Resolution Statement 29189-20 Doyle v Daily Mail

Decision: Resolved - IPSO mediation

Resolution Statement 29189-20 Doyle v Daily Mail

Summary of Complaint

1. Arthur Doyle complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Covid: what they don’t tell you”, published on 21 November 2020.

2. The article was an examination of statistics relating to the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK. It included several graphs, one of which was titled “Fatalities aren’t any higher.” The graph plotted “[f]atalities per week in 2020 compared with the upper and lower limits of deaths for the past 5 years, taking account of population growth.” The graph stated that excess death figures for week 44 of 2020 were 10,887, compared to the 5-year high of 10,861. The 2020 figures did not extend past week 44. The following quote appeared below the graph: “Source: ONS Weekly Deaths Report November 10. Upper / Lower Range. Adjusted for Population Growth. Produced by: The Statistics Guy.”

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “What they DON'T tell you about Covid: Fewer beds taken up than last year, deaths a fraction of the grim forecasts, 95% of fatalities had underlying causes... and how the facts can be twisted to strike fear in our hearts”. The title of the graph showing fatalities per week had a different title; in the online version it was titled “Fatalities are barely any higher.” The graph was otherwise identical to its print counterpart.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that, while the graph “Fatalities aren’t any higher” stated that the figures “had been adjusted for population growth”, it appeared that it had been adjusted to account for a greater population growth than had actually occurred in the UK over the preceding 5 years; he noted that the population growth between 2015 and 2019 was an estimated 2.7% according to the Office of National Statistics, or an average of 0.7% per year. He went on to note that the graph had been taken from a twitter account which had since been deleted after the original creator of the graph had stated that he had “"noted an error" and said that he "should have been more rigorous in ensuring [his version of the chart] was deleted". Therefore, he did not consider that the publication had taken care over the accuracy of the graph, where it appeared that it had taken it from an unverified twitter account who had made unknown adjustments to population data and later deleted the graph and the account on which it had originally been published.

5. The complainant also said that the graph was misleading in breach of Clause 1, as it only included data up to and including Week 44 of 2020, when data for Week 45 was available at the time of publication and would have shown the beginning of an increase in the number of fatalities.

6. The publication did not accept that Clause 1 had been breached.  It supplied a tweet from the original graph creator, taken from his new account, which stated that the graph had been adjusted for population growth and to account for demographic change. It noted that birth rates in the UK had been falling, decreasing by nearly 50,000 per year between 2013 and 2019, and that there had been significant increases in the number of elderly people in the UK in the same period. It went on to state that the graph had been created by a “a statistician who had taken a detailed interest in this area and had been posting weekly updates on Covid deaths on his popular Twitter feed.” It noted that it was widely accepted practice to adjust data to take account of factors such as population growth and changes in population demographics, and that adjusting the graph data to reflect these changing demographics and population growth did not represent inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information.

7. The publication also said that it had not deliberately omitted the data for Week 45 of 2020. In this instance, data for Week 45 had not been available to the graphics department at the newspaper when creating the graph; it used the “latest information available” to compile the graph, which at that time did not include Week 45 data.

8. While the publication did not accept that the Code had been breached, it accepted that, as it did not specify exactly what adjustments had been made to the graph data, it may have confused readers. To address any potential confusion, the publication said that it had – upon receiving complaints outside of the IPSO process from readers – replaced the online article graph titled “Fatalities are barely any higher” with another graph (with the same title) which included data from Week 45 and plotted fatalities in 2020 with a 5-year average. It had also updated the online article to include the following footnote:

This article has been updated to include a graph based on ONS figures comparing weekly deaths with the corresponding five-year average rather than against minimum and maximum weekly deaths over the past five years independently adjusted for population growth.

Relevant Clause Provisions

9. 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.

Mediated Outcome

10. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

11. The publication offered to print the following clarification in its regular Corrections & Clarifications column on page 2 of the print newspaper; and also in its regular online Corrections and Clarifications column:

An article on November 21 about the government’s use of Covid statistics included a graph headlined ‘fatalities are barely any higher’ which compared weekly 2020 deaths up to week 44 against the minimum and maximum weekly deaths over the past five years ‘adjusted for population growth’. In fact, the figures were also adjusted for demographic changes. As the article made clear, according to ONS data, deaths in week 45 were ‘11,812 which was 14.3 per cent, or 1,481 deaths higher, than the five-year average.’

12. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

13.  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: 24/11/2020

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/03/2021

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