Ruling

22013-22 Gibbens v manchestereveningnews.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      25th May 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 22013-22 Gibbens v manchestereveningnews.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Josh Gibbens complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that manchestereveningnews.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Woman slashes monthly electric bill to £10 by using gadget that costs £30 at Argos”, published on 25 January 2023.

2. The article reported on a woman’s methods of cutting her monthly energy bill during the cost-of-living crisis, including her use of a camping stove rather than an oven to cook food indoors. The article included an image of the woman cooking in what appeared to be her kitchen, with a caption noting she “now cooks with a camping stove”. It reported that “one of the major keys to her bill-slashing has been an unlikely gadget, which you can buy […] for as little as £30,”. The article also included a link to a specific retailer, which was also named within the article, where readers could purchase the product. The article noted at the outset that it “contain[ed] affiliate links, [and] we may receive a commission on any sales we generate from it”. It included a quote from the woman saying, “now I have two camping stoves and use an air fryer or a microwave to cook - it costs me £1.20 for the whole week whereas before it would cost 70p per meal."

3. The complainant said that the article was in breach of Clause 1 because he considered it gave the misleading impression that a camping stove could be used indoors without risk of injury or death. He said this impression was created through the image of the subject of the article cooking in what he considered to be less than 20 centimetres from a wall under a low cupboard. He also said that no ventilation appeared in this image, and that there possibly was not any. The complainant similarly considered that it was misleading to omit the dangers of using a camping stove indoors, in breach of Clause 1.

4. The complainant also said the alleged inaccuracy was significant as he thought the publication was potentially making money through an affiliate link from something that could seriously injure or kill someone if used incorrectly. He said this was significant, particularly in the context of the cost-of-living crisis, as vulnerable people may be more likely to purchase the product and use it incorrectly.

5. To support his position, the complainant provided information from the manufacturer of the camping stove. It said, “do not use this product in caravans, cars, tents, huts, sheds or any small, enclosed areas." For the cartridge it said: "to install or remove a cartridge, always work in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside and never in the presence of a flame, heat source or spark (lit cigarette, electrical equipment, etc.) at a good distance from other people and flammable material." It also said, "do not use your stove at a distance closer than 20 cm to a wall or flammable object, nor closer than 1 meter to a ceiling."

6. The complainant also provided other material that highlighted the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning. This included: an article from gov.co.uk that said “carbon monoxide is produced when fossil fuels burn without enough oxygen. The most important source of exposure to carbon monoxide for the general public is from cooking or other fuel burning appliances which are poorly installed, faulty or used inappropriately (including inadequate ventilation)”; an article reporting on a statement from the London Fire Brigade that said using “camping stoves or barbeques indoors as a way to cut down on energy costs […] poses a risk of fire and the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.”

7. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It pointed out there was no law regarding where people were allowed to use gas cookers. It also cited the website of the retailer that sold the gas cooker, where there was no safety warning about using the gas cooker inside. It said a customer service representative had confirmed it was possible to use the product indoors – although noting it was designed to be used outdoors. The publication argued it should not be held to a higher standard than the retailer who sold the product.

8. While the publication did not accept a breach of the Code, in light of the complainant’s concerns, it amended the article before the complaint was referred to IPSO to include a footnote that stated: “since this article was published, we have been asked to point out that there is a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning when cooking with a camping stove indoors, and it is essential, therefore, that the area in which it is being used is well-ventilated. We are happy to clarify this point.”

9. The complainant did not accept this as a resolution to his complaint. He said the footnote was not enough to offset the dangerous impression created by the article.

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

10. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concerns about the article in the context of public safety and appreciated his efforts to ensure people were not endangered by carbon monoxide poisoning. However, it wished to emphasise its role was strictly to assess whether an article breached the terms of the Editors’ Code.

11. The Committee first considered whether the article was misleading. It noted that the article presented a woman’s account of her experiences using a cooking stove to save money during the cost-of-living crisis. The publication’s account of her comments was not in dispute; the question was whether the publication had published misleading information in presenting her story, by suggesting that the camping stove could be used in inappropriate circumstances.

12. The complainant had provided information that stated there were some dangers involved in using a camping stove indoors, particularly in certain circumstances. However, the Editors’ Code protects the right of publications to report on the comments of individuals, where opinion is clearly distinguished from fact. The article was clearly presented as one woman’s account of a personal money-saving measure during the cost-of-living crisis, and there was nothing to suggest that the subject of the article had experienced any negative side effects or safety issues due to her use of the product indoors. As such, the Committee found that the publication were entitled to report on her personal experiences – it was not misleading to omit to mention negative side effects of using the product inside when there was nothing to suggest from the woman’s account that there had been any negative side effects. Similarly, omitting reference to the potential dangers of using a camping stove indoors unsafely did not render the article inaccurate or misleading. This was particularly so in the context of a woman’s account of her personal methods of saving costs, that appeared to not have caused her any safety issues. There was no breach of the Code on this point.

13. Finally, the Committee considered the complainant’s concerns about the publication possibly profiting from the affiliate link in the article. The Committee noted that the complainant’s concerns on this point were effectively about advertising, and IPSO’s remit is editorial content. There was no finding made by the Committee on this point.

Conclusion(s)

14. The complaint was not upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial action required

15. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  23/12/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  09/05/2023