Ruling

17365-23 Smith v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      29th June 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 17365-23 Smith v The Times


Summary of Complaint

1. Jamie Smith complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Reinstate word 'woman' on web advice, NHS urged”, published on 9 March 2023.

2. The article reported on a letter submitted by a campaign group which urged the NHS to reinstate the word “woman” on web pages about cancer and pregnancy. It reported that “at least 19 pages” on the NHS’s “website that are specific to women’s health problems, including cervical cancer, uterine cancer and the menopause, now use language that is non-gendered”. The article included extracts from the campaign group’s letter as well as a statement from an NHS spokesperson. The statement said that the website remained under “continual review to ensure they use language that is inclusive, respectful and relevant”; that the word “woman” remained vital to health information about women’s health; and that the issue was currently under review.

3. The article also appeared online on 8 March 2023 in substantially the same format.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said the word “woman” had not been removed from the NHS website.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It denied that the article claimed that the word “woman” had been removed from the NHS website. Instead, it reported that plain-language descriptions of medical conditions affecting biological women had been edited to use gender-neutral language. In order to demonstrate this, the newspaper provided examples of the changes made to the overview pages for “Ovarian cancer”, “Heavy periods”, “Menopause”, “Cervical screening” and “Miscarriage”. The publication also provided a Freedom of Information (FOI) response from NHS Digital 2022, in which the organisation confirmed that the NHS website had been edited to use gender-neutral language –specifically in relation to “cervical and ovarian cancer” – for inclusivity and accessibility purposes. 

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

6. The complainant was concerned that the article had incorrectly reported that the term “woman” had been removed from the NHS website. However, the article did not report that the term “woman” had been removed entirely; rather it reported that a campaign group had called for its “reinstatement”, from which it would be understood that some previous references had been removed. Moreover, the publication was able to provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that some references to “women” had been replaced by gender-neutral language on the NHS website for medical conditions affecting biological women: it had provided a comparison of the pages – before and after the edits – for several health problems including cancers of the reproductive organs; the campaign group’s open letter to the NHS; and the FOI response the group had received from NHS Digital in 2022 confirming the changes made. The Committee considered that the publication had demonstrated that it had taken care over the accuracy of the article, and it did not establish any inaccuracies requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusion(s)

7. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

8. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  09/03/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  14/06/2023