Summary of Complaint
1. Chris Forth complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Officials 'could only cope with five Covid cases a week'”, published on 31 May 2020.
2. The article reported on newly released pages from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), which showed that Britain had abandoned testing and tracing contacts as allegedly only five cases a week could be dealt with. The article reported that “England is now recording around 8,000 new cases of Covid-19 a day”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as figures reported by the World Health Organisation showed that in the week of 24 May there were 257,158 confirmed cases, and on 31 May (one week later) there were 272,830 confirmed cases, which he said averaged around 2,200 new cases a day.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that figures on Covid-19 are compiled by various bodies, and are inevitably to some extent discordant on the basis that the methodologies and variables differ between analyses. It said that in this case, the article was reporting on the SAGE papers, which was made clear at the beginning of the article. The publication provided a quote from a professor of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was in attendance at SAGE meetings, as saying that there were 8,000 new infections every day in England.
Relevant Clause 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 Committee recognised that when reporting on COVID-19, there are multiple sources which newspapers are entitled to rely on; so long as they make clear the basis of their claims. In this instance, the article had accurately reported information provided by a person who attended SAGE meetings, and the article had made clear it was discussing the findings of SAGE. It did not purport to be reporting the official, daily confirmed infection rate released by the government, and therefore was not misleading in the way the complainant had suggested. The publication had taken care not to publish inaccurate information, and there was no breach of Clause 1.
7. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 02/06/2020
Date decision issued: 04/12/2020
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