Resolution Statement – 29766-20 Cohen v Mail Online
Summary of Complaint
1. Mark Cohen complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “'Bonkers' NHS advert that shows 'Santa being struck down by coronavirus' before medics save him is condemned by critics for 'upsetting children' and 'looking for reasons to make this Christmas worse'”, published on 12 December 2020.
2. The online article reported on the reaction to a Christmas advert, titled The Gift. The headline was followed by a series of bullet points that summarised what the “NHS charity Christmas advert" showed and the subsequent reaction to its broadcast. The article went on to detail these concerns, noting that the advert was part of a campaign by the NHS Charities Together which “intended to celebrate NHS staff and volunteers who fought tirelessly on the coronavirus frontlines during the pandemic.” The article included the comments made by charity on social media and its Chief Executive, Ellie Norton.
3. The complainant said the headline of the article gave the misleading impression that the advert was funded by the NHS, rather than by the organisation NHS Charities Together. The complainant expressed concern that readers would be misled by the headline, highlighting that one of publication’s own columnist had shared the article on social media with the caption: “Why is the NHS wasting money on tripe like this?”.
4. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It said the headline was supported by and clarified by the text of the article, including the titles and captions of photographs, which made clear that the advert was funded by NHS Charities Together. In any event, the publication suggested that the difference was insignificant, given the aims of the charity and that the advert was for and about the NHS.
5. Notwithstanding this, upon receipt of the complaint, the newspaper offered to amend the text of online article, including the first bullet point to read “Old bearded man lies unconscious in the NHS Charities-funded Christmas advert” as well as adding a full corporate description of the charity. The complainant said this proposed action was insufficient to resolving his complaint.
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.
6. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
7. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to further amend the online article, adding “Charities” to the headline, and publishing the following, in the form of a clarification footnote:
“MailOnline notes that the NHS Christmas advert was paid for and placed by NHS Charities Together”
8. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.
9. 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: 12/12/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/02/2021Back to ruling listing