Ruling

06116-15 Steele v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      8th December 2015

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06116-15 Steele v The Times

Summary of complaint

1. Duncan Steele complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Thousands more doctors join union to fight the seven-day working week”, published on 6 October 2015.

2. The article reported that thousands of junior doctors were joining the British Medical Association (BMA), which was seeking industrial action over the government’s plans to impose a new contract on junior doctors. The proposed contract would reduce the number of hours considered to be “antisocial” for the purposes of pay. The article was published in the same form online.

3. The complainant said that the article’s headline was inaccurate and misleading: doctors were not joining the BMA to fight “the seven-day working week”. Rather, they were joining it due to their concerns about proposed changes to their contracts, which would affect patient and doctor safety, remuneration, and which represented a threat to the NHS.

4. He said junior doctors already provided a “seven-day NHS”. The present contract did not limit the number of days, evenings, nights or weekends that junior doctors were required to work; similarly the new proposed contract had no limit. As such, the dispute was unrelated to the “seven-day working week”. He noted that the proposed changes would also reduce the number of hours a junior doctor would work in a single week, meaning that it would be harder for consistent cover to be provided throughout the week.

5. The newspaper did not consider that the headline, which had appeared in the second edition of the newspaper, had been misleading or inaccurate. It said the Department of Health had stated that it wanted to introduce the disputed contract changes in order to make it easier for hospitals to staff services seven days a week, the “seven-day NHS”. There was no suggestion in the article that junior doctors would be expected to work seven days a week.

6. The newspaper considered that the headline had fairly represented the comments made by Jeremy Hunt, which were included in the article. The article had said "Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, insisted yesterday that the proposed contract was not designed as a cost-cutting measure, but to ensure that more [junior doctors] worked more weekends... He said: ‘We are not planning to cut doctors’ pay. What we actually want to do is reduce the overtime rates and increase the basic pay to make it easier for hospitals to roster more evenly over the week.’"

7. Although the newspaper did not agree that the headline was misleading, in response to the concerns raised, it amended the online article to read “Thousands more doctors join union to fight contract changes”.

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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

9. It was not in dispute that Jeremy Hunt had said that the proposed changes to junior doctors’ contracts were intended to make it easier for hospitals to roster staff more evenly over the week, by, in effect, extending the period in which doctors would receive normal pay into the weekend. It was also not in dispute that thousands of junior doctors were joining the BMA in order to fight these proposed contract changes.

10. The reference to the “seven-day working week” was ambiguous in the headline, but when read in context with the article as a whole, the Committee was satisfied that it was clearly a reference to the proposed reduction of “antisocial” hours, rather than a suggestion that junior doctors were refusing to work at weekends.

11. The newspaper had not failed to take care over the accuracy of the article, and no correction was required. However, the Committee welcomed the amendment of the online article in response to the complaint. The complaint under Clause 1 was not upheld.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 06/10/2015
Date complaint concluded: 08/12/2015