Decision of the Complaints Committee 02580-18 Kirkpatrick v express.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Tom Kirkpatrick 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 "Yellowstone eruption IMMINENT: Supervolcano ‘anomaly’ triggers fears of volcano to blow", published on 22 March 2018.
2. The article’s introduction reported that Yellowstone volcano “could be on the brink of cataclysmic eruption after a pair of researchers uncovered a magma ‘anomaly’ stretching across the country under the deadly super volcano”. It said that the researchers had found evidence of a “plume ‘abnormality’…which could run all the way to Mexico”. The article described how “dozens of people flooded social media…posting warning messages” about this new finding, and went on to quote tweets from several such individuals. It then said that “Thankfully none of the findings presented in the study suggest Yellowstone is moments away from submerging the US in a volcano sea of magma”, and quoted the finding of the study. The article went on to explain that, in response to an earthquake swarm in early February, the US Geological Survey had stated that “there was no immediate indication of danger”. The article quoted a volcanologist as stating that Yellowstone “will eventually produce an apocalyptic eruption but not for another one to two million years”.
3. The complainant said the article’s headline was inaccurate: an eruption was not imminent, and this was not what the study had found. Rather, the study had simply confirmed a hypothesis that a mantle plume was driving volcanic activity at Yellowstone.
4. The publication noted that the article had included authoritative information stating that an eruption was not “imminent”, but accepted that the headline and introduction were significantly misleading; they had been based on social media reaction to the study, rather than on the study itself, and this had not been made sufficiently clear. It offered to amend the headline and introduction to reflect this, and to publish a correction as follows:
This article was amended on [date]. The original headline said “Yellowstone eruption imminent: Supervolcano ‘anomaly’ triggers fears of volcano to blow” and the introduction stated “Yellowstone volcano could be on the brink of cataclysmic eruption after a pair of researchers uncovered a magma ‘anomaly’ stretching across the country under the deadly super volcano”. In fact the research conducted by [the researchers] was confined to the investigation of a ‘mantle plume’ beneath Yellowstone driving volcanic activity. Their research did not make any claim that an eruption was imminent. Consequently our headline and introduction have been amended. We are happy to set the record straight.
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.
iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
5. The article’s headline stated as fact that an eruption was imminent, and the introduction suggested that the new research supported this claim. The publication accepted that the research had not made this claim, and that in fact these claims had come from social media comments. The article’s presentation did not make clear that these comments were the basis of the headline claim. The publication had failed to take care to avoid publishing inaccurate information, and to ensure that the headline was supported by the article text, and had failed to distinguish between conjecture and fact; Clause 1(i) and Clause 1(iv) had therefore been breached. Stating that the research had suggested an imminent eruption, when it had not, was a significant inaccuracy which substantively affected the thrust of the article. This was not mitigated by the inclusion of contradictory information further down the piece, and required correction to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).
6. The publication had offered a correction which made the correction position clear: it stated that the research had not suggested an imminent eruption. This was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii), and should now be published. The suggested amendments to the headline and introduction made apparent that “fears” had been triggered, which was not misleading, but removed the suggestion that the research had claimed that an eruption was imminent. These amendments should now be made.
7. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i) and Clause 1(iv).
Remedial action required
8. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1(i) and Clause 1(iv), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee considered that the breach of Clause 1 would be appropriately remedied by the offer to amend the online article, and to publish the correction. In light of the Committee’s decision, the newspaper should take the offered action.
Date complaint received: 23/03/2018
Date decision issued: 24/07/2018
Back to ruling listing