committee
10. The Committee understood the complainant’s concern to ensure that individuals with dementia are not given false hope about their condition. However, headlines are generally considered in their full context, rather than as standalone statements. This is due to their brevity – they can represent only a limited summary of a potentially complex set of circumstances.
11. Although dementia is a broad term that includes a number of brain diseases and a range of symptoms, the Committee did not consider that the newspaper’s use of the word had been significantly misleading. None of the articles had claimed that a cure for dementia had been found. One article reported that scientists had made a “big advance” in the development of a pill to treat one form of dementia. The remaining items reported on studies that had found that a healthy lifestyle, low-calorie diet, or drinking coffee could help to prevent memory loss, one of the main symptoms of dementia. Read in their full context, the headlines were not significantly misleading.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 19/03/2015
Date decision issued: 03/07/2015Back to ruling listing