Decision of the Complaints Committee – 06667-20 Bromley v The Spectator
Summary of Complaint
1. Adam Bromley complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Spectator breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Ten reasons to end the lockdown now”, published on 8 May 2020.
2. The article was an opinion piece, in which the columnist outlined the ten reasons why they believed lockdown should end. The first of these ten reasons reported that “You cannot understand the significance of this virus simply by looking at the raw death figure”. The article gave further reasoning for this, which included the assertion that “Somewhere around 99.9 per cent of those who catch the disease recover”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because no peer-reviewed or reliable studies had put the infection death rate of COVID-19 as low as 0.1%. He provided sources which put the death rate much higher and said that it would have been accurate to report that there was uncertainty about the death rate, with estimates ranging from 0.3% to 1.4%.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It made the distinction between infection fatality rate, which is the percentage of people who die of all those infected, including asymptomatic patients, and case fatality rate, which is the amount of people who have died divided by the number of confirmed cases. It said that it would take months, or even years, to know for certain what the COVID-19 infection death rate is which is why the article had not said a certain figure, but had described the number as “somewhere around” 0.1%. In addition, it provided evidence from a BMJ study which had stated that far more people have been infected with COVID-19 than was initially suspected. The publication said that the article was written in the context of writing about asymptomatic patients, and how common this was. It provided multiple studies which reported that 0.1% was within the range of the reported infection death rate of COVID-19.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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
6. The publication had provided studies which demonstrated a range of infection fatality rates; the figure of 0.1% fell within this range, although the Committee noted that the complainant did not find these to be reliable sources and that in the complainant’s opinion publications should report statistics in a wider range to take account of varied authoritative sources like the WHO. However, publications are at liberty to publish articles, including those by subject experts, with a specific point of view, and for them to marshal and defend their choice of valid data and statistics to support their point of view. Furthermore, the article was a comment piece which affected the way in which readers would have understood the passage. This, in addition to and the figure had been proceeded by “somewhere around” rather than asserting as fact that the true figure was definitively 0.1%. On this basis, the publication had not failed to take care to avoid inaccuracy and there was no breach of Clause 1(i) and no significant inaccuracy requiring correction under Clause 1(ii).
7. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 22/05/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 15/07/2020
Back to ruling listing