Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04302-21 Lovatt v The National
Summary of Complaint
1. Neil Lovatt complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The National breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Indy Myths: Well-known Yessers bust questionable tweets on Scottish independence”, published on 17 April 2021 and the accompanying video titled “Indy Myths #3: Yes supporters respond to daft tweets about independence”, also published on the publication’s YouTube channel.
2. This complaint was one of two received by IPSO about this online article and video; the complainant was selected as IPSO’s lead complainant for the purposes of investigation.
3. The article provided a brief overview of the video, which formed part of its “new Indy Myths series”. It reported that the video showed “well-known faces from the Yes movement facing down some questionable tweets” on independence and “dubious claims about Scotland” such as “Is Scotland subsidised by England? Will Scotland be blocked from rejoining the EU?”.
4. The accompanying text to the video on the YouTube channel read:
“In our new Indy Myths series, well-known faces of the independence movement respond to ridiculous tweets about Scotland’s future. In this episode broadcaster and campaigner Lesley Riddoch, drag artist and activist Lady Rampant, journalist Pat Kane, SNP candidate Mairi McAllan and Professor Richard Murphy debunk some myths about independence. (Plus: Richard Murphy gives an extended take on the much-debated GERs figures.)”
5. The video featured individuals reading out texts of what were apparently tweets and responding to the claims with commentary. In one case a speaker apparently addressing the tweet’s “author” directly, and in another case a speaker began by saying “I’ve just read a tweet...”. These “tweets” included “Scotland should never be allowed back in the EU” by Keyboard Guy (@Luv2Type) and “Scotland has to rely on England to subsidise it”, by Conservative Think Tank Chairman (@UnionFoundation). The following three tweets were also shown on screen:
6. The complainant said the article and video were misleading, in breach of Clause 1, as it did not make sufficiently clear that the “daft tweets” featured were fabricated by the publication for the purposes of the recording.
7. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It argued that the article and video formed part of a “light-hearted series [..] poking fun at typical tweets from Unionists about an independent Scotland”, adding that its viewers would understand, from the Twitter handles ascribed to the fictional accounts, that the tweets were not actually from real Twitter accounts, or indeed real people, but rather represented certain archetypal personalities found on social media. The publication noted that it could have used real tweets from real people and provided a number of examples in order to demonstrate this. However, it said that it was acutely aware of its responsibilities to prevent the harassment of individuals online.
8. Notwithstanding this, the publication offered to publish a letter from the complainant, in response to the video. The complainant did not accept this offer. The publication then offered, at the start of IPSO’s investigation, to publish the following footnote clarification to the article and the video:
Clarification: To avoid any confusion, we would like to clarify that the ”daft tweets” that appeared in this video, such as those from “Hardhat Man”, “Concerned Stud”, “Very Patient Labour Girl” and “Unionist Journalist”, were not actually from real Twitter accounts or indeed real people. We made them up for the purposes of this video.
9. Whilst the complainant welcomed this offer, he did not consider that the footnote clarification was adequate. He expressed concern that the proposed wording did not make sufficiently clear that the specific claims made within the tweets had been fabricated by the publication. He suggested alternative wording that was then rejected by the publication. The matter was passed to the Complaints Committee.
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
10. Under the terms of the Editors’ Code, newspapers have the right to be satirical and to entertain – provided that they take sufficient care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.
11. In considering the care taken by the publication, the Committee had regard for the context of the video. It positioned itself as part of a “myth” busting series on Scottish Independence, in which prominent figures in the independence movement addressed “daft tweets” about independence and formed the basis for the online article. Neither the article nor the video noted that the tweets and the accounts to which they were attributed had been drafted by the publication for the purpose of illustrating “myths” that it wished to debunk. While the publication maintained that this was apparent from the account names, which it said were clear allusions to archetypal Twitter personalities, the Committee did not agree this was evident. The individuals featured in the video referred to the tweets as if they were from real individuals, in some cases seeming to address the authors of the tweets directly. The Committee considered that the video gave the clear impression that individuals within the video were responding to genuine, published tweets on the subject of independence. In such circumstances, the Committee found that failing to make clear the tweets featured within the video were created by the publication for the purpose of the video constituted a failure to take care not to publish misleading information, raising a breach of Clause 1 (i). Given the nature of the video, which was presented as a series of “rebuttals”, the presentation of the material as genuine rather than a creation by the publication was significantly misleading and required clarification under Clause 1 (ii) of the Editors’ Code.
12. The publication had offered to publish a footnote clarification to the online article and the video at the start of IPSO’s investigation. The complainant had rejected this on the basis that it did not make sufficiently clear that the statements included had not just been ascribed to fabricated accounts, they had not been made by any genuine Twitter users at all, and the publication was therefore fabricating its own myths. The Committee was satisfied that the proposed clarification made the correct position clear: the “tweets” included with the video were created for the purpose of the video, and had not been posted from real Twitter accounts or real people. The clarification had been offered promptly and the proposed placement of the clarification alongside the video was appropriately prominent. In the view of the Committee, the requirements of Clause 1 (ii) were met and there was not a further a breach of Clause 1.
13. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1 (i).
Remedial Action Required
14. The clarification which was offered clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.
Date complaint received: 22/04/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 02/09/2021Back to ruling listing