Ruling

Resolution Statement – 10596-21 Shaw v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      3rd March 2022

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement – 10596-21 Shaw v Mail Online

Summary of Complaint

1. Chris Shaw complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’Senior Tories have been spotted panic buying': Shelves empty across UK as supply chain crisis leaves one in SIX Britons claiming they have been 'unable to buy food' and a third start Christmas stockpiling”, published on 9th October 2021.

2. The article reported on “Britain’s supply chain crisis” and that many shoppers “claim[ed] they have been unable to buy essential foods in the past two weeks”. The article reported that recent figures from the “Office of National Statistics (ONS) show around one in six Britons have been unable to buy essential food items in the last fortnight in the latest sign of UK panic-buying”. It also stated that “Several senior Tory figures have even been spotted panic buying, reports the Financial Times”. The article continued by reporting that the reason for the shortages was “a series of crises, with soaring gas prices and HGV shortages causing chaos”. The article included images of shoppers at “Costco in Manchester” as well as images of empty shelves “in a Sainsburys supermarket in London Colney”. The article also reported that “A survey of 1,000 consumers by The Grocer revealed that two thirds of shoppers were either worried or 'very worried' by potential shortages of food and drink in the run-up to Christmas”.

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because the headline had claimed that “Senior Tories have been spotted panic buying” but the article had not provided sufficient justification for this reference. He also said it was inaccurate because it included various photographs that apparently showed empty Supermarket shelves that had been caused by people panic buying for Christmas and photographs of shoppers buying in bulk at Costco, which he said was in fact a retail wholesale supplier. He said these images suggested these individuals had been panic buying but it did not appear as though this suggestion had been verified with those pictured. The complainant also said that the reporting was irresponsible and could encourage further panic buying.

4. The publication said it accepted that the headline claim about “’Senior Tories’” panic buying had been inaccurate. It stated it was a case of human error and, once the publication became aware of the mistake, the article was quickly amended and a footnote was added on the same day as the original article was published. The footnote published was:

“An earlier version of this story suggested that senior Tories had been seen ‘panic buying’. This has been amended, and we are happy to clarify that the column in the Financial Times on which it was based had in fact stated that ‘several top party figures have been spotted panic-buying explanations’”.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code in relation to the complainant’s concerns that the images showing shoppers at Costco and empty supermarket shelves suggested was linked to panic buying and that the individuals photographed had not provided support for these claims. The publication stated that “[n]ew figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show around one in six Britons have been unable to buy essential food items in the last fortnight in the latest sign of UK panic-buying”. It also said that the article had pictured Tesco, Sainsburys, Lidl and Morrisons and that stockpiling can occur equally in a high street shop or wholesale outlet. Whilst the publication appreciated that the article did not necessarily align with the complainant’s experience, it said this did not mean the article was inaccurate or in breach of Clause 1 where the basis of the claims was set out.

6. Regarding the complainant’s concern that the article was irresponsible, the publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It stated that Clause 1 requires publications to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information, and to correct significantly inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. Therefore, concerns about the presentation of material did not engage the terms of the Clause. It said it was its duty to report without fear or favour, even when current news events had the potential to alarm. In this instance, there were supply chain issues and consumers had become concerned. The publication said it would be irresponsible not to report on the issues and their causes.

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.

Mediated Outcome

7. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

8. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to print the following standalone correction in its Clarifications and Corrections column on the News page for 24 hours, after which it would remain in the archive:

In a news report about supply chain issues published on October 9, it was initially suggested that senior Tories had been seen panic buying. This was amended on the day of publication, and we are happy to clarify that the column in the Financial Times on which it was based had in fact stated that ‘several top party figures have been spotted panic-buying explanations’.

9. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

10. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.


Date complaint received: 11/10/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/01/2022