· Decision of the Complaints Committee 05807-15 Carey v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Claire Carey complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Why should I pay for Jeremy Corbyn’s friend Claire to have so many children?”, published online only on 17 September 2015.
2. The complainant had contributed a question for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s first Prime Minister’s Questions. She had asked how the proposed changes to tax credit thresholds would help “hard-working families”, and had subsequently been interviewed on Newsnight in relation to her concerns about the government’s proposed changes to tax credits.
3. The article was a comment piece, published after the complainant’s television appearance, in which the columnist expressed her opinion that it was not “fair” for taxpayers to fund the complainant’s choice to have five children and work part-time.
4. The complainant said she had never said that she believed she was “entitled” to work part-time and “expected” other families to pay for her choices. She noted that during her television appearance, she had focused on the effect the cuts would have on all families, and not on her own personal situation. She considered that the article was a personal attack, and she requested an apology from the columnist.
5. The complainant also considered that the article had inaccurately stated that following the changes to tax credit thresholds, the maximum loss to any family would be £1,000. She had calculated that her family’s income was set to decrease by £2,500.
6. The complainant also objected to the columnist’s inaccurate speculation on her family’s financial situation at the time that she and her husband had decided to have children. The columnist had said “it is possible that she and her husband were both in high paying jobs a few years ago and they have now fallen on hard times. But given that Claire appears very young – 30 maybe – this seems a tad unlikely”. The complainant said that had the columnist contacted her before publication, she would have provided the accurate information: their finances were not significantly different when they began their family; she had always worked full-time or part-time in opposite shifts to her husband in order to avoid paying for childcare.
7. She also complained that on the day the article was published she had written to the columnist and the newspaper to express her concerns about the article, but had not received a response. The newspaper responded to the complaint she made to IPSO the day after the article’s publication.
8. The newspaper said the article was a response to the complainant’s appearance on Newsnight. It noted that the columnist had made clear that her article was not “an attack on Claire”; it was “an attack on the entitlement culture that plagues our society”. The columnist had not sought the complainant’s comment before publication on the basis that the article was a comment piece.
9. With regards to the article’s assertion that the Institute of Fiscal Studies had said that the maximum a family would lose as a result of changes to tax credit thresholds was £1,000, the newspaper said that this was, in fact, an average. It offered to correct this inaccuracy in the online article, in addition to adding the following wording to address the complainant’s other accuracy concerns:
CORRECTION: This article has been changed since it was first published.
Claire Carey has been in touch to say: “The question posed at PMQs was ‘How is changing the threshold of entitlement to tax credits going to help hard working people or families?’ I have not stated - as the article originally suggested - that I think I personally am entitled to work part time nor do I expect other families to pay for me. We also have hard earned taxes to pay. Our income will in fact decrease by £2,500. I calculated this personally rather than using a general average.
“Contrary to what the article originally suggested, I did not opt to have five children to ‘delay the day’ when I could work full time. I have worked full time and part time in opposite shifts to my husband so avoiding the need to pay for childcare.”
In addition, the article originally stated that the Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) had said the maximum loss to any family from the changes would be £1,000. In fact, the IFS took the figure of £1,000 as an average for 3 million families.
We are happy to make these matters clear and apologise for the errors.
10. The newspaper noted that when its complaints department received the complaint, it had responded to the concerns raised promptly. It had been unaware of the complainant’s earlier correspondence with the columnist as she was a freelance writer.
Relevant Code Provisions
11. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i). The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
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.
iii). The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Findings of the Committee
12. The Committee understood the complainant’s concerns about the article, which had speculated on her personal choices in light of the fact that she claimed tax credits. However, the complainant had discussed her position on the proposed changes to tax credit thresholds on national television. The newspaper had been entitled to publish a piece expressing the columnist’s opinion that it was not “fair” that taxpayers funded benefits for individuals in the complainant’s circumstances.
13. The complainant did claim tax credits and had expressed concern about the effect that cuts to tax credits would have on her family and others. The columnist had been entitled to interpret this as meaning that the complainant had felt that she was “entitled” to tax credits and “expected” taxpayers to fund her family. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
14. The article had also clearly distinguished comment, conjecture and fact. The columnist had clearly speculated on the circumstances surrounding the complainant’s choices; the article had not stated such details as fact. For instance, the columnist had made clear that she had “to make some assumptions… that [she could not] verify as fact…”.
15. However, the article had included the inaccurate factual assertion that the maximum a family would lose as a result of the government’s proposed changes to tax credit thresholds was £1,000. In fact, this was an average loss, and the inaccuracy had given a significantly misleading impression of the impact the changes would have for the complainant and for other families claiming tax credits. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i), and a correction was therefore required to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
16. When alerted to the inaccuracy, the newspaper had offered to amend the article and to append a corrective footnote to it. The correction made clear that the Institute of Fiscal Studies had said that £1,000 was the average loss to any family, and not the maximum loss. The Committee considered that the newspaper’s prompt response was sufficient to meet the requirement of Clause 1 (ii). There was no further breach of the Code on this point.
17. On receipt of the complaint, the newspaper had offered to publish a statement making clear the complainant’s position on the article. The complaint under Clause 2 was not upheld.
18. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.
Remedial Action Required
19. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.
20. The Committee considered that the breach of Clause 1 would be appropriately remedied by the publication of the correction online, as promptly offered by the newspaper during IPSO’s investigation of the complaint. This should be published without delay.
21. While not required under the terms of Clause 1, the Committee welcomed that the corrective wording offered by the newspaper also addressed the complainant’s other accuracy concerns and included an apology.
Date complaint received: 17/09/2015
Date decision issued: 05/11/2015Back to ruling listing