Ruling

07925-18 Partlett v express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      17th April 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 07925-18 Partlett v express.co.uk

Summary of complaint

1. Tim Partlett 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 “Britain will be BETTER OFF after Brexit: Poll shows businesses BRIMMING with confidence”, published on 12 August 2018.

2. The article claimed that a poll, commissioned by a group that represents businesses in the maritime industry, found that most of its members “feel Britain would become stronger after Brexit”.

3. The article reported some of the specific findings of the poll. It said that 507 business leaders had been interviewed, and that 63% of those surveyed had reported that they’d experienced an export boost since the Brexit referendum, and 59% said that they had not experienced any difficulties recruiting skilled workers over the last 12 months. The article reported that most of those polled supported the Chequers plan, but thought a no deal scenario was most likely. The article included a comment from the Chairman of the group which conducted the poll, who said that the poll showed that members feared a no-deal Brexit, but that “businesses nevertheless relish the prospect of future trade opportunities”. The Director of the group was also quoted in the article, and echoed this view.

4. The complainant said that it was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) to state that the poll had found that the participating businesses believed that Britain would become stronger after Brexit; the poll had asked no such question of the respondents, and nothing in the poll indicated this belief. The complainant provided the full findings of the poll. The first part of the poll had asked respondents about their support for the Chequers plan, and their predictions and preparations for a no-deal Brexit. The poll had gone on to ask respondents how concerned they were about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on a number of different issues. For each one, a majority were either ‘somewhat concerned’ or ‘very concerned’. The next set of questions had asked the respondents to rank the top three areas in which they believed there would be the greatest opportunity once the UK left the EU. The areas were regulation, international trade, taxation, public procurement, industrial strategy, skills development and foreign policy. The final set of questions asked about respondents’ levels of exports, and their access to skilled labour. The positive responses on exports and staff recruitment reflected respondents’ views on the situation since the Brexit vote, and were not a prediction as to what might happen after the UK’s departure from the EU. The complainant said the article had suggested that the poll had directly asked respondents whether Britain would be better off after Brexit, as opposed to remaining in the EU, when this was not the case.

5. The publication did not accept that there was a breach of the Code. It said that the author of the article believed that the poll and the statements from the leaders of the business group showed that the respondents believed that Britain would become stronger after Brexit. It said that the poll showed that members believed that Brexit would provide economic advantages over the status quo and that the business group’s own press release showed that it considered that the poll showed that its members were optimistic about trade opportunities after Brexit, as there was “…an opportunity for Britain to renew its role as a global trading, maritime nation.” The publication said that this poll was clearly a celebration of Brexit.

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 headline, sub-headline, and first line of the article had made categorical claims of fact about the findings of the poll, which were not presented as conjecture or as the interpretation of the body which had carried out the poll. The assertions that those polled were “brimming with confidence” about Brexit, and believed that Britain would be “stronger” or “better off” after leaving the European Union, were not supported by the findings quoted in the article, or the complete data. The poll had not asked respondents whether they believed that leaving, as opposed to remaining in the EU, would be better for the UK; instead the poll asked respondents to rank a closed list of options which did not ask respondents for their view on leaving the EU in general terms. The positive responses on exports and staff recruitment reflected respondents’ views on the situation since the Brexit vote, and were not a prediction as to what might happen after the UK’s departure from the EU. The publication had failed to take care in reporting the findings of the poll and had given a significantly inaccurate account of its conclusions. There had been no offer of correction. There was a breach of Clause 1 (i) and Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusions

8. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial action required

9. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.

10. The publication had published a significantly misleading article which distorted the findings of the poll, which was the basis of the entire article. In these circumstances, the appropriate remedy was the publication of an adjudication.

11. The article had appeared online only. The adjudication should therefore be published online, with a link appearing in the top 50% of the homepage for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. The headline of the adjudication must make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint against the express.co.uk, and refer to its subject matter. It must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

12. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

Tim Partlett 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 “Britain will be BETTER OFF after Brexit: Poll shows businesses BRIMMING with confidence”, published on 12 August 2018. The complaint was upheld and express.co.uk has been required to publish this ruling as a remedy to the breach of the Code.

The article reported that a poll, commissioned by a group that represents businesses in the maritime industry, found that most of its members “feel Britain would become stronger after Brexit”. The complainant said that the poll had found no such thing, and the publication had distorted its finding.

The publication said that the author was entitled to interpret the poll as he saw fit, and had relied on a press release from the business group who had conducted the poll. It said that the article was not a misleading report of the poll.

IPSO found that headline, sub-headline, and first line of the article had made categorical claims of fact about the findings of the poll which were not supported by the poll data. The publication had failed to take care in reporting the findings of the poll and had given a significantly inaccurate account of its conclusions, in breach of Clause 1.

Date complaint received: 19/12/2018

Date decision issued: 26/03/2019