Ruling

00191-16 Portes v express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      5th May 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00191-16 Portes v express.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Jonathan Portes complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Almost 100,000 migrants stopped at UK border this year as shock figures double”, published on 23 December 2015.

2. The article reported that UK border forces had caught 92,000 people trying to enter the country in 2015; double the number caught in 2014. It said that 30,629 had attempted to enter the country between April and July 2015. The article was not published in print.

3. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that 92,000 people had been caught attempting to enter the UK. The figures had been incorrectly extrapolated from data, which covered just a few months. He considered that migration flows were seasonal and the figures could not simply be multiplied to project future numbers.

4. The newspaper said that the 92,000 figure was a projection based on Home Office data for the number of migrants stopped at the UK border between April and July 2015. It accepted that it was significantly inaccurate for it to report this as the actual number of attempted entries into the country, and explained that the piece had been based on articles published in two other national newspapers. The newspaper accepted that it had not taken steps to verify the information before publication, and explained that it had reminded staff of the importance of carrying out independent verification for future articles.

5. The newspaper amended the article, changed the headline to “Almost 100,000 migrants on course to be stopped at UK border as shock figures double”, and appended the following footnote, which it said made clear that the “projected migration figure is based on migration continuing at the same rate as between April and July”:

Correction

This article was amended on 19 January 2015. It originally said that nearly 100,000 people had been stopped at the UK border this year. In fact this was a projection for the year based on the number of people that has been stopped in the period between April and July.

6. The complainant said that the newspaper had copied inaccurate information from another publication and had failed to check it. He said the headline of the amended article remained inaccurate, and the correction was significantly misleading: the article had concerned illegal entry rather than migration flow.

Relevant Code provisions

7. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i. The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii. A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.

iii. The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

8. The newspaper had published significantly misleading information: at the time of publication, 92,000 migrants had not been stopped at the UK border in 2015. The article had not made clear that the reported number was a projection based on only four months’ data.

9. While the Committee recognised that newspapers will often have to simplify complex statistical information for non-specialist readers, it is essential that they take care that such statistical information is interpreted accurately, and presented in a manner that is not misleading. In this case, the Committee was particularly concerned that the newspaper had republished information that it had taken from other publications without taking any steps to independently verify it.

10. The newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i), which had resulted in the publication of a significant inaccuracy. A correction was therefore required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

11. When alerted to the inaccuracy, the newspaper had promptly amended the article and had published a corrective footnote. The amendments stated that the figure for the number of migrants stopped at the UK border was a forecast based on existing data for April to July, and the footnote explained that the original article had inaccurately reported the projection as an actual figure.

12. While the Committee noted the complainant’s position that numbers of illegal entries could not be accurately predicted because of the seasonality of migration, the article made clear the basis of the projection: it was a prediction based on data for April to July 2015. 

13. The newspaper had recognised the inaccuracy, and it had corrected it promptly and with due prominence. The Committee was satisfied that the action taken by the newspaper was sufficient to meet the requirement of Clause 1 (ii). There was no further breach of the Code on this point.

Conclusions

14. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial action required

15. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, the Committee can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

16. Given the newspaper’s clear failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, the Committee seriously considered whether the publication of an adjudication was required. It noted, however, that the newspaper had taken swift action to address the complaint. In addition, it had circulated a notice to staff reminding them of the importance of independently verifying information for publication. In this instance, the Committee decided that the published correction was satisfactory. No further action was required.

Date complaint received: 12 January 2016
Date complaint concluded: 11 April 2016