· Decision of the Complaints Committee 03845-15 Sandford v The Sun
Summary of complaint
1. Amanda Sandford complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) that The Sun had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “PIRAate ciggies”, published in print and online on 6 March 2015, and in an article headlined “Plain cig packs set to become law”, published online on 9 March 2015.
2. The first article reported that the IRA could profit from the introduction of plain cigarette packaging because they would “no longer need to employ experts to print intricate packs and [could] produce their own more cheaply instead”.
3. The second article reported that MPs had voted to introduce plain cigarette packaging by 2016. It included statements from a number of parties which would be affected by this change in legislation, and discussed its wider implications. It reported that the change could see customers switch to cheaper brands, and “black market gangs take advantage of the easy-to-imitate packs”.
4. Both articles included images of a plain, white cigarette packet with no health warnings. The complainant said that the packaging would not be plain and white, rather, it would display graphic and text health warnings, the brand and variant name of the cigarettes in a prescribed font, and would be brown in colour. The newspaper had previously been provided with images of what standardised packaging would look like as part of an ASH Media Briefing.
5. The complainant said that while the newspaper was entitled to make the argument that standardised packaging might be easier to counterfeit, it was misleading to support such claims with inaccurate images of plain white packaging which would be easier to counterfeit.
6. After the publication of the first article, the complainant contacted the newspaper and asked it to replace the incorrect images with the ones of standardised packaging ASH had supplied. The newspaper agreed to amend the online version of the article with the images supplied. While it had agreed to do so, it did not do so immediately, and published the second article featuring the incorrect image.
7. The newspaper said that the publication of these images was not significantly misleading in breach of Clause 1, and that it had taken care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. The newspaper acknowledged that the images published were incorrect, but said they had only been used as a mock-up of what standardised packaging might look like. It had not had access to the correct images prior to having been contacted by the complainant. Further, the incorrect images had been published again after the complainant raised her concerns due to an error. It noted that the subsequently published images had only been available online behind its website’s paywall.
8. The newspaper stated that it had removed the images of the white cigarette packaging from its systems, and had made clear on its database that the correct images of cigarette packaging should be used instead. Further, it replaced the incorrect images used in 11 articles in total, and committed to ensuring wherever possible that the correct images were to be used in the future. It also offered to publish the following clarification:
In various articles about the introduction of plain cigarette packaging, we have used a generic picture of white packaging as illustrations. We are happy to clarify that the new packaging is black, brown and red and carries a warning ‘Smoking damages your lungs’ and a picture of diseased lungs.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
Findings of the Committee
10. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concern that the images used were significantly misleading as counterfeiting plain white packaging might be simpler than counterfeiting standardised packaging with health warnings.
11. The articles had both discussed aspects of the public debate surrounding the introduction of standardised cigarette packaging. The newspaper was entitled to repeat the concerns of the parties involved in the debate, including those over the ease of counterfeiting such packaging. The images published were the newspaper’s mock-up of what standardised packaging might look like. The white packaging had not been referred to in the first article, and the second article had made clear that standardised packaging would feature “health warnings on the side”. In the full context of the concerns expressed in the article, the use of the images was not significantly misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.
12. The Committee welcomed the subsequent steps taken to ensure the use of correct images in future articles, the measures taken to amend previous articles containing the image, and the newspaper’s offer of a published clarification, which the complainant rejected.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 26/05/2015
Date decision issued 30/07/2015Back to ruling listing