Resolution Statement – 12583-22 Leach v The Herald

    • Date complaint received

      16th February 2023

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement – 12583-22 Leach v The Herald

Summary of Complaint

1. John Paul Leach complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Herald breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Anger over professor’s ‘female brain’ image”, published on 3 September 2022.

2. The article was published on the newspaper’s front-page. The headline was followed by the sub-headline “Neurologist in university probe” and was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant, captioned: “Professor John Paul Leach’s slide sparked complaints from students”. The article reported that the complainant was facing an internal investigation by the University of Glasgow after he “displayed an image of the female brain as part of a teaching session”. This image reportedly contained a “large area of [the brain] designated” the “headache generator”; a “tiny part” labelled the “sex initiation” gland; and “driving skills” and “realisation of wants vs needs” shown as dots. The article then stated that a “male equivalent of the slide was not created”. It further reported that the complainant was “said to have removed the slide from an online student portal following complaints”. The article continued on page two, beneath the headline “Row over ‘sexism’ as neurologist under investigation by bosses” and included an image of the “female brain”.

3. The article was also published online with the headline “Anger over Glasgow professor’s ‘female brain’ image”. While the text of the article was substantially similar to the print version, it reported that the complainant had “apologised unreservedly” for the slide on Twitter. It also featured a number of images, including a screenshot of the graphic of the “female brain” yet with an accompanying “male brain” visible behind.

4. The complainant said that the article incorrectly reported that “no male equivalent of the slide” was shown during his presentation to students. Further, he said that the publication of an edited version of the slide, which removed the visible and accompanying cartoon of the male brain – and which had appeared in the online version of the article – compounded the notion that his presentation was selectively demeaning to women and that he was guilty of misogynistic behaviours.

5. Following the article’s publication, the complainant contacted the publication directly with his concerns. Though he said that did not wish for a “public retraction” from the publication, he sought an acknowledgment that the article gave an incomplete and misleading impression of the 2016 lecture.

6. While the complainant did not receive a response from the publication, the online article was amended to remove the reference to the lack of a “male equivalent slide”. The amended online article stated that “an image depicting the brain of fictional TV character Homer Simpson can be seen behind the slide”.

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. 

Mediated Outcome

7. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties, with the publication not contacting the complainant during the referral period. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

8. During IPSO’s investigation, the complainant said that a private letter from the publication acknowledging the inaccuracies – as well as further amendments to the online article – would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

9. The publication further updated the online article and acknowledged the errors.

10. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 21/11/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 25/01/2023