Ruling

12405-21 Horner v express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      26th May 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 12405-21 Horner v express.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. David Horner complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Army sent in as border crisis explodes – desperate EU forced to beg UK for help”, published on 9 December 2021.

2. The headline of the online article was followed by the sub-heading “BRITAIN will send 140 military engineers to Poland to support its efforts to deal with a crisis at the border with Belarus, as the EU desperately attempts to stem the influx of migrants entering the bloc”. The article reported that the EU had introduced restrictive measures against Belarus and that NATO had accused the country of trying to use immigration as a tool to destabilise the EU. It also included the comments by the Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace MP, who said that the UK’s commitment to “European security” was “unwavering”. 

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate to report that the EU, rather than an individual member state – Poland – had requested support from the UK government in dealing with migrant crisis at its border with Belarus. He said that the headline was unsupported by the text of the article.

4. The publication did not accept that the article breached the Editors’ Code. It did not consider that the headline was inaccurate or misleading. The article reported on the migrant crisis at the Poland-Belarus border – an entry point to the EU – and had been based upon a government press release that stated that the UK had come to “Poland and Lithuania’s aid after they requested support” to deal with the issue. It also noted that, according to a report by the BBC, Poland had “EU backing” to restrict the flow of migrants into the bloc, with EU officials regularly commenting on the crisis. It further suggested that a request from one member state was akin to a request from the EU as a whole, noting the reference to “European security” in the Defence Secretary’s statement.

5. Notwithstanding this, upon receipt of the complaint, in a gesture of goodwill, the publication amended the headline of the online article to refer to “EU nations” rather than the “EU”. The complainant did not, however, consider this sufficient and requested that the matter be considered by the Complaints Committee. 

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

6. While the Editors’ Code makes clear that the press is free to editorialise, the terms of Clause 1 (Accuracy) are explicit in their requirement that headline statements should be supported by the text of the article.

7. In this instance, the headline of the online article made the clear assertion that a “desperate EU” had begged the UK government for its support in dealing with the migrant crisis at the Poland-Belarus border. Where the article had been based on a government press release which stated that the request had been made directly by two individual nation states, Poland and Lithuania, not the European Union itself, this was inaccurate, misleading, and unsupported by the text of the article. The article did not establish that any request was made by the EU to the UK government, or that any other interaction that had occurred between the EU and the UK that could reasonably be characterised as a request for help. The Committee did not accept that direct actions undertaken by member states equated to actions undertaken by the union as a whole. As such, the publication of this headline amounted to a clear failure by the newspaper to take care, raising a breach of Clause 1 (i).

8. The inaccuracy was significant, where it appeared prominently in the headline and related to a matter of international concern. As such, it required correction under Clause 1 (ii) of the Editors’ Code.

9. While the publication had amended the headline, upon receipt of the complaint, this was insufficient to correct the inaccuracy of the original headline and to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii). Neither a clarification nor a correction was offered. As such, there was a breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusion(s)

10. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

11. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

12. The Committee considered that the headline inaccurately and misleadingly reported that the EU had requested support from the UK government, which was not supported by the article. The Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on record.

13. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. This correction should appear as a standalone correction in the online Corrections and Clarification’s column. It should also appear at the foot of the online article. The wording of this correction should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it had been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.


Date complaint received: 9/12/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 29/04/2022