Ruling

17352-23 Smith v dailystar.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      17th August 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 17352-23 Smith v dailystar.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Kim Smith complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that dailystar.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Brit woman needing double hand transplant refuses hands of man and black female”, published on 8 March 2023.

2. The article, which appeared online only, reported that the complainant – “a British woman who needs a double hand transplant” – had “allegedly refused hands from a man and a black woman”. It went on to report that the complainant “was asked whether she would accept the hands of a man or a black woman during a psychological assessment”.

3. The article also included quotes from the complainant about the psychological assessment: “It’s just to see whether you’re mentally suitable to have the transplant – they're the type of questions they put at you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you would get men's hands or hands from a black person. [….] I'm not prejudiced but I'm white – I want a white person's hands so they blend in with my skin tone as much as possible."

4. The article then included comments from the individual who would potentially carry out the transplant. They were reported as having said: “If the transplanted hands are not accepted by the recipient there is great potential for psychological rejection leading to non-compliance with immunosuppressive medication – and eventually therefore to immunological rejection. To avoid this as far as possible we ask each recipient to tell us very candidly what they will and will not accept. We specifically ask about characteristics such as hand size, appearance of age, gender. We also ask about skin colour, not in terms of race but in terms of skin tone."

5. The complainant said that the headline of the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said that the headline made it appear as if she had been offered a pair of hands from two donors – a man and a black woman, respectively – and had turned these specific donations down due to racial prejudice or sexist bias. She said this was not the case. She said the correct position was that she had been asked, in hypothetical terms and during a psychological assessment, whether she would accept donor hands from someone of a different sex and skin tone to herself. The complainant said that, after careful consideration, she would not wish to accept such donations as she thought she may not be able to accept them as her own, and a person accepting donor hands that they cannot psychologically accept as their own increased the risk of a body rejecting the transplant. She said the inaccurate headline had the potential to damage the positive work her hospital was doing to find donors for people such as herself.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code, as it said the article made clear why the complainant would refuse the hands, and included her position that she was not prejudiced. It also said that the article, including its headline, should be read as a whole, and that when doing so it was clear that the basis for the headline was the complainant’s answers during the psychological assessment. 

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

7. Clause 1 (i) requires that publications take care not to publish headlines which are not supported by the text of the article, although it does not require a headline to give the full context of the story in question. The Clause also requires publications to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information; this applies to headlines as well as the body of articles.

8. The complainant had not, as reported by the headline and the opening of the article, “refuse[d the] hands of [a] man and black female”; she had never been offered a transplant, and was not, therefore, in a position to have refused any such donation. The headline was therefore misleading; answering no to a hypothetical question was not, in the view of the Committee, equivalent to “refus[ing]” donated hands.

9. The publication had said that the text of the article made clear the woman’s full reasoning for answering no to the hypothetical question, and that the question had been posed during a psychological assessment. However, an accurate article cannot act as a correction to an inaccurate headline; rather than providing additional context to the headline, the article contradicted it – where it was made clear that the woman had not actually been offered two pairs of donor hands, as implied by the headline. The headline was inaccurate, and was not supported by the text of the article. There was therefore a breach of Clause 1 (i).

10. The headline inaccuracy was significant, where it appeared prominently in both the headline and the opening of the article, and related to the complainant’s serious injury and medical history – matters of reporting which require great care and attention to detail on the part of publications. It also did not accurately reflect the complainant’s reasons for responding to a sensitive medical question. The headline therefore required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii) and – where the publication had not proposed to correct the headline – there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

Conclusions

11. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial action required

12. Having upheld the complaint, 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 nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

13. The Committee considered the inaccuracy to be a significant one, where it appeared prominently in the headline and related to the complainant’s health. However, the Committee noted that the article itself did include the complainant’s position, as well as comments from a medical professional explaining why an individual may choose not to accept hands from a donor of a different sex or race to themselves. While the article couldn’t correct the misleading headline, the Committee considered that it did mitigate its effect. Therefore, on balance, the Committee considered that a correction was the appropriate remedy. The correction should acknowledge that the complainant had not refused the hands of a man or black woman. It should also make clear the correct position, which is that the complainant was asked in hypothetical terms during a psychological assessment whether she would accept the hands of someone of a different sex or race to herself and answered no, due to the risk that her body would reject the transplant – and that, as the article made clear, this risk appeared to be an established medical risk.

14. The wording of the correction should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

15. The Committee then considered the placement of this correction. As the misleading information appeared in the headline to the article, the correction should appear as a standalone correction and a link should be published on the homepage for 24 hours before being archived in the usual way. In addition, if the publication intends to continue to publish the online article without amendment, a correction should be added to the article and published beneath the headline. If the article is amended, this correction should be published as a footnote.

 

Date complaint received:  08/03/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  21/07/2023