Decision of the Complaints Committee 03372-19 O’Grady v The Spectator
Summary of Complaint
1. Jonathan O’Grady complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Spectator breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Break point” published on 16 February 2019.
2. The article was a leader article which discussed ongoing Brexit negotiations and the alternative outcomes. The article considered forecasts which had been made regarding the implication of no deal, the merits of including an “exit clause” in any deal and whether this would require Theresa May’s deal to be re-opened. In this context, the author said that "the mood is hardening in Britain” and that “polls show that even in Northern Ireland, 40 per cent support no deal”. The article went on to say that "Every MP who votes on May’s deal will know they are answerable, at least in part, to these voters”.
3. The article also appeared online with the headline “The EU and UK are one sentence away from a Brexit deal. Why the games?” It was substantially the same as the print version.
4. The complainant said it was misleading to state that polls showed that 40 per cent of people in Northern Ireland supported a no deal Brexit. He cited a 'UK in a Changing Europe' poll which showed that 15.2% supported a 'Hard exit for the UK' and an Ipsos/MRBI poll showing only 17% disagreeing with an open border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland. During the course of IPSO's investigation, the complainant provided more poll figures, which indicated that support for a no deal Brexit in Northern Ireland was in the 10-20 % range and he said that other recent polls showed similar results. The complainant said that the publication's 40% number was misleading because it had been derived from an opinion poll that had limited respondents' options to only 'No Deal' or 'May's Deal' and that this had not been made clear in the article.
5. The publication did not accept that there was any breach of Clause 1. It said that it had relied on a poll which showed that 37% of people in Northern Ireland would support a no deal Brexit over Theresa May’s deal. It also said that in the context of this article was focussed on Brexit plans and policies in general, the reference to the statistic was fleeting and did not form any central part of the overall article. It said that it was entitled to report this finding and had done so accurately, and that all polls asked respondents to choose between options; in the context of this article, it was not misleading in this not to report this fact. However, in response to the complaint, it amended the online article to make the poll’s findings clearer: “Polls show that even in Northern Ireland, 37 per cent support no deal over Theresa May’s deal”.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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
7. The publication provided a poll which showed that 37%, which was approximately 40% of respondents in Northern Ireland supported a no deal Brexit, when asked to choose between a no deal Brexit and Theresa May’s deal. The Committee acknowledged that other polls may show a different level of support for a no deal when respondents were given different choices. The results of the poll were cited in the context of an article which was considering the deal which might be reached with the EU and which explicitly referenced the deal which might be signed by Theresa May. Whilst the article omitted to explain the options available to the respondents, given the context, the Committee did not find that the way in which the poll results had been presented was significantly misleading in an article which was not an in-depth analysis of the poll and its findings. Instead the reference was used to illustrate the article’s wider point regarding attitudes to Brexit- and the terms of a deal which might be reached including, specifically, Theresa May’s deal- and did not represent the central point being made in the article. There was no failure to take care in reporting this statistic, and no misleading impression requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1. However, the Committee welcomed the publication’s willingness to clarify the point online.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 16/04/2019
Date complaint concluded: 25/10/2019