Resolution Statement 03553-18 Appleby v Daily Mail

Decision: Resolved - IPSO mediation

Resolution Statement 03553-18 Appleby v Daily Mail

Summary of complaint

1. John Appleby complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Dirty hands but nowhere to wash them? We rate the hand sanitisers that will help you clean up your act”, published on 3 April 2018.

2. The article stated that the publication had asked a professor of microbiology to assess a selection of hand sanitisers. The professor evaluated the claims made about them and they were given a score out of ten. The article said that the complainant’s product was alcohol free, and said that the ‘claims’ made about it were that it killed 99.9999% of bacteria; that it protected the skin for 4 hours; and that it maintained the skin’s natural pH level. The article then gave the professor’s verdict on these claims. He said that the ’99.9999%’ claim was “probably a marketing ploy and in practice wouldn’t provide significantly more protection than other products that kill 99 per cent”. He went on to say that the “downside to alcohol-free sanitisers” was that alcohol is needed to kill norovirus, and that “the claim to maintain the skin’s natural pH is irrelevant”. Finally, the review said that the product “felt quite soapy and left my hands feeling sticky”. The article appeared in a substantially similar format online.

3. The complainant said that the review was inaccurate, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). A kill rate of 99.9999% was substantially superior to a rate of 99%, in the context of the millions of germs present on a typical hand. It was also inaccurate for the article to state that alcohol was needed to kill norovirus; in fact, alcohol-containing products perform poorly against norovirus, while his own product achieved a 99.2% kill rate. He said the claim regarding pH was not “irrelevant”: skin is healthier if it maintains its natural pH value. Finally, while the complainant acknowledged that whether the product was “sticky” was subjective, he disputed that this was the case. 

4.  The publication said that the article gave the professor’s views on the product, which he was entitled to express. The professor had not disputed that the product killed 99.9999% of germs, but had stated that this was “probably” a marketing ploy, as he did not consider that this would make an appreciable difference to consumers in practice. Similarly, the professor was entitled to give his view that the claim regarding pH was “irrelevant”; this was based on the fact that the body is able to maintain its own pH levels. The article did not provide an in-depth look at the effects of alcohol-based hand sanitisers, but reported the professor’s expert opinion that alcohol is the best way to kill norovirus when soap and water are not available; this opinion was directed at antimicrobials in general, not the complainant’s product in particular. Finally, the professor was entitled to state his view that the product left his hands feeling “sticky”, and this was clearly presented as his own subjective assessment.

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.

Mediated outcome

5. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

6. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication noted that there was a degree of scientific debate as to the efficacy of different types of alcohol and non-alcohol-based products against norovirus. While it denied that the article was significantly inaccurate, it offered to print the following clarification in print (on page 2) and online:

Since publication, we have been contacted by Ecohydra and would like to clarify that the efficacy of alcohol against norovirus is subject to debate, with some research suggesting that it can be ineffective against the virus. Ecohydra has also informed us that in an independent test against a norovirus surrogate their product achieved a 99.2% kill rate and has reiterated their claim that it is up to 99.9999% effective against other germs.

7. The complainant said this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

8. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 21/05/2018

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/06/2018

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