Ruling

09910-16 Versi v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      23rd February 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 09910-16 Versi v The Sun 

Summary of complaint 

1.    Miqdaad Versi complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “We’re kind, Gary, but we hate being conned”, published on 24 October 2016. 

2.    The article was a comment piece in which the columnist, Trevor Kavanagh, discussed the migrant camp in Calais and his concern that refugees were lying about their age in order to gain access to Britain. The columnist said “generous Brits will help anyone in need, especially desperate kids with no family. They just don’t like being taken for a ride…or being accused of ‘racism’ by the likes of Gary Lineker when they cry foul”.  He said that Home Office figures had shown that “two out of three of those elbowing their way to the front of the queue are lying about their age”, and that the “abysmal failure of the Border Force and Immigration” to address the issue had stoked anger over “the abuse of our hospitality”. 

3.    The article was also published online under the headline “Trevor Kavanagh: Gary Lineker forgets that we’re not racist – we just don’t like being conned”. 

4.    The complainant said that the article had inaccurately quoted Home Office immigration statistics. He said two out of three refugees seeking asylum had not been found to have lied about their age. In fact, out of 3,472 asylum claims received, 933 individuals had their ages checked, and 636 were found to be adults, which represented 18.3 per cent of the total. The complainant noted that a correction had been published in print, but was concerned that it had not been published online and the article had not been amended. 

5.    The newspaper accepted that an error had been made in the reference to the Home Office statistics. The columnist had relied on a BBC report, which had stated that the Home Office “received 3,472 asylum claims from unaccompanied individuals claiming to be children in the year to June 2016.  Of those, 933 claimants had checks carried out on their age and 636 were found to be adult”. The columnist had taken the second sentence to mean that two out of three claimants were found to be adults, but he accepted that his interpretation had been incorrect. 

6.    When the newspaper became aware of the error, it published the following correction in its Corrections & Clarifications column on 27 October 2016, on page two in print: 

On Monday we stated Home Office figures show two in three migrants seeking to get into Britain from Calais are lying about their age. In fact the figures of two-thirds refers to migrants required to complete an age assessment after an age dispute and we are happy to make this clear. 

7.    The newspaper said that due to an oversight, the correction was not initially published online. When the complainant alerted the newspaper to this, it added the wording to the online article and to the online Clarifications and Corrections section. Initially, it did not consider that it was appropriate to amend the columnist’s actual words, and argued that the appended correction made the factual position clear. However, during IPSO’s investigation, it also amended the inaccurate reference to the Home Office statistics, which had appeared in the subheading, as a caption and in the text.  

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. 

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 

9.    The columnist had failed to take care in interpreting Home Office statistics, and had stated that two out of three individuals claiming to be children in order to gain asylum in the UK had been lying about their age. In fact, two out of three migrants who had been required to carry out an age assessment had been found to be adult, which represented fewer than one in five of the total. 

10. This error had given a significantly misleading impression of the number of asylum seekers who had incorrectly said they were children in order to gain refuge. It also represented a central point, which the columnist had relied upon, to support his position that there had been an “abysmal failure” on behalf of the Border Force and immigration authorities to address the issue. The Committee noted that the inaccuracy had been given greater emphasis in the online article as it had been repeated three times, including in the subheading. 

11. The newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i). A correction was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

12. When alerted to the error, the newspaper had published a correction in print, eight pages further forward than the original article. The Committee noted that the correction had set out the correct position in relation to the two-thirds figure, noting that this related specifically to the individuals whose ages had been queried. It expressed some concern that the correction had not carried the further corrective information that the proportion overall was closer to one fifth. On balance, however, it concluded that the wording included sufficient clarifying information to comply with the terms of Clause 1 (ii). It had also been published in print promptly and with appropriate prominence, which met the requirement of Clause 1(ii). 

13. The Committee noted that due to an oversight, a correction had not been appended to the online article in the first instance. When alerted to this, the newspaper had appended a corrective footnote, but it had failed to correct the statistics, which had appeared three times in the article, on the basis that it was “inappropriate” to amend the words of a columnist. Given that the inaccuracy clearly related to an assertion of fact, the Committee rejected the newspaper’s reasoning for the delay, and considered that the newspaper had failed to correct a significant inaccuracy promptly. This represented a breach of Clause 1(ii) in relation to the online article. 

Conclusion 

14. The complaint was upheld. 

Remedial action required 

15. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. 

16. The newspaper had promptly published a correction in print, which made the correct position sufficiently clear. However, it had failed to correct the online article promptly. In this case, the Committee determined that the publication of an adjudication online was an appropriate remedy. 

17. The adjudication should be published in full on the newspaper’s website, with a link on its homepage for 24 hours; thereafter it should be archived in the usual way. The headline to the adjudication should refer to the subject matter of the article and make clear that IPSO had ruled against The Sun in relation to the complaint; it should be agreed with IPSO in advance. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows: 

Following the publication of an article headlined “Trevor Kavanagh: Gary Lineker forgets that we’re not racist – we just don’t like being conned”, Miqdaad Versi complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. 

IPSO’s Complaints Committee upheld the complaint, and has required The Sun to publish this adjudication online. 

The article was a comment piece in which the columnist discussed the migrant camp in Calais and his concern that refugees were lying about their age in order to gain access to Britain. He said that Home Office figures had shown that “two out of three of those elbowing their way to the front of the queue are lying about their age”. 

The complainant said two out of three refugees seeking asylum had not been found to have lied about their age, as reported. In fact, out of 3,472 asylum claims received, 933 individuals had their ages checked, and 636 were found to be adults, which represented 18.3 per cent of the total. While a correction had been published in print, the online article had not been corrected. 

The newspaper accepted that an error had been made in relation to Home Office statistics. Due to an oversight, a correction was not initially published online. When it was alerted to this, a correction was appended to the online article and published in the online Clarifications and Corrections section. However, the publication did not correct the references to the statistics because it considered it “inappropriate” to amend the columnist’s actual words, and it argued that the correction made the factual position clear. However, during IPSO’s investigation, it amended the inaccurate references to the Home Office statistics, which had appeared in the subheading, as a caption and in the text. 

The Committee considered that the misinterpreted statistics had given a significantly misleading impression of the number of asylum seekers who had incorrectly said they were children in order to gain refuge. It also represented a central point, which the columnist had relied upon, to support his position that there had been an “abysmal failure” on behalf of the Border Force and immigration authorities to address the issue. The inaccuracy had been given greater emphasis in the online article as it had been repeated three times, including in the subheading. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i). A correction was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

While the newspaper had promptly corrected the inaccuracy in print, it had failed to do so online. Given that the inaccuracy clearly related to an assertion of fact, the Committee rejected the newspaper’s reasoning for the delay. The newspaper had failed to correct a significant inaccuracy promptly in breach of Clause 1(ii).  The complaint under Clause 1 was upheld. 

Note 

Trevor Kavanagh is a member of IPSO’s Board. The Board has no role in the consideration of individual complaints, which are adjudicated on by the Complaints Committee. Mr Kavanagh played no part in the consideration of this complaint. 

Date complaint received: 28/10/2016 

Date complaint concluded: 02/02/2017