Ruling

02745-21 Ormerod v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      29th July 2021

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 02745-21 Ormerod v Daily Mail

Summary of Complaint

1. Steven Ormerod complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “‘RECKLESS’ EU SNUBS UK JAB”, published on 16 March 2021.

2. The front-page headline was followed by the sub-heading “Experts’ fury as France, Germany, Italy and Spain ‘risk lives’ by halting Oxford vaccine over blood clot fears”. The opening paragraph reported that “European leaders” were accused of “risking lives” by suspending the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The article went on to report that this decision went “against the advice of the bloc’s own medicines watchdog” – the European Medicines Agency – that said the benefits of the vaccine, produced by the “Anglo-Swedish drug firm” outweighed the risks of potential side effects. The article continued from the frontpage on to page 4 and 5 of the newspaper.

3. The complainant said the headline was significantly misleading on two points. First, it gave the false impression that the European Union (EU), rather than individual member states, had suspended the use of the vaccine. Second, it misleadingly described the vaccine as the “UK JAB” when AstraZeneca, the firm that had developed this particular vaccine against Covid-19, was an Anglo-Swedish company.    

4. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code.  It did not consider that the complainant’s first point of complaint represented an inaccuracy. It said that the headline was supported and clarified first by the prominent sub-heading which made clear that “EU snub” was a reference to individual members states, such as “France, Germany, Italy and Spain […] halting [the] Oxford vaccine”, with the text of the article then identifying the other sovereign states that had suspended the use of this particular vaccine. These included Portugal, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Bulgaria, and Norway. It also noted that the opening paragraph of the article made clear that “European leaders” were accused of risking lives by suspending the use of the vaccine. It further suggested that the term “EU” was not restricted to mean only the EU or EU institutions, but was shorthand for “EU countries”, highlighting that this was common practice amongst newspapers. In order to demonstrate this, the newspaper provided a number of articles from a range of publications.

5. In addition, the newspaper did not accept that the headline was significantly misleading to refer to the AstraZeneca vaccine as the “UK JAB”. It noted that the text of the article made clear it was an “Anglo-Swedish drugs firm” that produced the vaccine. In any event, it noted that the vaccine was developed in large part, particularly in the early stages of its development, through the work of the University of Oxford and readers would not be misled as to what vaccine the headline referred to.  The newspaper noted that the “UK Jab” was becoming something of an accepted colloquial term for the vaccine, with a number of other national publications describing it in these terms or alternatively the “UK vaccine” or “Oxford vaccine”.

6. Whilst the newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code, it offered, in an effort to resolve the matter three weeks into IPSOs investigation, to publish the following clarification in their established Corrections and Clarification column, which appears on page 2:

“An article on March 16 about the decision by European leaders to suspend the Oxford vaccine carried the headline ‘“Reckless” EU snubs UK jab.’ As the sub-headline and article made clear, the word ‘EU’ in the headline referred to ‘EU countries’ – including France, Germany, Italy and Spain – which had halted the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine. As the article also made clear, these countries were acting against the advice of the European Medicines Agency.”

7. The complainant did not accept this offer of resolution, noting that it was not a “correction, nor an apology” and requested that the Committee make a ruling on the matter.

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

8. The terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code are explicit in their requirement that headline statements should be supported by the text of the article. The Committee emphasised that this should not be interpreted to mean that the body of the article can be relied upon to correct an actively misleading impression given by a headline.

9. The article started on the newspaper’s front page with the headline claim that the “EU” had “snub[bed]” the AstraZeneca vaccine. This was inaccurate and misleading; individual European nations, not the EU itself, had temporarily suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine – against the recommendations of the European Medicines Agency, the EU’s healthcare regulator. Whilst the Committee noted that the sub-headline included a partial list of the individual nations that had suspended the vaccine, with the body of the article including a full list, this was not sufficient to rectify the misleading impression given by the headline. As such, the publication of this headline amounted to a clear failure by the newspaper to take care, raising a breach of Clause 1 (i) and thereby required correction under Clause 1 (ii) of the Editors’ Code.

10. The newspaper had offered to publish a clarification, to appear in its established Corrections and Clarifications column on page 2, three weeks into IPSO’s investigation. The clarification made clear what was being corrected, and put the true position – that it was member states of the EU, rather than the EU itself, who had suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine – on the record. It was offered with sufficient promptness and the proposed location, the publication’s established Corrections & Clarifications column, was sufficiently prominent. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the clarification did not include an apology however, given the nature of the inaccuracy, including that it related to a general point of fact and did not personally and directly affect a specific individual, the Committee did not consider that an apology was required in the circumstances. There was no further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

11. In the Committee’s view, referring to the vaccine as the “UK JAB” was not significantly misleading given the UK’s involvement in the development of the vaccine and where it was produced in partnership with the University of Oxford, with the sub-heading and first paragraph of the article referring to the vaccine as the “Oxford” vaccine.  The Committee also noted that the text of the article explained that the vaccine was produced by “Anglo-Swedish drugs firm”.  There was no breach of Clause 1 in regard to this.

Conclusion

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

Remedial Action Required

13. The newspaper had offered to publish a clarification, which identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record. This clarification should now be published.

 

Date complaint received: 16/03/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 07/07/2021