Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09039-21 Sadler v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. David Sadler complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “DOZENS of migrants on an over-loaded dinghy are caught on video streaming into Kent as a record 482 cross the channel in one day - bringing the total to 10,222 this year”, published on 5 August 2021.
2. The online article reported on the Channel migrant crisis. The article contained a short video clip showing the “moment an 'overloaded' dinghy rammed with migrants landed in Kent before the group of men, women and children posed for selfies on the beach on a day where a record 482 people crossed the Channel illegally.” It also reported the comments made by the MP for Dover and Deal, who said there had “been more than 10,000 illegal crossing” in 2021. The article went on to describe the various, separate crossings that had occurred on the day in question, reporting that a group of men “appeared to be from the Middle East”.
3. The complainant said the article was inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). He said that it was not illegal to cross the channel in the manner reported in order to claim asylum. There was no evidence of the asylum status of the people referred to in the article, and so it was inaccurate to say that they had crossed the channel “illegally”.
4. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 12, as he considered that it included irrelevant reference to the ethnicity of some of those completing the journey across the English Channel.
5. The publication did not accept that it had breached the Editors’ Code. It said that the article did not determine, or seek to determine, the asylum status of the individuals involved; there was no evidence of their asylum status and the article made no comment on this. Rather, the article had described the manner in which they had entered the UK as “illegal”. Though the publication accepted that individuals may upon arrival to the UK be able to claim for asylum and as a result would not be penalised for entering the country illegally, it argued that the illegality of small boat crossing was beyond dispute. It said the article was reflective of UK Legislation and mirrored the position of the Home Office, noting that section 24 of the Immigration Act 1971 stated that for a non-British citizen to enter the UK without leave was an offence. In such circumstances, and where it was accepted that the crossings were not authorised by the UK Government or that the individuals using this method of entry to the UK were not British citizens, the publication said the article was not inaccurate or misleading to describe the method of entry as “illegal”.
6. The publication added that the terms of Clause 12 were not engaged by the complainant’s concerns. It said that this Clause related to prejudicial, pejorative, and/or irrelevant references to an individual’s characteristic, and did not apply to groups or categories of people.
7. While the complainant acknowledged the legislation cited by the publication stated that entry into the UK in the manner described in the article was illegal, he noted that the publication had failed to recognise that no crime had been committed if the migrant submitted to an asylum interview. Therefore, in order for the publication to accurately describe the manner of entry into the UK as “illegal”, it would need to know that the migrants would not submit to such an interview. It could not possibly know this information.
8. The Committee noted the terms of Article 31 of the UN Refugee Convention:
REFUGEES UNLAWFULLY IN THE COUNTRY OF REFUGEE
1. The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorization, provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence.
and section 31 of The Immigration and Asylum Act (1999) which states that:
Defences based on Article 31(1) of the Refugee Convention.
(1) It is a defence for a refugee charged with an offence to which this section applies to show that, having come to the United Kingdom directly from a country where his life or freedom was threatened (within the meaning of the Refugee Convention), he […].— (b)showed good cause for his illegal entry or presence; (2) If, in coming from the country where his life or freedom was threatened, the refugee stopped in another country outside the United Kingdom, subsection (1) applies only if he shows that he could not reasonably have expected to be given protection under the Refugee Convention in that other country
9. The publication said that these statutes supported its position: it was not inaccurate to describe small boat crossings, where there was no official authorisation for the occupants to enter the UK, as an “illegal” method of entry into the UK. It noted that both statutes made reference to the “illegal entry or presence” of migrants within the UK.
10. In addition, the publication said that the UK Government had itself referred to the method of entry in question as “illegal migration”. For example, recently in the consultation into the reform of the Human Rights Act 1998: “Equally, there are a number of other challenges to the government’s ability to tackle illegal migration, particularly via small boats in the English Channel.”
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
11. The Committee first made clear that people have a right to seek asylum in the UK, and it is not illegal to do so. However, the question for the Committee was whether the article was inaccurate or misleading to describe an irregular method of entry, via small boats across the English Chanel, as “illegal”.
12. In this case, it was the manner of entry into the UK which was described by the publication as “illegal”, rather than the legal status of the migrants once in UK territory. The newspaper had cited UK legislation to support its position regarding the legality of these crossings: for a non-British citizen to enter the UK without leave was an offence under the Immigration Act 1971. In addition, the Committee noted that the United Nations Refugee Convention and the Immigration and Asylum Act (1999) both use the term “illegal entry” when describing irregular methods of entry of migrants seeking asylum, albeit these provisions made clear that penalties would not apply in these cases. Taken in this context, where entry into a country via irregular means had been described as “illegal” by the UK Government and in British and international migration law (notwithstanding a subsequent claim of asylum), the Committee did not find that characterising unauthorised cross-channel entries to the UK as “illegal” represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article or a significant inaccuracy. Furthermore, given that the publication had been describing specifically the legality of the means of entry to the UK, and not the legal status of the entrants themselves once in UK territory, the absence of further information regarding the prohibition on the government to penalise asylum seekers for their method of entry did not render the article inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.
13. The Committee noted that the complainant had raised further concerns under Clause 12. In circumstances where these concerns related specifically to the individuals photographed, the Committee considered that it would require the direct involvement of these individuals – or their authorised representative – in order to be in position to make a ruling on these points of complaint. The complaint was not acting on their behalf and as such the Committee could not consider these aspects of the complaint and therefore made no ruling on the points raised.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 5/08/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 29/04/2022.Back to ruling listing