Decision of the Complaints Committee – 15320-20 Cook v Daily Express
Summary of Complaint
1. Michael Cook complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Daily Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in a letter headlined “End the PC nonsense and let’s all pull together now”, published on 14 August 2020.
2. The letter had been written by a reader who described it as “nonsense” that it was considered racist for “non-black people” to braid their hair or tan. They asked for people of all colour, race, religion or creed to “pull together”.
3. The complainant, the reader who had written the letter, said that the published letter was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) as the newspaper had edited the letter he had originally sent to be published. His original letter had also contained a sentence which stated that “Really? I suggest then that straightening hair, blonding hair, wearing western clothing etc is also racist.”
4. The complainant also said that by editing these words out of his letter the newspaper had discriminated against him as a white person.
5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that it was satisfied that not including the line that it removed did not alter the meaning of the letter.
6. The publication said that as no pejorative or discriminative language was used there was no breach of Clause 12.
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.
8. 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
9. The published letter clearly represented the complainant’s opinion that cultural appropriation was “nonsense”. Whilst the letter had been edited to remove the complainant’s argument that if it was racist for white people to braid their hair, or to tan then it should also be considered racist for non-white people to lighten their hair or change their style of dress – this did not change the central argument of the complainant’s letter: that it was “PC nonsense” for either of these things to be called racist. Where the point of the letter remained the same, the newspaper had not failed to take care not to publish misleading information and there was no breach of Clause 1(i). As there was no significant inaccuracy, there was nothing to correct and no breach of Clause 1(ii).
10. The letter did not detail the complainant’s race, nor did it include any prejudicial or pejorative references. On this basis there was no breach of Clause 12.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 14/08/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 20/11/2020Back to ruling listing