Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01979-21 Parish v express.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Vindhi Parish complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Heartbreak as two pensioners die hours after receiving jabs in separate tragic incidents”, published on 27 February 2021.
2. The article, which only appeared online, reported on the unrelated deaths of two pensioners, who had died in separate incidents shortly after having separately received Covid-19 “jabs”. The sub-headline beneath the paragraph noted that one of the pensioners had died in a “mystery car accident”, while the article went on to report that the other pensioner had died in a choking accident. The article then went on to report that “[t]he Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulation Authority (MHRA) is monitoring any adverse health effects or deaths soon after vaccination, but so far believes no deaths have been linked to the vaccine.”
3. The complainant said that the headline of the article was misleading in breach of Clause 1, as it referred to the deaths of two recently vaccinated people without making clear that their deaths were not linked to the vaccination. The complainant considered that this would mislead readers into believing that the vaccinations were the cause of, or linked to, the deaths; this was clearly not supported by the text of the article, which made clear the actual circumstances of their deaths. The complainant also noted that the article went so far to report that no deaths had been linked to the Covid-19 vaccine in the UK, which he considered directly contradicted the headline of the article.
4. The publication accepted that the headline may have been misleading. On 9 March 2021, after receiving complaints about the article, the publication removed the article and published a stand-alone online clarification; the clarification read as follows:
Deaths after Covid-19 vaccine - A Clarification
Our article of 27 February was headlined 'Heartbreak as two pensioners die hours after receiving jabs in separate tragic incidents' and reported the inquests of two individuals who had sadly passed away shortly after receiving the Covid-19 vaccine.
This article was removed as the headline did not make clear that the causes of death were not related to the vaccine. We would like to make clear that one individual died in a car accident, and the other died in a choking incident
5. The complainant said that the removal of the article and the publication of a clarification was not sufficient to resolve his complaint, as he did not consider that this adequately compensated for what he considered to be the damage caused by the article’s publication. He also did not consider that the resolution of his complaint at this stage of the process would serve as a deterrent to the publication of similar articles in the future.
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.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
6. Clause 1 (i) requires that publications take care not to publish headlines which are not supported by the text of the article. It does not require a headline to give the full context of the story in question, but the article must support the headline. The Clause also requires publications to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information; this applies to headlines as well as the body of articles.
7. The headline linked the deaths of two individuals to the Covid-19 vaccine, but did not make clear that the deaths were unrelated to the vaccine – it referred only to them having died in “separate tragic incidents.” The Committee found that the headline was misleading, where it linked two deaths to the Covid-19 vaccine without making clear that there were no concerns that the vaccine may have contributed or caused the deaths. The article itself made clear the true cause of death in both cases and that the vaccine hadn’t been linked to the deaths; however, this was not sufficient to correct the misleading headline. The headline was misleading and was not supported by the text of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i).
8. The misleading headline was significant, where it related to a matter of national concern: the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine. For this reason, it required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
9. Ten days after publication, the newspaper removed the article and published a stand-alone online clarification, which appeared on its regular online Corrections & Clarifications page. The online clarification made clear what was being corrected, and what the true position was. The clarification was published promptly upon the publication being made aware that the headline may raise a possible breach of the Code, and was sufficiently prominent as a stand-alone web clarification appearing on an established Corrections & Clarification web page, where the original article only appeared online. For these reasons, there was no further breach of Clause 1(ii), where the measures taken by the publication were sufficient to address the original misleading statement.
10. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1 (i).
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 01/03/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 02/06/2021
Independent Complaints Reviewer
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.Back to ruling listing