Decision of the Complaints Committee – 20285-23 Khan v The Sun
Summary of Complaint
1. Shoaib M Khan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “I share your anger at the legal wrangle - Only a noisy few are against Rwanda flights”, published on 30 June 2023.
2. The article was a first-person comment piece attributed to a former Home Secretary, expressing her critical opinion of the Court of Appeal decision on the Rwanda immigration plan. It contained an image of the Home Secretary with the caption "I share your anger at Rwanda legal wrangle but only a noisy few are against the flights, says former Home Secretary".
3. The Home Secretary wrote, “when I stood down as Home Secretary last September, the Rwanda partnership was part of a wide range of measures and investments I’d put in place to tackle illegal migration. This included measures in the Nationality and Borders Act to streamline the asylum process, stop the never-ending and spurious claims some were making and prevent claims being made by people who enter the UK illegally. I had also developed plans for Greek-style reception centres and new detention facilities for those breaking the law. They would have helped process those who arrive more quickly, facilitated prompt removals with operational plans in place for flights to Rwanda, and deterred people from coming to the UK. I also secured a returns agreement with Albania, so Albanians entering the UK and claiming asylum could be sent back. All of those plans, along with the Rwanda partnership, need implementing in full and at pace by the Government. While most of the public back them, and opinion polls consistently show support for the Rwanda partnership, there is a minority who oppose it".
4. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form under the headline “PRITI PATEL I share your anger at Rwanda legal wrangle but only a noisy few are against the flights”.
5. The complainant said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He disputed that the majority of the public in the United Kingdom supported the Rwanda partnership and denied that only a “noisy few” opposed it. He said no poll showed “most of the public” backed the plan. He cited nine polls, including: an April 2022 YouGov poll, which found that marginally more people opposed the deal than supported it (42% to 35%); a Savanta poll conducted the same month found that while 47% of voters said they supported the idea, 26% said they were against; an Ipsos Mori poll that showed 21% strongly opposed to the scheme and 21% strongly supported it. Overall, 40% said they supported the scheme and 33% said they were opposed.
6. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It disputed the complainant’s interpretation of the article. It said the article did not report “most of public” backed the Rwanda plan, but rather “most of the public” backed the three other measures outlined in the article: “the Nationality and Borders Act to streamline the asylum process”, a “Greek-style reception centres and new detention facilities for those breaking the law”, and a “returns agreement with Albania”.
7. The publication also did not accept it was inaccurate to report polls, “consistently show support” for the Rwanda partnership or that only a “noisy few” opposed it. It said the article never said this was majority support; it also noted the term “few” was subjective. It shared data to support its position. This included: a poll it had commissioned in partnership with YouGov which showed 46% of the public supported the Rwanda policy, with 38% against and another YouGov poll conducted which found over 40% of those asked supported the proposal. It also cited polls by Savanta and The Mail which both found 47% of the public supported the policy, with 25% and 26% respectively against the policy. It said these all indicated there was “consistent” support for the plan.
8. Although the publication did not accept the article was inaccurate, it agreed to amend the sentence in the article “while most of the public back them, and opinion polls consistently show support for the Rwanda partnership there is a minority who oppose it” to “opinion polls consistently show there is support for the Rwanda partnership”. It also agreed to add an asterisk to the article which stated, “based on YouGov data resulting from fieldwork conducted between 26th - 28th April 2023, and published in The Sun on 1 May 2023, which reported that 46% of the public support the Rwanda proposal, 38% oppose it and 16% ‘don’t know’”. It also offered to publish the following in its usual “Corrections and Clarifications” column:
30 June article stated that 'most of the public' back plans to address immigration, including sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. Support for the Rwanda scheme is based on YouGov data resulting from fieldwork conducted between 26th - 28th April 2023, published in The Sun on 1 May 2023, which reported that 46% of the public support the Rwanda proposal, 38% oppose it and 16% “don’t know”.
9. The complainant did not accept this as a resolution to his complaint.
10. The publication then agreed to publish additional wording to the article, but specified this was “only the basis of what perhaps could have been mistakenly understood by it, not what it meant”. The publication said it would publish the following wording:
30 June article could have been taken to mean that 'most of the public' backed the Rwanda plan and 'only a noisy few' oppose it. This interpretation would have been incorrect. Some polls have found greater support for the plan among the public and some greater opposition. For instance, a YouGov poll published in The Sun on 1 May 2023 reported that 46% of the public support the Rwanda proposal, 38% oppose it and 16% "don't know". Other polls in April showed 41-47% in favour and 25-28% against. We are happy to clarify.
11. The complainant did not accept this wording as a resolution to his complaint.
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
12. The Committee first considered whether the article had, as the complainant suggested, reported, “most of the public” backed the Rwanda plan. The Committee accepted there was a degree of ambiguity in the wording if the phrase was read in isolation. However, it is important to read articles as a whole. When the entire paragraph was read, the Committee considered it clear that the reference “while most of the public back them” related to the plans discussed immediately before the reference “all of those plans” – namely the three separate measures outlined in the article. The article indicated the Rwanda partnership was a separate matter by the words “along with the Rwanda partnership”. While the Committee welcomed the publication’s clarification on the meaning of this sentence, it did not consider the complainant’s interpretation of the article to be accurate. As such, the evidence the complainant had provided did not contradict the article, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. However, the article did clearly state that “opinion polls consistently show support for the Rwanda partnership” and that it was only opposed by “a noisy few”. The Committee considered the “noisy few” point to relate to the minority of people polled in relation to the Rwanda policy, given the reference to “it” in the sentence “while most of the public back them, and opinion polls consistently show support for the Rwanda partnership, there is a minority who oppose it”, and the following paragraph’s reference to “those naysayers [meaning the minority referenced in the previous paragraph] have sought to smear Rwanda and make unfounded claims about this policy”. “Support” for a plan and opposition by a “few” are – to a degree – vague statements and there is scope for different interpretations of these quantities. However, to demonstrate the publication had taken care not to print inaccurate information in reporting these amounts, it needed to demonstrate its basis for this characterisation of the proportion of people who were for and against the plan, as well as its basis for characterisation this support as “consistent”. Where the publication was able to show multiple polls from multiple different polling companies that showed more people were for than against the policy, the Committee did not consider it to be inaccurate to report there was “consistent support” for the plan or only a “noisy few” opposed it. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 01/08/2023
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 31/10/2023
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