Ruling

00952-19 Richardson v express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      4th April 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00952-19 Richardson v express.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Luke Richardson 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 “’RIOTS ON STREETS!’ – Theresa May warns of DANGEROUS results of second Brexit referendum”, published on 22 January 2019.

2. The article reported that the Prime Minister had “warned of a threat to democracy” in the event of a second Brexit referendum. It said that, in response to Jeremy Corbyn proposing an amendment allowing MPs to vote on such a referendum, the Prime Minister had “warned of grave possibilities”. It quoted her as saying “’There has not yet been enough recognition of the way that a second referendum could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy’”.

3. The complainant said that the article’s headline was misleading, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) in that it suggested that the Prime Minister had warned of “riots on [the] streets”, when she had not.

4. The publication accepted that the article’s headline had inaccurately paraphrased the warning which the Prime Minister had delivered; it said that a new journalist had done this in error. Within 10 days of receiving the complaint, it removed the words “Riots on streets” from the headline, and added a footnote correction to the article as follows:

Correction

This article was originally headlined "'RIOT ON THE STREETS' - Theresa May warns of DANGEROUS results of second Brexit referendum." The paraphrased line 'RIOTS ON THE STREETS' did not accurately reflect the warning given by the Prime Minister Theresa May and has been removed. We are happy to set the record straight.

5. The complainant said that these steps were insufficient to resolve his complaint.

6. After IPSO began its investigation into the matter, and within 3 weeks of receiving the complaint, the publication additionally published a standalone correction, which appeared on its homepage for between 10 and 12 hours, before being archived in the usual way. It noted that the original article had appeared on the homepage for approximately 5 hours. The correction was given the headline “Correction – ‘Riots on Streets!’ Theresa May warns of dangerous results – 22 January”, and read as follows:

On 22 January 2019 we published an article originally headlined "'RIOTS ON THE STREETS' - Theresa May warns of DANGEROUS results of second Brexit referendum."  The Prime Minister had warned Parliament of her “deep concerns” about holding a second referendum because "There has not yet been enough recognition of the way that a second referendum could damage social cohesion by undermining faith in our democracy".  However, the original headline inaccurately paraphrased the Prime Minister’s warning as 'RIOTS ON THE STREETS'. That headline did not accurately reflect the warning given by Prime Minister Theresa May and has been amended. We are happy to set the record straight and apologise for this error.

The publication also amended the online footnote correction to reflect this wording.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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

8. The complaint related to comments made by the Prime Minister, and the complaint was made by a third party unconnected to the Prime Minister. IPSO can investigate complaints from third parties under Clause 1 (Accuracy), although it does need to consider the position of the first party to the complaint, and whether the Committee is in a position to make a ruling without the involvement of the first party. In this case, the complaint related to comments the Prime Minister had made publicly, which had been reported in the article. The Committee was therefore in a position to make a ruling on whether the headline misrepresented these comments, without the involvement of the Prime Minister as a complainant.

9. The Prime Minister had expressed “deep concerns” that a second referendum “could damage social cohesion”, as the article reported. However, she had not suggested that this damage would take the form of “riots”, as the headline stated. The headline had also presented this claim in inverted commas adjacent to the Prime Minister’s name, suggesting that it was a direct quotation of her comments, which was not the case. Given that the comments were publically available, and reported accurately in the article, there was a failure to take care over the accuracy of the headline, in breach of Clause 1(i). Where the Prime Minister had not referred to riots in her comments, the headline gave a significantly misleading impression of her expressed views, which required correction to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

10.  Within 10 days of receiving the complaint, the publication had removed the phrase “Riots on streets” from the headline, and had appended a footnote correction which noted this. On learning that this action was insufficient to resolve the complaint, it had, within 7 days, published a fuller correction, both as a footnote and in standalone format, which made clear what the Prime Minister had in fact said and noted the inaccuracy that the headline had contained. This action was sufficiently prompt, and the fuller correction had appeared on the homepage, for a period longer than the original article; this was sufficiently prominent, and there was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusions

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

Remedial action required

12. The wording of the fuller correction made clear what the Prime Minister had said, and acknowledged the inaccuracy contained in the original article. The footnote correction had been made sufficiently promptly. The standalone correction had been offered sufficiently promptly, once the complainant had made clear that a footnote correction was insufficient, and had been published with sufficient prominence; no further remedial action was required.

Date complaint received: 22/01/2019

Date decision issued: 20/03/2019