Ruling

06005-16 Haigh v Daily Express

    • Date complaint received

      3rd February 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06005-16 Haigh v Daily Express 

Summary of complaint 

1.  Paul Haigh complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “EU Exit Boosts House Prices”, published on 22 July 2016. 

2.  The article was published on the newspaper’s front page, and continued on page five. The front page reported that “house prices rose by more than 10 per cent last month as Britain voted to leave the EU”. It said that home loan figures for June 2016 had also been the highest for eight years “as the whole country benefitted from the Brexit effect”. The remainder of the article, on page five, stated that figures released by property analysts Hometrack showed that property prices across major cities had risen by 10.2 per cent year-on-year, and the increase was “stronger than the 6.9 per cent year-on-year price rises seen in June 2015”. It said the figures show that “buyers ignored Project Fear economic warnings in the run-up to the referendum”, and that “doom-mongers predicting economic meltdown in the wake of the Brexit result have been left nonplussed by a raft of positive figures, including record levels of employment”. 

3.  The article was also published online with the headline “EU exit boosts house prices: Owners across whole country see big rises after Referendum”. Its subheading said “House prices and mortgage lending continue to rise on the back of the Brexit vote as the UK property market goes from strength to strength”. The online article did not contain the statement that house prices had risen by more than 10 per cent “last month”. 

4.  The complainant said that the newspaper had inaccurately reported that the vote to leave the European Union had “boosted” house prices. He said that the Hometrack figures did not reflect the period following the referendum but related to the period leading up to it; as such the rise in house prices they showed could not have been a result of the vote to leave the EU. 

5.  He noted that house prices had risen at the same rate in May and June 2016 and said this showed that the Brexit vote actually had no effect on house prices. He considered that the information had been deliberately manipulated to reflect positively on the vote to leave the EU. 

6.  The complainant also expressed concern that the newspaper had reported that “owners across the whole country” had seen “big rises” in house prices. He said house prices had not risen by 10 per cent across the country, as reported: the average year-on-year growth was 8.6 per cent nationally, with the top 20 cities averaging 10.3 per cent year-on-year growth. He said that house prices in his area had risen by just 1.3 per cent over the last year, and noted that the Hometrack figures indicated that only three cities in the UK had grown by 10 per cent or more. The complainant also objected to the suggestion that the north had seen “house prices soar” as only one city in the north had appeared in the top ten cities listed by Hometrack. 

7.  The newspaper said that as the article was published only a few weeks after the referendum, it could only ever have reported a view of one month’s house price figures. It said that the article had reported that house prices had risen “as” Britain voted to leave the European Union, not as a result of the vote to leave; the headline was clearly speculative in nature, and represented a snapshot of the situation following the vote to leave. It considered that it had accurately reported that home loan figures for June 2016 had been the highest for eight years “as the whole country benefited from the Brexit effect”; the article had accurately reported that the “world had not ended” despite the “doom and gloom” of the Remain campaign. 

8. The newspaper accepted that an error had been made in the first line of the print article, which stated that house prices had risen by 10 per cent in the “last month”; in fact, the 10 per cent rise related to city homes only and had been an annual rise. The newspaper argued that the headline was not based on this inaccurate assertion, and should therefore be considered in relation to the corrected text, as well as the rest of the article, which made the factual position clear. Although it did not consider that the reference to a 10 per cent monthly rise was significantly misleading, it offered to publish the following correction in its corrections column and online: 

In our article, “EU exit boosts house prices” published on 22 July 2016 we reported a rise in house prices as a result of the “Brexit effect”. The rise was in fact an annual rise, but due to an editorial error it was reported as a monthly rise. We apologise for this and are happy to set the record straight. 

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. 

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 Complaints Committee 

10. The Committee did not accept the newspaper’s suggestion that the front-page headline had not referred to the effect of the referendum result on house prices. In any event, any ambiguity in the headline was resolved by the first line of the print article, which had, inaccurately, supported the claim with the assertion that house prices had risen by 10 per cent in the “last month”. Consequently, the article had given the clear impression that house prices had risen considerably as a result of the vote to leave the EU. 

11. Although the online article had not included the inaccurate assertion that house prices had risen by 10 per cent in the “last month”, there was no ambiguity in its headline: it had explicitly stated that house prices had risen “after” the referendum. In addition, the subheading had asserted that house prices “continue to rise on the back of the Brexit vote”, and a caption stated that house prices “continued to rise since Britain voted to leave the EU”. 

12. In both instances, the newspaper had failed to substantiate the headline claim. Save for the last seven days of June 2016, all the house price data referred to in both the print and online articles related to the period leading up to the referendum, and the newspaper had failed to provide any further evidence to support the assertion that house prices had increased as a result of the vote to leave the EU, beyond the significantly inaccurate claim that there had been a 10% rise, post-referendum, in the print article. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i). A correction was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

13. The newspaper had offered to publish a correction, which addressed the concern that an annual rise in house prices had been incorrectly reported as a monthly rise in the print article. However, the wording failed to address the unsubstantiated headline claim, which appeared in both versions of the piece, that the vote to leave the EU had “boosted” house prices. This represented a breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

14. The Committee also considered the complainant’s concern that the newspaper had inaccurately reported that house prices had risen by 10 per cent across the country.  However, other than the inaccurate reference to the Hometrack data, which appeared in the first line of the print article, the newspaper had reported the statistics accurately. As the data indicated that year-on-year growth across 20 major cities had averaged 10.2 per cent, it was not significantly misleading for the newspaper to report that home owners “across the whole country” had seen “big rises” in house prices year on year. Furthermore, while the Committee acknowledged that only one northern city was included in the ten cities that had seen the greatest rise in house prices, the Hometrack report had stated that “large cities in northern parts of the UK such as Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds have registered strong growth in the last quarter”. As such, it was not significantly misleading for the newspaper to report that the north “leads the way as house prices soar”. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on these points.  

Conclusion 

15. The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial action required 

16. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The newspaper had offered to publish a correction, but the wording had not addressed the significantly misleading headline claim. The newspaper had therefore failed to comply with the obligations of Clause 1(ii), and the Committee required the publication of an adjudication. 

17. As the seriously inaccurate information had appeared prominently in the front-page headline, and had been compounded by a further significant inaccuracy on the front page of the print article, the Committee required the newspaper to publish a reference to the adjudication on the front page, directing readers to the full adjudication, which should be published on page five. The wording of the front-page reference and the headline to the adjudication should be agreed with IPSO in advance, or in the absence of agreement, as determined by the Complaints Committee. It should refer to IPSO, include the title of the newspaper, and make clear that the complaint was upheld. The front-page reference should appear in the same position, in the same size font, and overall taking up no less space than the sub-headline which appeared on the front page under complaint. The reference should also appear within a border distinguishing it from other editorial content on the page. 

18. As the significantly misleading headline had also been published on the newspaper’s website, the adjudication should also be published online. A link to the full adjudication should appear on the homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. Should the newspaper continue to publish the article online, without amendment, in light of this decision, it should publish the adjudication in full, beneath the headline. If amended, a link to the adjudication should be published with the article, explaining that it was the subject of an IPSO adjudication. 

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

Following the publication of an article in The Daily Express on 22 July 2016, headlined “EU Exit Boosts House Prices”, Paul Haigh complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required the newspaper to publish this adjudication. In addition, as the inaccurate information appeared in the front-page headline, IPSO also required the newspaper to publish a front-page reference to this adjudication. 

The front page of the print article reported that “house prices rose by more than 10 per cent last month as Britain voted to leave the EU”. The online article, which was headlined “EU exit boosts house prices: Owners across whole country see big rises after Referendum”, did not state that house prices had risen by 10 per cent “last month”. 

The complainant said that the newspaper had inaccurately reported that the vote to leave the European Union had “boosted” house prices. He said that the house price figures relied on by the newspaper did not reflect the period following the referendum but related to the period leading up to it. 

The newspaper said that the article had reported that house prices had risen “as” Britain voted to leave the European Union, not as a result of the vote to leave. It accepted, however, that it had inaccurately stated in print that house prices had risen by 10 per cent in the “last month”; in fact, this had been an annual rise. The newspaper argued that the headline was not based on this inaccurate assertion, and should therefore be considered in relation to the corrected text, as well as the rest of the article, which had correctly reported the statistics for the year June 2015 to June 2016. 

The Committee considered that both versions of the article had given the clear impression that house prices had risen considerably as a result of the vote to leave the EU. Save for the last seven days of June 2016, all the house price data referred to in the article related to the period leading up to the referendum, and the newspaper had failed to provide any further evidence to support the headline assertion, beyond the significantly inaccurate claim that there had been a 10% rise, post-referendum, in the print article. The newspaper had published seriously inaccurate information; this represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. The complaint under Clause 1 was upheld. 

Date complaint received: 18/10/2016

Date decision issued: 04/01/2017