Ruling

03350-16 InFacts v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      7th November 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03350-16 InFacts v The Sun

Summary of complaint

1. InFacts complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Brits not fair!” in print and “Brits just not fair: 4 in 5 British jobs went to foreign nationals last year as number of EU workers doubles” online, published on 19 May 2016.

2. The print sub-headline stated that “4 in 5 jobs go to foreign workers”. The article reported that “four in five jobs in Britain have been taken by people from outside the UK in the past year” and that of a “414,000 rise in employment, 80 per cent or 330,000 posts went to foreign-born workers”. It said that “220,000 roles […] were landed by EU nationals”. A graphic setting out the statistics in more detail said that the total number of “new jobs” in the year to March was 414,000, and that 330,000 was the number of jobs “taken by foreign-born workers”.

3. The online article appeared in substantively the same form online, save for the headline, which made reference to jobs going to “foreign nationals”. The online article did not include the graphic.

4. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to state that four in five “jobs” went to foreign workers. While it was accurate to say that there was a 414,000 increase in employment – and that there was a 330,000 increase in employment of non-UK born nationals – both of these figures were net figures: they showed the number of people entering employment, minus the number of people leaving employment. In such circumstances, it was inaccurate to report that a certain proportion of jobs had been taken by foreign-born workers simply on the basis of dividing the figure for the net increase in employment of workers born outside of the UK, by the total rise in employment.

5. The figures referred to in the online article had come from an Office for National Statistics (ONS) report on employment. The complainant noted that as part of its report, the ONS had explained that the “number of people entering or leaving employment are larger than the net changes” and that “the estimates therefore do not relate to ‘new jobs’ and cannot be used to estimate the proportion of new jobs that have been filled by UK and non-UK workers”.

6. The complainant said that it was therefore also inaccurate for the graphic accompanying the article to report that there were a total of 414,000 “new jobs” in the year up to March. In addition, it was inaccurate for the online headline to refer to “foreign-nationals” – the 330,000 figure released by the ONS in fact related to those born outside of the UK and therefore included UK nationals.

7. The newspaper did not accept that the coverage was inaccurate. Except for in the text of the graphic, the article did not refer to “new” jobs. It said that while the ONS figures referred to a net rise in employment – measured by the number of people in employment – many people would interpret the figures to relate to the number of people who have a job. It noted that most commonly, and even when discussed by politicians, employment is spoken about in terms of the number of people who have a job or a wage; it said that for reasons of space and style, the newspaper may from time to time avoid unnecessary explanation when simpler and shorter phrases suffice.  It said that in these circumstances, and where the article made clear in the second paragraph that the figures related to a “rise in employment”, the references to “posts”, “jobs” and “roles” were not significantly misleading. Further, while it acknowledged that the reference to “new jobs” in the graphic was technically incorrect, it maintained that in describing a rise in employment, the term “new jobs” was an adequate alternative that would not significantly mislead readers.

8. The newspaper nonetheless offered to publish the following wording on page 2 of the print edition in its Corrections and Clarifications box, and beneath the online article, in order to clarify the position, and in an effort to resolve the complaint:

An article 'Brits Not Fair!' (19 May) stated that 4 in 5 jobs in Britain have been taken by people from outside the UK in the past year and an incorrect graphic also said that the total new jobs in the year to March 2016 was 414,000. In fact, the figure relates to the net rise in employment and includes existing jobs that have been filled by new people. 

9. In addition, it had offered to amend the online article – including the headline – to reflect the position more clearly.

10. It also acknowledged that the reference to “foreign nationals” in the online headline was inaccurate. Soon after being made aware of the inaccuracy, it amended the online headline to refer to “foreign-born workers” instead, and published the following note below the article:

In an earlier version of this story a headline referred to ‘foreign nationals’ when it should have said ‘foreign-born workers’.

11. The complainant did not consider that the prominence of the print clarification offered by the newspaper was sufficient, given that the prominent sub-headline also contained an inaccurate claim.

Relevant Code provisions

12. 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

13. The ONS figures related to the net change in employment, which is measured by the net change in the number of people in employment, and not by the number of “new jobs” created, or “jobs” that have become available in the economy. While the Committee acknowledged the newspaper’s desire to present potentially complex statistics succinctly, it was not possible to report the proportion of “jobs” in Britain which had been taken by foreign-born workers, on the basis of these figures. Instead, the figures used by the newspaper showed simply that there was a net increase in employment in the UK, and that the increase in foreign-born workers could be said to correspond to 80% of that.

14. The article had referred to the proportion of “jobs”, “posts” or “roles” taken by foreign-born workers, as part of a discussion about a rise in employment. In this context, it misleadingly suggested that the ONS figures had shown that a specific proportion of new jobs had been taken by foreign-born workers. The specific reference to a “rise in employment” – and the omission of reference in some instances to the jobs being “new” – did not cure the misleading impression created by the article. Given that the publicly available ONS guidance on the statistics specifically stated that they could not be used to estimate the proportion of new jobs occupied by UK and foreign-born workers, the presentation of the figures in this manner – including the reference to “new jobs” in the graphic – represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1 (i).

15. The article had given the significantly misleading impression that the ONS figures had indicated that a specific proportion of new jobs in the economy had been taken by foreign-born workers in the past year. This required correction under Clause 1 (ii).

16. The newspaper had offered to publish a clarification that identified the misleading manner in which the ONS figures had been presented – including in the graphic – and corrected the position making clear that the figures used in fact related to a net rise in employment. The newspaper had offered to publish this soon after it had been fully notified of why the misleading impression created by the article was significant. The clarification had been offered sufficiently promptly.

17. The Committee then considered whether the inaccuracy required correction on the front page, given that the claim in the sub-headline that “4 in 5 jobs go to foreigners” appeared prominently on the front page. The ONS figures could not be used to support the suggestion that 80% of new jobs had been taken by foreign-born workers. They could, however, have been used to support the claim that 80% of the net employment rise was accounted for by foreign-born workers. Further, the table that referred to “new jobs” did not appear on the front page. In these circumstances, the Committee took the view that the reference to “jobs” in the sub-headline and the first paragraph of the article on the front page was not so seriously misleading as to require correction on the front page. Further, while the Committee noted the complainant’s concern regarding the prominence of the print correction, the newspaper’s Corrections and Clarifications box, which always appears on page 2 in print, is a well-established and recognised location for the publication’s corrections. In this case, the newspaper had offered to publish the print and online clarification in a sufficiently prominent location.

18. The reference in the online headline to “foreign nationals” was inaccurate: in the ONS data, the 4 in 5 figure – 330,000 – referred to those born outside of the UK, and not foreign-born nationals. The inaccuracy required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The newspaper had amended the online article to reflect that the figures in fact referred to “foreign-born” workers, and had recorded the change at the foot of the article soon after it had been made aware of the error. The correction had been made promptly and prominently, and there was no further breach of the Code on this point.

19. The print reference in the sub-headline to “foreigners” was not significantly misleading where the first and second paragraphs made clear this was in reference to “people from outside the UK” or to “foreign-born workers”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

20. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

21. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1(i), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The newspaper had offered to publish a correction in print on page 2 of the newspaper, the wording of which addressed the misleading impression the original article had given about the ONS statistics and which corrected the position. In the full circumstances, the Committee considered that the publication of the clarification on page 2 in the newspaper’s established Corrections and Clarifications box would be sufficiently prominent. This should now be published promptly in print.

22. The newspaper’s offer to publish the same clarification at the foot of the article in the context of also offering to amend the wording of the online article was appropriate in the circumstances. The action offered by the newspaper in relation to the online article should now be taken. The clarification should be published beneath the clarification already appended to the online article.

Date complaint received: 06/06/2016
Date decision issued: 14/10/2016