Ruling

03056-16 InFacts v Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      1st September 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03056-16 InFacts v Daily Telegraph

Summary of complaint

1. InFacts complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The gap between the official migration figure and the truth is as wide as the Grand Canyon. We are owed an apology”, published in print on 13 May 2016, and online on 12 May 2016. 

2. The front page sub-headline of the print version reported that before the date of publication, it appeared that the “official number of EU migrants who came to Britain between 2011 & 2015” was 0.9m, but that “the real number of EU migrants we now know came to Britain” was 2.4m. The article, an opinion piece, said that a recently published Office of National Statistics (ONS) report had shown that “in the five years to 2015, just under one million immigrants came to this country from the EU”, but that over the same period “the number of National Insurance numbers issued to EU migrants was more than 2.2 million”. It said that the ONS had estimated that a “total of 2.4 million entered the country”. It said that the “stupefying figure […] helps to explain the growing crisis in the NHS”. The columnist said that the ONS had sought to explain the “gap” on the basis that the figures for the “short term immigrants have not been included in the tally” because these individuals “aren’t here for long enough to make a difference”.

3. The journalist included a story about a fictional plumber, Piotr, to illustrate her criticism of the ONS’s methods of counting the number of migrants. She said that people like Piotr who initially claimed “to have come for no more than a single year” and therefore “will not be registered as an immigrant”, will still need a National Insurance number. She said that if for Piotr “the urge to leave starts to fade”, his family may decide to join him and “we will have lots of little Piotrs in need of schooling and healthcare”.

4. The online article was substantively the same, but included a more detailed yearly breakdown of the figures referred to by the newspaper.

5. The complainant noted that the relevant ONS data showed that over the five-year period leading up to 2015, approximately 1 million people were recorded as “long-term” EU migrants who stayed in the UK for longer than 12 months, and approximately 1.2-1.4 million were recorded as “short-term” migrants, who had come to the UK but had left within 12 months.

6. The complainant said that it was misleading to add together five years’ worth of data for the number of short-term EU migrants: all of these people would have left the UK within a year, and representing them as part of a “total” figure amounted to a distortion. The complainant was also concerned that by describing the total 2.4m figure as the “real” number of EU migrants, the article misleadingly suggested that this was the number of EU migrants who had come to and had remained in the UK.

7. The complainant also said that the article contained some mathematical and rounding errors. The “gap” referred to in the article was actually approximately 1.2 – 1.4 million, not 1.5 million, and the number of long-term EU migrants recorded by the ONS was actually 1 million, not 0.9 million. Further, it was concerned that the story about Piotr deciding to stay after initially being registered as a short term migrant was misleading, because the ONS specifically takes such people into account in its data – so called “switchers”.

8. The newspaper said that the 2.4 million figure was clearly described in the article as the total number of EU migrants who “came to” Britain. It argued that, in the context of a discussion about the number of National Insurance numbers issued to EU migrants, and the extent of their interaction with the UK economy, the article did not suggest that the 2.4 million migrants had stayed in the UK.

9. The newspaper said that the figures it had used had been sourced from an ONS report published earlier in the year, and that this accounted for the mathematical discrepancy relating to the “gap” identified by the complainant. It also accepted that it would have been more accurate to round up the number of long-term EU migrants to 1 million rather than down to 0.9 million. It did not, however, accept that in the context of an opinion piece these discrepancies amounted to a significant inaccuracy.

10. While the newspaper accepted that “switchers” are taken into account in the ONS data, it argued that “Piotr” was only an illustration of how and why short-term migrants might decide to stay in the UK and then become long-term migrants. Further, it remained the case that by simply recording the number of long-term EU migrants, the ONS had significantly underestimated the total number of EU migrants who had interacted with the UK economy.

Relevant Code provisions

11. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

iii) A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies must 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

12. The article referred to the 2.4 million figure as being the “number of EU migrants we now know came to Britain”, or had “entered the country” in the five years leading up to 2015. Further, it made clear that the apparent discrepancy between the ONS’s estimate of the number of EU migrants who had come to the UK and the number of National Insurance numbers issued to EU migrants was because “short term immigrants have not been included in the [ONS’s] tally”. The complainant accepted that according to the ONS data, the gross number of EU migrants who visited the UK in the five year period was approximately 2.4 million, and that the ONS report said that “short-term migration to the UK largely accounts for the recent differences between the number of long-term migrants […] and the number of National Insurance number […] registrations for EU citizens”. In these circumstances, the Committee was satisfied that it was not inaccurate to state that 2.4 million EU migrants had “come to” the UK, and did not accept the suggestion that doing so implied that this was also the number of EU migrants who had stayed in the UK. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

13. The Committee understood the complainant’s concern that the article contained some numerical errors. According to the relevant ONS data, the “gap” referred to in the article amounted to approximately 1.4 million, rather than 1.5 million. Although 100,000 is a large number of people, the numerical error identified by the complainant did not amount to a significant inaccuracy in the context of an article as a whole; the total figure applied to a five-year time period, and the error did not substantively change the columnist’s argument. This did not require correction under the terms of the Code, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

14. The story about “Piotr” was also not misleading; this was entirely fictional, and had merely been used as a device for the journalist to illustrate her criticism of the ONS methods. The story did not inaccurately suggest that the ONS does not take “switchers” into account in its collection of data. There was no breach of Clause 1 in respect of this point.

Conclusions

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Date complaint received: 19/05/2016
Date decision issued: 08/08/2016