Decision of the Complaints Committee – 28851-20 Tomlin v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. Karen Tomlin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Cleaned out! Panic-buyers are faced with EMPTY shelves after Tesco customers wrestle for bargains in chiller aisle and Costco shoppers queue for 1,300ft before second Covid lockdown”, published on 3 November 2020.
2. The online article reported on an incident that occurred at a supermarket ahead of the UK’s second national lockdown. The article contained a 19-second-long video, entitled “Moment Tesco shoppers shove each other over reduced aisle”, which showed a number of shoppers jostling with each other over sale items and featured the following in-video caption: “Tesco wrestlemania”.
3. The complainant said the online article was inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1. She said the article had featured a 57-second-long video entitled “Desperate shoppers shove each other for Tesco’s discounted food” that was taken in March 2020. She said the inclusion of this footage gave the misleading impression that the scene it captured was recent, rather than, in fact, taking place during the first lockdown. She said the article failed to make this clear and suggested that it sought to cause panic amongst readers.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that it had explored the article’s entire history through its internal content management system and the 19-second video was the only video ever to have been embedded in the online article. It explained that as a standard feature across its website, once a featured video concludes, the “video carousel” then automatically plays related content, interspersed with advertisements, until the user navigates away from the page. In this instance, after the conclusion of the embedded video, archive footage matching the content described by the complainant had followed on the carousel. It said this was a common practice across online news platforms. Moreover, it said the 19-second video was footage which had been posted on social media on 2 November and shared by other publications, and was therefore contemporaneous with the news report.
5. During IPSOs investigation, the complainant provided a series of screenshots showing the video entitled “Desperate shoppers shove each other for Tesco’s discounted food” appearing in the online article. She maintained that this video had previously been embedded within the article and suggested that the publication had amended the article and “removed” the video from their archives as well.
6. The newspaper maintained that the 19-second-long video had been the only video embedded in the article since its initial publication. It noted that this was still the case and easily verified through its internal content management system, re-iterating that the video referred to by the complainant only appeared as follow-on footage from the embedded video.
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.
Findings of the Committee
7. This complaint rested on the video footage used to illustrate the article: the complainant said that historic footage had been used, without it being identified as such, while the newspaper maintained that the embedded video was contemporary. These conflicting positions arose because the publication and complainant were referring to different footage. The article had, from its initial publication to the time the complaint was considered by the Committee, included a single embedded video, which appeared to be recent footage of shoppers competing for sale items in a supermarket aisle. However, the publication operated a “video carousel” mechanism across its platform, which meant that, upon completion of an embedded video, related content would start to play, and continue until the user navigated away from the item. It was this subsequent footage to which the complainant referred. The question for the Committee was whether the presentation of the footage within the context of the article would mislead readers. In the view of the Committee, it was clear that the article was reporting on the scene captured in the embedded contemporary video. The headline of the article referred to “Tesco customers wrestl[ing] for bargains in chiller aisle”, which matched exactly both the content of the footage and its caption: “Moment Tesco shoppers shove each other over reduced aisle”. The Committee noted that upon receipt of the complaint, IPSOs Executive had downloaded a version of the article with the caption of the embedded video, at this moment in time, being “Moment Tesco shoppers shove each other over reduced aisle”. This video was separated from subsequent footage which played on the carousel, interspersed by a series of advertisements and no reference to these further videos was made in the course of the article. In such circumstances, the Committee was satisfied that it was sufficiently clear that the article was reporting on the initial embedded video, and readers would not be misled into understanding that the article was referring to subsequent footage played on the video carousel. There was no breach of Clause 1.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Date complaint received: 3/11/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/04/2021Back to ruling listing