Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01843-21 File v express.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Nigel File complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “Govt goes to WAR on 'woke' Sadiq Khan's bid to tear down London statues”, published 20 February 2021.
2. The sub-headline to the article claimed that “The government has gone to war with London Mayor Sadiq Khan over his plans to tear down historic statutes in London as part of a woke agenda". The text explained that the Housing Minister had “had written to Mr Khan to express concern that he is using £250,000 of taxpayers money on a statues commission…”. The article went on to include the minister’s demand that “the controversial statues commission is ’disbanded'" and quoted the minister’s letter in full. The letter said that “Worryingly, it appears that council tax is being raised to pay for Labour town halls’ plans to tear down statues and wipe out historic street names. It has been reported that the ‘Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm’, which you established last summer, will cost Londoners over £250,000”.
3. The complainant said the article was inaccurate as it gave the impression that the London Mayor and the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm (referred to in the article as the “statues commission”) had “plans to tear down historic statues in London”, which he said was not the case. Further, he provided a press release from the mayoralty which stated that the commission was to advise on better ways to raise public understanding behind existing statues, street names, building names and memorials and was not established to preside over the removal of statues. He also said it was inaccurate to claim that the minister had demanded that “the controversial statues commission is ’disbanded‘” as the minister had not used this term and instead used the official name for the new body. He said the term “statues commission” was misleading as to the commission’s role and purpose in any event.
4. The publication did not accept it had breached the Code. It provided examples of interviews in which the mayor had stated that the commission would “advise on” statue removal; that he considered that “some [symbols] of slavers [in the public realm] should be taken down”; and that he “hope[d]” the commission would recommend the removal of some statues. The article did not state that the commission was set up with the specific purpose to remove statues, although it accepted that readers might have inferred this. The publication also provided a draft term of reference for the commission which indicated that it would make recommendations “for the addition of context to existing works, or their removal”. The publication also noted that the commission was set up in the wake of the discussion around the removal of statues such as that of Edward Colston. Finally, the publication emphasised that the mayoralty’s recent claim that the commission was not established to preside over the removal of statues could have meant simply that it was only able to make recommendations and did not have any authority to literally order statue removals.
5. With regard to the second alleged inaccuracy, the publication said it had not directly attributed the term “statues commission” to the government minister. In any event, it did not accept that this shorthand was significantly misleading or inaccurate as to the minister’s view of the commission where he had elsewhere used this term in correspondence with the media and had also linked the new commission to concerns about the removal of statues.
6. On receipt of the complaint, the publication amended the article to make clear the commission’s official name and the fact that the mayoralty had said it was not set up to preside over the removal of statues. It recorded the latter amendment in the following footnote:
This article has been amended to make clear that Sadiq Khan has denied that the commission was set up to remove statues.
7. It also offered to make several further amendments to the article.
8. The complainant did not accept these actions or offers as a resolution to his complaint.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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 correction, 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
10. The article reported on a Government minister’s letter to the London Mayor criticising his support for the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm, which the article described as part of the Government’s “war on woke”. The full text of the letter was quoted in the article, and it accurately reported that the Minister had criticised the Commission as forming part of “Labour town halls’ plans to tear down statutes”, of which this was one example. The Committee established no breach of Clause 1(i) in relation to the care taken over the article.
11. The Committee next considered whether the reference to “plans” was significantly inaccurate or misleading. The publication had demonstrated that the mayor had previously said he had “hope[d]” that the new commission would recommend the removal of some statues and that “some [public symbols] of slavers…should be taken down”. It had also provided the draft terms of reference for the commission and several interviews given by the mayor, which indicated that it would advise on statue removal. In this context, and where the article had correctly attributed the claim about the Mayor and commission’s “plans” to the Housing Minister, the Committee did not establish any significant inaccuracies or misleading claims requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1. The Committee nevertheless welcomed the publication’s efforts to resolve the complaint.
12. The article did not directly attribute the term “statues commission” to the government minister, whose letter was in any event published in full in the article for readers to see. There was no breach of Clause 1 in reporting the minister’s remarks.
13. With regard to the use of the term “statues commission”, it was not in dispute that the new commission would address public statues in its work, and the Minister’s letter had referred to the commission in this context. In this context, there was no breach of Clause 1 with regard to the use of this term.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 20/2/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 6/7/2021Back to ruling listing