Ruling

03069-16 Wyper v Sunday Express

    • Date complaint received

      17th November 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03069-16 Wyper v Sunday Express

Summary of complaint

1. James Wyper complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editor’s Code of Practice in an article headlined “12M Turks say they’ll come to UK” in print, published on 22 May 2016, and headlined “Exclusive poll: 12 million Turks say they’ll come to the UK once EU deal is signed” online, published on 23 May 2016.

2. The sub-headline reported that “those planning to move are either unemployed or students according to shock new poll”. The first paragraph explained that “more than 12 million Turkish citizens plan to move to Britain when the country joins the EU, a Sunday Express poll has revealed”. The article said that “almost 16 per cent of those questioned would consider relocating”, and that “2600 adults […] across all 27 provinces of Turkey” had been surveyed. It explained that the poll had been carried out on the basis of face-to-face interviews with 2,685 Turkish people aged 18 and over between 7 and 8 May, and that it showed “15.8 per cent of the population – the equivalent of 12.6 million people – would like to make a home for themselves and their families in Britain”. It said that “each person was asked […]: “if Turkey becomes a full member of the EU, would you, or any member of your family, consider relocating to Britain”?

3. The findings of the poll were presented in the context of concern about “Turkey’s pressing its case to become a full EU member”. The article said that this would give Turkish citizens “the right to free movement across the whole continent with unfettered access to Britain”, and that David Davis MP had argued that Turkey’s plan was the “strongest argument” for the UK to leave the EU because it would “unleash a new wave of migration that would push down wages in the UK and threaten our security”.

4. The article appeared in substantively the same form online.

5. The complainant said that the headline was inaccurate. He also said that, particularly when read together with the sub-headline, it misleadingly suggested that 12 million Turks “will” come to the UK, whereas the poll only asked respondents whether they would “consider” moving. He said that the headline was therefore not supported by the text.

6. The newspaper said that there was a genuine interest in reporting how many Turkish citizens would consider relocating to the UK if Turkey became a full member of the EU, and had therefore commissioned the poll. It had sought to determine whether there was a general desire for Turkish citizens to move to the UK should Turkey become an EU member. The question it had drafted for the poll was broad, so that it could allow respondents to answer not only on their own behalf, but also on that of their extended family.

7. The newspaper said that following publication, it had received a number of complaints about the article and the poll. It had made enquiries with the polling company, and concluded that the question was flawed, and that the data could not be relied upon; the results of the poll could not be used to support the suggestion that a defined number of people were considering moving to the UK. It said that it had made a genuine mistake, and wished to set the record straight as soon as possible following receipt of the complaints, and ahead of the EU Referendum. It said that it had wanted to clarify it in a manner that was more prominent than publishing a short correction on its letters page. It therefore published the following clarification article on page 2 in print of the final edition of the newspaper before the EU Referendum, and as a standalone article on its website homepage for 24 hours, after which it was archived:

Turkey poll findings were flawed – clarification

IN our article ’12 m Turks Say They’ll Come to the UK’, published May 22, we stated that millions of Turkish citizens would move to Britain should Turkey accede to the EU and Britain remain a member.

The figure of 12 million has been questioned by statisticians and readers alike.

The number was arrived at after an exhaustive poll carried out on behalf of the Express by Konda, a Turkish research group with more than 25 years of experience.

Konda questioned 2685 people, face to face, in 153 neighbourhoods and villages of 104 districts.

Quotas on age and gender were enforced to ensure balance.

Of these, 15.8 per cent answered yes to the question “if Turkey becomes a full member of the EU, and Britain remains in the EU, would you, or any members of your family, consider relocating to the UK?”

We accept that this question was flawed and that the results of the poll were inaccurate as a result.

The headline figure was arrived at by extrapolating that 15.8 per cent of the entire Turkish population [we used the figure of 77 million, based on population numbers cited by Turkish leader Recep Erdogan in his presidential acceptance speech] would be 12,166,000.

Such extrapolation from a sample survey is usual practice in reporting poll results and is the basis, for example, of the percentage figures currently being cited in the referendum debate.

The sample size of 2685 is considerably above the usual sample size. We considered 12 million to be a low estimate because it only referred to individuals and not potential family members who may be joining them.

However, the question is open to interpretation and therefore cannot be used to make a definite prediction of numbers.

This is because the poll did not ask respondents whether they were referring to themselves when they confirmed a consideration of moving to the UK, or to a family member.

This omission meant that if, for example, two brothers were asked the question – and only one was planning to go to the UK – both would answer yes to the question as posed, whereas only one brother intended to travel.

It also meant that if a respondent ‘s entire family was planning to head to the UK, he or she would answer ‘yes’ to the question as posed – but would only be counted as one person.

This means that statistically the true number of those considering migrating cannot be accurately gauged from the question as asked. It could be lower than the 12 million stated or it could be higher.

We arrived at the figure quoted in good faith. We provided a link to the full polling data online.

The article makes it explicit that it is talking about a hypothetical situation that could only arise IF the UK stays in the EU and IF Turkey accedes to the Union. It states that the predicted migration would occur if, and only if, those conditions were met and Turks were allowed free access to the UK.

To further emphasise that it was a hypothetical situation the article quoted extensively from Malcolm Rifkind, of  Britain Stronger in Europe, who gives the opinion that Turkish membership of the EU is ‘simply not on the cards’ and that it would take more than 1000 years for Turkey to accede.

Our honest intent was to accurately find the number of people who were genuinely likely to move to Britain. However the number remains unknown.

8. The complainant acknowledged the publication of the clarifying article, but did not consider that it was sufficiently prominent, given that the 12 million figure had appeared on the front page. Neither did he consider that the newspaper had addressed the concern that the headline was unsupported by the text.

Relevant Code provisions

9.    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.

Findings of the Committee

10. It was not possible to state on the basis of the results of the poll how many Turkish citizens would want to move to the UK. The question asked in the poll extended broadly to “any member” of a respondent’s family; it would therefore have been possible for a respondent to be able to provide a positive response in a variety of situations. In addition, it would have also been possible for multiple respondents to reply on behalf of the same person, potentially resulting in double-counted figures.

11. The article reported that a defined number of people – approximately 16% of respondents, extrapolated to 12 million of the total population of Turkey – would “like to make a new home for themselves and their families in Britain” or to “come to the UK”. It was not, however, possible to make these claims on the basis of the poll’s results. In circumstances where all the information about the poll and its findings had been available to the newspaper prior to publication, presenting the findings in this manner represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information. The Committee upheld the complaint as a breach of Clause 1 (i). Claiming that it was known that 12 million Turkish citizens would consider moving to the UK represented a significant inaccuracy that required a correction in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

12. The newspaper had recognised that this coverage was inaccurate soon after it had received complaints about the article. It sought to set the record straight promptly and prominently in a clarification article on page 2 in print, and online as a standalone piece. The clarification identified that the claims in the original article, that a defined number of Turkish citizens would consider moving to the UK, could not be supported by the results of the poll. It also corrected the position, namely that it remained unknown how many Turkish people would consider relocating.

13. The inaccuracy had been corrected promptly; the Committee then considered whether the clarification article was sufficiently prominent as to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii), given that it had been published on page 2, but that the inaccuracy had appeared on the front page. The Committee had regard for the fact that the newspaper had sought to correct the position prior to the EU Referendum. The newspaper had recognised the need for urgency in correcting the error in this context: given that the newspaper is published weekly, there were only a few opportunities for it to be able to correct the position after receiving complaints, and before the Referendum. It had also wanted to provide a more considered and fuller explanation of the error than would have been possible by publishing a clarification in the regular manner. The clarification it had decided to publish had occupied a significant portion of page 2, and had run to almost 600 words; it had explained in detail why the question in the poll had been too broad to support the article’s claims that a defined number of Turkish citizens were considering moving to the UK. It had done so in a manner that was accessible, and had put into context why such a poll had been commissioned prior to the Referendum.  The steps the newspaper had taken to correct the position quickly and comprehensively in the limited time before the Referendum were therefore appropriate.

14. Further, while the results of the survey could not support a claim that any specific number of Turkish citizens wished to move to the UK, they could potentially be used to support the claim that there was a general desire amongst some members of Turkey’s population to do so. In these circumstances, and in the context of an article that expressed concern over the strain on the UK that a sudden influx of people from a new EU member state might cause, the error in reporting that a specific number of Turkish citizens were considering relocating was not so significant as to require correction on the front page.

15. In the full circumstances, the Committee took the view that the page 2 clarification was sufficiently prominent, given its comprehensive nature, and bearing in mind that the newspaper had acted in a pro-active manner and, crucially, before the Referendum to address the inaccuracy quickly. The Committee therefore considered that the clarification published by the newspaper was sufficient, and there was no further breach of Clause 1 on this point.

16. The Committee then considered the complainant’s outstanding concern that the headline did not make clear the exact nature of the question, and that it was therefore unsupported by the text. It noted that, in addition to setting out the exact wording of the question asked of respondents in the body of the text, the second paragraph made clear that those asked “would consider relocating” were Turkey to join the EU. In these circumstances, and notwithstanding the inaccuracy over the 12 million figure, reporting in the headline that this number of Turkish citizens “[wi]ll come to the UK” rather than “would” come to the UK did not give a significantly misleading impression of the question asked in the poll. There was no breach of the Code on this point.

Conclusions

17. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial action required

18. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

19. The newspaper had promptly published a correction in print and online, and it had removed the original online article from its website. The clarification article had identified the inaccuracy and made the correct position clear. Both online and print corrections had appeared in a sufficiently prominent location.

20. No further action was required.

Date complaint received: 23/05/2016 
Date complaint concluded: 31/10/2016