Ruling

10911-20 The Centre for Media Monitoring v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      24th December 2020

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 10911-20 The Centre for Media Monitoring v The Daily Telegraph

Summary of Complaint 

1.    The Centre for Media Monitoring complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Pakistan singled out as the origin of half of Britain’s imported virus cases”, published on 26 June 2020. 

2.    The article reported that half of Britain’s imported coronavirus cases originate from Pakistan, a country which was “reporting 4,000 Covid-19 cases a day and has seen a new spike in the disease”. It stated that “data from Public Health England showed 30 cases of coronavirus in people who have travelled from Pakistan since June 4, which is understood to represent half of the incidents of imported infection”. This information was also contained a ‘box-out’ within the article. The article’s first paragraph mentioned that “more than 65,000 people have travelled to Britain on 190 flights since March 1 from Pakistan”. 

3.    The article also appeared online in substantially the same form, although without the ‘box out’ and with the headline “Exclusive: Half of UK’s imported Covid19 infections are from Pakistan.“ This headline was shared on the publication’s Twitter page, with a link to the online article. 

4.    The complainant said that the claim that “Half of Britain's imported coronavirus cases originate from Pakistan” was misleading. It said it gave the impression that half of all the UK’s imported Covid-19 cases originated in Pakistan during the period of the pandemic as a whole. It said this was not the case as far more Covid-19 cases originated in other countries over this period, particularly in Europe. The complainant accepted that the bodies of both articles made clear that the headline figure related to the period since the 4 June – which it agreed was an accurate representation of statistics released by Public Health England – but did not consider that this mitigated the inaccurate and misleading impression given by the headlines. It also considered the tweet, which contained only the headline claim, was incorrect, as it contained no reference to the timeframe to which the statistic related. Finally, it expressed a concern that the article was racist in singling out Pakistan and blaming Pakistanis for public health situation. 

5.    The publication did not accept that it had breached the Code. While it accepted that the online headline was potentially misleading, it said that readers would be aware that the reference to “half of UK’s imported infections” would have referred to a specific time period, and that the article as a whole made clear this was the period since 4 June. Nevertheless, it said that the online article had been amended to make this clearer and, 3 days into IPSO’s investigation, it offered to publish the following wording as a footnote to the amended online article:

“CORRECTION: This article is based on PHE data relating to individuals who have travelled to the UK from Pakistan between June 4 and the article's publication date: it does not cover the entire period of the pandemic, as readers may have inferred from its original headline and text wording, now amended.”  

6.    The publication considered that the claim in the print article, that “Pakistan [was] the origin of half of Britain’s imported virus cases” was similarly clarified by the text of the article, especially in light of the prominent ‘box out’ that contained the PHE figures the headline intended to refer to. 3 days into IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to publish the following correction in print on page 2, in its regular “Corrections and Clarifications” column.

Imported Covid-19 cases

Our 27 June article, "Pakistan singled out as the origin of half of Britain’s imported virus cases", was based on PHE data relating to individuals who have travelled to the UK from Pakistan between June 4 and the article's publication date; it did not cover the entire period of the pandemic, as readers may have inferred. 

7.    The publication stated that the tweet could not be read in isolation and was clarified by the online article to which it linked. 36 days into IPSO investigation it offered to publish a new tweet linking to the amended online article (once the proposed footnote was added), with the wording: "CORRECTION: Article amended with explanatory footnote"

8.    The complainant considered that the corrections offered were inadequate, as they were not sufficiently prominent, and did not acknowledge or apologise for alleged racism towards the Pakistani people.

Relevant Clause Provisions 

9.    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. 

Findings of the Committee 

10.  The terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code are explicit in their requirement that headline statements 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. Neither can the body of an article be relied upon to correct a misleading impression given by a tweet linking to it. 

11.  In this instance, because no reference to the limited time frame to which the statistic related had been included, both headlines gave the strong and misleading impression that half of all Britain’s imported coronavirus cases had originated in Pakistan. This was compounded by the opening sentences of the articles, which repeated the statement. While the article did subsequently state that there had been “30 cases of coronavirus in people who have travelled from Pakistan since June 4, which is understood to represent half of the incidents of imported infection”, this was not sufficient to rectify the misleading impression already given or to clarify to readers that the headline claim related only to this period. The publication of the headlines 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). These inaccuracies were significant and required correction under Clause 1(ii) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. 

12.  The headline of the online article had been amended before IPSO’s investigation to refer only to the month of June. At the beginning of IPSO’s investigation, the publication had offered to correct both online and print articles. The corrections offered identified the misleading claim and the correct position. They were offered promptly and with due prominence, especially given the earlier amendment of the online article’s headline. There was no breach of 1(ii) in respect of the online and print articles. 

13.  The tweet used the same wording as the headline of the online article and was therefore misleading. As the text of the online article did not clarify the online headline, it did not clarify the tweet which linked to it. The publication of the tweet represented a failure to take care not to publish misleading or distorted information, in breach of Clause 1(i). The tweet was significantly misleading and required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). 

14.  The publication had offered to tweet a link to the amended version of the article, with the tweet stating “CORRECTION: Article amended with explanatory footnote”. However, as the tweet itself was significantly misleading, simply tweeting a link to a correction published elsewhere did not meet the requirements of due prominence. There was a breach of Clause 1(ii) in respect of the tweet. 

15.  The complainant’s allegation of racism against the newspaper fell outside the parameters of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. The Committee made no ruling on this point.

Conclusions 

16.  The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial action required 

17.  With regards to the articles, the corrections proposed by the publication were sufficient to address the requirements of Clause 1(ii) for the reasons set out above and should now be published. With regards to the tweet, there was a breach of Clause 1(ii) for the reasons set out above. 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. The Committee considered that the corrections offered in relation to both articles were sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1(ii). The publication had also shown a willingness to correct the tweet. In light of these considerations, the Committee concluded that a correction was the appropriate remedy. 

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

Date complaint received: 27/06/2020

Date decision issued: 26/11/2020