Decision of the Complaints Committee – 07428-21 Daunt v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Sonia Daunt complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “From red tape to wages, Brexit has already transformed the economy”, published on 22nd June 2021.
2. The article was an opinion piece, written by a regular columnist for the newspaper. It appeared in the Business Comment section of the newspaper, accompanied by a by-line and photograph. The article discussed the effects that Brexit has had on the economy, listing changes such as “wages… starting to accelerate upwards”. The article then discussed the effect of the freedom of movement on wages, with the columnist commenting that “[t]here was a lot of clever-clever theoretical modelling to try to show that freedom of movement didn’t have any impact on wages. And yet, basic economics says that when you increase the supply of something – workers, for example – the price goes down, and when you reduce it, the price goes up”. He went on to say that “lo and behold, now that we have curbed the unlimited supply of EU workers, wages are starting to accelerate dramatically”. The article reported that wages “are rising at an annual rate of 8pc, and in some sectors more than 20pc”.
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline “Five years on, Brexit had already transformed the economy”.
4. The complainant said that the article was in breach of Clause 1 as she considered that it was misleading to report that wages “are rising at an annual rate of 8pc” while omitting to mention relevant contextual factors. The complainant noted that the source of the 8 percent figure - the Office for National Statistics (ONS) website - had attributed the high wage increase to two compositional effects, namely the “fall in the number and proportion of lower-paid employee jobs and because the latest month is now compared with April 2020 when earnings were first affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic (the base effect).” The complainant further said that the quote “lo and behold, now that we have curbed the unlimited supply of EU workers, wages are starting to accelerate dramatically” was misleading as it claimed that the more limited freedom of movement for workers brought about by Brexit was the sole reason for the wage increase, while omitting to mention the compositional effects cited in the ONS report.
5. The publication said it did not accept that the article had breached the Code. The publication provided the ONS report which the 8 percent figure had come from and said that the statistics clearly showed that wages have increased by 8 percent. The publication had said that had the article been reporting solely on the ONS report, current wage trends and economics, it may have been relevant to refer to other factors that contributed to the wage increase; however, it was not and was reporting specifically on Brexit and the effect it has had five years on. The publication noted that the ONS report did not come with any disclaimer or note for publication that the figures of the report were only attributable to the effects of the pandemic or should not be reported on without reference to the economic impact of Covid-19. It said that the article did in fact discuss the first of the compositional effects, “the reduction in low paid workers”, and the fact that this can be reasonably attributed to Brexit, given the labour shortages which have occurred as the freedom of movement has been curtailed.
6. The publication went on to say that the article was clearly presented as a comment piece, and that the statement “lo and behold, now that we have curbed the unlimited supply of EU workers, wages are starting to accelerate dramatically” was clearly presented as the opinion of the columnist, as indicated by “lo and behold”. The publication provided a number of reports and articles that they considered supported the columnist’s position that Brexit has had a negative impact on the availability of the labour pool in certain sectors, and that as a result this has led to a rise in wages. The publication went on to say that where it could be demonstrated that Brexit is a likely contributor to wage increases generally, the author was entitled to express this opinion, and did not need to reference other possible factors which may have also had an effect on wage increases. Finally, the publication reiterated their position that the article was not a report solely of the ONS statistics, they were referred to once, amongst other points, to support the columnist’s argument.
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
7. The Committee first considered the complainant’s concerns that it was misleading to report the 8 percent wage rise figure, without mentioning the compositional effect and the base effect cited in the ONS report: namely the fall in the number and proportion of lower-paid employee jobs and the fact that the latest month reported on (April 2021) was compared with April 2020, when wages were first affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The Committee noted that the figure itself was not in dispute; rather, the complaint lay with the alleged omission in the article of the two driving factors cited by the ONS. The question for the Committee was whether the absence of reference to these two factors rendered the use of the figure in the article misleading.
8. The Committee acknowledged that the ONS had repeatedly cited the compositional effect and base effect as having affected the growth rate, and in particular examined the compositional effect on the figure, identifying three elements: a decrease in the number of part-time jobs and jobs in lower paid sectors; changing distribution of jobs within industries, effecting average pay growth; and a fall in new entrants to the labour market, who are lower paid than average. The report did not, however, identify the underlying reasons for these movements. In the view of the Committee, where the ONS report had not attributed the changing composition of employee jobs to a particular event or policy, therefore leaving it open to interpretation, and the growth rate had been mentioned briefly by way of supporting a piece of analysis, rather than being the focus of the article, omitting to reference the composition and base effects in this instance did not represent an inaccuracy over which there was a failure to take care on the part of the publication. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i) on this point. Where there was no inaccuracy arising from the omission of information, there was therefore no requirement under Clause 1 (ii) to correct the article on this point.
9. The Committee then turned to complainant’s concerns that it was misleading to claim that the limitation on freedom of movement for workers brought about by Brexit was the sole reason for the wage increase; she had cited the quote “lo and behold, now that we have curbed the unlimited supply of EU workers, wages are starting to accelerate dramatically”. The Committee noted that the article was a comment piece written by a regular columnist. It was the Committee’s view that the phrasing “lo and behold” indicated that the columnist was expressing his view on the cause of the wage increase; it was not a factual assertion that the wage increase was solely down to the restrictions on EU workers entering the UK job market: indeed, the preceding paragraph had referenced the dispute over the effects of freedom of movement on wages. The report from which the statistic was taken did not cite a specific reason for the changes is the job market which had affected wages and the Committee was therefore of the view that this question was, to a certain extent, open to interpretation. Furthermore, the publication had provided evidence to demonstrate that Brexit had been quite widely held as a likely contributor to wage increases generally. The Committee considered that where the quote was distinguished as comment, and where the publication had provided some grounds to support the claim that Brexit had contributed to an increase in wages, it was not misleading to report the columnist’s opinion. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 10/07/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 25/11/2021Back to ruling listing