· Decision of the Complaints Committee 01827-14 Farrell v Metro
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. Sean Farrell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Metro.co.uk had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “‘Drunk girl in public’ prank will make you lose faith in humanity”, published on 11 November 2014.
2. The newspaper had published an article about a video which purported to show a “prank” in which a woman pretended to be drunk. Men’s reactions were recorded when she asked them for help getting home. Instead of helping the woman, most of the men in the video appeared to attempt to take advantage of her. The article described the video as an “alarming social experiment”, and said that the reaction of the men had been “eye-opening and upsetting”.
3. The complainant was concerned that the article was inaccurate as it had emerged that the events depicted in the video had been staged. The complainant had provided a link to a video in which the participants explained that the video had been a hoax, and that all the men involved had been actors. The complainant said that the article was an example of “anti-male” propaganda.
4. The newspaper said that the video had been the subject of extensive research. It had been picked up by the newspaper’s video specialist, who alerts the news desk to videos which have the potential to go viral. The video had been uploaded by a YouTube channel which consists largely of prank videos. It said that the pattern in the videos tended to be that one person pranks unsuspecting members of the public. It was clear that the “drunk girl” in the video was an actress, but not clear that those whom she had approached were actors. The newspaper said that it had had no reason to believe that the men who had been featured had not simply been approached in the street.
5. The newspaper had had a number of editorial discussions about the story and had sought legal advice regarding concerns about the identification of the individuals featured, although it had not sought legal advice about the authenticity of the video. To avoid any risk of defamation, the newspaper said that it had quoted directly from the men featured in the footage. Because of the pre-publication editorial process it had undergone, the article had not been published until 24 hours after the video had first been drawn to the attention of the newspaper.
6. The newspaper said that a number of media outlets had published articles about the video. It also said that the story had been of interest as, if this had been how the men had reacted, the article would have served as a warning. It had subsequently emerged that the video had been staged. Following this the newspaper appended a clarification to the article and published a follow-up article which explained that the video had been a hoax. It further offered to remove the article and append the following correction to the follow-up piece: “An article published on 11 November contained the original YouTube video and incorrectly implied it was genuine. It later emerged the entire clip had, in fact, been staged. We apologise for any confusion this may have caused our readers.”
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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
8. The article had commented on the reactions as they had been depicted in the video. It subsequently emerged that the video had been a hoax, which appeared to have been designed to mislead viewers into believing that the contents had been genuine. The Committee noted the newspaper’s account of the time it had taken to consider and discuss the publication of the article. While it had been taken in by a hoax video, it had taken steps - including conducting an evaluation of the other content on the same YouTube channel - prior to the publication of the article to verity its authenticity. In the circumstances, the Committee was satisfied that there had not been a failure to take appropriate care over the accuracy of the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i).
9. The text of the article commented on the video as if the contents had been factual. The article clearly gave the significantly misleading impression that the reactions of the men had been genuine. As such, under the terms of Clause 1 (ii) the newspaper had an obligation to correct the significantly misleading impression, promptly and with due prominence.
10. The publication of the follow-up article, and the newspaper’s offer to append a correction to the follow-up article and remove the original article, was sufficient to fulfil its obligations under Clause 1 (ii). Provided that the newspaper now takes these steps, there was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).
11. The Committee also welcomed the steps that the newspaper had taken to address the concerns of the complainant.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 18/11/2014
Date decision issued: 09/02/2015Back to ruling listing