Ruling

00513-22 Walker v Daily Star Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      18th August 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00513-22 Walker v Daily Star Sunday

Summary of Complaint

1. Jack Walker complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Star Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Finger-lickin' thin I quit £44 KFC meals....and shed 32 stone!”, published on 16 January 2022.

2. The article, which appeared on page 22, reported on the complainant’s recent weight loss. It said that he had “quit junk food” and “kicked his KFC habit” which resulted in him losing eight stone, and later had surgery to make his “stomach smaller”. The article reported that the complainant was “spending up to £44 a day on fried chicken meals – plus chips, battered sausages, and kebabs”. It said that “Jack [had] piled on weight after being attacked injuring his back 10 years ago” and “since breaking his addiction he is now down to 13st 8lb”.

3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Man who spent £44 a day on KFC unrecognisable after he quits fast food to shed 32st”. The article included an image of the complainant with a caption which said "Jack Walker admits to spending £44 a day on fast food chicken and tipped the scales at a staggering 45 stone"

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as he had not spent “£44 a day on KFC”. The complainant said that he had told the reporter an anecdote where he had spent £44 on KFC for a meal between four people on one occasion, and that this did not represent his daily eating habits. He accepted that he had previously had poor eating habits, including having takeaway food, but the claim that he spent £44 a day on KFC for himself grossly exaggerated his level of food intake. In addition, he said he had never had a food addiction – or any addiction. He said the journalist had asked him about addiction, and in responding to this question he had made clear that he did not have one.

5. He also said that the article was inaccurate because it omitted information he had told the journalist; such as that he had worked very hard to lose the weight and that his intentions in telling his story was to help the bariatric community.

6. The complainant also complained under Clause 12 as he said he had never had an addiction and that claiming that he did was derogatory and fat-shaming. He also believed that labelling him as an “addict” was an attack on his identity, as well as being derogatory in breach of the Clause.

7. He also considered that the newspaper had printed false information which was a direct attack on his identity as a gay and disabled man, in breach of Clause 12.

8. The publication accepted that the article was inaccurate in relation to the claim that the complainant spent £44 a day on KFC; it acknowledged that the complainant had made clear that the £44 on KFC was between four people, and that he had not stated that he had an addiction. It apologised for its error during direct correspondence with the complainant during the IPSO process and – in light of the complainant’s concerns – said it would be happy to: amend the online article by removing the references to “addiction”; amend the headline and article to make clear that the £44 figure was spent feeding a number of people on a single occasion; and to add a footnote correction to highlight the changes made, which would include an apology for the errors. During IPSO’s investigation it also proposed to publish a print correction, apologising for the error.

9. It offered the following correction, which it proposed to publish on page 2 of the Daily Star Sunday:

Our article 'Finger-lickin' thin', 16 Jan, reported that Mr Walker was spending up to £44 a day on KFC and referred to him 'breaking his addiction'. In fact, the £44 takeaway was between four people, and Mr Walker has confirmed that he does not have an addiction. We are happy to clarify this and would like to apologise for the error.

10. The publication also proposed the following wording for the online article’s footnote correction:

A previous version of this article reported that Mr Walker spent £44 on KFC a day and referred to him 'breaking his addiction'. In fact, the £44 takeaway was between four people, and Mr Walker has confirmed that he does not have an addiction. We are happy to clarify this and would like to apologise for the error.”

11. The publication also provided a copy of the agency's interview notes with the complainant, in which he discussed what he would eat on a typical day and how much he would eat in one sitting. The notes quoted the complainant as stating: “I genuinely would eat once a day because I struggled with breakfast, it would always make me sick, lunch would be the same and then I would get right up to eight/nine o’clock and I would be shaking and I would then be starving. I’m not a secret eater, I’m not a comfort eater but at that big, at 45 stone, I could barely move, so everything was takeaway […] I hate it, but to have a £44 KFC between four of us … I can’t put it into words what I’m trying to say because it disgusts me looking back at it.”

12. While the interview notes did not make any references to an addiction or food addiction, the publication said the reference to his addiction in the article had been used generically. It said food addiction is known as an “eating behaviour involving the consumption of highly palatable foods (i.e. foods high in salt, fat, and sugar) in quantities beyond homeostatic energy requirements”. It provided other examples of articles which it believed used the term in this way. The publication also did not accept the complainant’s claim that he had explicitly been asked about addiction during the interview.

13.  The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) as it did not believe the Clause to be engaged.

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.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

14. The complainant had made clear in speaking to the journalist that he had spent £44 on a KFC meal on a single occasion, and that the meal had been shared among four people – the publication did not dispute the complainant’s position on this point.  Therefore, reporting that the complainant was “spending up to £44 a day on fried chicken meals – plus chips, battered sausages, and kebabs”; that he “spent £44 a day on KFC” and “admit[ted] to spending £44 a day on fast food chicken”; and that this amount of food was for his own consumption alone was inaccurate – in breach of Clause 1 (i).

15. The Committee considered that, in the context of an article documenting the complainant’s weight loss, inaccurately claiming that he spent £44 a day on KFC for his own consumption misrepresented the behaviour that led to his weight gain in a way that was significant – particularly as it was a prominent focus of both versions of the article. Therefore, the newspaper was obliged, in accordance with the terms of Clause 1(ii), to correct this information promptly and with due prominence.

16. The Committee then turned to the question of whether the action undertaken by the publication was sufficient to avoid a further breach of Clause 1 (ii). During direct correspondence with the complainant during the IPSO process, the publication had apologised to the complainant and offered: to amend the online article to make clear that the £44 had been spent on a single occasion and not as a meal for the complainant alone; and add a footnote correction and apology to highlight the changes made. It had also, at an early stage during IPSO’s investigation, proposed to publish a print correction, which would also put the correct position on record.

17. The Committee considered that the proposed correction identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record, and also contained an apology, which the Committee considered appropriate in the circumstances, given that the inaccuracy related to the complainant’s diet and had caused him some distress. It also considered the corrections had been offered promptly – with the online correction being offered during direct correspondence with the complainant, and the print correction being offered at an early stage in IPSO’s investigation.

18. Turning to the prominence of the proposed corrections, the Committee was satisfied that page 2 was sufficiently prominent in circumstances where the original inaccuracy appeared on page 22 of the newspaper. With regard to the prominence of the online footnote correction, the Committee considered this to be sufficiently prominent in conjunction with the amendments suggested by the publication.

19. The Committee turned next to the alleged inaccuracy arising from the article’s use of the term “addiction” and took seriously the complainant’s concern that it suggested that he had a mental health condition in relation to his eating when that was not the case. Notwithstanding the accuracy concerns addressed above, about the amount and type of food he consumed, it was not in dispute that the complainant’s original weight gain had arisen from regular excessive eating, including of takeaway food – which he had now stopped. The Committee noted that the term “addiction” appeared only once and that other information about the complainant’s pattern of behaviour was provided to put this term in context. The first paragraph described it as a “habit” and the article went on to explain that he had made the decision to “quit junk food” and to “chang[e] his diet”. It also made clear that he attributed his original weight gain to a particular life event 10 years previously which left him injured and with reduced mobility. There was no explicit claim in the article that the complainant had been diagnosed with any kind of mental health condition in relation to his eating patterns.  Taken in the context of the article as a whole, the Committee considered that it was clear that the term “addiction” was the publication’s characterisation of his pattern of eating rather than a claim that he had a mental health condition. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

20. Turning to the complainant’s concerns that the article did not include information such as the wider context surrounding his weight loss journey and his role within the bariatric community, the Committee noted that newspapers have the right to choose which pieces of information they publish, as long as this does not lead to a breach of the Code. In this case, omitting this other information the complainant had told the journalist did not make the article inaccurate or misleading; the publication was entitled to focus on certain parts of his interview, in this instance, his eating habits and subsequent weight loss. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

21. Further, the Committee considered the term “addiction” and the complainant’s belief that this was derogatory in breach of Clause 12. The Committee noted that the term “addiction” could be interpreted as a reference to a perceived protected characteristic of the complainant – his physical and mental health. However, for the reasons set out in their consideration of the complainant’s concerns about the accuracy of the term above, the Committee did not consider the reference to addiction to be a reference to the complainant’s mental health. Rather, it was the newspaper’s characterisation of the complainant’s relationship with takeaway food. The Committee did not consider the article made reference to a perceived protected characteristic in referring to an “addiction”. There was no breach of Clause 12 on this point.

22. The Committee appreciated that the complainant considered the inaccuracies in the article constituted an attack on his identity and acknowledged the distress the article has caused. Clause 12 relates to prejudicial, pejorative, or irrelevant references to an individual’s protected characteristics. In this case, while the reference to “£44 KFC a day” was inaccurate, this reference did not refer to the complainant’s protected characteristics. Therefore, there was no breach of Clause 12 on this point.

Conclusion(s)

24. The complaint was upheld in part under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

25. The corrections which were offered clearly put the correct position on record, were offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.


Date complaint received: 17/01/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 12/07/2022