Ruling

11145-22 Aithal v expressandstar.com

    • Date complaint received

      24th November 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11145-22 Aithal v expressandstar.com

Summary of Complaint

1. Vinod Aithal complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that expressandstar.com breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice by publishing a letter headlined “LETTER: Everyone seems to be cashing in on the myth”, published on 1st December 2021.

2. The letter cited the reader’s opinion of climate change. The opening sentence of the letter asked, “[s]urely other people […] have also had the foresight to see the ‘climate change bandwagon’ for what it [was]”. The writer went on to express concern that “world leaders, politicians and fanatics are all cashing in on the myth, some make a living off the fear and lies”, with countries and companies “using [natural] variations as an excuse to charge more for hydrocarbon and energy”. The letter argued that the planet had been in constant change for billions of years, and that the planet’s “orbit, sun sports, geothermal activity, tectonic plates, the gravity of the moon, continental drift and even our wobbly axis” had all contributed to this. It then said that since the formation of Pangea, “the subsequent movement of continents, volcanoes, several ice ages, (possibly even meteor strikes), ha[d[ seen the rise and total extinction of many species”, adding that “[w]eather patterns, geothermal activity and future meteor strike[s] are all outside human control”. It also stated that “[b]y the time history proves it was all within the normal range of change, this generation will be dead and following ones brainwashed to believe that natural entropy is reversible, and it was all caused by man’s tiny influence”.  The letter then stated that society “should accept that we cannot change these natural disasters, and Earth has been through it all before and a great hand, be it God or Gaia, will prevail over our minute influence”. The letter’s concluded with: “Let’s accept and enjoy ourselves, (in moderation), as an extinction level event could happen tomorrow and, like the next ice age, a tiny rise in average temperature or any other cyclic change to this planet, there is nothing we can do about it”.

3. The complainant said that the reader’s letter was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said it was inaccurate to report that climate change was a “myth” put forward by businesses and governments for financial gain or a “natural” phenomenon: he said anthropogenic climate change was indisputable. The complainant denied the substance of the claims put forward by the letter, which he argued constituted climate misinformation. He also expressed concern that no counterargument had been presented which he considered gave the false impression that the views published were the accepted mainstream.

4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that the letter was clearly identifiable as a reader’s letter; and therefore clearly distinguished as the reader’s personal comment and opinion, rather than a factual news piece. The publication said it sought to publish a range of views on current and contentious issues, including climate change; it offered its readership a platform to defend, react to and to challenge ideas and perspectives. Further, it said that it took care to verify all reader’s letters before publication, and the letter under complaint did not include any significant inaccuracies requiring correction.

5. Notwithstanding this, upon receipt of the complaint, on 24th August, the publication offered the complainant a right to reply via a letter to the Editor, to be published both online and in print, in order to resolve his complaint.

6. The complainant provided wording that outlined his position. The publication did not accept the complainant’s exact wording, and offered to publish an edited version of the letter, but the parties were unable to agree on a precise form of words. As such, the matter was passed to the Committee for adjudication.

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. Letters pages in publications are an important manifestation of the right to freedom of expression: they offer individuals the opportunity to respond to claims made in publications, share their own viewpoints and dispute points raised by other readers. The Committee emphasised that its role was to evaluate the complaint under the Editors’ Code and not to attempt to reach a position on matters best left to public debate.

8. In this instance, the letter was clearly presented as the view of the reader, as it was placed on the online letters page; the writer was not presented as having any authority on the matter and was entitled to set out his position on the topic. The Committee noted that the writer presented himself as a contrarian and sceptic from the outset. He made clear that there was a prevailing scientific view when he described the “climate change bandwagon” with regard to which he was voicing a controversial and minority opposition; asking in the opening line of the article whether “others” also had the “foresight to see” past that general consensus on climate change. The controversial status of the information and argument he subsequently put forward was therefore clear to the publication’s readership.

9. The writer’s central argument was that climate variations were cyclical while also acknowledging that his own argument would require “history [to prove] it was all within the normal range of change” which again made clear the limitations of his position.  For those reasons the Committee considered that the claims about climate change were clearly distinguished as being the author’s minority opinion and at odds with the scientific consensus and inherently hard to prove. There was no breach of Clause 1.

10. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the steps taken by the publication to resolve the matter.

Conclusion(s)

11. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

12. N/A


Date complaint received: 14/09/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 03/11/2022