Decision of the Complaints Committee 01755-14 Full Fact v The Times
Summary of complaint
1. Full Fact complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that an article headlined “Britain gains economically, financially and culturally from cross-border movement of labour. Politicians should confront the populism that denies this”, published by The Times on 15 October 2014, was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
2. The article under complaint was a leader comment on immigration and British political parties’ approaches to it. It claimed that “when people hear predictions, exaggerated though they no doubt are, of one million extra migrants in London by 2030, as Migration Watch is claiming, they feel fearful.”
3. The complainant said that, while Migration Watch had cited this projection, it was in fact an official estimate from the Office for National Statistics (ONS); the newspaper’s reference was misleading in implying that it originated with the group, and by extension had misled readers regarding the available evidence on population projections for foreign residents.
4. The newspaper had published the following letter from Migration Watch’s Chairman, making clear that the figure was from the ONS, shortly after publication, online (on its online letters page and appended to the article), and in print:
Sir, Your leader (“Migration Benefits, Oct 15) stated that our prediction of one million extra migrants in London by 2030 was “no doubt” exaggerated. Far from it. It is taken from the projections of the Office of National Statistics. Indeed all our work is based on official statistics and often casts light on aspects which those in favour of the present massive levels of immigration would rather not be properly understood.
Sir Andrew Green, Chairman, Migration Watch UK
5. The complainant considered that this was an inadequate response. It stated that letter and spirit of the Editors’ Code clearly intended letters as a means of resolution when there is a directly affected party alone or where there are a number of minor inaccuracies, neither of which applied here; the same letter and spirit called for corrections as a means of dealing with “straightforward factual errors”. In this instance, the publication of the letter had left the inaccuracy without public acknowledgement or acceptance of accountability by the newspaper, without amendment and without correction.
6. This was not purely a matter between the group and the newspaper; wider harm had been done to public understanding. Population projections relating to immigration not only touched on an issue of huge importance to the public, but affected planning for public services in the future. It was important that these were not misunderstood. In any case, the complainant noted that Migration Watch’s position on the matter had not been confirmed.
7. The newspaper accepted that the article was inaccurate in implying that the figure was the product of the group’s own research, rather than an official statistic. It argued that the publication of letters from parties directly involved is a recognised and reasonable means of dealing with inaccuracies, although not appropriate in all cases, and that in this instance the publication of the letter had constituted an adequate corrective to the inaccuracy. It noted that the letter had appeared in print on the same page as its Corrections & Clarifications column, and that any correction on the subject would have been significantly shorter.
8. It regarded Migration Watch as the most closely involved party to the complaint, as the claim could potentially damage its reputation by suggesting, inaccurately, that it was a source of unreliable data. It noted that IPSO’s Regulations state that “in the case of third party complaints the position of the party most closely involved should be taken into account”. It said that it was long accepted that a reader’s letter was an appropriate way of remedying an inaccuracy, and provided a number of examples of cases in which letters had been published in The Times correcting factual inaccuracies. It declined to offer a further remedy.
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.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Findings of the Committee
10. The Editors’ Code specifies two possible remedies for the publication of inaccuracies, in both instances with qualifications. Clause 1 provides for corrections for “significant” inaccuracies, misleading statements or distortions – “once recognised”; Clause 2 provides for a “fair opportunity” for reply to inaccuracies, but only “when reasonably called for”. The nature of the remedy that will be necessary in an individual case must depend on the individual circumstances, most importantly the nature of the inaccuracy.
11. It was not in dispute that Migration Watch had cited the statistic to support its stance on immigration to the UK; the Committee noted that the letter from the Chairman of Migration Watch referred to “our prediction” and stated that it was “taken from” projections by the ONS. Whether promulgated by the ONS or the group, the statistic represented a prediction of future events, and not a statement of fact. The article under complaint was a leader, and the newspaper was entitled, as a general point, to express the view that the figure was “no doubt exaggerated”. The problem arose in this instance because this suggestion of “exaggeration” appeared to be based on an inaccurate, or at least incomplete, understanding of the figure’s provenance.
12. This point required action on the part of the newspaper to remedy the position with respect to Migration Watch. In the Committee’s view, this was an occasion in which an opportunity to reply was reasonably called for and promptly supplied. The newspaper had met its obligations under Clause 2, and it was appropriate for it to have appended the letter to the online article, to ensure that any future readers of the article would be aware of the position.
13. The Committee did not agree, however, that the article would significantly mislead readers on the broader point – as the complainant had put it, “the available evidence on population projections for foreign residents”. On its face, the leader had merely suggested that the newspaper regarded one specific projection about immigration as likely to be exaggerated, a position the newspaper was entitled to take, notwithstanding the misattribution of the statistic. The letter had appropriately addressed the inaccuracy regarding the implied basis of its criticism. The remaining issues did not require correction under Clause 1 (ii).
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 12/11/2014
Date decision issued: 30/01/2015Back to ruling listing