Decision of the Complaints Committee 04097-19 Various v express.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. The Independent Press Standards Organisation received various complaints that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Scottish nationalists CLASH with pro-Union activists at independence march in Glasgow”, published on 5 May 2019.
2. IPSO received around 225 complaints about the article. In light of the volume of complaints received, and where the specific input of a complainant was not necessary, IPSO decided to summarise the complaints for the purpose of investigating the complaint on behalf of the complainants.
3. The article reported on a march by Scottish National Party (SNP) supporters. The first paragraph stated that, “Thousands of Scottish Independence activists clashed with pro-Union campaigners in Glasgow today after SNP leader [name] announced plans to push for a second vote on whether the nation should separate from the United Kingdom”. A photograph accompanied the article, which showed a number of Union Jack flags, and one Saltire with the stars of the EU flag on it. Referring to the marchers, the caption to the photograph stated: “Many of them carried a mixture of Scottish and EU flags”.
4. The complainants, many of whom were at the march, denied that there was a “clash” between Scottish nationalists and pro-Union activists, as claimed in the headline and stand first. They said that the word “clash” implied that there were violent or physical altercations and disturbances between the two groups; they said that this claim was not supported by the events which took place at the march, or the text of the article itself, which made no further reference to any alleged “clash”. Complainants also said that the police had not made any statement which suggested that there were physical altercations between the two groups.
5. Complainants also said that the caption to the photograph was inaccurate, because it did not depict a mixture of “Scottish and EU flags”, as claimed. Some complainants alleged that the image was taken from an unrelated event in London.
6. The publication accepted that the use of the word “clash” in the headline and in the first paragraph was a significant inaccuracy which required correction, and confirmed that in response to complaints, it had removed the piece from its website. The publication accepted that there was no suggestion that any form of violent confrontation took place during the SNP demonstration, and said that it was unable to explain why it had used this word. The publication suggested that there may have been a clash of ideas amongst the two groups, however it accepted that this distinction was not adequately explained in the article.
7. The publication confirmed that the article had originally been published on the website’s homepage, and would have been available to be read there for between 4-12 hours. The publication offered to publish the following standalone correction, which would appear on the homepage of express.co.uk, and then remain in the Corrections and Clarifications section of the website.
Correction - Scottish nationalists march in Glasgow - (date of publication)
On May 05 2019 we published an article headlined "Scottish nationalists clash with pro-Union activists at independence march in Glasgow." The claim that 'Thousands of Scottish Independence activists clashed with pro-Union campaigners.' was repeated in the introduction. In fact there were no reports of any clashes between the demonstrators. It was inaccurate for the original headline and introduction to make that claim. We are happy to set the record straight.
8. The publication also proposed to re-instate the article, and amend it to remove the word “clash”. It also offered to publish the following wording on that article:
This article was first published on May 05 2019 and headlined "Scottish nationalists clash with pro-Union activists at independence march in Glasgow." The introduction said 'Thousands of Scottish Independence activists clashed with pro-Union campaigners’. In fact there were no reports of any clashes between the demonstrators. It was inaccurate for the headline and introduction to make that claim.
9. The publication said that it had contacted the organisation which had provided it with the photograph, which had confirmed that it had been taken at the demonstration. The publication acknowledged that the photograph predominantly showed the Union flag and one Saltire with the stars of the EU flag. However, it said that, if it is the position of those complainants that at the demonstration there were many people carrying the Saltire and EU flag then the caption was not a significant inaccuracy. As a gesture of goodwill, it offered to amend the caption to, “'Pro-Union campaigns attend Scottish Independence rally”.
Relevant Code Provisions
10. 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
11. The publication had failed to demonstrate, either in the body of the article or in response to the complaint, that a “clash” had taken place between Scottish nationalists and pro-Union activists at the march. The publication had failed to care over the accuracy of the article, and the headline was not support by the text, in breach of Clause 1(i). The publication had published a prominent claim, in the headline and first paragraph, which had given a significantly inaccurate impression that an altercation or disturbance had taken place between the two groups; this required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
12. Eight days after IPSO began an investigation into the complaint, the publication accepted that the article contained a significant inaccuracy, and offered to publish a correction; three days later, the publication proposed a form of words which made clear the correct position. It was offered promptly, and in conjunction with the offer to re-instate an amended article, publication of the wording as a footnote to the article, in addition to a standalone correction on the website’s homepage, where the article had originally appeared, represented due prominence. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii). In order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii), the publication should now amend its article, add the clarification as a footnote, and publish the standalone correction on its homepage, as offered.
13. The caption subject to complaint did not claim that the photograph itself depicted a “mixture of Scottish and EU flags”. Further, it was not disputed that these flags were present at the march. Further, in response to the complaint, the publication had contacted the organisation which had provided it with the photograph, which had confirmed that it had been taken at the demonstration. While the Committee did not establish that the article contained a significant inaccuracy on these points of complaint, it welcomed the publication’s offer to amend the caption to reflect the scene depicted. There was no further breach of the Code.
14. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial Action Required
15. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.
16. The publication had offered to publish a correction both promptly and prominently on the re-instated online article. It had also promptly offered to publish a correction on its homepage. The Committee found that this was sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii). These corrections should now be published.
Date complaint received: 09/05/2019
Date complaint concluded: 26/06/2019
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