18712-17 Purdy v mirror.co.uk

Decision: Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

Decision of the Complaints Committee 18712-17 Purdy v mirror.co.uk

Summary of Complaint 

1.    Geoff Purdy complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Theresa May sets date she'll quit as Prime Minister - giving herself time to see Britain through Brexit”, published on 26 August 2017. 

2.    In its first paragraph, the article had reported that the Theresa May had “pencilled in Friday, August 30, 2019 as the day she will quit as Prime Minister.” It also contained a photograph of the Prime Minister, with the caption: “Theresa May has revealed the date she plans to quit as PM”. 

3.    The article said that the Prime Minister was on the “charm offensive” with Tory MPs and had entertained small groups of them at her Chequers country retreat in a bid to “persuade them to give her time to complete the withdrawal from the EU”. The article contained a quote from one Tory MP, who had been a guest at one of these events and had said: “It’s clear she won’t lead us into another election and will be gone by September 2019. She invited MPs to Chequers to ensure there isn’t a leadership contest in the meantime. Giving the dogs a stroke is better than giving them a kick, I suppose”. 

4.    The complainant said that the article’s headline was inaccurate: Theresa May had not set the date she would quit as Prime Minister, nor had this been announced by either Downing Street or the Conservative Party. 

5.    The publication said that the article was based upon a statement from the Tory MP, as made clear in the article. While it did not accept that there had been a breach of the Code, it offered to amend the article’s headline to: 'Theresa May sets date she'll quit as Prime Minister - giving herself time to see Britain through Brexit, according to insiders', and the photograph’s caption to “Theresa May has revealed the date she plans to quit as PM, according to insiders” in order to emphasise that the claim made in the headline and the caption was based upon the opinion of the Tory MP. 

6.    It also offered publish the following clarification, to be published as a footnote to the article: 

In reference to a previous article 'Theresa May sets date she'll quit as Prime Minister - giving herself time to see Britain through Brexit', 26th August 2017; it was suggested that Theresa May had pencilled in a date in which she would quit as Prime Minister. We would like to make clear that the basis of this article was based on the opinion of Tory Insiders, and not from Theresa May directly.

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’s headline had stated, as fact, that Theresa May had set the date that she would “quit” as Prime Minister; this claim was reiterated in the first line of the article, which had reported that Theresa May had marked a specific date that this would occur. 

9.    The article had reported the opinion of one Tory MP who had speculated on the date which Theresa May would no longer be Prime Minister, given their belief that she would not lead the Conservative party to another election and will be “gone” by September 2019. The Committee did not accept the publication’s position that the article had made clear that its central claim- that Theresa May had, herself, set the date she would quit as Prime Minister- was based on the opinion of one Tory MP. The Committee were particularly concerned that the article had specified August 30 2019 as the day that this would occur: this had not formed part of the Tory MP’s opinion and was instead reported as a statement of fact. In those circumstances, the article’s assertion that Theresa May had set this date represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, in breach of Clause 1(i). 

10. Further, where this claim had not been presented as the Tory MP’s opinion the Committee considered that the article had failed to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact, in breach of Clause 1(iv). 

11. The claim that Theresa May had set a date that she would cease to be Prime Minister was significantly misleading: she had made no such announcement, nor had the Conservative Party. While the Committee welcomed the publication’s prompt offer to clarify the basis of the article, the article had contained significantly misleading information which related to a potential change to the head of Government of the United Kingdom. In those circumstances, the Committee did not consider that the publication of the clarification as a footnote on the article was sufficiently prominent, in breach of Clause 1(ii). 

Conclusions

12. The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial action required 

13. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. 

The publication had promptly offered to amend the headline and image caption in order to emphasise that the claim they made, was based upon the opinion of a Tory insider. It also offered to publish a clarification, which had made clear that the basis for the article’s claim was the opinion of a Tory MP and not Theresa May directly. 

The Committee considered that in order to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii), in addition to publishing the clarification as a footnote on the article, it should be published on the publication’s homepage. The clarification should appear on the homepage for 24 hours and then be archived in the usual way. The proposed amendments to the article should also now be made. 

Review

The publication 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. 

Date complaint received: 25/09/2017
Date decision issued: 06/12/2017

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