Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02739-21 Matinvesi v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. Esa Matinvesi complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Number of EU citizens living in UK is now HIGHER than before Brexit with 4.6million people granted right to remain – compared to 3.1million before Britain left bloc”, published on 13 March 2021.
2. The article reported that “in total, 4.6 million people have been granted the right to remain in the UK after Brexit” by the Government’s EU Settlement Scheme and that this was higher than the estimated 3.1 million EU citizens in the UK before Brexit. The article went on to expand on the headline figure, stating that “So far, 5.1 million people have applied to the EU Settlement Scheme with 4.6 million applications concluded. Of these, 2.5million have been granted permanent leave to remain and 2 million have been granted pre-settled status”. The article stated that Home Office figures “suggested” that there were “at least one and a half million more EU citizens living in the UK than before Brexit”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that the article falsely claimed that the cumulative number of applications received and processed by the Home Office was equal to the number of individuals who had applied, and wrongly suggested that these figures could be compared with previous estimates of the number of EU citizens living in the UK. He said this was inaccurate, for three reasons: firstly, some people may have made more than one application, inflating the apparent numbers of people involved; secondly, the scheme can also apply to non-EU citizens; and thirdly it did not take into account that many people who received such a status may no longer reside in the UK. The complainant also provided a link to the published data set, which stated that “The data in this report account for the number of applications to the system, including individuals making applications on more than one occasion. An individual who has been granted pre-settled status can make a new application at a later stage to apply for settled status. As these are separate applications with separate outcomes, they are counted separately in the statistics”. It also stated that “Figures in this publication refer specifically to applications made to the EU Settlement Scheme and cannot be directly compared with estimate of the resident population of EU/EEA nationals in the UK”.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It first said that it was satisfied that the broad point of the article – that “the number of EU citizens residing in the UK is substantially higher than the previous estimates that had been made pre-Brexit” – was accurate, as an increase of EU citizens with the right to remain would naturally follow from an increase in applications, regardless of the exact figures. It said that the article was based on another article, published by a separate newspaper, which had been based on the publicly available data released by the Home Office. The publication said this article also reported that 4.6 million people had been granted the right to remain. It noted the other newspaper’s article had not been amended.
5. The publication accepted that the complainant was correct in that the figures included multiple applications from some people and applications from some non-EU citizens, but said that the proportions of these were small and did not affect the overall point of the article. It did not accept that any significant inaccuracy arose from its presentation of the report’s data. With respect to the multiple applications from one person, it said that the same report indicated that repeat applications represented “fewer than five per cent of applications received”; this would equate to fewer than 230,000 applications, or 115,000 individuals. In relation to the non-EU applicants, it said that this issue related to 290,440 people. Taking into account both of these points, it calculated that a figure of 4.26 million people was accurate. With respect to the complainant’s point that some applicants might have left the UK, it said that as it was necessary to have lived in the UK for five continuous years to qualify for the settlement scheme, it was reasonable to consider the figure as indicating that the people were living, at least until very recently, in the UK. It also noted that the number of applications had risen since publication.
6. The publication also said that, regardless of whether the data for applications had been caveated with the warning that the figures “cannot be directly compared with estimate of the resident population of EU/EEA nationals in the UK”, the figures were still the best indicator of the number of EU nationals with the right to remain in the UK. It noted that other statistics on the subject released by the Office for National Statistics also had caveats, warning that not all EU nationals would be included in the figures. The official data was, therefore, unclear on this matter.
7. The publication said it was accurate for the headline to report that “4.6 million people” had been granted the right to remain, but offered to amend the headline to read “4.26 million”, and add a footnote to the article which would state:
This article has been amended since it was first published to take into account the number of repeat applications and the percentage of applicants who are EU citizens. This has changed the headline figure from 4.6million to 4.26million. We are happy to set the record straight.
The publication also proposed to add bullet points to the article, to appear above the body of the article itself, to set out how it had reached the 4.26 million figure.
8. The complainant said that the publication’s proposed offer was not sufficient to resolve his complaint, where it did not address his concerns about the article conflating applications to remain in the UK with the number of EU citizens granted the right to do so. He also noted that the use of an exact, inaccurate figure rendered the article inaccurate regardless of whether its wider point – about the increase in the number of EU citizens with the right to remain in the UK – was accurate or not.
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
9. The article reported that 4.6 million EU citizens had been granted the right to remain in the UK since Brexit and that this was higher than the estimated 3.1 million EU citizens in the UK before Brexit. In fact, the figure of 4.6 million related to the number of applications, which, as the publication accepted, could differ from the number of EU citizens in the country for several reasons, including that one person could make several applications; some EU nationals may have left the country; and non-EU nationals were entitled to make applications.
10. The publication said that it had taken care over the accuracy of the story because it had relied on reporting by another publication; it said that it was entitled to do so, particularly where it was aware that the figures were official government statistics. Furthermore, it said that any discrepancy was minor and would not affect the overall conclusion that there were more EU citizens in the country after Brexit; it estimated that the correct figure for EU citizens in the UK was 4.26 million.
11. The Committee noted the publication’s position with regard to the previous publication of the figures but considered that it had an obligation to take care over the accuracy of the reporting, which was not satisfied by relying on their previous publication elsewhere, particularly where the figures were publicly available.
12. The Committee made clear that the publication was entitled to publish (or republish) analysis of the official statistics and to make estimates of how these compared with previous estimates for the number of EU citizens in the UK, provided that it took care over those calculations and appropriately qualified any claims made as a result.
13. However, the claim that “4.6 million people“ had been granted the right to remain had presented the number of applications as “people” when the published data itself made clear that was not the case. The data had been clearly presented at source as “experimental statistics” that related to the number of applications rather than people in the country. The data included a warning that the figures provided could not be directly compared with estimates of EU/EEA nationals in the UK. The presentation of figures relating to applications as representing people constituted a failure to take care to report accurate information and a breach of Clause 1(i).
14. The publication’s position was that the discrepancy in the figures did not amount to a significant inaccuracy, where its estimate of the actual number of individuals who had been granted the right to remain was 4.26 million; the publication considered that this was not significantly different from its headline figure of 4.6 million, particularly given that it was still greater than the previous estimate.
15. The Committee noted that the actual number of EU citizens who have the right to remain in the UK was not reported and that the publication’s estimate as to the correct figure was based on its own calculations. The Committee also noted that the revised estimate relied on the publication’s assumptions about which factors might be relevant to its adjustment and how they should be applied. Given the absence of an official source and the complexities of the data, the Committee did not take a view as to the accuracy of the revised estimate. It was beyond question that the article’s claim that “4.6 million people have been granted the right to remain in the UK after Brexit” under the EU Settlement Scheme was an inaccurate representation of official statistics. The misreporting of government data on a topic of national significance was significant and required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).
16. Whilst the newspaper offered to amend the figures it had published based on adjusted estimates and to publish a footnote, this did not acknowledge the inaccuracy – that the figure of 4.6 million referred to applications and did not represent the number of people who had been granted the right to remain. On this basis, the amendments to the article and the offered clarification were not sufficient under Clause 1(ii), and there was an outstanding breach.
17. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial Action Required
18. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, 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.
19. The Committee considered that the publication did not take the necessary care when reporting the data on applications for the right to remain and that its correction had been inadequate to fulfil the requirements of Clause 1(ii). Nonetheless, in the circumstances, where the Home Office figures could arguably suggest that the number of EU citizens in the UK had risen after Brexit, the Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on record with regard to the published figures relating to the EU Settlement Scheme. The Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on record.
Committee then considered the placement of this correction. This correction
should be added to the article as a footnote and appear as a standalone
correction in the online corrections and clarifications column. This wording
should make clear the nature of the inaccuracy, that the article had claimed
that 4.6million people had been granted right to remain under the Scheme, and
the correct position, that this figure related to the numbers of applications
that had been granted. The wording should also 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. If the publication intends to
continue to publish the online article without amendment, the correction on the
article should be published beneath the headline. If the article is amended,
the correction should be published as a footnote which explains the amendments
that have been made.
Date complaint received: 15/03/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 19/01/2022Back to ruling listing