Ruling

09721-21 Cassidy v Jersey Evening Post

    • Date complaint received

      26th May 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09721-21 Cassidy v Jersey Evening Post

Summary of Complaint

1. Duncan Cassidy complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Jersey Evening Post breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Young people harassed by anti-vaxxers outside clinic”, published on 10 August 2021.

2. The article reported on a group of “anti-vaccination protesters” at a Covid-19 drop-in vaccination clinic whom the “police were called to disperse” with “children as young as 16 claiming they were being intimidated as they went for their jab”. The article described a group of “15-20 protesters” who had “’verbally harassed’ staff and Islanders” who had gone to get their first dose of the vaccine. It contained quotes and the account of a mother of a 16 year-old boy who said her son “had to leave through the back of the tent having been approached by the group” on the advice of staff members. The woman was quoted stating that a man with a placard had “shout[ed]” at her son and that it “was incessant” and when she asked he stop “this only made things worse”, and that her son had been “really intimidated at the thought of having to sit and be stared at” when sitting after receiving his vaccination. She praised the staff at the clinic “despite the trouble”. The article also included a quote from a police spokesperson: “Police were called on Saturday 7 August at 3.45pm regarding a group of approximately 15 to 20 protesters who had turned up at the Springfield pop-up vaccine centre. Some of these protesters were verbally harassing staff and some of the people attending to be vaccinated. Police attended and the group dispersed by 4pm. No offences took place and no arrests were made.”

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that he had been present at the clinic when the police had arrived. He said that it was inaccurate to report that the police had been “called to disperse” the people at the clinic. Whilst he accepted the police had been called, he said that when they arrived they did not speak to any of the protesters and did not actively attempt to disperse them as they would have done if that had been the reason why they were called.

5. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to report that any of the people had harassed anyone, as he had only seen people speaking amongst themselves, or to staff who seemed willing to speak to them. The complainant said he had seen a person with information about the yellow card scheme shout twice about deaths and adverse reactions to Covid-19 vaccinations, possibly whilst someone was in the vaccination tent, but he did not consider that there was any evidence that this man was opposed to Covid vaccinations. He said it was inaccurate to report that the group were “anti-vaxxers” as this suggested that they were against all vaccines and not just the Covid-19 vaccine. Similarly, the complainant said it was inaccurate to describe the group as “protesters” and said that no one had been “verbally harassed”. The complainant also denied that there were 15-20 people there, and instead said he would have estimated it to be 12, and a maximum of 15.

6. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to call the 16 year-olds having their vaccination “children” as they were old enough to consent to the vaccine. He also disputed that they had been intimidated by anyone outside of the practice. The complainant disputed the mother’s account of the event. He said he had not seen the child leave through the back of the tent, or be approached by the people at the clinic, which the complainant accepted was possible but that he had not witnessed the events as described in the article. He said the mother’s account was exaggerated as she had only been shouted at twice, and therefore saying speaking to the man “made things worse” and that the staff had acted well “despite the trouble” was inaccurate as he had not seen any trouble or behaviour that could be made “worse”.

7. The complainant considered it contradictory to report firstly that children as young as 16 had claimed to have been intimidated and then later in the article that staff and Islanders had been verbally harassed. He said this was contradictory as it started out as a claim, and then reported as if it was fact. He reiterated he had seen no such behaviour.

8. Finally, the complainant said that the article breached Clause 12 as it discriminated against people who were against the Covid-19 vaccine. He said that the term “anti-vaxxer” meant to be opposed to all vaccines, rather than just the Covid-19 vaccines, and that the article had been written to deliberately incite division and tension and vilify those who chose not to have the Covid-19 vaccine.

9. The publication generally defended the accuracy of its report, which it said had been based upon a press statement issued to the local media by the States of Jersey Police, which was reported within the article in full. It accepted that the police statement did not say that the police had been “called to disperse” the group, but that the group had dispersed, and that the journalist had made a mistake on this point. It offered to clarify this point within its first substantial response after the matter was referred by IPSO in direct correspondence with the complainant. It then clarified its proposed wording within its first substantial response to IPSO’s investigation when it offered to publish the following on page 2 and online as a footnote to the article:

On 10 August, the JEP published a front-page news report under the headline ‘Young people harassed by anti-vaxxers outside clinic’ in which it was reported that ‘the police were called to disperse a group of anti-vaccination protesters’. The article should have stated that the police were called regarding protesters outside the vaccination centre, and those protesters dispersed shortly after officers arrival. The error is regretted.

10. The publication said that much of the information under complaint had been accurately reported from the police press release. This release, which the newspaper said it was entitled to rely on, described the group as “protesters” of “15 to 20” people and that “some of these protesters were verbally harassing staff and those attending to be vaccinated”. The publication also said that in the context of the article which described a Covid-19 vaccination centre, readers would understand that the vaccination the protesters opposed was the Covid-19 vaccination. It also said that a person who is against the Covid-19 vaccination could accurately be described as being an anti-vaxxer.

11. The publication said that it had spoken to a woman present at the incident who had told them that her child felt intimidated, and that it was entitled to report and accurately paraphrase her statement, including that her child left via the back of the tent and that speaking to the man to the placard made the situation “worse” in her opinion. The publication said that the complainant was not in a position to dispute the mother’s account for the events or how her son felt

12. The publication noted that a woman had claimed that her 16 your-old son had been intimidated, and that, separately, the police had stated that staff members and people present had been “verbally harassed”. It therefore said it was not contradictory to include both references within the article.

13. The publication did not accept that Clause 12 was engaged. It said that the freedom to report on the divisive issue of vaccination could not be intruded on solely because it could cause offense to some people.

Relevant Code Provisions

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.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

14. The Committee considered first the complaint about whether the police had been “called to disperse” the protest. The Committee noted that neither party had knowledge of the intentions of the party that called the police; the complainant’s position was solely that, in his opinion, the police did not appear to be deliberately dispersing people after they arrived. It was not in dispute that police had been called to the scene of the protest in response to concerns about the activities of the “protesters”, which the subsequent press release had described as “verbal harassment”, and that they had remained at the scene as the “protesters” dispersed. Given this sequence of events, the Committee did not consider that there was any failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, or any significant inaccuracy established; the police being called to the scene in response to the protest and remaining while the “protesters” dispersed was not significantly different from police being “called to disperse” the protest. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to clarify its position as a positive response to the complaint.

15. The Committee noted that the article was based upon a press release from the police, and that this release had been included in full within the article. The press release had described the group as “protesters”. In addition, an interview with a further witness described a man shouting with a placard, which the Committee considered could reasonably be described as “protesting” and had been witnessed by the complainant. The police had also reported that some members of the group had “verbally harassed“ staff and others in attendance. By relying on the press release, and furthermore interviewing a party who had been present, the publication had taken sufficient care not to report inaccurate information under Clause 1(i). Where the publication had relied on this, and where the complainant accepted he had seen someone shout twice, this was not a misleading characterisation of the events. The police had also put the number of people at between 15-20, which had been accurately reported by the newspaper, and was not significantly different from the number of 12-15 as supplied by the complainant. Finally, the Committee did not consider it misleading to refer to people who are opposed to the Covid-19 vaccine as being “anti-vaxxers”, where they had gathered due to their opposition to a vaccine. It also noted that it was clear from the context of the article, which described opposition outside a Covid-19 vaccination centre, which vaccine the people were opposed to. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

16. The Committee did not consider it to be inaccurate to describe a 16-year-old as a “child” where the legal age of adulthood in the UK is 18. It noted that the newspaper had interviewed a woman who had described her and her son’s experience of the incident, including that her son had felt intimidated. The complainant may not have personally found the incident to be intimidating; however, he was not in a position to dispute the experiences of a third party or to comment on the details of their movements on the day. Where the complainant accepted that the man with the placard had shouted on two occasions, it was not misleading for the newspaper to characterise this as “trouble” or that the woman found talking to him “made things worse”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

17. Where, as above, the Committee found it was neither inaccurate nor misleading to state that a 16-year-old had claimed to be intimidated, and that staff members and Islanders present had been “verbally harassed”, it was not inaccurate, nor contradictory, for both of these claims to be included in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

18. Finally, Clause 12 is designed to protect specific individuals mentioned by the press from discrimination based on their race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or any physical or mental illness or disability. Choosing not to take the Covid-19 vaccine is not a characteristic protected by the Code, and therefore there was no breach of Clause 12.

Conclusion(s)

19. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

20. N/A


Date complaint received: 07/09/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 26/04/2022