Ruling

03143-21 Janes v thenational.scot

    • Date complaint received

      29th July 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 03143-21 Janes v thenational.scot

Summary of Complaint

1. David Janes complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thenational.scot breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “FACT CHECK: Douglas Ross's claim Scotland can thank UK for vaccine success”, published 1 April 2021.

2. The article was presented as a “fact check”, which focused on a claim by Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative Leader, that “Scotland would have had 1.5 million fewer jabs by now” if it had been independent rather than part of the UK. According to the article, “the basis of the Conservative claim appears to be a comparison between the existing Scottish vaccination rate [as part of the UK] and the average ja[b] rate in the EU”. The article acknowledged that in reality the EU has faced problems in its vaccination efforts whilst “the UK was faster off the mark both in ordering vaccines and in inoculating the population”. Nonetheless, the fact check “hypothesise[d] an independent Scottish Government buying 60m doses of the locally manufactured Valneva jab [and noted that] potentially, therefore, an indy Scotland could have beaten both the UK and EU in vaccinating its population”. It stated that “as an advanced industrial nation, with a major pharmaceutical infrastructure, Scotland is perfectly capable of vaccinating and protecting its own population”. The fact check therefore concluded that the Conservative claim was “false”.

3. The complainant said that the newspaper’s account of what might have happened in an independent Scotland was completely hypothetical, not least as the Valneva vaccine it referred to had, in reality, not yet been approved. It was therefore not able to use this to claim, as part of a fact check, that the disputed claim was “false”.

4. The publication did not accept it had breached the Code. The Conservative claim being fact checked was counterfactual, it was about what would have happened had Scotland been an independent nation during the pandemic. It was therefore entitled to present a counterfactual narrative of its own, about what would have happened had the Valneva vaccine been approved, with an independent Scotland purchasing 60 million doses of it. It also emphasised that it had made clear that, in reality, the Valneva vaccine was currently yet to be approved and that “the UK [had been] faster off the mark [than the EU in] both in ordering vaccines and in inoculating the population”.

Relevant Code Provisions

5. 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 correction, promptly and with due prominence, and –where appropriate– an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

6. Under the terms of Clause 1, the press must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. This was an unusual complaint which related to the publication’s attempt to “fact check” a claim that was itself based on conjecture.

7. The “fact-checked” claim was about a counterfactual: what would have happened had Scotland been an independent nation during the pandemic. It was therefore a claim that, by its nature, could neither be proved nor disproved.

8. The publication was entitled to advance a counterfactual narrative of its own where the article distinguished between conjecture and fact, and had made clear that its own narrative was counterfactual. The article also made clear that, in reality, the UK had been “faster off the mark [than the EU in] both in ordering vaccines and in inoculating the population”, and made clear that the Valneva vaccine was still being developed. These caveats ensured that readers would not be misled as to the facts of the current situation. In these circumstances, the Committee concluded that the publication had not failed to take care over the accuracy of the article. Nor did the Committee establish that the article contained a significant inaccuracy or misleading statement requiring correction, where it related to a counterfactual scenario, and where the claims that related to the current position (for example, about the status of the Valneva vaccine) were not in dispute. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

9. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

10. N/A

 

Date complaint received: 03/04/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 13/07/2021