Decision of the Complaints Committee 20562-17 Versi v dailystar.co.uk
Summary of complaint
1. Miqdaad Versi complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that dailystar.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined, “McDonald’s may be forced to close ALL restaurants in London Borough after hijab row,” published on 11 December 2017.
2. The article reported on a recent incident at a restaurant in north London, where a woman was stopped by a security guard and told to remove her hijab. The article reported on the wider reaction to the event and possible sanctions the restaurant chain could face as a result. It included a statement from Islington Council as follows: “it is not true that McDonalds may be forced to close all its restaurants in Islington. The council does not seek to do this, and in any case has no powers to do so.”
3. The complainant said that the headline of the article was not supported by the text, which included the council’s position that the headline claim was untrue. He said he had no direct knowledge of the incident, but speculated that it may have been the case that the restaurant at which the incident occurred could have been sanctioned by the council, and could be closed, but denied that the council had ever sought to close all restaurants in the Borough. He noted that the headline of the article had been changed shortly after publication to “McDonald’s may be forced to close in London borough after hijab row”. He said that this showed that the publication accepted that the original headline was inaccurate. He believed the new headline to be accurate, but expressed concern that the publication had not published anything on its site to acknowledge the change.
4. The publication was not able to provide a copy of the article as it first appeared, but accepted that the headline was originally that cited by the complainant. It was not able to explain the basis for the original headline claim. It said that the headline was amended three hours after publication, because an editor was concerned that it did not reflect the full facts of the story. The publication speculated that the statement from the council making clear that it did not have the power to close any McDonalds restaurants had been added to the article after publication, and after the headline change, but said it could not be sure, as it did not keep original copies of online articles. It was not able to explain why, given this statement, it believed the updated headline to be accurate. Upon receipt of the complaint, the publication added the following footnote to the article:
This article was first published on 11 December 2017 at 14.01. The original headline said “McDonald’s may be forced to close ALL restaurants in London borough after hijab row.” The headline was amended at 17.47 on the same day to read “McDonald’s may be forced to close in London Borough after hijab row.
5. While the publication was unable to demonstrate what information it had relied upon, prior to publication for the original headline, other contemporaneous news articles referred to a councillor’s demand for the council to take action against the restaurant chain in the borough. Minutes from a council meeting on 7 December 2017 recorded that an urgent motion was brought to look at what action the council might be able to take against the restaurant from a licensing perspective.
Relevant Code provisions
6. 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.
Findings of the Committee
7. The publication had not been able to provide a copy of the article as it was first published, but accepted that the headline was that cited by the complainant. Where the publication was not able to confirm whether any amendments had been made to the text of the article, the Committee proceeded on the basis that no changes had been made to the text, and considered the version of the article provided at the time of complaint, which included the statement by Islington Council that “it is not true that McDonalds may be forced to close all its restaurants in Islington. The council does not seek to do this, and in any case has no powers to do so.”
8. The Committee had serious concerns that the publication had not been able to provide any evidence or explanation of the care that had been taken over either the initial or revised headline. Both headlines were contradicted by the text of the article, which made clear that the Council did not have any powers to close this restaurant, or any other in the Borough. There was a breach of 1 (i).
9. Both headlines reported that McDonalds may be forced to close at least one restaurant in the Borough. Reporting this in the headline, when the Council had made clear that it had no power or intention to close all restaurants, represented a significant inaccuracy as it seriously misrepresented the true position. This significant inaccuracy required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). While the complainant believed the new headline was accurate, the article directly contradicted the headline claim. The proposed correction did not satisfy the terms of Clause 1 (ii) as it did not identify the inaccuracy and did not make the correct position clear. For these reasons, the Committee upheld the complaint as a breach of Clause 1 (ii).
10. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial action required
11. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.
12. The Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was publication of a correction which made clear that no McDonald’s restaurants in the Borough were going to be forced to close.
13. This correction should appear as a footnote to the original article and as a standalone correction on the publication’s homepage. It should state that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The full wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance.
Date complaint received: 11/12/2017
Date decision issued: 12/04/2018
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