Decision of the Complaints Committee – 17743-23 Yallop v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Jeremy Yallop complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Covid's ghost children cannot be forgotten”, published on 27 March 2023.
2. The article was a comment piece which described a report from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). The article reported that the number of “ghost children”, defined as “severely absent children not at their school desks more than 50 per cent of the time” had increased “dramatically” since the Covid lockdowns. The article also reported that “[s]ome children are now being schooled at home. Whilst a number will be receiving a good education, sadly evidence shows that’s not true for the majority.”
3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Covid’s lost children must not be forgotten” and was published on 26 March in substantially the same format.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He acknowledged that the article was a comment piece, but he said it was inaccurate to report ”evidence show[ed]” that “the majority” of children being educated at home were not receiving a good education. He said that no such evidence existed, and in fact, the available evidence showed that the majority of children being schooled at home were receiving a good education.
5. The publication did not initially accept a breach of the Code. It referred to the report which was the basis of the article, and said there was a difference between children who are at home but registered with a school (which could include severely absent children), and children educated at home who are not on a school roll and were educated by their guardians. The publication said that the report found there was a link between absence and poor academic attainment, and therefore considered that the article was accurate.
6. The complainant disputed this – and said that the report actually described “home schooling” as referring to the arrangements during Covid restrictions – and that this was a completely separate matter to severe absence.
7. The publication responded, 11 days after it had received the complainant’s initial complaint, by stating it had removed the reference to home schooling in the online article, and had added a footnote clarification to the article which stated:
This article has been amended to remove reference to home schooling as it is unrelated to absence.
8. When IPSO began its investigation on 1 June, the publication stated that it considered the matter was not straightforward – as many children who were persistently absent were likely to have received some level of education at home. In its first substantive response to IPSO’s investigation on 8 June it offered to publish the following wording in both its print corrections and clarifications column, and as an updated footnote:
“Our article, ‘Covid’s ghost children cannot be forgotten’, reported that evidence showed the majority of children educated at home did not receive a good education. We did not make clear that this was the writer’s opinion, rather than fact. Evidence does not show that those who are registered as home educated receive a lesser education than children in schools.”
9. The complainant did not accept the correction as a resolution. He said the sentence under complaint was not an opinion – it was simply inaccurate. Furthermore, he said that the original inaccuracy had referred to children “schooled at home”, whereas the proposed correction by the publication referred solely to children “registered as home educated”.
Relevant Clause 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.
Findings of the Committee
10. The article had stated as fact that “evidence” showed that the “majority” of children “schooled at home” were not receiving a good education. The publication had not provided any evidence to support this claim, nor did it set out what care it had taken not to publish inaccurate information when making this claim. In these circumstances, there was a breach of Clause 1(i). As the inaccuracy related to the education of children , and in particular the effects of Covid on education – a topic of national importance – the inaccuracy was significant and required correction under Clause 1(ii).
11. The Committee next considered the publication’s proposed correction. The Committee considered that – notwithstanding the fact that the article was an opinion piece – the claim regarding “evidence” was a claim of fact, rather than a matter of opinion, and the claim of fact was inaccurate. The inaccurate claim of fact was not acknowledged in the wording proposed by the publication, which said that this was an opinion that had not been distinguished as such. In addition, the correction referred to children who were “registered as home educated” which, as had been set out by the complainant, did not have the same meaning as “children schooled at home” – which had a much broader meaning. The Committee also raised concerns that the publication had not offered a substantive correction on the point, despite knowing the complainant’s position, until IPSO’s investigation on 1 June – two months after first being made aware of the error, and after email exchanges with the complainant in which it defended the accuracy of the article. In these circumstances, there was a breach of Clause 1(ii).
12. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.
Remedial action required
13. 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 an adjudication; the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
14. The article reported, as fact, that there was evidence which stated the majority of children schooled at home were not receiving a good education. The publication had not been able to provide the evidence which showed this. The publication had offered a correction – but not one that the Committee considered fulfilled the requirements set out in Clause 1 (ii). However, where the publication had deleted the information from the online article and offered remedial action, the Committee considered that a correction was the appropriate remedy. The correction should acknowledge that the article had referred to evidence which stated the majority of children schooled at home were not receiving a good education, and should also put the correct position on record, namely that there was no such evidence.
15. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. The correction should be published in the publication’s print Corrections and Clarifications column and as a footnote to the online article. The wording should 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.
Date complaint received: 27/03/2023
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 04/08/2023
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