Ruling

04051-16 Dartington v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      6th October 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 04051-16 Dartington v Daily Mail 

Summary of Complaint 

1.    Jake Dartington 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 “We’re from Europe – Let us in!”, published on 16 June 2016. The article was also published online on 15 June with the headline “We’re from Europe – let us in! As politicians squabble over border controls, yet another lorry load of migrants arrives in the UK”. 

2.    The article, which was the only article on the front page, reported that a lorry carrying 11 “stowaways” had been intercepted by police in East London. It was accompanied by a prominent image of the police speaking to the individuals in the back of the lorry. It reported that when these individuals were asked where they were from, they replied “Europe”, a claim which was supported prominently by the sub-headline. 

3.    The article went on to report that the Conservative Party was “in chaos over border controls”. It reported that the Chancellor had said there would be no changes to European Union rules on freedom of movement, while the Home Secretary had said that further reform was needed. 

4.    The online version of the article was accompanied by additional images of the police interception of the lorry. It was otherwise identical to the print version of the article. 

5.    The complainant said that the individuals found in the lorry were not from Europe: they were trying to enter the UK illegally, and it was therefore clear they were not European citizens. The phrase “We’re from Europe” spuriously implied a connection between these individuals being found in a lorry, and the debate about free movement within the EU. 

6.    The complainant said that the phrase “lorry load” was inaccurate; he said it dehumanised the people concerned, and exaggerated the number of people found. The complainant said that the misleading headline, juxtaposed with the image of the people in the lorry, was designed to make a political point, and that the article did not clearly distinguish between comment and fact. 

7.    The newspaper accepted that, in fact, video footage showed that the individuals in the lorry had said they were from Iraq and Kuwait, and did not dispute that it was inaccurate to report that they had said they were from Europe. It said that the story was based on copy provided by a reliable agency, which had contained the claim that an individual in the lorry had told a police officer that they were from Europe. This claim was made by an eyewitness, who had also taken the video of the incident. 

8.    The newspaper said that the individual who prepared the agency copy had listened to the video to corroborate this claim, and was convinced that when the individuals in the lorry were asked where they were from, one of the individuals said “Europe”, in a heavy accent. The newspaper said that the agency made attempts to corroborate this with the police and the Home Office, both of which refused to speculate or confirm the claim. In addition, the newspaper said that it sent its own reporter to the scene of the incident. The reporter spoke to around 10 people in order to corroborate the claims and obtain any relevant CCTV, but no-one had been able to assist. The newspaper denied that it had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information. 

9.    While acknowledging the headline was inaccurate, the newspaper denied that this was significant, such as to require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).  It said that the individuals were found in the back of an Italian lorry, which it believed had arrived from Belgium. Whether these individuals had begun their journey in Iraq or Kuwait, or elsewhere in Europe, did not make a significant difference to the thrust of the article.  Readers would have understood that if these individuals were EU citizens, they would have been able to enter the UK legally, and would not have needed to enter the UK in the back of a lorry. The newspaper said that EU free movement was a significant issue in the referendum campaign because it allowed people from outside the EU to take advantage of the lack of border controls in the Schengen area to travel to Channel ports, where they can attempt to smuggle themselves into the UK.  

10. The newspaper explained that it was notified of the error by way of a complaint received at around noon on 16 June. The online article was corrected within three hours. The headline of the article was amended to remove the claim that the individuals found in the lorry had said “we are from Europe”. In addition, the article was amended to report that they had said they were from Iraq and Kuwait. 

11. The newspaper said that it published the following correction, with the agreement of the individual who raised the initial complaint, and prior to receipt of this complaint, on page 2 of the following day’s newspaper: 

In common with other newspapers, we published a reputable news agency’s story yesterday which said that stowaways intercepted in east London had told police that they were ‘from Europe’. In fact, while they had travelled to the UK in an Italian vehicle from mainland Europe, the migrants told police they were from Iraq and Kuwait. 

The following footnote was added to the online article: 

In common with other newspapers, an earlier version of this agency story said that stowaways intercepted in east London had told police that they were ‘from Europe’. In fact, while they had travelled to the UK from mainland Europe, the migrants told police they were from Iraq and Kuwait. 

12. The newspaper said that the correction was published in its clearly marked corrections panel, which has been in place for nearly 5 years. It said that “due prominence” under Clause 1 (ii), does not require equal-prominence, and that in the circumstances of this case, it would not have been proportionate to publish the correction on the front page. 

13. The newspaper said that the individuals were travelling in the back of a lorry, and that while it was a sad fact that they were being carried as human cargo, the phrase “lorry load” was not inaccurate or misleading. It denied that the use of the phrase dehumanised the individuals in the lorry, or that this was the newspaper’s intention. The newspaper denied that the article failed to distinguish between comment and fact. 

14. The complainant said that the page 2 correction would not have been seen by people who do not buy the newspaper, but would have seen the front page headline. In addition, he said that the correction failed to address the other aspects of his complaint. 

Relevant Code Provisions 

15. 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 

16. The newspaper was entitled to treat the incident in question as connected to the issue of free movement, and it was not misleading to illustrate an article on EU free movement with an image of non-EU citizens entering the UK in the back of a lorry. However, it was inaccurate to report that the individuals in the lorry had told the police that they were from Europe. While it was clear that they had arrived in the UK via Europe, they had in fact told the police that they were from Iraq and Kuwait. 

17. In the Committee’s view, in the video, the individual in the lorry could clearly be heard telling the police that they were from Iraq and Kuwait. This was repeated by the police officers present, and the Committee did not therefore accept the explanation offered for the error in transcription. While the Committee noted the additional steps the newspaper had taken to ensure the accuracy of the story, the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information, in breach of Clause 1 (i).  Given the prominence ascribed to this claim by the article, the Committee determined that the inaccurate information was significant, such as to require a correction under Clause 1 (ii). 

18. The newspaper published a correction in its corrections column the following day, which identified the inaccuracy, and made clear the correct position. It amended the online article on the same day it was made aware of the inaccuracy, and published a footnote making clear that the article had been amended, and why. The Committee commended the speed with which the newspaper had reacted to a separate, earlier complaint, in publishing this correction. 

19. The newspaper publishes a panel on page 2 of the newspaper headlined “Clarifications & corrections”. This panel is generally published every day. It contains information about IPSO and details about how to complain.  The Committee was satisfied that this represented an established corrections column. The Committee has previously made clear that it considers established corrections columns to be of value in ensuring prominence. Nevertheless, there are circumstances in which a front-page correction may be required by the Editors’ Code, regardless of the existence of an established corrections column. 

20. In deciding whether due prominence requires a correction on the front page, the Committee must act proportionately. In doing so it has regard for the fact that front pages are the most important forum for editorial expression as they impart to readers, using limited space, what the newspaper considers to be the main news stories of that day. A requirement that a correction appears on a front page is an interference with this, and, as such, front-page corrections are generally reserved for the most serious cases. 

21. The Committee did not consider that this was such a case. While the article’s headline had misrepresented the comments from the individuals involved in the incident, the headline and image had been published as an illustration of migration in an article which went on to report debates that were taking place within the Conservative Party on the issue of border controls. The inaccuracy, although clearly requiring correction, had minimal impact on the meaning of the article as a whole.  In this context, the Committee did not establish that the inaccuracy was of sufficient gravity to require a correction on the front page of the newspaper. 

22. The newspaper had complied with its obligation to correct the inaccuracy promptly, and with due prominence. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

23. The article made clear that 11 individuals had been found in the lorry, and in these circumstances, the phrase “lorry load” was not misleading in the manner alleged. This aspect of the compliant did not raise a breach of Clause 1. The Committee noted the complainant’s concern that the article represented a partisan report of the incident in question. However, the Code specifically provides for newspapers to editorialise and campaign, and the complainant did not identify an instance where the newspaper had failed to distinguish clearly a claim of fact about the incident from a comment. There was no beach of Clause 1 (iv). 

Conclusion 

24. The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial Action Required 

25. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1 (i), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The Committee considered that the breach of Clause 1 had been appropriately remedied by the publication of the correction in print, the amendment of the online article, and the publication of a correction as a footnote. In light of the Committee’s findings, a requirement to republish the correction on the front page would be disproportionate and the Committee did not therefore require any further remedial action. 

Date complaint received: 22/06/2016

Date decision issued: 20/09/2016