Ruling

17510-17 Evans v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      7th December 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 17510-17 Evans v The Daily Telegraph

Summary of complaint

1. Andrew Evans complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Boost for May as Remainers back a hard exit”, published on 12 August 2017. 

2. The article reported on the findings of a survey which examined public opinion and attitudes towards the possible outcomes of Brexit negotiations, and Britain’s future relationship with the EU. The article reported that more than 20,000 respondents had been surveyed, and based on this poll, the article made a series of claims about specific policy positions. It claimed that 54.7% of Remain voters and 56.9% of Leave voters supported paying no “divorce” settlement to the EU; that 52.2% of Remain voters and 56.5% of Leave voters supported leaving the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ); and that 51.3% of Remain voters and 57.5% of Leave voters supported Britain having “full control over borders and lower numbers of EU migrants”. 

3. The article was reported online in substantively the same format, headlined “Most Remain voters now back taking control of borders, leaving ECJ and paying no Brexit divorce bill”. 

4. The complainant said that only 3,293 respondents had taken part in the poll, and that the article had misinterpreted its findings. He said that, in the poll, respondents had been presented with “bundles” of policy proposals, and had to either accept or reject the whole bundle. He said that the use of the percentage statistics in support of particular policy proposals was incorrect: these percentages did not refer to the percentage of people backing a certain policy; instead, they referred to how often voters would accept a whole bundle of policy proposals containing this specific proposal. He therefore said that it was inaccurate for the article to report that voters supported particular policy stances, and to express this in terms of percentages. 

5. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that “the majority of Remain voters now back a hard Brexit”. He provided a summary of the original survey, written by its authors, which included a link to the survey findings. He said that the survey authors had said that “[Remainers] also agree with Leave voters that trade terms with fewer barriers and lower tariffs, than a “no deal” scenario would bring, are preferable to a hard break from the common market". 

6. The newspaper did not accept that the article had misinterpreted the survey findings. It said that prior to publication, its reporter had contacted the researcher who conducted the survey, who provided various figures that had been included in the article. It said that the researcher had said that 53% of Remain voters now back taking control of borders, leaving the jurisdiction of the ECJ and paying no Brexit divorce bill; and that over 68% of voters favoured answers consistent with a "hard" Brexit over 32% who favoured answers consistent with a "soft" Brexit. The newspaper said that other figures had been taken from an article published by another publication, which also reported on the findings of the survey. The newspaper made reference to an excerpt from the findings of the survey, which stated that “Leave voters prefer ‘Hard’ and ‘No Deal’ alternatives to ‘Soft’ Brexit…Remain voters prefer ‘Hard’ to ‘Soft’ and ‘Hard’ to ‘No Deal’”. 

7. The survey authors had confirmed in correspondence with another newspaper that whilst the statistics quoted, and the way that they had been interpreted, lacked context as constrained preferences from a discrete choice task, they were not incorrect. 

8. The newspaper said that the reference to the number of respondents had been taken from the other article, published by another publication, which had reported on the findings of the survey. The newspaper said that once it became aware that this figure had been misreported, it amended the online article accordingly and published a correction as a footnote to the article. 

9. In order to resolve the complaint, the newspaper then offered to publish a broader correction as a footnote to the online article: 

CORRECTION: The survey on which this article is based had 3,293 respondents, not 'more than 20,000' as the article originally stated. Moreover the survey analysed respondents' choices between bundles of options rather than seeking their specific preferences. We are happy to make this clear”.  

10. It also offered to publish the following clarification in its Corrections and Clarifications column on page 2 of the newspaper:

“Brexit survey

According to a 12 Aug article, "Boost for May as Remainers back a hard exit", an LSE/Oxford University survey of attitudes to Brexit had 20,000 respondents. In fact, there were 3,293. Moreover the survey analysed respondents' choices between bundles of options rather than seeking their specific preferences. We are happy to make this clear”. 

Relevant Code Provisions

11. 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. 

Findings of the Committee 

12. The newspaper had a copy of the original survey findings prior to publication, however it had taken the information, that 20,000 respondents had been surveyed, from another article. The Committee was concerned that the newspaper did not take any steps to verify this information, which represented a failure to take care over its accuracy, in breach of Clause 1 (i). The survey stated that only 3,293 respondents had been surveyed. The discrepancy between these figures gave a significantly misleading impression of the scope of the survey, which required correction, in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii). 

13. The newspaper promptly published a correction as a footnote to the online article, which addressed the inaccurate information, that 20,000 respondents had taken part in the survey, and made the correct position clear, that 3,293 respondents had been surveyed. Shortly after the newspaper received the complaint, the newspaper offered to publish a similar correction in its Corrections and Clarifications column on page 2 of the newspaper. The Committee considered that this was sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii). 

14. In reporting the survey results, the newspaper had relied on specific information and figures provided to it by the survey’s authors. The Committee noted that the survey author’s had said that although the article did not explicitly refer to the context of the survey, it had not misinterpreted the survey results. The newspaper demonstrated that it had taken sufficient care to ensure the accuracy of the article, when reporting preferences for particular policy outcomes. Furthermore, the newspaper was entitled to characterise the groups of options presented to the respondents as “hard” and “soft”, as recorded in the survey results; the article made clear which policies had been ascribed the “hard” label, for example that “Britain should take control of its borders after Brexit, end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and pay little or nothing to leave the EU”. In circumstances where the original survey had stated that “Remain voters prefer ‘Hard’ to ‘Soft’ and ‘Hard’ to ‘No Deal’ alternatives”, it was not significantly inaccurate to report that “the majority of Remain voters now back a hard Brexit”. There was no further breach of Clause 1. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to amend the existing online clarification to make clear that the survey analysed respondents' choices between bundles of options rather than seeking their specific preferences. 

Conclusions

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

Remedial action required 

16. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1 (i), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.  

17. The Committee initially required the newspaper to publish the correction in print, as offered. However, on receipt of the decision the newspaper offered to update the correction offered, to reflect the terms of the Committee’s ruling. It offered to publish the following wording, to appear on page two of the newspaper: 

Brexit survey

According to a 12 Aug article, "Boost for May as Remainers back a hard exit", an LSE/Oxford University survey of attitudes to Brexit had 20,000 respondents. In fact, there were 3,293. We are happy to make this clear.

18. The Committee considered that this correction was sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1 (ii), and it should now be published.

Review

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. 

Date complaint received: 13/08/2017

Date decision issued: 16/11/2017