Decision of the Complaints Committee – 28823-20 Amet v mirror.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Lorene Amet complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Self-styled £210-an-hour autism guru says organic chicken nuggets can help cure it”, published on 31 October 2020.
2. The article reported on an investigation into an autism specialist described as “self-styled”. The article reported how an investigator, “who has two autistic children – posed as worried mum Petra to discuss fictional Raye, seven” to have a video consultation with the specialist. It said that the “probe was triggered when a parent raised concerns about the work of Amet’s clinic – Autism Treatment Plus – which claims to have improved the development of 80 per cent of its patients”. The article contained a still image of the specialist taken from the video consultation.
3. The article, which described Raye’s diet as including “chicken nuggets, fruit juice and noodles”, claimed that the specialist had said that the child’s diet could be behind her “challenging behavioural issues” and that “organic chicken nuggets” could “alleviate” autism and “help cure it”. It reported that the specialist had sent the investigator “vegan” recipes as part of the consultation. It also said the specialist had told the investigator that “there was ‘no magic pill’ for autism. But, asked if anything would ‘take it away’, she said: ‘Number one is the diet.’”. It reported that the “National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has discredited [a change in diet] as a way of managing autism in young people.” It also stated that the specialist had suggested that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism, and that “doctors ‘do not do their job’ as autism is not reported as an ‘adverse reaction’ to the MMR jab”, and that studies which linked the two had been “suppressed”. The article reported that “experts” were horrified by the specialist’s remarks and contained a quote from a named doctor. The article said that the investigator had been sent a questionnaire, which had the tagline “autism is treatable”. The article said that the specialist had recommended various tests and “anti-inflammatories” for the child and that “further ‘treatment’ would involve working with medics in Geneva.”
4. The complainant was the specialist referred to in the article. She said that the article had breached Clause 10 of the Editors’ Code as the video consultation had been recorded and an image had been taken of her without her knowledge with a clandestine device. She said that the investigator had engaged in subterfuge by inventing a child and by concealing the fact she was working for a newspaper in order to arrange the session. The complainant said that the article was not in the public interest, as the allegations against her were false and the article was inaccurate. She also said that the investigator had an undisclosed conflict of interest as she worked as an activist for a company whose work focused on people with autism; that she had worked with the press previously and had been paid for this work; and she believed the investigator and journalist had a bias against her.
5. The complainant also said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said that she had not said that the child’s diet could be behind her “challenging behavioural issues”, nor that “organic chicken nuggets” could alleviate or “help cure” autism. She said that, in fact, she had recommended a self-restrictive diet overall, and that chicken nuggets were simply an example of how a food that the specific case had been said to consume previously could be made with healthy ingredients and less inflammatory food in line with this diet. She also said that it was a contradiction within the article to state she recommended both “chicken nuggets” and “vegan” recipes. The complainant said it was misleading for the article to report that she said “there was ‘no magic pill’ for autism. But, asked if anything would ‘take it away’, she said: ‘Number one is the diet.’” She said this was misleading as she never said diet alone would take away autism.
6. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to report that the “National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has discredited [a change in diet] as a way of managing autism in young people” and that the correct position was that it did not recommend a change of diet “for the management of core features of autism in children and young people". She said exclusion diets did not aim to address these “core features” but the physical comorbidities associated with autism. She also referred to a study within the guidelines which said six out of nine children and young people had found gluten-free diets to be beneficial, and four out of six had found casein-free diets to be. She referred to a paper written by the complainant’s company which had found exclusionary diets to be helpful. The complainant also said that the guidelines were from 2013 and may be reviewed in the future, that NHS guidance is not the most recent information, and that experts may utilise information from more recent studies.
7. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to describe her as a “self-styled” autism expert as there is no such thing as an “autism expert” as the condition is not fully understood, but that she described herself as having “an expertise” in autism on her website as she has various certificates, training, and experience within the field of autism.
8. The complainant said it was inaccurate to report that the probe was triggered after a parent raised concerns about the complainant. The complainant said she was not aware of such concerns, nor did she think such a parent would have contacted the publication.
9. The complainant said it was misleading for the article to state that her practice “claims to have improved the development of 80 per cent of its patients”, as her website did not state that 80% of families who come to her seeking advice improve due to the diet change.
10. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to report that she had suggested that the MMR vaccine is linked to autism, as she had never said this, and that she had mentioned other possible factors that may have contributed to the child’s autism. She said it was the investigator who had repeatedly brought up the MMR vaccine and asked her whether there was a link. She also said it was misleading to report she had said that “doctors ‘do not do their job’ as autism is not reported as an ‘adverse reaction’ to the MMR jab”, and that studies which linked the two had been “suppressed” as she had actually said health concerns reported by some parents following vaccination are not reported by GPs to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
11. The complainant said it was misleading to report that “experts”, including a quote from a named doctor, were “horrified” by the complainant’s remarks. She said that firstly, as she disputed that she had made the comments in the article, it was inaccurate to report that experts had disagreed with her. She also said that as only one expert was named it was inaccurate to refer to “experts” in the plural.
12. The article claimed that the investigator was sent a questionnaire with the tagline “autism is treatable”. The complainant said she did not send a questionnaire with this tagline. She supplied both the email sent and the questionnaire she intended the investigator to answer, which did not have this tagline. The investigator had also sent the complainant screenshots of the survey she had completed, which the complainant provided, and which did not contain the tagline “autism is treatable”. She accepted that the third-party website that this questionnaire came from used the tagline “autism is treatable” but noted that she did not send a document with this tagline personally.
13. The complainant said it was misleading to report that she had recommended various tests and “anti-inflammatories”. She said that, in fact, after the investigator asked what testing was available, she made her aware of such tests in response to her request. She said she also made clear there were no benefits to testing and that, therefore, she could not be described as “recommending” tests. The complainant also said she did not recommend “anti-inflammatories”, but a diet that was anti-inflammatory in nature. She said that as she did not recommend such consultations or tests, it was inaccurate to report that “further ‘treatment’ would involve working with medics in Geneva.”
14. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy) as a screenshot of the video consultation showing her face, in her home where she worked, was included.
15. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It accepted that Clause 10 was engaged, but said that there was sufficient public interest to justify the investigator’s actions. It said that a source made the publication aware of the complainant's firm and that a further source told it the complainant's firm had been mentioned to them by concerned parents in the course of their work campaigning for government regulation over unproven Autism treatments. The publication then commissioned an investigator it had worked with previously to pursue the story. The publication said that, prior to engaging in the subterfuge, there was a discussion with the editor as to what information would be collected, the means of collecting it, and whether it was in the public interest.
16. The publication stated that no other methods had been used to obtain the complainant’s views; however, the misrepresentation and subterfuge was proportionate, and had to be used in this case in order to see how the complainant engaged with a potential client, rather than a newspaper. It said that a video consultation was the usual practice in the complainant’s booking process and therefore it used this method as it was not aware of a way to receive a similar result with a lower level of subterfuge or a less intrusive method, or no clandestine device. The publication also stated that the investigation was in the public interest on the grounds that it would help protect public health and safety, and would protect the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation. The publication also said that previous investigations had found that the complainant did not disclose that her doctorate was not medical. It also stated that if parents are paying or considering paying for the therapy on the understanding that this is a legitimate medical treatment, then they were potentially being exploited and the general public needed to be made aware.
17. With regards to the accuracy of the article, the publication provided a transcript of the recording, and shortly afterwards the audio recording of the meeting. The complainant subsequently made amendments to the transcript, which were accepted by the publication.
18. The publication noted that the complainant’s website stated: “In our opinion, 80% of individuals respond favourably to a dietary modification. The improvements may include improved bowel habit, general health and well being, appetite and weight regulation, and in children with autism, improved behaviours and sleep patterns, eye contact, social communication and sensory issues.” The publication said that it was therefore not misleading to report that the complainant’s practice “claims to have improved the development of 80 per cent of its patients”.
19. The publication referred to a section of the transcript which stated the following:
Complainant: Number one is the diet – the diet, we have to change it. It is almost certain that your daughter is in pain and that’s why she wakes up. This is in part because of the diet.
Complainant: Well as I said, we remove the food which are pro-inflammatory. These foods contribute to maintaining inflammation. The inflammation could have been triggered by the genetics or the vaccine but it is maintained. She is displaying issues of health because of a sudden onset of challenging behavioural and self injurious behaviour; she is in pain. Until you change the diet, that pain will not stop. There is no magic pill in autism. Zero. I cannot give you one pill which will take it away.
The publication therefore said it was not inaccurate to report that the complainant had said that the child’s diet could be behind her “challenging behavioural issues”. It added that the article as a whole made clear that the complainant’s advice was a change to the child’s diet in general, but stated that the complainant went into a lot of detail regarding a recipe for organic chicken nuggets. It said where the complainant had said that “number one is diet” and that “this is in part because of the diet” and that she stated in another part of the transcript that children had “fully recovered” from her plan, it was not misleading to report that she had said that organic chicken nuggets could alleviate or help cure autism. Whilst it did not accept a breach of Clause 1, the publication offered to publish the following as a footnote to the article:
We are happy to make clear Dr Amet's suggestion of removing gluten from home-made chicken nuggets is part of her wider diet plan, to help people with autism. Always seek medical advice before starting any new treatment or diet.
20. The publication said that where many of the recipes supplied by the complainant were vegan, it was not inaccurate to report that she had recommended “vegan” recipes. The publication accepted the complainant’s position that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines did not recommend a change of diet “for the management of core features of autism in children and young people", and said that this did not contradict what was said in the article. It also said that there was no reference to the guidelines being updated from 2013 in the article, and added that the NHS stated that “special diets” do not work for treating autism. The publication said that during the interview the complainant had not distinguished between the “core features” of autism and what she had described as “physical comorbidities”, and noted that the complainant had said during the interview, and published on her website, that diet improved behaviour and social communication, which were considered as core features of autism by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. It was therefore not misleading to say the body had “discredited [a change in diet] as a way of managing autism in young people”. It said the study referred to by the complainant, whilst considered beneficial, did not outweigh the categorical advice not to use exclusion diets.
21. It said that the article did not question or dispute the complainant’s certifications, but said that the complainant did portray herself as an autism expert. It noted that the complainant had said that “some children have fully recovered”, despite NHS guidance saying there is no cure or treatment for autism.
22. The publication stated that the complainant not being aware of the concerns being raised by parents was not a breach of Clause 1. It reiterated that this was an important factor for the publication’s investigation.
23. The publication stated that the complainant had linked the MMR vaccine to autism. It supplied the following passage from the transcript:
Complainant: Yes,…basically, as you know the NHS and the official position is there’s no link between vaccination and it […]There’s been quite a number of studies which have suggested otherwise and of course, quite a lot of the opinion has been suppressed and people have been attacked for questioning the safety of vaccination, especially MMR
[…]As far as I’m concerned I have heard the story you are sharing, over and over - I have no doubt there are children who are affected by this. It actually fits very well with what we understand autism for some children to be. The animal model where you mimic infections when you basically cause a burdening of the immune system and vaccination is a means to cause the system to be overwhelmed. That causes inflammation, this affects brain function. This can link to gut issues, this can link to behaviour And unfortunately sometimes these changes are essentially irreversible.
Investigator: It’s terrible they’ve been getting away from it for so long.
Complainant: Yes, it is terrible. I remain - I don’t remain hopeful - but I believe eventually it will be accepted. I believe it will be. It only needs the right person in the right place - a president whose child has the same issue could completely change the whole thing and completely stop it. One person alone in the right place at the right time could do that but at the moment all scientists, all doctors, who have raised their concern have been attacked. Basically you can’t do anything. Even doctors do not do their job because normally when there is an adverse reaction you have to complete a form which is called a yellow card to flag the adverse reaction to this. But they don’t do this because they say oh no, there is no link - therefore they’re not even reporting it, saying autism is starting off at 18 months of age, it’s just a coincidence. But the reality is we have children who have been given the vaccination earlier than planned and they’ve developed the signs of autism at eight months , we equally have children who receive the vaccination much later, even age of eight, and they develop sign of autism at that point. And that doesn’t fit with the textbook description of autism and when you develop it.
24. The publication provided the emails that had been sent to experts, and the response of the doctor named in the article, which included the quote that was reported. It also stated that two other experts had commented, but had asked to remain anonymous.
25. The publication said that the investigator had been sent links to two forms to complete with questions about her daughter ahead of the meeting. One of the questionnaires that was sent to the investigator was from a website which used the tagline 'Autism is Treatable'. It said, therefore, it was not misleading to report that the investigator had been sent a questionnaire with this tagline.
26. The publication did not accept that the complainant had not recommended tests and “anti-inflammatories”. It acknowledged that the complainant had initially advised that “before investing in tests I would suggest you would start with the diet” but said that the complainant had said that the child should “go on to” anti-inflammatory supplements straight away. The complainant also explained that there were multiple tests that could be done at home in order to assess the patient’s health. The publication noted that after the session, the complainant sent a document describing tests she would “recommend”, which gave information on blood, urine, hair and stool tests, the total cost of which was £971.90. The publication also noted that during the interview, the complainant had said she worked with medical doctors who worked in Geneva.
27. The publication did not accept that the use of the image of the complainant in the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy). It said the image simply showed her likeness and there was no information included in respect of which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy. The publication also said that the use of the image was justified as it demonstrated that the investigation had taken place. It also said that in any case, there is a strong public interest in relation to protecting public health and safety and preventing the public from being misled by some statement or action of that individual.
28. The complainant said that the offered correction did not resolve her complaint, as she did not suggest removing gluten from homemade chicken nuggets or a wider diet plan “to help people with autism”, but in order to help the specific case of the fictitious child presented to her by the investigator. The complainant noted that she had been told the child ate chicken nuggets every day with no fruit or vegetables, and that she had only offered chicken nuggets as tailored to this individual.
29. After reviewing the email that was sent to the expert by the publication seeking comment for inclusion in the articles, the complainant said it contained multiple inaccuracies. She said that the quote from the expert was, therefore, gained on false pretences, and consequently that it was misleading to include the expert’s comments in the article. The email from the publication included the following information: it said the complainant had “insisted” and had “no doubt” the MMR jab was linked to autism, which the complainant disputed; it said she had recommended that “anti-inflammatories” would help the child, when she said that this sounded as if she had recommended drugs, when in fact she had recommended supplements with anti-inflammatory properties and an anti-inflammatory diet; it stated “given that parents may be taken in by claims and persuaded to spend a lot under the belief their child's autism can be 'treated'”, which the complainant said was inaccurate as she did not persuade parents who were free to choose what care they thought would be helpful to them and she did not “make claims”; it referred to “concern about unregulated private clinics in general”, which the complainant said was misleading as she was not required to register with a regulatory body; it did not list all of the recipes sent and only set out a few, describing them as “vegan” recipes; it referred to the National Institute of Health Care and Excellence discrediting exclusion diets; it said that the complainant had blamed the child’s behaviour on her diet which caused her to be “in pain”, which the complainant said was not accurate and omitted that she had also recommended laboratory testing for the further health causes.
30. The publication did not accept that the email sent to the expert was inaccurate. It said that the allegations specifically about the complainant were accurate, for the reasons previously cited, and that it was not inaccurate to describe nutritional supplements with anti-inflammatory benefits as “anti-inflammatories”. It said that the reference to parents being “taken in by claims and persuaded to spend a lot under the belief their child's autism can be 'treated'” and “unregulated clinics” was context for the expert and more general rather than being specifically about the complainant. It noted the complainant was not named in the email.
Relevant Code 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.
Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)*
i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held information without consent.
ii) Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.
The Public Interest
There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.
1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:
· Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
· Protecting public health or safety.
· Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
· Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
· Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
· Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
· Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.
2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.
3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.
4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.
5. An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.
Findings of the Committee
31. The Editors’ Code makes clear that subterfuge and misrepresentation can be justified in the public interest, which includes protecting public health and safety. The Committee considered that the investigation into a practitioner who offers paid services to help children with autism could be in the public interest as it was an issue which may concern the protection of public health and safety.
32. The publication had commissioned an investigator who had knowledge of the subject, who engaged in misrepresentation and subterfuge in order to create a fake persona to pose as a parent of an autistic child and participate in a video consultation. The Committee noted that the complainant had concerns that the investigator was not impartial – but made clear that this is not a question that fell under the Editors’ Code or was relevant to the requirements under Clause 10.
33. The newspaper said it had been contacted by a source, and had been in touch with a further source, both of whom wished to remain anonymous, who raised concerns about the complainant’s firm and the treatments which it recommended for autism. The publication also noted several parts of the complainant’s website which provided advice which appeared to contradict NHS and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines and advice for autism. The newspaper had demonstrated that it considered what information might be obtained from the use of clandestine devices and subterfuge in advance of the investigation, by discussing several questions with the editor. It had also considered the proportionality of the investigation, and it was reasonable for the journalist and newspaper to believe that they would be unable to ascertain the complainant’s usual advice for children with autism, without employing subterfuge and misrepresentation. The Committee noted that a video consultation was the complainant’s usual method of consulting with potential clients, and that the newspaper had simply arranged a consultation by the same method. The use of misrepresentation and subterfuge was justified in the public interest, in order to investigate whether the public might be being misled by the actions of the complainant.
34. The publication considered that its investigation had demonstrated that the complainant had recommended exclusion diets against NHS advice and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines; that the complainant had suggested that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism; and that the complainant had claimed that studies confirming a link between the two had been supressed. Where these views appeared to have been expressed by a health professional, the Committee therefore considered that the material gathered during the investigation concerned the protection of public health and safety and that its publication was justified in the public interest.
35. The publication had appropriately and satisfactorily considered the issues raised under the Code, prior to both investigation and publication of the information. The Committee found that the newspaper had satisfied the requirements of the public interest section of the Code; there was no breach of Clause 10.
36. With regards to the accuracy of the article, the headline stated that the complainant had said that chicken nuggets could “help cure” autism. The headline appeared to be in reference to a particular recipe recommendation made by the complainant to the investigator that the child – who was reported as eating a diet which heavily featured chicken nuggets - eat organic chicken nuggets. However, there was no basis in the article to suggest the complainant had said that organic chicken nuggets could “help to cure” autism. Indeed, the transcript provided by the publication had made clear that the complainant had said there was “no cure” for autism. It was therefore inaccurate to report that she had said chicken nuggets could “help cure it”. The publication had not taken care not to publish inaccurate information on this point, and there was a breach of Clause 1(i). As this claim was one of the factors used to discredit the complainant and appeared in the headline, it was a significant inaccuracy which required correction under Clause 1(ii).
37. The publication offered a correction in its first response to IPSO’s investigation, which was appropriately prompt in the circumstances. However, the correction offered did not address the inaccuracy, that the complainant had not said that they would “help cure” autism. For this reason, the correction offered did not satisfy Clause 1(ii) and there was a further breach of the Code.
38. The complainant had said it was a further inaccuracy to report that she had recommended “organic chicken nuggets” as part of an exclusion diet to alleviate the symptoms of autism. The complainant accepted that organic chicken nuggets had featured in a wider exclusion diet that she had recommended for the child, but this recommendation had been informed by the child’s alleged existing preference for chicken nuggets as a primary component of her diet. . The Committee noted that the article included a reference to the child’s supposed diet, which it reported as “ including chicken nuggets, fruit juice and noodles”. The context for recommending chicken nuggets was therefore included within the article, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Where many of the recipes sent by the complainant to the investigator were vegan, it was not inaccurate to report that the complainant had sent “vegan recipes”. In addition, the complainant had said it was misleading for the article to report that she said “there was ‘no magic pill’ for autism and that she had never said that diet alone would take away autism. As noted in paragraph 15 above, asked if anything would ‘take it away’, she had said: “Number one is the diet….until you change the diet, that pain will not stop…” The complainant had also said “There is no magic pill in autism. Zero. I cannot give you one pill which will take it away”. During the course of the investigation, the complainant accepted she had said these quotes and there was no breach of the Code on these points.
39. It was accepted by both parties that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence did not recommend a change of diet to manage what it described as the core features of autism”. These guidelines described the core features of autism as “differences and impairments in reciprocal social interaction and social communication, combined with restricted and stereotyped interests and activities, and rigid and repetitive behaviours in children and young people”. The complainant had said that communication could be helped by a change in diet. It was, therefore, not misleading for the article to report that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence had discredited a change in diet as a way of managing autism in young people, where the body did not recommend a change in diet in order to manage the features which had been referred to by the complainant. There was no breach of Clause 1.
40. The complainant had accepted that her personal page on her website stated "I have an expertise in autism". The Committee acknowledged that the complainant had many qualifications, certificates, and publications in the field of autism. However, as the complainant described herself as having an expertise, and where the article did not cast doubt on the complainant’s qualifications and certificates, it was not inaccurate to describe her as a “self-styled” autism expert, and there was no breach of Clause 1.
41. The complainant said she doubted that a parent had raised concerns about her, as she was not aware of any parents having concerns, and did not believe that they would approach a newspaper about them. Whilst it may have surprised the complainant that a parent had gone to the newspaper with such concerns, this complaint was based on speculation alone, and the publication had a duty to protect its sources under Clause 14. There were no grounds for the Committee to find a breach of Clause 1 on this point.
42. Where the complainant accepted that her website said “In our opinion, 80% of individuals respond favourably to a dietary modification. The improvements may include improved bowel habit, general health and well being, appetite and weight regulation, and in children with autism, improved behaviours and sleep patterns, eye contact, social communication and sensory issues”. It was, therefore, not misleading for the article to state that the complainant’s practice claimed to have improved the development of 80% of its patients. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
43. The complainant said she had never suggested that the MMR vaccine was linked to autism. However, the complainant accepted the accuracy of the transcript as detailed in paragraph 19 of this decision. The Committee considered that the complainant’s position, as recorded, could accurately be characterised as the complainant suggesting a link between autism and the MMR vaccine. Additionally, where the complainant accepted that she had said: “all doctors, who have raised their concern have been attacked. Basically you can’t do anything. Even doctors do not do their job”, it was not inaccurate to report that she had said that “doctors ‘do not do their job’”, and that studies which linked the two had been “suppressed”. The fact that the investigator had asked questions specifically about this did not make reporting the complainant’s response misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
44. The complainant accepted that the third-party website she used for questionnaires contained a tagline that stated “autism is treatable”. The link to the third party website was included in the questionnaire sent to the investigator. In addition, the Committee noted that whilst the complainant had said that there is no “cure” or “treatment” for autism, the name of her company was “Autism Treatment Plus”. The publication appeared to acknowledge that the questionnaire did not carry the tagline. Nonetheless, where the third-party website linked to in the questionnaire emailed to the investigator used this tagline and the complainant’s company name referred to “Autism Treatment”, it was not significantly inaccurate to report that the investigator had been sent a questionnaire with the tagline “autism is treatable”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
45. The complainant accepted she had said “We will need to assess the full extent of your daughter’s health through laboratory testing” and had then sent a document to the investigator after the session, which stated “I enclose below some information below on the tests we recommend”. The complainant had also accepted that the tests would be analysed and prescriptions would be made by doctors in Geneva. On this basis, it was not misleading for the article to report that the complainant had recommended tests, or that treatment would involve working with “medics in Geneva”. In addition, the Committee found that it was not significantly inaccurate to describe supplements with anti-inflammatory properties as “anti-inflammatories”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
46. For the reasons given above, the Committee found that the email which had been sent by the publication to the expert, which contained the same allegations as within the article, was not inaccurate. It was, therefore, not inaccurate to include the quote provided by the expert in the article in response to the allegations. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
47. The Committee noted that the image of the complainant used in the article was taken through a video platform whilst she was in her home and was taken without the complainant’s consent or knowledge. However, it noted that it was taken whilst the complainant was acting in her professional capacity, and provided a view of her that she openly shared with her clients and potential clients without restrictions, through her video consultations. In such circumstances, the Committee considered that the complainant did not have the same expectation of privacy as someone’s home would normally afford. In addition, the Committee noted that the image had been published to demonstrate that the investigation had taken place. In all the circumstances, the Committee did not find that the publication of the image intruded into the complainant’s private life, and there was no breach of Clause 2.
48. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1.
Remedial Action Required
49. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, 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 terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
50. The Committee considered that the publication did not take the necessary care when reporting that the complainant had stated that chicken nuggets could “help cure” autism. The Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on record. A correction was considered to be sufficient, as the claim was not the central point of the article, which reported on the full recommendations provided by the complainant in the video consultation, and the publication had promptly offered a correction to address the claims that had been found to be inaccurate, notwithstanding the Committee’s finding that the wording offered was not sufficient to address the inaccuracies fully.
51. The Committee then considered the placement of the correction. The correction should be added to the article and appear as a standalone correction in the online corrections and clarifications column, as the wording which required correction had appeared in the headline. The wording of the correction should only include information required to identify the inaccuracies and provide the correct position: that the complainant had not stated that chicken nuggets could “help cure” autism. The wording should also 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. If the publication intends to continue to publish the online article without amendment, the correction should be published beneath the headline. If the article is amended, the correction should be published as a footnote which explains the amendments that have been made.
Date complaint received: 02/11/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/09/2021
Independent Complaints Reviewer
The complainant 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.Back to ruling listing