Ruling

07016-16 McDonald v Daily Express

    • Date complaint received

      7th February 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 07016-16 McDonald v Daily Express

Summary of Complaint

1. Tony McDonald 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 “98% say no to EU deal”, published in print on 26 July 2016, and “98 per cent say NO to EU deal: Forget talks with Brussels and quit NOW, urges new poll”, published online on 26 July. 

2. The print article reported that 98% of people who took part in a phone survey for the publication said that the decision to leave the EU should be enacted now, rather than after talks with Brussels. It said that the poll came after Prime Minister Theresa May told Tory MEPs that there could be “months of negotiations” before Article 50 is triggered.

3. The online article referred to the poll as an “online poll”. It was otherwise substantively similar to the article that appeared in print.

4. The complainant said that the headline was misleading because it did not make clear that the 98% figure had come from a survey of Express readers, rather than representing the view of the public at large. He said that to arrive at a figure of 98%, the sample in the survey must have been screened or tested in advance. He said that a genuine poll could not have found 98% of the population who would agree with the question asked in the poll, and that a responsible poll would have ensured a representative sample.

5. The newspaper denied that the article was misleading. It said that the headline needed to be read with the text of the article, from which it would have been clear, because the newspaper runs a phone survey every day, that the 98% result came from such a survey. The survey question was “Should UK end all talk of deals and quit the EU now?”, and was printed on page 7 of the previous day’s edition of the newspaper; readers had to pay to register their response to the question, and were asked to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. It said that 5,746 people had responded to the survey, with 5,622 responding ‘yes’ and 124 ‘no’.

6. The newspaper said that the online version of the article was published the previous afternoon at which point 3,548 readers had answered ‘yes’, and 67 ‘no’. It said that the online article did originally include reference to an “online poll”, which was inaccurate. However, while it had removed this reference from the article, it did not consider that it represented a significant inaccuracy.

7. The complainant said that the article was misleading because it not say that the poll was a survey that participants had to pay to register their response. He said that because people had to pay to respond, it was unlikely that the average reader voiced their opinion, and that only people with strong views would have responded. He said that, in any event, the poll could not even claim to be representative of the newspaper’s readers, as only approximately one per cent of its readership had participated. 

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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.

Findings of the Committee

9. The print article reported that demands for a swift EU exit had grown in the wake of a “new poll”, which had urged Britain to “forget talks with Brussels and quit now”. It explained that the poll, which was described as a “phone survey for the Daily Express”, had found that 98 per cent of people said the decision to quit the EU should be enacted now. The article went on to include comments from senior politicians welcoming the poll’s findings.

10. The Committee did not accept the newspaper’s argument that because it ran a phone poll every day it was clear that the “poll” referred to was a survey of its readers. The Committee also took into account the fact that the poll had been presented as a significant political event, putting pressure on the Government to leave the EU as soon as possible, and including responses to it from senior political figures. In all the circumstances, the Committee took the view that the article gave the impression that it was reporting the significant results of a representative poll carried out by a third-party for the publication. In fact, the poll was conducted through a premium rate phoneline, which allowed a self-selecting sample of the newspaper’s readers to express their views. In these circumstances, the manner in which the poll was presented, particularly in the absence of information which might identify its methodology, represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information and was a breach of Clause 1(i). The online article, which reported that a “new Daily Express online poll” had revealed that 98% of people had said no to an EU deal, breached Clause 1(i) in the same manner as the print version. Further, the newspaper’s failure to correct this significantly misleading information was a breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusions

11. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

12. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the cumulative effect of the coverage had given a misleading impression of how the poll had been conducted, and the newspaper had not taken any steps to mitigate the effects of the breach by offering to publish a correction, the appropriate remedy was the publication of an upheld adjudication.

13. The headline, sub-headline and opening paragraphs of the story, which appeared on the newspaper’s front page, all contributed to the significantly misleading impression that the poll had been conducted in accordance with the usual practices of political polls; as a result, 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 two. 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. They 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 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.

14. As a 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.

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

Following the publication of an article in The Daily Express on 26 July 2016, headlined “98% say no to EU deal” in print, and “98 per cent say NO to EU deal: Forget talks with Brussels and quit NOW, urges new poll” online, Tony McDonald 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.

The complainant said that said that the headline was misleading because it did not make clear that the 98% figure had come from a survey, rather than representing the view of the public at large. He said that a genuine poll could not have found 98% of the population who would agree with the question asked in the poll, and that a responsible poll would have ensured a representative sample.

The newspaper denied that the article was misleading. It said that the headline needed to be read with the text of the article, from which readers would have understood that the 98% result came from a phone survey of its readers. The survey question was “Should UK end all talk of deals and quit the EU now?”, and was printed on page 7 of the previous day’s edition of the newspaper; readers had to pay to register their response to the question, and were asked to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

IPSO’s Complaints Committee did not accept the newspaper’s argument that because it ran a phone poll every day it was clear that the “poll” referred to was a survey of its readers. The Committee also took into account the fact that the poll had been presented as a significant political event, putting pressure on the Government to leave the EU as soon as possible, and including responses to it from senior political figures. In all the circumstances, the Committee took the view that the article gave the impression that it was reporting the significant results of a representative poll carried out by a third-party for the publication. In fact, the poll was conducted through a premium rate phoneline, which allowed a self-selecting sample of the newspaper’s readers to express their views. In these circumstances, the manner in which the poll was presented, was a breach of Clause 1. The online article, which reported that a “new Daily Express online poll” had revealed that 98% of people had said no to an EU deal, breached Clause 1 in the same manner as the print version.

Date complaint received: 26/07/2016
Date decision issued: 06/01/201
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