Ruling

11206-21 Various v Daily Express

    • Date complaint received

      10th March 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11206-21 Various v Daily Express

Summary of Complaint

1. The Independent Press Standards Organisation received various complaints that the Daily Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Britons charged to enter EU in ‘revenge for Brexit’”, published on 4 August 2021.

2. The article – which appeared on page 10 of the newspaper – reported that “Brussels [wa]s slapping a visa charge on British holidaymakers wanting to enter Europe from the end of next year, in an act of revenge for Brexit” and that “Brexiteers said the £6 fee was a brazen reflection of the EU’s anti-British attitude.” The article went on to report the details of the visa charge: “European Commission officials said they were ‘on track’ to introduce the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) from the start of 2023. Britons will have to provide information about their identity, passport, education, job, recent travel and criminal convictions before they enter the bloc. “

3. The article also appeared online under the headline “UK tourists to be charged for entering EU as bloc unleashes new Brexit punishment”. The online version of the article also reported that “ETIAS will mean that citizens from more than 60 countries outside the Schengen free-travel zone, including the US and Australia, are required to pre-register for visa-free travel to Europe.”

4. Complainants said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as the reference to the charge as “revenge for Brexit” or a “Brexit punishment” was misleading. Complainants said that these claims were misleading because the charge would affect many non-EU countries; the UK was not singled out, and they considered that by referring to “Brexit”, the article misled readers into believing that this was the case.

5. On 4 August 2021, the day after the article’s initial publication – and prior to IPSO making the publication aware of complainants’ concerns – the publication amended the online headline to read “Britons to be charged for entering the EU as Brexit consequences hit UK tourists”. The publication also added a footnote to the article when this amendment was made; the footnote said:

A previous version of this article stated that the 'bloc unleashed new Brexit punishment' The headline has been amended to make clear that the term punishment is a matter of our opinion and refers to the fact that Britain is not getting preferential treatment for once being part of the EU

6. There was a delay in IPSO making the publication aware of the complainants’ concerns, due to an administrative error on IPSO’s part. Once the publication had been made aware of these concerns, it said that it considered that the UK was, effectively, being punished for exiting the EU – as the visa charges were in line with those for other, non-EU countries, and did not take into account the fact that until very recently the UK had been part of the EU. It said that – in the print version of the headline – it had placed the phrase “revenge for Brexit” in inverted commas to make clear that this was the opinion of the publication. Nevertheless, in its first response to IPSO after the beginning of IPSO’s investigation, the publication proposed to publish the following correction on page 2 of the newspaper to make the correct position as clear as possible:

Our article 'Britons charged to enter EU in 'revenge for Brexit'', 4 August, reported that 'Brussels is slapping a visa charge on British holidaymakers wanting to enter Europe from the end of next year, in an act of revenge for Brexit.' In fact, the ETIAS visa will be chargeable to more than 60 non-EU countries. We would like to make clear that the statement of the visa being 'an act of revenge for Brexit' is a matter of our opinion and refers to the fact that Britain is not getting preferential treatment for once being part of the EU.

The correction was published on 5 January 2022.

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 Code makes clear that the press is free to editorialise and campaign. In the view of the Committee, the suggestion that the visa charge was essentially a “revenge for Brexit” or a “Brexit punishment” clearly represented the publication’s hyperbolic conjecture as to the motivation for imposing the charge on the UK. The publication was entitled to take the position that, by failing to treat the UK differently from other nations, the EU was taking “revenge” or enacting “punishment”. The claims of “revenge” and “punishment” therefore did not breach Clause 1 (iv).

8. However, the Committee emphasised that the publication was required to take care in presenting the factual basis for this view.

9. The print version of the article did not make clear that citizens of other non-EU countries would also be subject to the charge; this gave the distorted and misleading impression as to the basis of the publication’s headline claim, by implying that the “revenge” claim related to a charge applied only to British travellers. In addition, the Committee noted that the article – when describing the visa itself – referred only to Britons, compounding the misleading impression created by this omission. By not making clear in the print article that the charge would apply to over 60 countries outside of the Schengen free-travel zone, the publication had published distorted information, in breach of Clause 1 (i).

10. The distorted information was significant, where it related to a visa charge which would affect a large number of people and implied the existence of an EU policy uniquely and specifically directed at UK citizens, and misrepresented the basis for the headline claim. The newspaper was, therefore, required by the terms of Clause 1 (ii) to correct the distorted information.

11. The newspaper’s correction clearly set out both that the visa charge would apply to 60 non-EU countries, and that the description of it as “Brexit revenge” was the publication’s characterisation only. The correction was offered promptly, as the publication offered to print the correction as soon as IPSO made it aware of the complaints regarding the print article. In addition, where the correction appeared further forward than the original article – on page 2, where the original article appeared on page 10 – it was sufficiently prominent. The print correction met the terms of Clause 1 (ii), and there was no further breach on this point.

12. By contrast with the print article, the online version of the article made the factual basis for its headline characterisation of the charge as a “Brexit punishment” clear in the first paragraph of the article, which noted that “ETIAS will mean that citizens from more than 60 countries outside the Schengen free-travel zone, including the US and Australia, are required to pre-register for visa-free travel to Europe.” It was therefore clear that the charge would apply to countries other than the UK. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i) arising from the online version of the article. However, the Committee welcomed the prompt action taken by the publication to make the factual basis for the article as clear as possible, and to clarify that the headline was indeed the publication’s characterisation.

Conclusion(s)

13. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1 (i).

Remedial Action Required

14. The published correction put the correct position on record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was required.


Date complaint received: 08/11/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 22/02/2022