Ruling

06939-18 Thorne v express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      7th February 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06939-18 Thorne v express.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Alan Thorne complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “What border problems? MP tweets photo of Swiss border with just ONE sign”, published on 22 October 2018.

2. The article reported that a Member of Parliament had posted an image “highlighting how simple the final Brexit stumbling block can be”. It said that the MP had tweeted an image of a town on the Switzerland-France border “with just a single camera separating the two European nations”, saying that “there is no such border in sight”. The article said that “this is just like how the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland border can be under the Prime Minister’s chequers plan but the EU want a ‘hard’ border if Northern Ireland leaves the customs union”. The article then quoted from the MP’s tweet about the image, and showed the tweet and image in full.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), because the road shown in the tweet which the article referred to was not a road leading to any border crossing, but rather to an airport.

4. The publication accepted that the article was inaccurate, in response to multiple complaints received via IPSO. It deleted the article from its website, and published the following correction near the top of its homepage for a period of approximately 18 hours:

Correction – What border problems? MP tweets photo of Swiss border – (date of publication)

On 22 October we published an article headlined “What border problems? MP tweets photo of Swiss border with just ONE sign.” The article focused on a Tweet posted by Conservative MP Chris Philp.

His post read “This is what EU Customs Union border can look like – Flughafenstrasse in Basel on Swiss (not in CU) French (in CU) border... There are technical solutions to ensuring no hard border NI/RoI.”  The post contained an image of a road which showed a sign but no hard board, check-point or security.

Based upon this Tweet our article then said ‘This is just like how the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland border can be under the Prime Minister’s chequers plan but the EU want a “hard” border if Northern Ireland leaves the customs union.’

In fact the picture which Mr Philp tweeted is not a road which is a border crossing. Traffic crossing between Switzerland and France passes through official boarder points and is subject to checks. It should also be highlighted both countries are members of the Schengen area which means whilst goods are checked at border points people are not. It was therefore incorrect to state 'This is just like how the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland border can be...'.

We are happy to set the record straight.

5. The complainant said that this correction did not resolve the complaint to his satisfaction because it was insufficiently prominent.

Relevant Code Provisions

6. 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

7. The publication was entitled to publish the MP’s tweet. However, in this instance, it had adopted as fact the MP’s claims about the ‘border’ the tweet referred to. Failing to present the MP’s claims appropriately represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1(i). This gave rise to a significant inaccuracy, in circumstances where the publication had used the tweet as the basis for making claims about the future of the Irish border. This required correction in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

8. On receipt of the complaint, the publication had promptly removed the article (within two weeks of receipt) and had published an extensive correction which had appeared on its homepage for approximately 18 hours, before being archived in the online clarifications and corrections column in the usual way. This correction made clear the nature of the inaccuracy within the article, and provided a full and detailed explanation of the correct position with respect to the MP’s tweet. This had been published promptly and, where the original article had been removed, a standalone correction appearing near the top of the homepage was sufficiently prominent, especially where it remained publicly accessible in the corrections and clarifications column. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusions

9. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial action required

10. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1(i), the Committee considered what remedial action was necessary.

11. On receipt of the complaint, the publication had promptly removed the article and published an extensive correction setting out the inaccuracies within the article, and making the correct position clear. It had published this near the top of its homepage for approximately 18 hours, and archived it in the usual way. This correction was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii), and no further remedial action was required.

Date complaint received: 22/10/2018

Date decision issued: 23/01/2019