Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02706-21 Roberts v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. Owen Roberts complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Wales BANS English holidaymakers: First Minister Mark Drakeford lifts tourism ban on March 27 - but insists only Welsh people can stay in holiday lets”, published on 12 March 2021.
2. The online article reported that the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford had “banned English holidaymakers” from visiting the country. It stated that when self-contained accommodation in Wales reopened at Easter, this would be restricted to those living in the country, with the First Minister saying that “people who let accommodation should not be taking bookings from people who live outside Wales”, adding that the Welsh Government would be speaking with “local authority colleagues and with the police next week, just to see if there is anything, we need to do to mobilise our own enforcement authorities.”
3. The complainant said that the article was misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), as its headline gave the impression that the Welsh Government and its First Minister, Mark Drakeford, had “banned” English holidaymakers from visiting Wales when it was, in fact, the result of the UK Government’s restriction which did not permit unnecessary travel outside of England.
4. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It maintained that the text of the article supported and clarified the headline. It argued that the article’s characterisation of the announcement by the First Minister was not inaccurate or misleading. It said that it was entitled to characterise the comments in the way it did and had a sufficient basis to do so. This announcement had gone beyond simply reiterating the UK-wide regulations: the First Minister had stressed that businesses “should not” accept booking from people who lived outside of Wales and then suggested that the Welsh Government would potentially mobilise “enforcement authorities” in order to monitor the situation. In such circumstances, it said it was not misleading to characterise the First Minister’s pronouncement as 'Wales ban[ning] English holidaymakers'.
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 headline claim that Wales had “banned” English holidaymakers represented the newspaper’s interpretation of the announcement by the First Minister on the reopening of self-contained accommodation in Wales. While the Committee acknowledged that the publication had provided some basis for the headline in that the First Minister had referred to enforcing the regulations, the Committee considered that it was inaccurate to describe this as a “ban” on English holidaymakers: the restrictions on travel from England to Wales were the result of legislation introduced by the UK Government which had related to movements from England, rather than any distinct travel restrictions introduced, or proposed to be introduced, by the devolved Welsh Government. Consequently, the headline, in the view of the Committee, had misrepresented the announcement by the First Minister, who appeared to merely reiterate the restrictions already imposed by the UK government. On this basis, the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish misleading information in breach of Clause 1(i). This was significantly misleading, creating the misimpression that the Welsh Government had introduced a distinct policy on the matter, which it had not. It therefore required correction under Clause 1(ii). No correction was offered, and there was therefore a further breach of Clause 1(ii).
6. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial Action Required
7. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1 (i) and Clause 1 (ii), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
8. In coming to a view on the appropriate remedy in this case, the Committee considered the seriousness and extent of the breach of the Code. It noted that the complaint was limited to the headline; the article accurately quoted the First Minister’s comments. Further, while the Committee had concluded that the headline was significantly misleading, the First Minister’s reference to “enforcement” had provided some basis for the headline. In the full context, the Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on record, making clear that the travel restrictions had been imposed by the UK, not the devolved Welsh Government. The wording of this correction should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
9. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. This correction should appear as a standalone correction in the online Corrections and Clarification’s column. It should also appear beneath the headline of the online article should it remain unamended. If, however, the headline and the article are amended this correction may appear as a footnote, recording the alternations made.
Date complaint received: 13/03/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/07/2021Back to ruling listing