12783-21 Kay v express.co.uk

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 12783-21 Kay v express.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Anthony Kay complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 3 (Harassment) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Unvaccinated DON’T get to live the lives the rest of us do, blasts CAROLE MALONE”, published on 11 December 2021.

2. The article was a comment piece which commented on a weekend the writer spent in Copenhagen. The article praised Denmark’s current approach to Covid-19 restrictions and suggested that its population understood that for the country to stay open you need to be vaccinated. It further argued that “As for the 5m adults [Brits] still refusing the jab – they’re the reason we’re all at risk of restrictions. It’s these people who’ll put a strain on the NHS if they catch covid not the vaccinated who are unlikely to be hospitalised. This country remains vulnerable because of THEIR human rights.” The article also asked the reader to “See how much good [people who refused the vaccine’s] human rights are when they're strapped to a ventilator gasping for breath”.

3. The complainant said the article was inaccurate to refer to the “5m adults [Brits] still refusing the jab” as figures published by the UKHSA shortly after the publication of the article suggested that 23.5 million people in England had not received any doses of the vaccine. The complainant said that if one deducted the population of children who are not eligible, that left 15 million people – three times the number referred to in the article. The complainant also disputed the claim that people who chose not to be vaccinated were “the reason we’re all at risk of restrictions. It’s these people who’ll put a strain on the NHS if they catch covid not the vaccinated who are unlikely to be hospitalised. This country remains vulnerable because of THEIR human rights” as it attributed blame to the unvaccinated and omitted to mention that the vaccine does not prevent infection or transmission. The complainant further added that the UKHSA figures indicated that “four out of five Covid-19 deaths in the last month occurred among the double and triple vaccinated”, and noted that at the time of his original complaint, the most recent variant had only been found in the vaccinated, and the majority of Covid-19 patients in hospital at that time were vaccinated. He also said that the language used in the article was insensitive.

4. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 3 and Clause 12 because it shamed and demonised those who have chosen not to receive the vaccine.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. The newspaper commented that the 5 million figure had been widely reported at the time of publication and provided several examples of where this figure had been reported by different newspapers.

6. The publication also said that since the article was published, the complainant's suggested figure of 23.5 million unvaccinated people had been investigated and debunked by a fact-checking website, which also reported the figure of approximately 5 million as quoted in Carole's column. The publication quoted the report which said: “To estimate the size of the population eligible for vaccination, the government uses the ONS estimate for the population aged 12 and over, which is 48,375,273. With 43,250,509 first doses having been given in England, that would leave an estimated 5.1 million eligible people who have not received a dose of vaccine.“

7. The fact-checking report stated that the number of unvaccinated peopled was dependent on which population estimate was used, but that either population estimate gave a result of “considerably lower” than 23.5 million. The report claimed that The Office for National Statistics (ONS) had estimated that the population was 55.6 million, in its latest estimate of 2020, whereas the UKHSA counted 62,724,319 people in England registered with the NHS. The report made clear that neither data set was infallible, but that the government used the ONS estimate. This gave the figure of 5.1 million eligible people who had not received a dose of the vaccine in England.

8. The publication said that the article was an opinion piece and was clearly presented as such. The publication also stated that while vaccinations did not completely reduce the risk of infection and transmission of Covid, multiple studies had found that vaccines had an impact on the chances of catching or transmitting Covid-19 and that vaccinations lowered the risk of transmission and infection of the virus, including the severity of symptoms

9. The publication did not accept that article breached Clause 3 and Clause 12 as they were not engaged.

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.

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.

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

10. The Committee considered the disputed figure of 5 million eligible unvaccinated Britons. It acknowledged that this figure had been widely reported during the time the article was published and that the publication had provided several examples of contemporaneous articles which also published the figure.

11. The Committee further noted that the fact-checking report calculated two possible estimates of this figure based on two data sets which had forecast two different figures of the English population. The publication highlighted the data in the report which was based on the ONS’s estimate of the population which concluded that there were approximately 5.1 million eligible people in England who were unvaccinated

12. The Committee recognised that the widely reported 5 million figure was based on an estimation of the population, for which there were different approximations. However, where the UK government used the ONS data to calculate the population, and where the 5 million figure had been widely reported, the Committee did not consider the figure of 5 million Britons to be significantly inaccurate and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

13. The Committee understood that the complainant also believed that it was inaccurate to claim that the unvaccinated were “the reason we’re all at risk of restrictions. It’s these people who’ll put a strain on the NHS if they catch covid not the vaccinated who are unlikely to be hospitalised” as it did not mention that vaccinated people were also able to contract Covid-19 and infect others. The Committee noted that the article did not make any claims that the vaccine prevented infection and transmission, but rather noted that the “strain” referred to by the columnist related to the higher likelihood of hospitalisation among the unvaccinated. As the publication had noted, multiple studies existed which showed vaccines decrease the severity of Covid-19 symptoms and, as such, the Committee was satisfied that there was a basis for this claim. The Committee also had regard for context in which the claim appeared: it was clearly presented as a comment piece and therefore necessarily reflected the columnist’s interpretation of the situation.  The Committee also made clear that, while the complainant found the article to be insensitive, this did not make the article misleading or inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

14. With regards to the complaint under Clause 3, the complainant believed the article was demonising and shaming towards the unvaccinated. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when gathering news, including the nature and extent of their contacts with the subject of the story. As the complainant’s concerns did not relate to this, there was no breach of Clause 3.

15. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 12, again, as he considered that the publication demonised and shamed the unvaccinated. As 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. The complainant’s concern did not relate to an individual, nor is choosing not to take the Covid vaccination a protected characteristic. There was no breach of Clause 12.


16. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

17. N/A


Date complaint received: 12/12/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 05/05/2022


Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.

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