Resolution Statement – 27884-20 Iles v The Mail on Sunday
Summary of Complaint
1. David Iles complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Doctors' strike threat in wake of virus crisis”, published on 30 August 2020.
2. The article reported that the British Medical Association (BMA) was considering industrial action in response to “years of pay restraints.” It said that doctors were “poised to strike over pay as they seek to exploit public sympathy for NHS workers in the wake of the coronavirus crisis” after “the Government announced that doctors would get a 2.8 per cent pay rise.” The article also reported that “[t]he average GP partner earns £113,000 while hospital consultants pocket an average of just under £114,500.”
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Now Doctors could STRIKE over pay amid public sympathy for NHS workers following the coronavirus crisis”.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1; there was no evidence to support the claim that doctors were seeking to “exploit public sympathy for NHS workers in the wake of the coronavirus” and the complainant considered that this was comment on the part of the publication and should have been distinguished as such. The complainant also said that it was misleading to include the pay of GP partners in the article, as GP partners are not NHS employees and therefore would not be receiving a pay-rise; he considered that, by including details about the average pay of GP partners, the article may have misled readers into believing that they would also be receiving a 2.8% pay rise, which he said was inaccurate.
5. The publication said it did not accept that the Code had been breached. The reference to doctors seeking to “exploit public sympathy for NHS workers in the wake of the coronavirus” came from a motion on the agenda at BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting, which referred to the “significant work of UK doctors and medical students in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic and that this work was performed on a background of sustained real-terms pay erosion for doctors in the UK” before going on to propose a plan of action in case the request for a significant above-inflation pay increase was not met. It also noted that whether or not an organisation or an individual is seeking to exploit something is by its nature subjective, and that readers would recognise this. It also said that the article did not state that GP Partners would receive a 2.8% pay increase, nor was it intended that the article would suggest this. Rather, the reference to GP partners’ pay was intended as an example of pay within the medical profession in the UK.
6. While the publication did not accept that the Code had been breached, it amended the online article to make clear that GP partners would not receive a 2.8% pay increase.
7. The complainant said that the publication’s response was not sufficient to address his concerns, as he still considered that the article demonstrated a deliberate attempt on the part of the publication to mislead readers, in breach of Clause 1.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. 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.
9. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
10. The publication offered to print the following clarification in its regular Corrections and Clarifications column, on page 2 of the newspaper, and as a footnote to the online version of the article:
An article on 30 Aug (“Doctors’ strike threat in wake of virus crisis”) suggested GP partners would receive a 2.8% doctors’ pay rise announced in July. In fact, GP partner pay is determined separately.
11. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
12. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 08/09/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 30/11/2020Back to ruling listing