Decision of the Complaints Committee – 30113-20 de Naray v metro.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Constantine de Naray complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that metro.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “UK records 41,385 cases – highest daily total since pandemic began”, published on 28 December 2020.
2. The article reported on the daily number of new cases of Covid-19, and how many people had died with the virus. It included a bar chart which had no title, x or y axis labels or key. The bars in the chart were blue and the graph also featured a red line running from left to right across the chart towards the top of the bars. Above the graph in a red font were the words “New Deaths: 357” and underneath the graph was the caption “A further 357 people have died with the virus in the UK, government data showed.”
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that the scale of the graph suggested that the 357 new deaths reported represented over half of the deaths which had been recorded at the peak of the pandemic in the spring, whereas NHS and ONS data indicated that the figure represented less than half and less than a third of deaths recorded at the peak, respectively. The complainant considered that this amounted to scaremongering and was a clear misrepresentation of the facts. In making his complaint, the complainant said that he was presuming that this was what the graph represented, as there was no key on the graph to explain what it meant.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the complainant was conflating two different measures, and that the chart showed a daily death rate of 357 for one day only, together with a rolling average. The publication explained that the graph is updated daily by creating a new bar to reflect the number of new deaths released by the government. The red line on the chart was a ‘trend line’, which was a moving average over a seven day period. It said that this line was not meant to represent the total deaths for a particular day, which is why the line may be well above or below the death total for that day. It said that, according to the data on the government website, the highest number of daily deaths recorded during the spring peak was 1,224 and that the seven day average during the spring wave peaked at 938.3 on 11 April. On the day when the number of new daily deaths was recorded at 357, the 7 day average stood at 553.7 – more than half the daily average at the height of the spring peak, as reflected by the graph. The publication also said that the graph matched the graph on the government website, from which it sourced its data (save for shortening the graph for reasons of space which would not affect the height of the bars or the red ‘trend’ line). Where this approach was also government protocol, and had been used by the publication for almost a year and more widely by other media outlets, readers would be able to understand that the blue bars represented daily figures and that the red line represented the rolling average. Nevertheless, the publication offered to add a key to the graph if this would resolve the complainant’s concerns.
5. The complainant maintained that the article was misleading. He noted that the daily count “New Deaths: 357” appeared in the same colour as the red line, which reached 55% of the spring peak. He said that this gave the misleading impression that 357 deaths was over half of the deaths recorded at the height of the pandemic in the spring. The complainant noted that the government graph included a key and said that, in order to not be misleading, the published graph should do the same.
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
6. The complainant did not dispute that the information in the graph was accurate. However, he considered that the graph was misleading because it gave the impression that 357 deaths was over half the number of deaths which had been recorded at the peak of the first wave of the virus, as this figure appeared in the same colour as the rolling average line. The newspaper had explained the method by which it had constructed the graph and the Committee agreed that readers would understand the difference between the daily figures, represented by the blue bars, and the rolling average, represented by the red line. As it was made clear in the caption that the figure of 357 represented the further number of people who had died, the graph was not misleading by showing this figure in the same colour as the 7 day rolling average line. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point, however the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to add a key to the graph as it made the position clearer.
7. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 29/12/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 23/04/2021Back to ruling listing