Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10395-21 Myers v express.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Phil Myers complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Desperate Remainers launch 'digital protest' for Britain to rejoin the EU NOW”, published on 2nd October 2021.
2. The article reported that “A Twitter campaign launched by remainers will see a ‘digital protest’ take place on Sunday, October 3 in a bid to see Britain rejoin the EU”. It stated that some participants had claimed “’Britain is better off in Europe’, while others showed their support over tomorrow’s impending ‘digital protest’ which has the slogan #JohnsonOUT”. The article described the aims of the movement as getting “Boris Johnson sacked after his ‘get Brexit done’ campaign”. The article also said that “User [complainant] whose bio declares he is ‘pro Sir Keir Starmer’ shared an infographic about the event which calls for supporters to use the term ‘#JohnsonOUT’ on their public profiles”. It said the infographic “also calls upon fellow remainers to sign off any public social media posts with the hashtag”. The article included an image of this tweet, which said: “We are about to endure the toughest winter for 50 years… This was predicted and is completely self inflicted… We need a credible plan to rejoin, it all starts with #JOHNSONOUT”. The article also described the website for the campaign and said it “outline[d] actions they claim are wrong-doings of the current leader including instances during the COVID-19 pandemic”. It included an excerpt from the website that said “’People want to see a Government that values decency, competency, integrity and an end to cronyism. We simply can’t wait until the next general election we want […] Human life is THE most precious thing, the DUTY of a Government is to protect its citizens. It’s clear the government and in particular the PM has failed miserably.’” The article also quoted other users on Twitter who argued the UK should re-join the EU.
3. The complainant was the organiser of the “digital protest” and the “#JOHNSONOUT” campaign. He said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because the basis of the campaign was solely related to the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic rather than Brexit. The complainant said the article wrongly characterised the campaign as opposing Brexit and promoting a movement to re-join the EU. The complainant particularly disputed the headline that stated that “desperate Remainers” had launched a digital campaign, as the campaign focused on the removal of Boris Johnson from the position of Prime Minister in response to his handling of the pandemic.
4. The publication said it did not accept a breach of the Code. Whilst it initially said the word “remainer” should not have been used, it later said the article made clear that the digital campaign “outlines actions they claim are wrong-doings of the current leader including instances during the COVID-19 pandemic”. In addition, the publication provided examples of tweets posted by the complainant in which he had made reference to Brexit and included the hashtag “#JohnsonOut”. The publication also stated that the article had made reference to other users on social media who “added their voice in support of a campaign to allow Britain to re-join the European Union” and had included the hashtag alongside comments criticising the “Get Brexit Done” campaign. The publication provided some examples of these tweets. It also highlighted that the complainant had identified as a Remainer on Twitter. Nonetheless, it removed the article as a gesture of goodwill.
5. The complainant said that the hashtag, “#JOHNSONOUT” was his brand and, while it was to be used for the digital protest, he also used it on the majority of his tweets regardless of the topic.
6. The complainant did not accept the removal of the article as a resolution to his complaint.
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 acknowledged the complainant’s position that the “digital protest” appeared to have been conceived specifically in response to the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the hashtag that protestors were instructed to use – #JOHNSON OUT – had been included alongside tweets that criticised the “Get Brexit Done” campaign, including some made by the complainant, which had been provided by the publication. The article had included an image of one of the complainant’s tweets promoting the digital protest alongside the comment: “we need a credible plan to rejoin, it all starts with #JOHNSONOUT”.
8. The Committee considered that this amounted to a clear association, made by the individual leading the protest, between the digital protest and a movement to re-join the EU. Furthermore, the article had made clear that the campaign “outline[d] actions [campaigners] claim are wrong-doings of the current leader including instances during the COVID-19 pandemic” and quoted from the campaign website’s outline of its aims. The publication had demonstrated that the hashtag associated with the digital protest had been used multiple times in a Brexit-critical context, including by the complainant in the run up to the digital protest, and the article had made clear the protest encompassed concerns over other actions of the government. The publication had taken care to not publish inaccurate or misleading information, and there was no breach of Clause 1.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 03/10/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 11/02/2022Back to ruling listing