Ruling

11417-22 Dollimore v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      12th January 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11417-22 Dollimore v Daily Mail

Summary of Complaint

1. Duncan Dollimore complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “91% of drivers back cyclist number plates”, published on 18 August 2022.

2. The article reported on “proposed tougher road rules for cyclists”. According to the article, “a poll found a huge majority of drivers back[ed]” the rules; it then went on to report that a politician had “suggested cyclists could be forced to have registration numbers, insurance and observe speed limits under a legal shake-up”. The article included further comments from the politician about his suggestions:

“‘Particularly where you’ve got 20mph limits on increasing numbers of roads, cyclists can easily exceed those, so I want to make speed limits apply to cyclists. ‘That does then lead you into the question of,’“do you need registration plates and insurance and that sort of thing. So I’m proposing there should be a review of insurance and how you actually track cyclists who do break the laws.’ […He] later appeared to backtrack, telling the Times that he was ‘not attracted to the bureaucracy of registration plates’, adding: ‘That would go too far.’”

3. The seventh paragraph elaborated on the nature of the “poll”, reporting that “[a] poll of 1,500 drivers by motoring campaign group FairFuelUK found 91 per cent supported cyclists being forced to ‘have road registration IDs’. Another 70 per cent backed them having insurance and 80 per cent supported speeding penalties.”

4. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form under the headline “We've got your number! 91% of motorists back plan to force cyclists to sport registration plates, poll suggests”. This version of the article was accompanied by bullet points beneath the headline, one of which said that the “[b]acklash over plans comes despite huge majority of drivers backing them in poll”.

5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate and misleading on several points, in breach of Clause 1. He first said that the results of the poll could not be representative of the views of drivers in general as it had been conducted by a motoring group and promoted to its followers. He said, therefore, the poll was in fact a “self-selected survey”, as the respondents were individuals who were likely be supportive of the motoring group rather than being representative of the general public.

6. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 1 by not accurately reporting who took part in the survey and what they were asked. The “drivers” which the article referred to, he said, were self-identified drivers, and they had not been asked whether cyclists should be “forced to have registration plates”. Rather, they had been asked whether they supported the idea of “registration IDs”. The complainant said that the cumulative effect of all of these alleged breaches of Clause 1 meant that the article misled the reader regarding public support for measures to regulate cycling.

7. The publication did not accept that the article breached Clause 1. It said that the article was clear about how the poll had been carried out, reporting that it was a poll of 1,500 drivers conducted by the motoring group. It also said that the Editors’ Code did not include requirements that only certain polling methods are used, provided the poll’s parameters are clearly set out in the article – which was the case in this instance. The publication said that it would be a disproportionate regulatory intervention for IPSO to find that the phrase “poll” could not be used to describe a survey; the terms were often used interchangeably, and many other publications and news coverage used the term in this way – therefore demonstrating that the two terms were widely understood to be interchangeable in a colloquial sense.

8. Addressing the question of whether the article was inaccurate to refer to the views of “drivers” when referring to the poll respondents, the newspaper said that – presumably – nearly all research relied on good faith from respondents, and the assumption that they were answering honestly. For example, it said that it was not aware of polls which required respondents to verify their gender or location.

9. The publication also said that it was clear from the article that the concept of “road registration IDs” had become synonymous with “number plates” in the recent discussions over further requirements for cyclists – as demonstrated by the politician’s comments included in the article. It said that it could not therefore see how this point of complaint could represent a significant inaccuracy in need of correction. It further said that the purpose of polls was to measure public opinion by studying a smaller sample – it therefore did not accept that the article could be said to misrepresent the general public’s support for the proposed measures, where the poll’s findings were accurately reported and its parameters clearly set out.

10. The publication then provided a copy of the original poll findings which it had been sent. This showed that one of the questions put to the poll respondents was as follows:

“Where do you stand on these issues for cyclists: Have Road registration IDs:”

11. The complainant said that, when referring to the motorist group, the article did not state that its supporters were more likely to have seen and responded to the poll. He further said that the publication had not engaged with the question of whether the poll’s “self-selection bias” rendered the article inaccurate. He also said that, regardless of whether road registration IDs were synonymous with number plates, it remained the case that the poll question did not use the word “force” – no one had been asked whether they considered cyclists should be “forced” to have road registration IDs, therefore the use of this word was misleading,

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

12. The Committee did not consider that using the phrase “poll” to refer to the survey rendered the article significantly inaccurate or misleading in circumstances where the company which conducted the poll and the number of poll respondents was set out clearly in the article. It noted that confusion may arise between the two terms in circumstances where the exact parameters of the survey are not made clear; however, this was not the case in this instance.

13. The Committee also considered that the use of the phrase “drivers” prominently in the article made clear that the sample of people who were asked whether or not they supported the measures was limited; the poll had sought the views of drivers specifically and this was made clear in both versions of the headline – and the article made clear which organisation had conducted the poll. While the Committee noted the complainant’s position that referring to “drivers” was inaccurate because the participants had self-selected to participate in the poll published by a motoring group, and that the wider population of drivers not responding to the poll may take a different view, the Committee considered that this was a natural limitation of polls and surveys which would be widely understood.

14. The Committee then turned to the question of whether the article misrepresented the question put to the survey respondents by reporting that they supported “forc[ing]” cyclists to have registration plates. In considering whether this was inaccurate, the Committee had regard for the original question which was put to the poll respondents, which asked if respondents supported cyclists “[h]aving road registration IDs”. In circumstances where vehicle “registration” (however understood) was an existing legal obligation in relation to cars, and where the question clearly was inviting views on this being introduced as a new requirement for cyclists, the Committee did not consider it was inaccurate for the article to characterise this question as cyclists being “forced”.

15. Turning to the question of whether the article was inaccurate to describe poll respondents as supporting “number plates” when in fact the question had asked about “road registration IDs”, the Committee noted that the article made clear the precise question which was asked: “[a] poll of 1,500 drivers by motoring campaign group FairFuelUK found 91 per cent supported cyclists being forced to ‘have road registration IDs’.” The Committee also noted that a “registration plate” (or number plate) was the primary method of registering vehicles with statutory authorities in the UK. In such circumstances, the Committee considered that – while the headlines may have been ambiguous as to the precise question which was asked in its reference to “number plates” and “registration plates” – the article supported and clarified the headline, making clear the precise question which was asked.

16. Therefore, considering the article as a whole, the Committee did not consider that it inaccurately reported on the survey. While the complainant had expressed concerns over the manner in which the survey had been conducted, the newspaper was responsible for accurately reporting its results and parameters (for instance, that the sample was “self-selecting”); it was not responsible for the content of the survey itself. Therefore, where the article made clear that it was a motoring group who conducted the survey, the questions which were asked, that 1500 people had participated in the survey, and accurately reported the outcome of the poll, the Committee was satisfied that the newspaper had not breached Clause 1 either in its reporting of the survey itself, or by misrepresenting the level of support amongst the general public for the proposed measures.

Conclusion(s)

17. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

18. N/A


Date complaint received: 30/08/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 23/12/2022