Ruling

04756-15 Portes v Daily Express

    • Date complaint received

      26th November 2015

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 04756-15 Portes v Daily Express

Summary of complaint 

1. Jonathan Portes complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “311 languages spoken in our schools”, published in print and online on 24 July 2015. 

2. The article billed itself as a “special investigation”. In print, the front-page sub-headline referred to “classrooms where English is starting to die out”; the online headline claimed that “311 languages [are] spoken in our schools as English starts to die out”.  The article reported that English-speaking pupils are “becoming a minority in hundreds of classrooms”, that in some schools English is “hardly heard at all”, and that there are schools where “foreign languages have overtaken English”. The article attributed these findings to a “decades-long open door policy on immigration”, and referred to data obtained from the Department for Education (DfE) about specific schools in relation to these claims, suggesting that in one school, “the number of English-speaking pupils is so low the Department will not disclose the figure”. 

3. The complainant said that the article’s central claims were inaccurate, and that the article inaccurately suggested that in some schools, lessons are not taught in English. The data used by the newspaper only recorded the numbers of pupils whose first language was not English; it did not say that those pupils were unable to speak English. Many pupils would speak English fluently. Further, English is the language of instruction in all maintained schools in England, including those cited in the article. 

4. The newspaper accepted that the article may have suggested inaccurately that pupils who did not speak English as a first language could not speak English at all, and that English is not spoken in some classrooms. It maintained however that the matter was clarified by references to pupils not speaking English “as a first language”. Readers would understand that such pupils were the subject of the article, and would therefore not have been significantly misled by the inaccuracies when reading the article as a whole. The phrase “as a first language” had been omitted in some instances as a matter of style, rather than deception. Nonetheless, the newspaper offered to clarify these points in the online version of the article, and to publish the following correction in print in its “Amplifications & Clarifications” column on its letters page, and online: 

In our article “311 languages spoken in our schools as English starts to die out” published on 24 July 2015 we said that English speaking pupils were becoming a minority in hundreds of classrooms. In fact the statistics referred to pupils for whom English is an additional language and not all pupils so classified are unable to speak English. Whilst some pupils arrive in schools not speaking English, most learn it very quickly. The article may also have given the impression that lessons were not being taught in English, which is incorrect. 

5. The complainant did not accept that the wording of the proposed correction was adequate. The newspaper had not acknowledged or apologised for a failure of editorial standards, and the proposal to publish the correction on the newspaper’s letters page would be insufficiently prominent, given that the article – and inaccuracies – had originally appeared on the front page. 

6. The newspaper said that corrections have been published in the “Amplifications & Clarifications” column on the letters page in the newspaper for many years. Details of how readers can complain appear on this page, and they would be aware that corrections would be published there. It was therefore sufficiently established as a corrections column, and publishing the correction elsewhere in the paper was not necessary. 

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance. 

Findings of the Committee

8. The Committee did not accept that the coverage had merely omitted in some instances to specify that the data being reported referred to pupils’ not speaking English “as a first language”. It had made clear assertions of fact that English “is starting to die out” in schools and that English was “hardly heard at all” in some schools. These claims distorted the data cited by the newspaper, which did not include any information about the frequency with which English was spoken in schools, by either pupils or teachers. The coverage breached Clause 1 (i). 

9. This was a particularly concerning case because the inaccuracies had been repeated throughout the entire article, including prominently in print in the front-page sub-headline, and because they were central to the report, on a matter of significant public importance. 

10. The Committee noted the newspaper’s position that not referring to English “as a first language” in all instances was a stylistic choice. However, as set out above, the article contained inaccurate claims about the data; the references to pupils not speaking English “as a first language” did not remedy these inaccuracies that such pupils had been the subject of the article’s claims, and did not demonstrate that the newspaper had taken care to report the data accurately. The complaint was upheld as a breach under Clause 1 (i). 

11. The Committee was also concerned by the newspaper’s proposals to correct the inaccuracies. While it noted the newspaper’s assertion that the “Amplifications & Clarifications” column had been published on its letters page for a number of years, there was no information published on the newspaper’s letters page to signal to readers that this was where corrections would ordinarily appear, and the column itself was published infrequently. For these reasons, it did not amount to an established corrections column. Given its position in the newspaper, the letters page was not an otherwise sufficiently prominent location for the proposed correction, since the article had appeared prominently on the front page. The complaint was also upheld as a breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

Conclusions

12. The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial Action Required

13. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO. Given the nature of the breach identified in this instance, the Committee required publication of an adjudication. The article’s central claim – which was both dramatic and significant – was substantially undermined by the inaccuracies and the newspaper had failed to comply with its obligations under Clause 1 (ii) to correct it. In such circumstances, a reference to the adjudication must be published on the front page, directing readers to the full adjudication, which should be published on page seven. The front-page reference should include a headline making clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, and refer to its subject matter; it must be agreed in advance. It should also be published on the newspaper’s website, with a link to the full adjudication appearing on the homepage for 48 hours; it should then be archived online in the usual way. 

14. Should the newspaper intend to continue to publish the article in its current form, the adjudication should also be published in full beneath the headline. 

15. The terms of the adjudication to be published are as follows: 

Following the publication of an article in The Daily Express on 24 July 2015, headlined “311 languages spoken in our schools”, Jonathan Portes complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Express had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required the newspaper to publish this adjudication. 

The front page article reported that English “is starting to die out” in schools. It also reported that there are some schools where English-speaking pupils are “becoming a minority”; where English is “hardly heard at all”; and where “foreign languages have overtaken English”. The article said that this was taking place due to an “open door” immigration policy, and referred to Department for Education (DfE) data about specific schools in relation to these claims. 

The complainant said that the article’s central claims were inaccurate. It also inaccurately suggested that in some schools, lessons are not taught in English. The data referred to by the newspaper only recorded a pupils’ first language; it did not say that those pupils would be unable to speak English. Further, English is the language of instruction in all maintained schools in England. 

The Daily Express accepted that the article may have suggested inaccurately that pupils who did not speak English as a first language could not speak English at all, and that English is not spoken in some classrooms. It said that when reading the article as a whole, the inaccuracies would not have significantly misled readers. It offered to publish a correction both online and in its “Amplifications & Corrections” column on its letters page. 

The Complaints Committee found that the article’s claims that English “is starting to die out” in schools and that English was “hardly heard at all” in some schools were completely unsupported by the data the newspaper had cited. These claims distorted the data cited by the newspaper, which did not include any information about the frequency with which English was spoken in schools, by either pupils or teachers. 

This was a particularly concerning case because the inaccuracies had been repeated throughout the entire article, including prominently in the front-page sub-headline, and because they were central to the report, on a matter of significant importance. The newspaper’s defence that the article was not misleading when read as a whole did not demonstrate that the newspaper had taken care to report the data accurately. The complaint was upheld as a breach under Clause 1. 

The Committee was also concerned by the newspaper’s proposals to correct the inaccuracies in its “Amplifications & Corrections” column on its letters page. There was no information published on this page to signal to readers that this was where the column would normally appear, and the column itself was published infrequently. Given its position in the newspaper, the letters page was not an otherwise sufficiently prominent location for the proposed correction, since the article had appeared prominently on the front page. This aspect of the complaint was also upheld under Clause 1. 

Date complaint received: 26/07/15 

Date decision issued: 26/11/15