Decision of the Complaints Committee – 03364-18 Bhardwaj v mirror.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Dhillan Bhardwaj complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined "I made £1 million at 16 and thought poor were scroungers - until I lived like one", published on 1 May 2018.
2. The article reported that the complainant – an entrepreneur with a “millionaire lifestyle” -was a participant in a television series in which he spent time living with a woman on benefits. It described details of the complainant’s own home and lifestyle, and that of the woman and her family. The article also described both participants’ views on the experience. It said that the complainant “said the show had destroyed his illusion that people living on handouts were lazy scroungers”, and a caption to an image said the complainant “said the show destroyed his illusion that people on benefits were lazy”. The article also quoted the complainant saying “’Previously, I thought a lot of people on benefits didn’t work because they were lazy. Now I know this isn’t the case…I have realised there are valid reasons why people need help’”.
3. The complainant said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) because he had never stated that he thought people on benefits were “scroungers”. He said that the use of this word did not reflect his views.
4. The publication did not consider that the article was a significantly inaccurate account of the interview the complainant had given to its reporter.It acknowledged that the complainant had not used the word “scroungers” directly. However, it said that the complainant had stated “I thought a lot of people didn’t work because they were lazy, couldn’t be bothered and chose to have hand-outs instead. Now I know this isn’t the case”. It was not able to provide a recording of this interview, as the reporter had lost her Dictaphone; however, it provided the reporter’s original copy, which had been transcribed from the Dictaphone recording on the day of the interview.
5. The publication
said that, given what the complainant had said during the interview, it was not
significantly misleading to state that the complainant had “said the show had
destroyed his illusion that people living on handouts were lazy scroungers” or
that he “thought poor were scroungers”, as the headline stated. Nevertheless,
the publication amended the headline and removed the relevant paragraph from
the article. It also added the following footnote clarification to the article:
A previous version of this article suggested that Mr Bhardwaj referred to people on benefits as ‘scroungers’. We are happy to clarify that at no time did Mr Bhardwaj use the term ‘scroungers’.
6. The complainant said this was insufficient. He said he had never used the term “handouts”, and had not stated that people on benefits were “lazy” or that they “couldn’t be bothered”.
7. The publication noted that the complainant had not previously expressed any concern about the article’s report of his comments, save for the use of the term “scroungers”, either in his complaint or in his public statement issued at the time.
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
8. The complainant denied having described benefits claimants as “lazy” in his interview with the publication, and the publication was not able to provide a recording of the comments it attributed to him. However, the publication was able to provide the reporter’s original copy, transcribed on the day of the interview, in which the complainant was quoted as stating “I thought a lot of people didn’t work because they were lazy, couldn’t be bothered and chose to have hand-outs instead. Now I know this isn’t the case”. The complainant had not raised this concern until he was aware that the publication did not have a recording of his comments. In these circumstances, the Committee did not consider there were grounds for finding that the publication had failed to take care over the quotation attributed to the complainant that “’Previously, I thought a lot of people on benefits didn’t work because they were lazy”, and the other references to claimants being “lazy”, and there was no breach of Clause 1(i) on these points. Similarly, it did not have grounds to find that this was a misleading account of the complainant’s views as expressed in the interview, such as to require correction under Clause 1(ii).
9. The headline had said that the complainant “thought [the] poor were scroungers”; this was presented in the first person, as a claim made by the complainant directly. This allegation had been repeated in the article. This was a significant claim, due to the pejorative nature of the term “scroungers”, and because the headline presented it as a term used by the complainant. The publication was not able to provide any recording of the complainant using either this term, or words of a similar intent, and accepted that he had not used it. While, as set out above, it was able to provide the reporter’s original copy, which provided some basis for suggesting that the complainant had made comments which might be characterised as a similar criticism of the “poor”, the headline had suggested that the complainant had used the term “scroungers” directly – a term which, in its pejorative tone, went somewhat beyond what the original copy suggested about the complainant’s view. In these circumstances, and given the presentation of the headline, the Committee did not consider that the publication had demonstrated that it had taken care over the claim that the complainant had called the poor “scroungers”; this was a breach of Clause 1(i), and required correction in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii). The correction proposed by the publication addressed the inaccuracy, by making clear that the publication had not used the term “scroungers”, and had been offered promptly once the publication was made aware of the complaint. It was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii).
10. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial action required
11. The correction offered by the publication was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii), and had already been published.
Date complaint received: 04/05/2018
Date decision issued: 06/08/2018