Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11011-20 Raja v thesun.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Zafar Raja complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thesun.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Harassment), and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “DEADLY SPREAD Half of UK imported coronavirus cases ‘originate from Pakistan’ amid calls for tougher checks on ‘high risk countries’”, published on 27 June 2020.
2. The article reported that “[h]alf of the UK’s imported coronavirus cases ‘originate’ from Pakistan.” It went on to report that data from Public Health England (PHE) “showed 30 cases of coronavirus in people who have travelled from Pakistan since June 4 and that figure is understood to represent half of the incidents of imported infection”. It also mentioned that “More than 65,000 people travelled to Britain on 190 flights since March 1 from [Pakistan]”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as the headline of the article had the potential to mislead readers into believing that half of all UK Covid-19 cases over the period of the entire pandemic originated from Pakistan. The complainant said that this was not the case, as Pakistan had only been the source of half of the UK’s imported coronavirus cases for the period between June 4 and the article’s publication, and that more imported cases had originated from Europe throughout the pandemic. 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 impression given by the headline. He said additionally that the article was sensationalist in breach of Clause 1.
4. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 3 and 12, as he considered it was discriminatory towards Muslims and people from Pakistan and could incite hatred against these groups.
5. The publication did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the headline of the article can only ever act as a limited summary of a story and must be considered in the context of the article as a whole. It said that, by reading the headline in the context of the article, the correct position was made clear; that is, that the headline was a summary of data showing imported Covid-19 cases between June 4 and the date of the article’s publication.
6. While the publication did not accept that the Code had been breached, it noted that it had amended the headline 3 days after the article’s publication to clarify that the article referred only to the period of time which had elapsed since 4 June. The publication also amended the article itself: the first paragraph was amended to include a reference to the period which the article referred to, and the section of the article making clear that the article was based on data from PHE “which “showed 30 cases of coronavirus in people who have travelled from Pakistan since June 4 and that figure is understood to represent half of the incidents of imported infection” was moved further up the article. In addition, the publication added the following footnote to the article:
A previous headline on this article did not make clear that the time period referred to was from 4 June, and that the total number of coronavirus cases believed to have been imported from Pakistan in that time was 30. It has now been amended.
7. The complainant was not satisfied by the action taken by the publication. He did not consider it adequate to address his concerns as he considered that the damage had already been done.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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.
9. Clause 3 (Harassment)
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.
10. Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
11. 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.
12. In this instance, because no reference to the limited time frame to which the statistic related had been included in the original headline, it 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 and then mentioned a related statistic -about flights from Pakistan- that covered the period since the start of the pandemic. While the article went on to note that “[d]ata from Public Health England showed 30 cases of coronavirus in people who have travelled from Pakistan since June 4 and that figure is understood to represent half of the incidents of imported infection”, 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 therefore 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 misleading headline claim was significant and required correction under Clause 1(ii) of the Editors’ Code.
13. The headline of the article had been amended 3 days after the publication to state that “Half of UK’s imported Coronavirus since June 4 ‘originate from Pakistan’ – numbering 30 in total”; the article itself had been amended to make clear what data the article was reporting on; and a footnote had been appended to the piece recording the amendments. These amendments and the publication of the footnote, which made the correct position clear, 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.
14. The complainant’s concerns that the article was sensationalist did not engage the terms of Clause 1, which do not relate to concerns that reporting is sensationalist in and of itself. The Committee found no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
15. The complainant had said the article breached Clause 3 as in his view it could incite hatred towards Pakistanis and Muslims. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when researching a news story and is meant to protect specific people from being repeatedly approached by the press against their wishes. As the complainant’s concerns did not relate to this, nor to a specific person, the terms of Clause 3 were not engaged. The Committee also noted that any concern about inciting hatred was a matter for the police; as IPSO does not deal with criminal matters.
16. The complainant had said the article breached Clause 12 as in his view it was discriminatory towards Pakistanis and Muslims. Clause 12 is designed to protect specific individuals mentioned by the press from discrimination based on their race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or any physical or mental illness or disability. It does not apply to groups or categories of people. Therefore, the complainant’s concerns did not engage the terms of this Clause.
17. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial Action Required
18. The publication had amended the headline and the article and published a footnote which identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record. No further action was required.
Date complaint received: 28/6/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 20/1/2021Back to ruling listing