07938-21 Various v express.co.uk

Decision: Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 07938-21 Various v express.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. The Independent Press Standards Organisation received various complaints that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Farmer blasts EU red tape stopping workers flow to UK - fears shops will use Europe goods”, published on 17th July 2021.

2. The online article’s headline was followed by the sub-heading: “THE EU has caused frustration for UK farmers as post-Brexit red tape has made it more difficult to get migrant workers.” It reported that a farmer in West Sussex had remarked in an interview with EuroNews, a European-based television news network, that “post-Brexit red tape” had made it more difficult for seasonal workers from Eastern Europe to come to the UK, and as result his ability to harvest his crops had been adversely affected.  The farmer said that his farm was down “72” workers on last year as “there are now barriers, more red tape and it is much more difficult to actually come and work” in the UK. The article then reported the comments made by the EuroNews journalist that the “the fear for farms like this one is that British supermarkets will look to the EU to fill their empty shelves”. A video of this interview was included within the article, titled: “Brexit: UK crops dying as farms left without pickers”.

3. IPSO received 199 complaints about this article, all of which raised similar concerns. The complainants said that the headline was inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1, to report that “EU red tape” was preventing the flow of agricultural workers to the UK. Complainants said that the article wrongfully attributed the reported labour shortages to the European Union (EU), rather than to the changes introduced by the UK Government to the country’s immigration policy post-Brexit, and in doing so misrepresented the comments made by the farmer who had not, contrary to the impression given by the article, attributed the “red tape” to the EU. In light of the volume of complaints received, and where the specific input of a complainant was not necessary, IPSO decided to summarise the complaints for the purpose of investigating the complaint on behalf of the complainants.

4. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that the headline reference to “EU red tape” was not significantly inaccurate or misleading when read in the context of the article as a whole, which made clear that the shortages discussed by the farmer were the result of the post-Brexit arrangements, referring to “post-Brexit red tape”. Notwithstanding this, on 26 July, six days after receiving notification of the IPSO complaint, the publication amended the headline of the online article to “Farmer blasts Brexit red tape stopping workers flow - fears shops will use Europe goods”, to make clear that the “red tape” causing the issue to British farmers was borne out of Brexit, rather than the EU in itself. It added the following footnote correction to record this:                                               

“A previous version of this headline stated 'EU red tape‘ was causing British farmers difficulties in hiring labourers, resulting in concerns about customers turning to alternative supplies. In fact, the changes to the free movement previously regulating the entrance of labourers from the European Union into the United Kingdom are the results of the negotiations between the EU and the UK in the aftermath of Britain's withdrawal from the bloc. We are happy to clarify this.”

5. On 28th July, the newspaper then moved this correction from the foot of the online article to beneath the headline, in order to satisfy the prominence requirements of Clause 1 (ii).

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

6. Clause 1 (i) requires that publications take care not to publish headlines which are not supported by the text of the article. It does not require a headline to give the full context of the story in question, but the article must support the headline.

7. The headline reported that a farmer had blasted “EU red tape” for preventing the flow of workers to the UK. Whilst the text of the article made clear that the farmer had expressed concerns that there were “more barriers [and] more red tape” following the UK’s departure from the EU, the Committee noted that neither the text of the article, nor the video clip of the farmer’s exchange with the reporter from EuroNews, attributed these to EU specifically (rather than arrangements made following the UK’s departure from the EU). As such, it was the newspaper, and not the farmer, who attributed this “red tape” to the EU; this attribution by the publication was repeated in the sub-headline, which stated that the “EU had caused frustration for UK farmers”. This characterisation of the restricted flow of labour to the UK was inaccurate: it had not resulted from EU regulations, but rather as a result of changes to legislation following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. In such circumstances, the headline claim that “EU red tape was stopping workers flow to UK” was misleading and was not supported by the text of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i). This had formed the basis for the article and as such was considered significant. Therefore, a correction was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

8. The publication had amended the headline of the online article to describe the restrictions as “Brexit red tape”, rather than “EU red tape” and published a correction within 6 days of IPSO notifying it of the complaint. The wording of this correction identified the error and made the correct position clear. This was published promptly and with sufficient prominence to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii), where it appeared beneath the headline of the online article.  As such, there was no further breach of Clause 1 (ii) on this point.

Conclusions

9. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1 (i).

Remedial Action Required

10. The published correction put the correct position on record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.


Date complaint received: 17/07/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 04/10/2021


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