Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10893-20 The Centre for Media Monitoring v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. The Centre for Media Monitoring complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Pakistan was the origin for HALF of Britain's imported coronavirus cases - amid calls for tougher quarantine checks from 'high-risk' countries” published on 27 June 2020.
2. The article reported that “There are calls for tougher quarantine checks on arrivals from 'high-risk' countries as it emerges half of Britain's imported coronavirus cases originate from Pakistan” and stated that “Half the incidents of imported infections are understood to have come from Pakistan since June 4 as data from Public Health England showed 30 cases”.
3. The complainant said the headline claim –“Pakistan was the origin for HALF of Britain's imported coronavirus cases”– was misleading as it gave the false impression that half of all the UK’s imported Covid-19 cases originated in Pakistan during the period of the pandemic as a whole. This was not the case, as far more Covid-19 cases originated in other countries over this period, particularly in Europe. The complainant acknowledged that the body of the article explained that the headline figure related to the period since the 4 June –which the complainant accepted was an accurate representation of statistics released by Public Health England– but did not consider that this mitigated the inaccurate and misleading impression given by the headline. The complainant also expressed a concern that the article was racist in singling out Pakistan and blaming Pakistanis for importing the virus.
4. The publication did not accept it had breached the Code. It said that the second paragraph made clear that the number of imported cases of Covid-19 originating from Pakistan, referenced in the headline, related to the month of June. Further, given the fast-changing nature of the public health emergency, it said that readers would be aware that the headline claim referred to recent statistics. It strongly rejected allegations of racism.
5. The publication amended the headline four days after publication to make clear that it referred to the period of June. It also added the following footnote: “The headline to this article has been amended since publication to make clear that the number of imported cases of Covid-19 from Pakistan into Britain related to the month of June”. Even though it did not consider that the headline constituted a significant inaccuracy, the publication said that in any event the correction made was sufficiently prompt and prominent within the meaning of Clause 1(ii).
6. The complainant considered that the correction made was inadequate. He said it should have also made clear that the specific figures came from the period 4 to 27 of June rather than June as a whole; that the 30 cases imported from Pakistan were small compared to total cases in the UK during this period; and that the majority of imported cases over the period of the pandemic as a whole came from countries other than Pakistan. Finally, he said the correction should have also apologised for the original article having been racist.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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
8. The terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code are explicit in their requirement that headline statements should be supported by the text of the article. The Committee emphasised that this should not be interpreted to mean that the body of the article can be relied upon to correct an actively misleading impression given by a headline.
9. In this instance, because no reference to the limited time frame to which the statistic related had been included, the headline gave the strong and misleading impression that half of all Britain’s imported coronavirus cases for the pandemic as a whole had originated in Pakistan. This was compounded by the opening sentence of the article, which repeated the statement. While the article went on to note that “[h]alf the incidents of imported infections are understood to have come from Pakistan since June 4”, this was not sufficient to rectify the misleading impression already given or to clarify to readers that the headline claim related only to this period. The publication of the headline amounted to a clear failure by the newspaper to take care not to publish misleading or distorted information, raising a breach of Clause 1(i). This was significant and required correction under Clause 1(ii) of the Editors’ Code.
10. The headline of the article had been amended 4 days after the publication to state that “Half of Britain’s imported Coronavirus cases reported in June came from Pakistan”; a subheadline had been added, informing readers that “Data shows 30 of the UK's roughly 60 imported coronavirus cases since June 4 came on flights from Pakistan”; and a footnote had been appended to the piece recording the alterations. These amendments and the publication of the footnote, which clarified the position appropriately, had been made promptly and with sufficient prominence to satisfy the requirements of Clause 1(ii). There was, therefore, no further breach of Clause 1.
11. The complainant’s allegation of racism against the newspaper fell outside the parameters of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. The Committee made no ruling on this point.
12. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial Action Required
13. The newspaper had published a correction, which identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record. No further action was required.
Date complaint received: 27/06/2020
Date decision issued: 26/11/2020Back to ruling listing