Ruling

28987-20 Lipsey v Express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      8th April 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee - 28987-20 Lipsey v Express.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Lord Lipsey complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’Get rid of it!' Boris told to ABOLISH House of Lords after latest Brexit-blocking vote” published on 11 November 2020.

2. The headline of the online article was followed by a sub-heading that reported the Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been told to abolish the House of Lords, “according to an express.co.uk poll”, after peers voted down parts of the Internal Market Bill put forward by the Government.  The article gave details of the Bill and explained that the poll, which ran from 8am until 10.30pm on Tuesday 10 November asked express.co.uk readers: “Should the House of Lords be disbanded?”.  It reported that 97% of the 10,908 readers who cast a vote said that the House of Lords should be abolished. It said 3% said that the House of Lords should remain, while less than 1% were undecided.  The article went on to detail the statements made by readers in the comments section, such as "The British taxpayers' money must be put to good use and the House of Lords is an expenditure which is not needed. Get rid.”

3. The complainant said that the article breached Clause 1. He said that it was inaccurate to report that the newspaper had carried out a “poll” where it had not been carried out in a way which normal opinion polls would be. He said that the information provided in the article did not demonstrate that it had gathered the responses of a representative sample of express.co.uk readers, or the general public. He also said that the question posed by the newspaper was leading and would not generate representative responses. He also referenced a previous IPSO ruling which found the newspaper to be in breach of Clause 1 by misleading as to the terms of its poll. He said that comparable opinion polls of the general public had not replicated anywhere near the level of support for the abolition of the House of Lords as the newspaper had reported.

4. The newspaper did not accept that the article was inaccurate. It said that the article made clear both that the poll had been answered by express.co.uk readers and the methodology of the poll, so it was not comparable to the previous IPSO ruling cited by the complainant. It said that the sub-heading, main body of the article, and photograph caption made clear that the Prime Minister was “told” by express.co.uk readers to abolish the House of Lords, rather than the general public or by any other group of people. It also noted that the article included a screenshot of the poll, showing the question asked and its response and said that the poll was displayed on the “News” section of the website. However, in its first response during IPSO’s investigation it offered to amend the word “told to “urged” in the headline, as a gesture of goodwill. Approximately two and half weeks into IPSO’s investigation, it amended the headline to read ''Get rid of it!' Boris told to ABOLISH House of Lords by readers after Brexit-blocking vote'. Although it did not accept that the terms of Clause 1(ii) were engaged, it also added the following footnote clarification:

A previous version of this article was headlined: Get rid of it!' Boris told to ABOLISH House of Lords after latest Brexit-blocking vote. The headline has since been amended as a gesture of goodwill to make clear that Boris was told by express.co.uk readers. We are happy to make this clear.

Relevant Code 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

5. The complainant contended that it was misleading to refer to a survey conducted through a pop-up box on the publication’s website as a “poll”, and therefore the article breached Clause 1, because of the nature of the question and the way the data had been collected.

6. The Committee noted that the word “poll” can have different meanings, depending on context.  In considering whether it was used in a misleading way in this instance, the Committee examined the full article. In doing so, the Committee noted that the text of the article outlined the methodology and scope of the survey undertaken: the exact question posed to readers, each possible response, and an exact breakdown of the results.  It also noted that the article included a screengrab that showed how the pop-box looked and quoted comments made by its readership that helped to put the findings, and the headline, into context. 

7. In the view of the Committee, the article had included sufficient information as to how it had collected the data to ensure that it was clear that the “poll” did not constitute a representative sample, but rather a “straw poll” of those readers who had chosen to respond.  As such, there was no breach of Clause 1 (i).  Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s willingness to further clarify the headline claim, and to publish a footnote recording this.

Conclusion

8. The complaint was not upheld. 


Date complaint received: 11/11/2020

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/03/2021