10490-20 Devlin v

    • Date complaint received

      3rd December 2020

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 10490-20 Devlin v

Summary of Complaint

1. Michael Devlin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Nicola Sturgeon's joy as she reunites with parents in socially distanced visit after three months of lockdown”, published on 15 June 2020.

2. The article reported on Nicola Sturgeon’s first reunion with her parents once the lockdown restrictions eased and allowed for the mixing of difference households, as long as social distancing was followed. The article contained an image of Ms Sturgeon with her arms around both her parents with the caption “First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with her [named] parents before the Covid-19 outbreak”.

3. The article was also promoted on the publication’s Facebook page. The headline was shortened to “Nicola Sturgeon's joy as she reunites with parents after three months apart”. It was shared with the same image of Ms Sturgeon with her arms around her parents and was shared with a status which read “The First Minister visited her mum and dad on Sunday after lockdown restrictions were eased”.

4. The complainant said that the article and Facebook post were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because they gave the misleading impression that the photograph was taken when Ms Sturgeon met her parents for the first time after lockdown. He said that this suggested that Ms Sturgeon had put her arm around her parents when she met them after lockdown, and therefore failed to socially distance and breached Scottish coronavirus restrictions.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the headline of the article made clear that the visit had been “socially distanced” and that this was reiterated throughout the article. It said it also included Ms Sturgeon’s own Instagram post proving that the visit had been socially distanced. The publication said that the Facebook post was a condensed version of this article, and the fact that the article made clear that the visit was socially distanced meant that the post was not misleading. The publication also said the image used would have been recognised by readers as being taken in 2016 as it had been published previously and Ms Sturgeon’s father was wearing an SNP badge, making it clear the image was taken during a campaign.

Relevant Clause 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.

Findings of the Committee

6. The article made clear that the image had been taken before lockdown, and that Ms Sturgeon’s visit to her parents had been socially distanced. However, the Facebook post did not contain any reference to the fact that the visit had been socially distanced, nor that the image had been taken prior to lockdown. The image of the family, in conjunction with the shortened headline “Nicola Sturgeon's joy as she reunites with parents after three months apart” and the comment that “The First Minister visited her mum and dad on Sunday after lockdown restrictions were eased” suggested that the image had been taken on this occasion. The Committee did not consider that most readers would understand that the image was an old “stock” image, where it was in conjunction with the headline and comment relating to Ms Sturgeon visiting her parents. Where the headline, which made clear that the visit had been socially distanced, had been shortened to remove this clarification, the publication had failed to take care not to publish misleading information and there was a breach of Clause 1(i).

7. As the post misleadingly suggested that Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, was breaking lockdown restrictions shortly after the loosening of those restrictions, this was significant and required correction under Clause 1(ii). The publication had not offered to publish a correction and there was a further breach of Clause 1(ii).


8. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial action required

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

10. The misleading statement had been confined to the Facebook post; the article it linked to had been accurate. In these circumstances, the appropriate remedy was that the publication publish a Facebook post making clear the respect in which the Committee had found the original Facebook post to be misleading, and setting out the correct position. This should be published on the same Facebook account as the original post, and remain on the publication’s Facebook feed indefinitely. The wording should state that the post was being published following a decision by the Independent Press Standards Organisation, and should be agreed by IPSO in advance.

Date complaint received: 17/06/2020

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 17/11/2020