Ruling

11063-22 Smith v The Mail on Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      1st June 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee11063-22 Smith v The Mail on Sunday

 

Summary of Complaint

1. Philip Smith complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “4 IN 10 BOAT MIGRANTS ARE FROM WAR-FREE ALBANIA”, published on 7 August 2022.

2. The article, which appeared on the front page of the newspaper before continuing onto page 4, reported that “[four] in ten migrants crossing the Channel in small boats are from peaceful Albania where there has not been a war for 25 years, a secret military intelligence report leaked to the Mail on Sunday reveals”. The headline on the front-page was also preceded by the statement “[i]n the clearest evidence yet that asylum system is being abused, secret military intelligence file leaked to MoS reveals…”. The article stated that “[i]t is the first time that an official report has exposed how the largest proportion of those making illegal crossings appear to be economic migrants abusing Britain’s generous asylum system”.

3. The continuation of the article on page 4 listed the specific information included in the report, including that “[a] total of 1,075 Albanians crossed the Channel in small boats organised by the gangs during a six-week period this summer – almost 40 per cent of those identified as making the perilous crossing”. It also stated that the report revealed that “2,863 migrants [were] transported by the nine gangs between June 1 and July 12 this year [2022]” and of this total “1,075 – or 37.5 – were Albanian”. It said that this total “dwarfed other nationalities”, with ”Iranians ma[king] up the next highest total, with […] 13 per cent”.

4. The article then claimed that “[t]he figures vindicate Home Secretary Priti Patel’s view that the majority of those crossing the Channel are ‘effectively economic migrants’ and ‘not genuine asylum seekers’”. The article went on to state that the report “also undermines criticism from Left-wing critics, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, of plans to send asylum seekers to Rwanda” and quoted former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith as having said: “'This is absolutely clear evidence – in the face of all those on the liberal Left who cry for us to let anyone in – that this is an economic issue and, as such, it is desperate that we get on with the Rwanda programme.'”

5. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format on 6 August 2022, under the headline “Four in 10 migrants arriving to Britain on boats are from war-free Albania”.

6. The complainant said that the headline of the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as the headline claim that “four in ten boat migrants are from […] Albania” was untrue and could only be defended through the selective use of data. He said that the four in ten figure was derived from people crossing the Channel over a six-week period by the top nine human trafficking gangs– this figure comprised 2,863 people, compared to a total figure of 4,456 people who had crossed the Channel during this period if other means of crossing were included. The complainant therefore considered that the article would mislead readers into thinking that the “four in ten” figure related applied to all channel crossings during this period, rather than the smaller sub-set of crossings co-ordinated by nine criminal gangs.

7. The complainant also said that the article was inaccurate to claim that the figures from the report vindicated the Home Secretary’s view that “the majority of those crossing the Channel are ‘effectively economic migrants’ and ‘not genuine asylum seekers’”. He said that government figures consistently demonstrated that the majority of Channel migrants were individuals escaping war or persecution.  He provided data from the Institute for Public Policy Research that estimated that around 70 per cent of people who crossed the channel in boats would have successful asylum claims if they were substantively considered. The complainant added that the increase in Albanians travelling across the channel was recent and not indicative of all people currently awaiting an asylum claim and that – at any rate – four in ten people being from Albania, and therefore potentially economic migrants, did not mean that “the majority of those crossing the Channel are ‘effectively economic migrants’”. The complainant also considered the Home Secretary’s view to be inaccurate because it suggested that individuals not from war-torn countries are automatically ineligible for asylum, which is not the case.

8. The complainant also considered the article inaccurately suggested that over half of people crossing the Channel in small boats are economic migrants. He said this was implied by the phrase “war-free” and in various quotes in the article.

9. He also said that the article inaccurately suggested that the report justified the Rwanda programme. The complainant said that it was clear that the Rwanda programme was designed for people who have or who are likely to qualify for asylum, and that the government already has powers to deport those deemed to be economic migrants.

10. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code.  It said the military intelligence file focused on the nine biggest gangs believed to be operating the majority of the crossings. It said that the article had made clear the specific data being used, and that it had been taken from that single military report. While it accepted that the 4 in 10 figure might have been different had it used data going back from – for instance – 2019, where only 0.07% of people crossing the channel were Albanian, it said that the numbers of Albanian people crossing the channel had increased significantly since then and the publication was entitled to give its readers the most recent statistics. It said the article made clear what time period the figure came from, and the complainant had provided no reason to believe that the people transported by those nine gangs were not representative of those crossing the Channel as a whole.

11. In relation to the headline specifically, the publication said that this was a simple statement summarising the article, and that the body of the article provided more detail on that statement – as was typical for articles. It said that it was not required under the Code for the – all the information about a source to be set out in full in the headlines of articles.

12. Regarding the complainant’s concerns that the data used was not representative of the true figure of individuals transported in this period, the publication said that a detailed breakdown of small boat crossings by nationality had not yet been published for the relevant period as far as it was aware. The data provided by the complainant showed how many people had crossed the channel in boats week by week, but it did not report which countries they had come from. The publication did, however, provide data from the Home Office which was published after the article in November 2022. This covered the six weeks referred to in the article and stated that, between May and September 2022, Albanian people accounted for 42% of small boat crossings. The data appeared to cover all the people who crossed the channel in this period, although it did not specify exactly how many people had crossed the channel between May and September. The data provided also noted that "in some weeks over the summer, more than half of small boat arrivals claimed to be Albanian".

13. Turning to the complainant’s disagreement that the figures “vindicate[d]” the Home Secretary’s view, the publication noted that the precise figures were set out in the article – therefore, readers could make their own determination as to whether or not the figures supported the Home Secretary’s view. It added that it was not in dispute that the total number of Albanians who crossed the Channel “dwarfed other nationalities” and that it did not necessarily follow that the remaining 62.5% who were not Albanian were asylum seekers rather than economic migrants.

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

14. The Committee first considered the complainant’s concerns that the headline claim that four in ten boat migrants were Albanian was misleading. The complainant’s concern was that the figure appeared to be extrapolated from the subset of 2,863 people transported by nine gangs between 1 June and 12 July in 2022 rather than the total figure of 4,456 people who were known to have crossed the Channel during this period. 15. However the Committee noted that the claim was clearly signposted as being drawn from a military intelligence report, in the references to above the headline in the print article to “secret military intelligence file leaked to MoS” and the reference to in both the online and print versions “an official report”. It was therefore signposted as relating to specific data and went on to make clear that this data was limited to the activities of “nine criminal gangs”. In any case, during IPSO’s investigation the publication provided further government data that showed that in the period, Albanian people accounted for 42% of small boat crossings; a point the complainant did not dispute. This data was recent: covering a six-week period which had concluded less than a month prior to publication. Where this data existed, the Committee did not consider there to be grounds to find data in the report was unrepresentative of the demographics crossing the channel as a whole in this period. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

15. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns that it was inaccurate to claim that the figures from the report “vindicated” the Home Secretary’s view that “the majority of those crossing the Channel are ‘effectively economic migrants’ and ‘not genuine asylum seekers’”. The Committee noted that the overall thrust of the article was that a large number of boat migrants were from peaceful countries and were therefore “abusing Britain’s generous asylum system”. The reference to the Home Secretary’s claim that these were “effectively economic migrants” being “vindicated” was clearly a claim that the Home Secretary’s “view” about “economic migrants” was strongly supported by the data discussed in the article rather than being an express factual claim that an overall majority were economic migrants. In such circumstances, the Committee did not consider the article to be significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted on this point. Additionally the article did not go so far as to suggest that individuals not from war-torn countries were automatically ineligible for asylum.

16. The complainant had also added that he considered the article inaccurately suggested that over half of the people crossing the Channel in small boats were economic migrants, which was not the case. The Committee noted that the article itself did not claim that the “majority” or more than half of the people crossing the Channel, were economic migrants; this was a quote from the Home Secretary. Additionally,  the “largest proportion”, or “majority” did not necessarily mean over half. Further, the article only referenced “economic migrants” twice; once in the quote relating to the Home Secretary, and the second in the following passage: “[i]t is the first time that an official report has exposed how the largest proportion of those making illegal crossings appear to be economic migrants abusing Britain’s generous asylum system”. The Committee noted that this passage related specifically to the leaked military report and stated that the largest proportion of these individuals “appear[ed] to be economic migrants”. Where these individuals had come from Albania, a country free from war, the Committee did not consider it significantly inaccurate or misleading to state that these individuals “appear[ed]” to be economic migrants – the Committee also noted that this claim was clearly applied only to the people covered by the report, rather than migrants in general. There was no breach of Clause 1 in this regard.

17. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns that the article suggested that the report justified the Rwanda programme.. The Committee noted that the article stated that the report undermined criticism from “Left-wing critics” and included Sir Iain Duncan Smith’s comments on the report and that they needed to “get on with the Rwanda programme”. The publication was entitled to include such opinions in the article, and the Committee noted that it is subjective – to a point – whether or not a specific report supports a programme proposed by the government, rather than a verifiable fact than can be said to be accurate or inaccurate. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

18. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

19. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  08/08/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  23/03/2023