Ruling

10895-22 Various v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      5th January 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10895-22 Various v The Daily Telegraph

Summary of Complaint

1. The Independent Press Standards Organisation received various complaints that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Doctors and nurses may join wave of strikes”, published on 20 July 2022.

2. The print article reported on potential strikes by public sector unions representing teachers, doctors and nurses. The article’s subheadline was “Medics balk at 9.3pc offer during the cost of living crisis, as NHS warns any rise will come out of care budget.” The article went on to state that “Doctors and nurses threatened a wave of strikes on Tuesday night over pay rises of up to 9.3 per cent”, and that “public sector unions reacted with fury, saying the increases were a real-terms pay cut as inflation was running at 11.7 per cent”. It also reported that “the teaching unions also expressed their anger at the pay award, which will see teachers receive as much as 8.9 per cent more”. The article stated that under the “announcement, more than one million NHS staff such as nurses, paramedics and midwives will be given an extra £1,400 next year” and explained that “this works out at four per cent on average, but for the lowest-paid such as porters and cleaners, it will be equivalent to a 9.3 per cent rise”.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline “Teachers, doctors and nurses threaten strike action despite nine per cent pay rises”. The sub-headline was “public sector unions react with fury, amid warnings that the increases will be funded by money earmarked for NHS care”.

4. IPSO received 73 complaints about the article. Complainants alleged that the online article’s headline was misleading in breach of Clause 1 because it was not the case that “doctors and nurses [had] threaten[ed] strike action despite nine per cent pay rises”; they also expressed concerns that the headline was not supported by the text of the article. The first sentence of both versions of the article – “[d]octors and nurses threatened a wave of strikes on Tuesday night over pay rises of up to 9.3 per cent” – was also considered inaccurate. In relation to all of those claims, complainants said that no doctors or nurses would be receiving a 9% pay rise; the only NHS staff eligible for this pay increase were band 2 NHS employees (staff who received the lowest salary on the pay scale, such as Healthcare and Catering Assistants). This did not include either doctors or nurses. Complainants noted the statements in the headline and the first sentence of the article appeared to be contradicted by the text of the article, which stated the pay increase worked out “at four per cent on average, but for the lowest-paid such as porters and cleaners, it will be equivalent to a 9.3 per cent rise”.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It stated that the article should be read in its entirety rather than with a focus on particular parts of the text. It noted that the article reported on the recent reactions of public sector unions – who represented all of the staff discussed in the article. The publication also said that the beginning of the article made clear that the proposed pay rises were “up to” 9.3% and that neither the article nor the headline, unequivocally stated that the proposed top increase of 9% would be applicable to all the occupations mentioned in the headline. The publication also noted that newly qualified teachers would receive a pay increase of 8.9%; close to the 9% headline figure stated. It further noted that the article itself broke down the pay increases for each of the referenced professions, and that it would not be reasonable for this information to be included in the headline – which was intended to act as a short summary of the wide-ranging public sector pay increase dispute. It did not consider that the headline was unsupported by the text of the article, in circumstances where all three professions had threatened strike action over their proposed pay rises and where the top figure available to at least one of those professions – newly qualified teachers – was 9%.

6. While the publication did not accept that the Code had been breached, it offered at the beginning of IPSO’s investigation to publish the following correction in its print edition, to ensure there was no confusion for readers, and taking into account that the print headline differed from the online headline:

An article ‘Doctors and nurses may join wave of strikes’ (July, 20) stated doctors and nurses were considering strike action after a proposed pay rise of up to 9.3%. To clarify, the 9.3% pay rise was offered to the lowest paid NHS staff such as porters and cleaners. Doctors were offered a 4.5% pay rise and nurses an extra £1,400 a year. The publication also proposed to amend the online version of the article on the same date; it said that the opening paragraph of the article would be amended to read “Doctors and nurses threatened a wave of strikes on Tuesday night over pay rises, amid warnings the increases will be funded by money earmarked for NHS care.”

It also proposed to add the following wording as a footnote to the article:

CORRECTION: This headline has been amended to make clear that the highest proposed pay rise of 9% would apply to various low paid NHS staff such as porters, and to newly qualified teachers.

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.

Findings of the Committee

7. The terms of Clause 1 of the Code are explicit in their requirement that headlines should be supported by the text of the article. The Committee emphasised that this should not be interpreted to mean that the body of the article can be relied upon to correct an actively misleading impression given by a headline.

8. Given that the online headline and the print headline were different, the Committee considered them separately.

9. The Committee considered the online headline “Teachers, doctors and nurses threaten strike action despite nine per cent pay rises” gave the strong and misleading impression that the 9% pay rise was going to be received by doctors and nurses, as well as teachers. This misleading impression was compounded by the opening sentence of both versions of the article, that stated that “[d]octors and nurses threatened a wave of strikes on Tuesday night over pay rises of up to 9.3 per cent.” Neither the use of “up to” before 9%, nor that fact the article went on to note that “this works out at four per cent on average, but for the lowestpaid such as porters and cleaners, it will be equivalent to a 9.3 per cent rise”, was sufficient to rectify the misleading impression already given or to clarify to readers that the headline claim related only to teachers. The publication of the online headline therefore amounted to a clear failure by the newspaper to take care not to publish misleading or distorted information, raising a breach of Clause 1(i).

10. This misleading headline claim was significant, given it appeared so prominently and where it was fundamental to the subject of the article; strikes and public sector pay. As such it required correction under Clause 1(ii) of the Editors’ Code.

11. The publication had offered to publish an amendment and clarification to the online article at the start of IPSO’s investigation. However, the Committee did not consider that the proposed action satisfied the terms of Clause 1 (ii) as it did not identify, and then correct, the significant inaccuracy within the original article. The Committee noted that the proposed wording did not make explicit that a previous version of the article stated it was inaccurate to imply that doctors and nurses were receiving nine per cent pay rises. As such, there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

12. The Committee then turned to the print article (“Doctors and nurses may join wave of strikes”). Given that it did not contain the same inaccuracy in the headline, it was not found to have breached Clause 1 on this point.

13. The Committee considered that the sub-headline “Medics balk at 9.3pc offer during cost of living crisis, as NHS warns any rise will come out of care budget” again gave the impression that doctors and nurses were receiving that percentage uplift in salary. This was compounded by the opening sentence which stated “DOCTORS and nurses threatened a wave of strikes last night over pay rises of up to 9.3 per cent”. There was a breach of Clause 1(i).

14. Given that the inaccuracy appeared in the first line and sub-headline of the print article and was fundamental to the subject of the article; the possibility of strike action in response to perceived inadequacies in pay rises, the inaccuracies were significant. As such, the article required correction under Clause 1(ii) of the Editors’ Code.

15. The Committee considered whether the correction offered by the publication adequately satisfied the terms of Clause 1(ii). The Committee found that the while the offered clarification did put the correct position on record, it did not state that the claim that doctors and nurses were due to receive a 9.3% pay rise was inaccurate. There was a further breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusion(s)

16. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

17. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action was appropriate. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication. The nature, extent, and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

18. In the case of the online article, the Committee found that the publication had published misleading information and its proposed clarification had not been sufficient to put the correct position on record. In such circumstances, the Committee decided that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction. The correction should acknowledge that the previous version of the article included the misleading claim that doctors and nurses were receiving nine per cent pay rises and should appear as a footnote to the article and as a standalone correction. The wording of this correction should state that it was published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The full wording and position of this correction should be agreed with IPSO in advance.

19. The proposed correction to the print article should be published in the corrections and clarifications column.


Date complaint received: 26/07/22

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 29/11/22