Decision of the Complaints Committee 10996-17 Linnane v Daily Mirror
Summary of complaint
1. Kevin Linnane complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Sea giant dead on family beach”, published on 22 May 2017. The article also appeared online headlined “Three whales wash up dead on UK coast and two are injured ‘after becoming distressed by offshore windfarm”, published on 21 May 2017.
2. The article reported that three whales had recently died “after possibly becoming disorientated.” The article included photographs of a whale carcass that had been washed up at Felixstowe, Suffolk and reported that a young whale and a dead male minke whale had also been found. The article included a quotation from a local coast rescue volunteer who said there were rumours that two further whale carcasses had been spotted in the area and stated that marine experts were investigating these incidents.
3. The online article reported that three minke whales had died, and another two had been spotted in distress off the east coast of England. The article included a quotation from a volunteer at the local Coast Patrol Rescue, who believed there may be two possible explanations for the deaths; either mud banks or wind turbines interfering with the whales’ ability to navigate using sonar. The article also reported that “environmentalists believe offshore windfarms have contributed to whales deaths in the UK in the past.”
4. The complainant said that the article contained a number of inaccuracies. He said that there was no evidence to support the claim that operational wind turbines had caused whale deaths in the UK or elsewhere. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to state that the three carcasses that had been found were all minke whales, as this had not been confirmed. The complainant also raised concern that the volunteer quoted in the articles was not an expert in this field, and believed his opinion had been inaccurately portrayed as fact.
5. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the information had been provided by two news agencies, and provided copies of these. The newspaper said that the view that the whales’ deaths may have been caused by wind farms was clearly presented as opinion, and comments about the possible effects of wind turbines made by the volunteer were accurately attributed to him. The newspaper said that it appreciated that this was an area of ongoing research and scientific debate. However, it said that it had been reported that wind turbines may have been responsible for whale deaths in the past, and said that the article made clear that this was not established as fact. Regardless, the newspaper offered to include a statement from the complainant to the online article, making clear his opposing view, and also offered to remove the statement from the online article that all three whales were minke, as it accepted that since publication this had been disputed.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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 newspaper was entitled to report the opinion of the volunteer as to the possible reasons for the recent whale deaths. While the Committee noted the complainant’s position that the volunteer was not an expert in this area, both the print and online article made his position within the organisation clear, and accurately attributed these opinions to the volunteer. The possible effect of wind turbines on whales’ use of sonar is an ongoing area of scientific research and debate. While the complainant does not support the view that there is a possible connection between wind turbines and the death of whales, where some sources do believe that they may interfere with whales’ ability to use sonar, and this speculation had been previously reported, it was not inaccurate for the online article to state that environmentalists believe wind turbines have contributed to UK whale deaths in the past. The article was not misleading on this point. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish an appended statement from the complainant stating why he disagreed with the views advanced in the article.
8. It was not confirmed that all three carcases were the same type of whale. However, where three deceased whales had recently been found in the same area, the type of whale was not significant. Nevertheless the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to correct this in the online article. There was no breach of Clause 1.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 24/05 2017
Date decision issued: 12/09/2017Back to ruling listing