Ruling

00505-22 Various v mirror.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      7th April 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00505-22 Various v mirror.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. The Independent Press Standards Organisation received various complaints that mirror.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “BREAKING UK Covid deaths hit 332 in just 24 hours as infections reach record 189,213”, published on 30th December 2021.

2. The article reported on the daily number of new cases of Covid-19, and how many people had died with the virus. It reported that a “further 189,213 people have been infected with Covid over the past 24 hours in the UK”, adding that as “the Omicron variant takes hold, 322 people died of the virus, up from 57 confirmed deaths yesterday”. It said that the figures from NHS England included data from Wales covering a two-day period and a “backlog of hospital deaths covering the period from December 24-29”. The headline and a link to the article was also published on the publication’s official Twitter page.

3. IPSO received 19 complaints about this article and the Twitter post, all of which raised similar concerns. The complainants said the headline was inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1, to report that Covid deaths “hit 322 in just 24 hours”. This figure did not relate to a 24-hour period; rather, it included a backlog of hospital deaths covering the period of 24th and 29th December. Complainants said that the article, and accompanying social media post, misreported publicly available data and in doing misrepresented the number of deaths caused by the new variant, with some saying that this amounted to scaremongering. In light of the volume of complaints received, and where the specific input of a complainant was not necessary, IPSO decided to summarise the complaints for the purpose of investigating the complaint on behalf of the complainants.

4. The publication accepted that the headline was inaccurate. To address this, the publication had amended the headline of the article within two hours of publication. The updated headline read: “UK Covid infections reach record high of 189,213 as further 322 deaths reported”. Upon receipt of the complaint from IPSO, on 24th January 2022, and 25 days after the article’s publication, the newspaper added a correction to the online article. This correction, which appeared beneath the headline, read:

“A previous headline of this article reported that 'Covid deaths hit 332 in just 24 hours'. In fact, the figure of 332 related to the number of deaths between the 24th and 29th December 2021. We are happy to clarify this and confirm that the article was corrected shortly after publication on 30 December.”

5. The publication also confirmed that the following statement was published by the newspaper’s official Twitter account on 25th January 2022, with the original tweet also removed:

“A previous headline of an article tweeted on 30 December reported 'Covid deaths hit 332 in just 24 hours'. In fact, 332 figure related to the number of deaths between 24 and 29 December. We are happy to clarify this and confirm the article was corrected shortly after publication.”

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. Clause 1 (i) makes clear that – in addition to taking care not to publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information – publications must take care not to publish headlines not supported by the text of the article. This extends to posts on social media too.

7. In this instance, the figures published by NHS England did not show that UK “Covid deaths hit 332 in just 24 hours”. Rather, the figure of 332 included a backlog of deaths in the period of the 24th to 29th December 2021. This had been made clear on the government website where the statistics had been initially published. As such, the publication of the headline, and accompanying Twitter post, breached the requirement in Clause 1 (i) to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. Both the headline and Twitter post were not supported by the text of the article and were significantly inaccurate. They misrepresented the number of Covid-19 deaths during a specific time period, information that was available and accessible at the time of publication and upon which the article was based. For this reason, both the headline and accompanying Twitter post required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

8. The Committee then considered whether the actions taken by the publication were sufficient to avoid a further breach of Clause 1 (ii). The newspaper had amended the headline of the online article within hours of the article’s publication and the Committee welcomed the promptness of this action. Notwithstanding this, the Committee considered that given the prominence of the inaccuracy and significance of the subject matter, the publication of a correction was necessary to meet the requirement of Clause 1 (ii) that corrections should be duly prominent. Upon receipt of the complaint from IPSO, the newspaper added a correction to the online article, which appeared beneath the headline; it also removed the disputed tweet and published a correction addressing this inaccuracy. Both corrections identified the inaccuracy, put the correct position on record, and were deemed sufficiently prominent. However, the Committee did not consider that these actions were sufficiently prompt to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii), given the delay between when the newspaper became aware of the inaccuracies and when it put the correct position on record, as it was required to do under the Editors’ Code.  As such, there was a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusion(s)

9. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

10. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In coming to a view on the appropriate remedy in this case, the Committee considered the seriousness and extent of the breach of the Editors’ Code. It also noted that the steps taken by the publication, both prior to and during IPSO’s investigation, to address and correct the inaccuracies.

11. While the Committee had recorded its view that the corrections had not met the requirement under 1(ii) with respect to promptness, in circumstances where the publication had promptly amended the article and had subsequently published a correction after being made aware of the complaint to IPSO, the Committee did not consider that further action was required.


Date complaint received: 30/12/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/03/2022