Decision of the Complaints Committee 28914-20 Garrity v The National
Summary of Complaint
1. John Garrity complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The National breached Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Scottish independence supported by majority of Scots in twelfth poll running”, published on 5 November 2020.
2. The article, which only appeared online, reported on the results of a poll surveying Scottish adults about how they would vote in a Scottish independence referendum. Both the headline and the article reported that a “majority of Scots support independence”, with the article then going on to set out the results of the poll: “The answers returned showed an eight point lead for Yes, with 54% saying they would favour independence versus 46% favouring the Union. However, 14.32% of respondents answered that they were undecided, and 0.57% refused to answer the question. When these “Don’t Knows” are included, Yes still holds an eight point lead, on 46.6% compared to No’s 38.5%.” The article and headline also said that the poll was the “twelfth poll running” to show a majority backing for independence.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that it was inaccurate to state that a “majority” of Scottish adults backed independence, as 47% poll respondents had said they would vote yes in an independence referendum. Where less than 50% had said they would vote yes in an independence referendum, the complainant said that it was inaccurate for the publication to state that a “majority” of Scottish people supported independence. While the complainant noted that the article set out the percentages of people who had responded respectively ‘Yes’, ‘No’, and ‘Don’t Know’ to the poll questions, he said that it was inaccurate to extrapolate the poll’s findings to the Scottish population without making clear in the headline that Don’t Knows had been excluded. He also said that only 3 polls since 2015 showed a majority of support (meaning over 50%) for Scottish independence, and that it was inaccurate for the publication to state that twelve polls “in a row” showed that a “majority back independence.”
4. The publication said it did not accept that the Code had been breached. It said that it was common practice both in the polling industry and the press to exclude don’t know responses when reporting the headline and top line of polls. It noted that, where the article also made clear exactly what percentage of respondents had responded ‘Yes’, ‘No’, and ‘Don’t Know’, readers would not be misled as to the findings of the poll.
5. The complainant said that, regardless of common practice, it was inaccurate to not reference that ‘Don’t Knows’ had been excluded in the headline of the article itself. He said that simply stating that the reported poll results “exclud[ed] Don’t Knows” was not sufficient to ensure that polls are reported accurately, as this did not give readers sufficient context.
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.
Findings of the Committee
6. Clause 1 (i) requires that publications take care not to publish headlines not supported by the text of the article. It does not require a headline to give the full context of the story in question, but the article must support the headline. The Committee found that the claim in the headline and opening paragraph - that a “majority of Scots” were in favour of independence - was supported by the text of the article. The article set out that support for Scottish independence was polled at being 54%, and that when undecided voters were included support sat at 46.6%, while opposition totalled 38.5%. The article set out the poll results in full, including the percentage of undecided voters, so readers were fully informed as to the basis of the headline claim that a “majority of Scots” supported independence. The Committee was satisfied that the headline was supported by the article, and did not find a breach of Clause 1 of the Code on this point.
7. The second disputed claim in the headline was that the reported poll was the twelfth poll to show “majority” support for Scottish independence. The complainant pointed out that only three of these polls had found over 50% of respondents supported independence. The Committee noted that the article had not mentioned that only when undecided voters were excluded from the data sets did support surpass 50% in the cases of all 11 previous polls. In this instance, however, given there was no dispute that in each case support for independence had been found to outweigh opposition, the Committee concluded that readers would not be significantly misled. That said, it emphasised the importance when reporting on polls of clearly stating when undecided respondents were excluded from the results.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 07/11/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/04/2021Back to ruling listing