12114-20 British Fur Trade Association v Daily Mirror

Decision: Breach - sanction: publication of correction

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 12114-20 British Fur Trade Association v Daily Mirror

Summary of Complaint

1. The British Fur Trade Association complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mirror breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “THE BRUTAL, BLOODY PRICE OF A FUR COAT” published on 7 July 2020.

2. The article was a campaigning piece reporting on an undercover investigation carried out by a charity into an Asian fox fur farm.  It called for a ban on sales of all fur products in the UK and gave details of practices at the farm which had caused the charity and anti-fur campaigners concern and said that foxes’ “fur is made into coats to be sold on the high street”. The article included photographs of the fox fur farm taken during the undercover investigation. It also included a quote from an anti-fur campaigner who set out again the mistreatment which the article reported had taken place at the fur farm and said that “[The fur trade] needs to stop, and the UK is now in a unique position to take action by banning fur sales. This – and every – investigation into the fur trade shows that fur is not glamourous, it’s grotesque, it’s cruelty not couture, and it’s time for the UK to stop trading in such horrors”

3. The article also appeared online on 6 July 2020 with the headline “Skinned foxes piled in heap ‘like scene from hell’ before fur sold as high street coats”. This version was the same as the print article but included video footage from inside the farm which was investigated undercover. The video was captioned “At a farm which supplies fur to British shops”.

4. The complainant said that the article was misleading as it suggested that fur from the farm which was the subject of the undercover investigation and was pictured in the article was sold in British shops, when there was no evidence to suggest that this was the case. It said that this was significantly misleading as the sale of fur in the UK is highly regulated with welfare and legal standards, and including the farm as part of its campaign distorted the nature of the British fur trade. It said that it regulated the vast majority of fur sellers in the UK, and the farm pictured in the article would not have met its standards to be able to sell fur in the UK.

5. The newspaper did not accept that the article was misleading. It said that prior to the complainant contacting IPSO, it had removed the video from the online version of the article. In its first response to the IPSO complaint, it offered to publish the following wording as a gesture of goodwill:

“A previous version of this article included a video which stated the footage was taken ‘at a farm which supplies to British shops’. Although we did not name the farms in question, the footage was taken at farms from one of the top exporting countries of fur to the UK. We are happy to clarify this.”

The newspaper did not accept that the article stated that the fur from the farm pictured in the article and the subject of the investigation was being sold in British shops. It said that the farm was not named. It said that the caption to the video which appeared in the online article was added in error and was removed on receipt of complaint. It said that this was a single reference in the online article, and did not appear in the body of the text. It said that it simply said that fur from the farm was sold on the  “high street” which was shorthand for shopping areas and retail in general – it did not say the UK high street. However, it offered to amend the online headline to state “high street coats worldwide” in addition to the clarification set out above.

6. During IPSO’s investigation, on the 8 October, the newspaper offered to put the complainant’s position on record by publishing the following wording as a footnote to the online article:

“This article includes photographs of an unidentified foreign fur site. We have been asked by the British Fur Trade Association to state there is no evidence that fur from this particular site is sold in the UK. We are happy to clarify this”.

On the 12 October, it then offered to publish this wording as a footnote to the online article:

“A previous version of this article included a video which stated the footage was taken ‘at a farm which supplied to British shops’. Although we did not name the farms in question we have been asked by the British Fur Trade Association to state there is no evidence that fur from this particular site is sold in the UK. We are happy to clarify this.

It said that it had acted promptly by offering a correction for the online article on receipt of the complaint. It said that a footnote clarification had been previously determined to be sufficiently prominent, and that the inaccuracy was confined to a single video clip, which had been removed.

Finally, on the 15 October, it reverted to its previous offer made on the 8 October. 

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 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

8. The article was part of a campaign to try and ban the sale of fur from British shops because it said that fur farms treated the animals badly. It provided various supporting arguments, including focussing on one specific farm which had been the subject of an undercover investigation. It said that fur from the farm would be sold “on the high street” – the online version included a video which claimed that the farm was one which “…supplies fur to British shops”. Furthermore, both articles included quotes from anti-fur campaigners who used the results of the undercover investigation in support of their position that fur should not be sold in British shops. The Committee considered that the reference to “the high street” might be ambiguous as to whether it was referring to fur from the farm being sold in British shops. However, when read alongside the quotes criticising the trade of fur in Britain and placed in the context of the newspaper’s campaign to ban the sale of fur in Britain, it was reasonable to consider that the article was making a clear link between the practices uncovered at this farm and the sale of fur in British shops. The article was using the practices uncovered at this farm as the basis of its criticism of the British fur trade.

9. The newspaper was not able to provide any basis to suggest that fur from the farm featured in the article was sold in British shops, and so therefore there was a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in suggesting that this was the case. There was a breach of Clause 1(i). This was significantly misleading – the newspaper did not appear to dispute that the complainant’s position that the sale and trade of fur in Britain is highly regulated, and the farms involved are subject to strict welfare requirements. As such, suggesting that fur from a farm which mistreated foxes was being sold in British shops was significantly misleading as to the nature of the British fur trade.  The online article was also misleading by including the video claiming that the farm supplied fur to British shops. There was a requirement to correct both articles under Clause 1(ii).

10. The newspaper had offered various corrections and clarifications in response to the complaint. However, all of these offers only related to the online version of the article, although the print article was also significantly misleading. Furthermore, none of the offers made by the newspaper acknowledged that the online article contained an inaccuracy or that the print article was significantly misleading – the Committee considered that as such, the wordings did not constitute a correction. As such, the offers made by the newspaper did not satisfy the terms of Clause 1(ii)

Conclusions

11. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

12. 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.

13. The Committee considered that the article was significantly misleading as to whether fur from a farm which mistreated foxes was being sold in British shops. As such, the Committee concluded that a correction was the appropriate remedy.

14. This correction should be added to the online article and appear in the print newspaper’s corrections and clarifications column. The wording should make clear that the article had wrongly suggested that the farm supplied fur to British shops, and that there was no evidence to suggest that this was the case. 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: 29/07/20

Date decision issued: 11/12/20

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