Ruling

12068-22 Kelly v scottishdailyexpress.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      1st June 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee12068-22 Kelly v scottishdailyexpress.co.uk

 

Summary of Complaint

1. James Kelly complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that scottishdailyexpress.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “New poll sinks Nicola Sturgeon's Scexit dream as majority of Scots back No”, published on 16 October 2022.

2. The online article reported that “support for the union ha[d] INCREASED”, with “49 per cent” of respondents to a poll, completed by [Company A] between 7 – 10 October, saying that they would vote against Scottish independence. It reported that this marked “an increase o[f] four” per cent from the organisation’s previous poll on the matter, conducted a few days prior. It also said that “46 per cent” would vote for independence – “an increase of one” from the previous poll. The article  then explained that, with ‘Don’t Know’ respondents excluded, ‘No’ had a “four per cent lead at 52 per cent”, with ‘Yes’ at “48 per cent”, adding that the previous survey had it “neck and neck”.

3. The article was accompanied by a Tweet, which stated:

“Scottish Independence Voting Intention:

NO: 49% (+4)

YES: 46% (+1)

Don’t Know: 5% (=)

Don’t knows Excluded:

NO: 52% (+2)

YES: 48% (-2)

Via [Company A], On 7-10 October, Changes w/ 5-7 October.”

4. The complainant said that the article inaccurately reported the findings of the poll, in breach of Clause 1. He said that the poll found 49 per cent were in favour of independence, with 51 per cent against. Therefore, the percentage lead for ‘No’ was two, not four as reported by the article. He also said that the article had been based on an unverified Twitter post rather than the publicly available data tables published by the polling company.

5. The publication said it obtained the figures from a widely followed and regularly cited Twitter account, which specifically covers the results of UK-based polls and elections, and which were published in good faith. It added that the tweet, which detailed the poll’s findings (both including and excluding the “Don’t Know” respondents), was embedded within the article and made clear from where the published figures had been sourced. Further, the publication said it was entitled to rely on secondary sources of information – such as the tweet in question – which analysed and assessed complex datasets, and that it was common practice for newspapers to do so.

6. However, upon receipt of the complaint, the publication accepted that the figures reported were incorrect; specifically, the percentage difference between the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ respondents was three per cent, rather than four per cent. The publication therefore amended the online article on this point and published the following footnote correction on 3 November 2022:

“Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that 'No' held a four per cent lead at 52 per cent, with 'Yes’ at 48 per cent. In fact, the poll showed that 'No' held a three per cent lead at 51.5 per cent, with 'Yes' at 48.5 per cent. We are happy to clarify this. “

7. The complainant said that the revised version of the article was still inaccurate and said that a further standalone correction –  including an apology to its readership – was required. The complainant expressed concern that the updated figures were now rounded to one decimal place, and said that the publication’s calculations were incorrect: the poll showed ‘No’ held a two per cent lead at 51 per cent (51.4, rounded down), with ‘Yes’ at 49 per cent (48.6, rounded up). He said the publication had understated the ‘Yes’ vote by 0.1 per cent and overstated the ‘No’ by the same margin. As a result, the overall lead was overstated by 0.2 per cent and had incorrectly been rounded to “three”. 

8. During IPSO’s investigation, on 6 December 2022, the publication offered to publish the following revised correction:

“Our article headlined “New poll sinks Nicola Sturgeon's Scexit dream as majority of Scots back No”, published on 16 October 2022 incorrectly reported that ‘No’ held a four per cent lead at 52 per cent, with 'Yes’ at 48 per cent. In fact, the poll – completed by [Company A] between 7-10 October – showed that 'No' held a 2.8 point lead at 51.4 per cent, with 'Yes' at 48.6 per cent (when excluding respondents who were undecided and deemed unlikely to vote).”

9. The complainant did not accept that this was sufficient. He suggested that the proposed correction was still inaccurate and misleading, and proposed the publication of the following correction:

“Our article headlined “New poll sinks Nicola Sturgeon's Scexit dream as majority of Scots back No”, published on 16 October 2022 incorrectly reported that ‘No’ held a four per cent lead at 52 per cent, with 'Yes’ at 48 per cent. On [3 November 2022] we published a correction stating that 'No' held a three point lead at 51.5 per cent, with 'Yes' at 48.5 per cent. This was also inaccurate. In fact, the poll – completed by [Company A] between 7-10 October – showed that 'No' held a two point lead at 51 per cent, with 'Yes' at 49 per cent (when excluding respondents who were undecided and deemed unlikely to vote). We apologise for these two inaccuracies and for the lengthy period it has taken us to correct them.”

10. The publication did not accept that the proposed wording was appropriate. However, on 19 December 2022, in response to the complainant’s proposal and in an effort to resolve the matter, the publication offered to publish the following wording:

“Our article headlined "New poll sinks Nicola Sturgeon's Scexit dream as majority of Scots back No", published on 16 October 2022 incorrectly reported that 'No' held a four per cent lead at 52 per cent, with 'Yes' at 48 per cent. In fact, the poll - completed by [Company A] between 7-10 October - showed that 'No' held a 2 point lead, with 'No' at 51 per cent (51.4), and 'Yes' at 49 per cent (48.6) (when excluding respondents who were undecided and deemed unlikely to vote).”

11. The complainant did not accept this as a resolution to his complaint: it neither addressed nor corrected the correction published on 3 November  2022 or the subsequent revisions made to the online article; and did not include an apology for the initial error or for the time taken to put the correct position on record. The matter was therefore passed to IPSO’s Complaints Committee for adjudication.

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

12. It was accepted by both parties that the online article misreported the findings of the poll. It suggested that, when excluding respondents who were undecided and deemed unlikely to vote, support against Scottish independence had a “four” per cent lead at “52 per cent” with ‘Yes’ at “48 per cent”. In fact, the poll suggested a narrower lead than claimed in the article: recording ’Yes’ at 49 per cent (407 of 838 respondents, and equivalent to 48.6 per cent) and ‘No’ at 51 per cent (431 of 838 respondents, and equivalent to 51.4 per cent); and, therefore, equating to a two per cent lead for support against independence. The Committee noted the publication's position that this lead increased to three per cent (2.8) when the figures were rounded to one decimal place. However, the article had reported a 4% lead, in reliance upon the tweet.  The findings of the poll had been clear, with its full details publicly available online and the publication had instead relied upon an inaccurate social media post and did not appear to have verified the information against the original poll results. This represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, raising a breach of Clause 1 (i).

13. The extent of support for Scottish independence formed the basis for the article. In this context, where the issue has been so closely contested in polls historically, misreporting the poll’s finding was considered significant. As such, a correction was required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

14. The Committee next considered whether the remedial action taken by the newspaper was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii). In doing so, the Committee noted the complainant’s request for an apology. While there may be some circumstances in which an apology may be appropriate, the nature of this breach was not one of those occasions. It related to a general point of fact and did not personally affect a specific person or people. Upon receipt of the complaint, the publication had amended the online article and published a footnote correction on 3 November 2022. This was offered promptly, and its location – at the foot of the online article – was sufficiently prominent. The correction noted the original inaccuracy and accurately put on record the overall lead for Scottish independence found by the poll by presenting a rounded figure for the lead having rounded the poll figures to one decimal place – “three per cent”. On receipt of the complainant’s further submission, the publication had offered to publish an updated version which confirmed that the lead was 2.8%, which correctly recorded the differences between the two figures, to the nearest tenth of a percentage point. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusion(s)

15. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1 (i)

Remedial action required

16. 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:  25/10/22

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  16/02/23

 

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.