09335-19 Dyson Technology Limited v Mail Online

Decision: Breach - sanction: publication of correction

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09335-19 Dyson Technology Limited v Mail Online

Summary of Complaint

1. Dyson Technology Limited complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined James Dyson reveals his company’s new global HQ will be a Singapore nightclub and former power station after the pro-Brexit inventor announced he was quitting UK”, published on 29 November 2019.

2. The article reported that Dyson’s “new global HQ had been revealed”; namely a former power station in Singapore. The article stated that this “move” was revealed after Sir James Dyson had “announced he was quitting the UK”. The article contained a picture of the new HQ captioned “new home: Singapore’s former St. James Power Station…is set to become the new global headquarters of Dyson”. The current HQ in Britain was also pictured, captioned “old home: Dyson is moving its headquarters from its campus in Malmesbury, Wiltshire (pictured) to Singapore”.

3. The article went on to claim that “the company’s move to Asia will mean that Dyson is no longer a British-registered firm and Singapore will become its main tax base”. The article reported that Sir James Dyson “abandons Britain despite his vocal support for Brexit” and that this had attracted claims of “’staggering hypocrisy’”. The article quoted a named politician as saying that “James Dyson…is ditching Britain”. The last sentence of the article claimed that “4,500 work for Dyson in the UK” and that “Relocating the HQ will not cut staffing”.

4. The complainant said that references to Dyson “quitting”, “ditching” and “abandon[ing]” the UK were inaccurate. They said that this gave the impression that the company was planning a wholesale and permanent departure from the country when, in fact, it was merely establishing a global headquarters in Singapore. It emphasised that this would not affect its growing investment in the UK nor lead to a reduction in its UK workforce. It said that the misleading impression was reinforced by numerous references to a “move” or “switch”; as well as by the captions used for the pictures of the current and new headquarters, describing each as “old home” and “new home” respectively. It said that the statement in the last sentence about the relocation of headquarters not affecting UK staffing levels was hidden from the reader and contradicted, rather than clarified, earlier statements in the article about Dyson “quitting” the UK.

5. The complainant also said that the claim that “the company’s move to Asia will mean that Dyson is no longer a British-registered firm and Singapore will become its main tax base” was inaccurate. It said that “Dyson” could only mean the entire group of companies operating as part of one business, especially as the article did not particularise Dyson’s corporate structure. It said that Dyson includes a number of separate companies and the establishment of a new headquarters would not affect the residence of companies currently registered in the UK; for example, Dyson’s UK operating, sales and trading companies will all remain registered here.

6. It stated that the ordinary meaning readers would take from the phrase “main tax base”, was the place where Dyson paid the most tax. It said that Dyson paid most tax in the UK, and that the statement was therefore inaccurate. It said that the majority of its IP-related revenue, fundamental to its business, was assessed for tax purposes in the UK. Finally, it said that the establishment of a headquarters in Singapore will not affect where and how the revenue and profits of the group are taxed. In any event, if the publication had relied on where the company was registered as the basis for where Dyson’s “main tax base” will be, this too was incorrect as the tax residence of Dyson’s current UK companies will not be affected by the establishment of a headquarters in Singapore. Finally, the complainant said that no attempt was made to contact it for comment prior to publication and that the article had caused it considerable damage, as it relies on the goodwill of UK customers.

7. The publication did not accept that the article breached the Code. It stated that it had relied on a wire report by an international press agency and numerous other articles, that appeared unchallenged in at least nine publications over the previous year, with respect to the claims that Dyson was moving its global headquarters and would therefore “no longer be a British-registered firm” with Singapore becoming “its main tax base”. It did not dispute that Dyson’s UK trading, sales and operating entities will remain registered in the UK. However, it stated that the holding company for the Dyson group was now resident in Singapore; as was Sir James Dyson, the person with significant control over the group. This, it said, was sufficient to claim that Dyson will “no longer be a British-registeredfirm” with Singapore becoming “its main tax base”; claims that were, in its view, not significant in the context of the article as a whole, which it said focused on the move of the headquarters to Singapore.

8. In addition, it said that the basis of the main claims that Dyson is “quitting” and “abandon[ing]” the UK was made clear in the article, namely that Dyson’s global headquarters and Sir James Dyson himself have moved to Singapore, as well as other “senior executives”. In any event, it said that the article had made clear that “4,500 work for Dyson in the UK” and that “Relocating the HQ will not cut staffing”.

9. The publication offered to consider a statement for inclusion. The complainant rejected this.

Relevant Code Provisions

10. 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 correction, promptly and with due prominence, and –where appropriate- an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

Findings of the Committee

11. The claim that “the company’s move to Asia will mean that Dyson is no longer a British-registered firm and Singapore will become its main tax base” had appeared verbatim in articles by other publications during 2019 and originated in a wire report from a respected international press agency. In the context of this claim, which remained unchanged or unchallenged in the public domain on the websites of a large number of publications, it was reasonable to rely on this; especially as this phrase appeared to be a publicly available statement of fact. There was no breach of Clause 1(i).  

12. Dyson’s holding company is registered in Singapore; and Sir James Dyson, with significant control over the group, is usually resident there. However, this did not mean that Dyson is no longer a British-registered firm”. It was not in dispute that the country where Dyson’s UK companies were registered would be unaffected by the move of headquarters, Sir James’ residence or the new residence position of the holding company. The phrase that Dyson is no longer a British-registered firm” was therefore significantly inaccurate, where the article did not make clear that Dyson would still be registered in Britain through its UK companies. As the publication did not offer to correct this significant inaccuracy, there was a breach of Clause 1(ii).

13. After establishing a breach of Clause 1(ii) in relation to the claim that Dyson is no longer a British-registered firm”, the Committee then considered the dispute about the meaning of the phrase “main tax base”. The complainant said it meant where Dyson paid the most tax, which was in the UK. The publication said it was where Dyson was registered and was liable for tax, which it said was in Singapore. It was not in dispute that Dyson paid the most tax in the UK. The complainant also confirmed that where and how the profits and revenues of Dyson are taxed will be unaffected by the move of headquarters, which the publication was unable to successfully refute. Finally, the newspaper had failed to demonstrate that Dyson will no longer be registered in the UK. Therefore, by any definition, the newspaper had failed to demonstrate that Dyson’s “main tax base” would “become” Singapore. This misleading statement was significant because it suggested that tax currently paid, and profits currently assessed for tax in the UK, would move overseas; whereas the complainant had confirmed that this was not the case. As the publication did not offer to correct this significant inaccuracy, there was a breach of Clause 1(ii).

14. Under the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice, newspapers have the right to editorialise and campaign. That Dyson was “quitting” and “abandon[ing]” Britain was clearly the newspaper’s characterisation of events. The basis of the characterisation was made clear, namely that the company was moving its global headquarters from Britain to Singapore; a fact that was referenced five times in the headline, sub-headline and first few sentences. These claims were also clearly a reference to Sir James Dyson personally, the headline, for example, had referred to the “pro-Brexit inventor” quitting the UK. It had not been in dispute that Sir James was usually resident in and had purchased new property in Singapore. These specific claims did not render the article, as a whole, significantly misleading as to Dyson’s activities; particularly where it went on to clarify that Dyson employs 4,500 people in the UK and that “the move will not cut staffing”. In these circumstances, the publication had not failed to take care over the accuracy of these claims. Nor did either constitute a significant inaccuracy or misleading statement. There was no breach Clause 1.

15. The reference to Dyson “ditching” Britain was clearly presented as the comments of a named politician reacting to the news of Dyson’s move of headquarters. As the Editors’ Code makes clear, newspapers have a right to publish individuals’ views, where they do so accurately and distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. Where these comments were clearly presented as the views of a named politician and the complainant did not dispute that they had been accurately reported, there was no breach of Clause 1.

16. The newspaper’s photo captions, “old home” and “new home”, were clearly a reference to Dyson’s old and new global headquarters respectively, which were pictured above each caption. Where it was not in dispute that the global headquarters was moving to Singapore, there was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

17. The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1(ii).

Remedial Action Required

18. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication. The nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

19. The Committee considered that the article gave a misleading account of Dyson’s “main tax base” and inaccurately claimed it was no longer a British registered firm. However, these inaccuracies did not affect the main thrust of the article, which was reporting on the move of headquarters. The Committee also noted that these inaccuracies had appeared unchallenged in a range of other publications previously, which the newspaper had here relied upon. In light of these considerations, the Committee concluded that a correction was the appropriate remedy.

20. This correction should be added to the article and appear as a standalone correction in the online corrections and clarifications column. This wording should only include information required to correct the inaccuracy: that the article had claimed that the move of Dyson’s global headquarters “will mean that Dyson is no longer a British-registered firm and Singapore will become its main tax base”; that Dyson will remain registered in Britain through its UK companies; and that the newspaper had failed to demonstrate that its “main tax base” would become Singapore. The wording should also be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. If the publication intends to continue to publish the online article without amendment, the correction on the article should be published beneath the headline. If the article is amended, the correction should be published as a footnote which explains the amendments that have been made.

Date complaint received:  5/12/2019

Date decision issued: 26/8/2020

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