Ruling

00666-24 Mitchison v express.co.uk

  • Complaint Summary

    Neil Mitchison 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 “Interfering EU slams 'prison-like' UK immigration centres”, published on 8 February 2024.

    • Date complaint received

      8th May 2024

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00666-24 Mitchison v express.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Neil Mitchison 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 “Interfering EU slams 'prison-like' UK immigration centres”, published on 8 February 2024.

2. The article – which appeared online only – focused on an analytical report about UK immigration centres. In both the headline and the text of the article the report was described as an “EU report”. The article also stated that the analysis was completed by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT).

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. as the investigation and report were not by the EU. Rather, the CPT was a Committee of the Council of Europe – a completely separate organisation from the EU. The complainant said this was significant where the whole basis of the article was the characterisation of the EU as “interfering”, yet the EU had no role in the report.

4. The publication accepted that the article was inaccurate, and said this inaccuracy was caused by the reporter mistakenly reporting incorrect information by writing that the EU had published the report. Three days after receiving the complaint, it amended the article to remove the references to the European Union and added the following as a correction beneath the headline of the article:

“A previous headline of this article stated that this was an EU report. This has been amended to make clear it was conducted by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, which is separate to the EU.”

5. The complainant stated that, whilst the correction addressed the substance of the inaccuracy, he had concerns that the article was written without the publication checking whether the CPT was part of the EU. He said that this was particularly concerning given that the same publication had a previous IPSO upheld ruling against it (12549-21 Mitchison v express.co.uk) in which it similarly falsely attributed a convention to the EU, when it was actually a Council of Europe convention.

6. During IPSO’s investigation and three weeks after receiving the complaint, the publication published a standalone correction, which was also linked to on the homepage:

“A previous version of our article was inaccurately headlined 'UK immigration centres slammed as 'prison-like' by interfering EU', which gave the misleading impression that the report was produced by the EU.

The headline was amended on February 12 to make clear that the report was in fact conducted by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, which is separate to the EU.”

The publication said it did not consider the previous IPSO ruling to be relevant to this complaint, as that article was published over two years prior to the one under complaint and involved different staff members.

Relevant Clause 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.

Relevant IPSO Regulation

If a Regulated Entity offers a remedial measure to a complainant which the Regulator or, if applicable, the Complaints Committee considers to be a satisfactory resolution of the complaint, but such measure is rejected by the complainant, the Regulator or, if applicable, the Complaints Committee shall notify the complainant of the same and that, subject to fulfilment of the offer by the Regulated Entity, it considers the complaint to be closed and a summary of the outcome shall be published on the Regulator's website.

Findings of the Committee

7. The publication requested that IPSO consider whether the remedial measures it had offered amounted to a satisfactory resolution of the complaint – in line with the provisions in Regulation 40 of IPSO’s Regulations – and the complaint could be closed. The Committee considers such requests on a case-by-case basis. The Committee noted that any decision to not fully consider a complaint and to close it as having been satisfactorily remedied – and therefore deal with a concern which has already been addressed in a proportionate manner – must be weighed carefully against the public interest in IPSO making a full and reasoned decision.

8. In this case, having carefully weighed the competing factors, the Committee did not consider that the application of Regulation 40 was appropriate. It considered this to be the case in light of the fact that the inaccurate information served as the basis of the article and headline; a full IPSO decision would be able to fully examine the factors which lead to the publication of the inaccurate article in a manner which would not be possible should the complaint be closed and a summary of the outcome published on IPSO’s website; and a complaint had been previously upheld on similar grounds.

9. The article inaccurately reported that the EU had produced a report on UK immigration centres – this was included in the headline of the article. In fact, this was inaccurate, and the publication had simply confused a separate body for the EU, and had been unable to demonstrate that it had taken any other steps to ensure that its article was accurate on this point – despite the distinction between the two bodies being a matter of public record. This demonstrated a clear failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, and a breach of Clause 1(i). As the claim appeared in the headline, and effectively cast the article as a criticism of the EU where the EU was not involved in the report, this was clearly a significant inaccuracy and required correction under Clause 1(ii).

10. The article was amended to remove the inaccurate references and was updated with a correction, which addressed the initial inaccuracy and corrected it, beneath the headline three days after receiving the complaint. This represented due promptness. In addition, this correction and the standalone correction which featured on the newspaper’s homepage represented due prominence. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusions

11. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial action required

12. The published correction put the correct position on record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.


Date complaint received: 10/02/2024

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 23/04/2024