Ruling

19587-23 Ward v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      16th November 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 19587-23 Ward v The Sun


Summary of Complaint

1. Bob Ward complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “JUST STOP AND LISTEN”, published on 20 June 2023.

2. The article – which appeared on pages eight to nine of the newspaper – reported on a YouGov poll for The Sun regarding Net Zero policies. It said that a “massive 62 per cent told a YouGov poll for The Sun that getting prices down is more important than achieving carbon neutral status by midway through this century.” The article claimed: “Clueless politicians have no understanding of the pain policies like Net Zero will inflict on the public, a damning survey shows” and “voters are furious over Net Zero cost”.

3. The article summarised the results of the survey, stating that: “FORTY-SEVEN per cent are opposed to the ban on new gas boilers due in 2035” and “HALF of Brits say NO to the 2030 ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles that will force drivers to switch to electric cars”. The article included graphs which depicted the results - in one it said: “Should gas boilers be banned by 2025?” which showed 47% of respondents said “no” and 32% said “yes”. Another graph asked the question: “Should petrol cars be banned from 2030?” This showed 37% of respondents had said “yes”, and 50% had said “no”. The article went on to report that a “gas boiler is typically £2500 while heat pumps can cost £13,000.”

4. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Sun poll shows clueless MPs have NO idea of the pain policies like Net Zero inflict on ordinary Brit families” published on 19 June 2023. In this version, the text said: “FORTY-SEVEN per cent are opposed to the ban on gas boilers in new homes due in 2025” and the graph said: “Should gas boilers be banned by 2035?” which showed 47% said “no” and 32% said “yes”.

5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 for several reasons. First, he said that the print edition had contained a graph which asked: “Should gas boilers be banned by 2025?”. He said this had misrepresented the survey question which was: “To what extent do you approve or disapprove of the following? Banning the sale of new gas boilers from 2025.” He also said that the question in the survey had been misleading, as the government’s current policy is that new houses built after 2025 should not have a gas boiler but this policy would not apply to any older properties.

6. Further to this, he said that the text of the print article had said that the survey showed “Forty-seven per cent are opposed to the ban on new gas boilers due in 2035.” He said that new gas boilers would not be installed in new builds from 2025 and new boilers would not be installed in existing properties from 2035, but there was no current policy banning the use of gas boilers.

7. He also said that it was inaccurate for the graph to state that 50% of those surveyed answered “no” to the question, "Should petrol cars be banned from 2030?". He said this misrepresented the survey question, which was: "To what extent do you approve or disapprove of the following? Banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030.”

8. The complainant also believed the article had breached Clause 1 as he said claiming “a gas boiler is typically £2500 while heat pumps can cost £13,000” was misleading. He said according to the Energy Savings Trust, the average price of an air source heat pump is £7000 to £13,000, and many households in England and Wales are eligible for a grant of £5000. He said that with the grant, heat pumps can be as cheap as a new gas boiler for many consumers. He said that replacing a combi boiler with another combi boiler could cost between £1,350 to £5,650 not including VAT. The complainant said any consumer’s choice to replace pipes or radiators as a result of the new heat pump would be their choice and not a requirement.

9. The complainant further said it was inaccurate to state that “voters are furious over Net Zero cost” as there was nothing in the article to support this and he did not consider that the poll results justified this claim. He also said that the claim, “Clueless politicians have no understanding of the pain policies like Net Zero will inflict on the public, a damning survey shows” was not supported by the poll. He said the survey had asked “Do you think that politicians do or do not understand the financial pressure people like you are under?” but that this question had not mentioned Net Zero.

10. The complainant provided a copy of the survey questions and results the article was based on. The YouGov question stated: “To what extent do you approve or disapprove of each of the following? For “Banning the sale of new gas boilers from 2025”, “Total disapprove” was cited as 47%. For “Banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030” “Total disapprove” was cited as 50%.

11. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said that the survey question about gas boilers was "To what extent do you approve or disapprove of... Banning the sale of new gas boilers from 2025", to which 22% of respondents said “somewhat disapprove” and 25% said “Strongly disapprove”. It said this added up to a total of 47% of respondents who “disapprove[d]” and therefore it was not inaccurate to state that they “opposed” gas boilers.

12. The publication acknowledged that there were two relevant dates to consider: 2025 which related to a ban on the installation of gas boilers in new-build properties, and 2035 which related to a ban on sales of new gas boilers. The publication said that it was not responsible for the questions of the YouGov poll, and that it was not inaccurate to quote these questions in the article. However, in light of the deadlines it accepted the wording of the graph was ambiguous. It argued that it was not inaccurate as any ambiguity was not significant in meaning as the survey was about many aspects of the Government’s current Net Zero policy and respondents were being asked about their attitude to the policy in broad terms. It said that, as a result of the new deadlines, all new gas boilers are envisaged under current policy to become unavailable to homeowners in the future, whether this is 2025 or 2035.

13. In regard to the print article which said "forty-seven per cent are opposed to the ban on new gas boilers due in 2035", the publication said respondents were being quizzed about their attitude to the phasing out of gas boilers in the round. The survey questions related to the “absolute desirability” of Net Zero measures, not on the relevance of the various timetables envisaged for their introduction. Had the latter been the aim, there would have been appropriate context in the questioning, and more detailed questions addressing how soon and/or how slowly individual measures could or should be introduced.

14. However, in an attempt to resolve the matter, on 3 August – 44 days after it had been initially contacted by the complainant, the publication offered the following clarification wording to appear in print in the Corrections & Clarifications column:

A graphic in a June 20th article suggested that 47% of respondents to a YouGov poll answered 'yes' to the question 'Should gas boilers be banned by 2025?' and the text said that "forty-seven per cent are opposed to the ban on new gas boilers due in 2035". 47% was the proportion who stated their approval for 'banning the sale of new gas boilers from 2025' [sic]. The sale of new gas boilers will be banned in 2035, while they will be outlawed in new build homes from 2025. We are happy to clarify.

On the same day, it offered to publish the following clarification as a footnote to the online article:

The graphic in this article states that the YouGov poll asked whether gas boilers should be banned by 2035, and the text states that 47% of respondents "are opposed to the ban on gas boilers in new homes due in 2025". 47% was the proportion who stated their approval for 'banning the sale of new gas boilers from 2025' [sic]. The sale of new gas boilers will be banned in 2035, while they will be outlawed in new build homes from 2025. We are happy to clarify.

15. Turning to the complainant’s concerns that the claims, “voters are furious over Net Zero cost” and “Clueless politicians have no understanding of the pain policies like Net Zero will inflict on the public, a damning survey shows” were inaccurate. The publication said these statements where accurate characterisations of the poll results and recognisable as such. It said these characterisations were reasonable given that respondents rated “reaching Net Zero” a lower priority than: Reducing bills/tackling inflation; fixing NHS backlogs; growing the economy; stopping people coming to the UK in small boats; cutting crime; education and tax; and showed more opposition than support for the following: the government investing in hydrogen production funded by a levy on people's energy bills; banning the sale of new gas boilers from 2025 [sic]; banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030; or the introduction of charges for drivers in older or more polluting vehicles driving into cities.

16. In regard to the claim that a “gas boiler is typically £2500 while heat pumps can cost £13,000”, the publication said that the article had made clear that heat pumps could cost £13,000. It noted that this was accurate and the complainant had also accepted they could cost this amount. It further noted that the Boiler Upgrade Scheme is a limited, first-come-first-served grant available only to those who meet certain criteria and therefore it is not guaranteed to be available to every household that might want it, meaning consumers would need to pay full price for a heat pump they installed. It said, even if everyone could access the £5000 grant, the reduced price would still be above the cost of a gas boiler. The publication also noted that consumers may wish or need to replace their pipe work or radiators in order to benefit from the heat pump at a greater cost to the consumer.

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

17. The Committee noted that while the YouGov survey had asked respondents about “Banning the sale of new gas boilers from 2025”, it acknowledged that the government’s policy of banning the sale of new gas boilers was due to come into effect in 2035.

18. The Committee were mindful of the publication’s position that it was not responsible for the YouGov questions. However, it had a duty to take care not to publish inaccurate information under Clause 1 (i). The print article had referred to both dates in summarising the survey question: the graph had referred to whether “gas boilers should be banned” in 2025 and the text had referred to the “banning of the sale of new gas boilers” in 2035. In this instance, the Committee noted that the graph was not significantly inaccurate to depict that 47% of respondents disapproved of gas boilers being banned in 2025” where this date was put to respondents, and this was a summary of the question about banning “the sale of new gas boilers from 2025”. The Committee noted that the text of the article provided further context for the graph by making clear: “FORTY-SEVEN per cent are opposed to the ban on new gas boilers due in 2035” which set out the policy was a ban of the sale of new gas boilers and had included the actual date the policy was proposed to come into effect. While this date did not reflect the actual date respondents were presented with, the Committee did not consider the text to be significantly inaccurate where the article described several different policies, and where 2035 was the date this ban was due to come into effect. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

19. The complainant believed there was no basis for the claims: “voters are furious over Net Zero cost” and “Clueless politicians have no understanding of the pain policies like Net Zero will inflict on the public, a damning survey shows”. The Committee noted that the article had set out the various ways respondents had answered negatively in response to upcoming Net Zero policies, as well as ways the government did not understand the financial pressures consumers were under. It noted that the article had claimed a “massive 62 per cent told a YouGov poll for The Sun that getting prices down is more important than achieving carbon neutral status by midway through this century.” While the language used was emphatic and did not reflect the exact words of the survey, the Committee considered the article set out its basis for the characterisations of the findings of the study, as well as the general attitude of the public to these policies, and it was, therefore, not significantly inaccurate, misleading or distorted. For this reason there was no breach of Clause 1.

20. The Committee considered the graph which showed 50% of respondents said “no” to "Should petrol cars be banned from 2030?". It considered the original question in the YouGov survey which was "To what extent do you approve or disapprove of the following? Banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030.” In this instance, while the survey question had specified that the ban would apply to the sale of new petrol cars, rather than a total ban, the Committee noted that the text of the article had set out the finding in more detail: “HALF of Brits say NO to the 2030 ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles that will force drivers to switch to electric cars”. Where the graph was summarising the question and the text of the article had made clear the specifics of the ban in 2030, the Committee did not consider the graph question was significantly misleading or distorted. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 1.

21. The Committee finally turned to the claim, “a gas boiler is typically £2500 while heat pumps can cost £13,000”. The Committee noted that the article had said a gas boiler is “typically” £2500 which suggested there was a range of prices. Further, it noted that the complainant did not dispute that a heat pump could cost £13,000. Therefore, it did not consider this claim to be inaccurate, misleading or distorted. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

22. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

23. N/A


Date complaint received: 21/06/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 31/10/2023