Ruling

29170-20 Richardson v Express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      13th May 2021

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 29170-20 Richardson v Express.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Meryl Richardson 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 “Coronavirus vaccine: Can UK make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory?”, published on 16 November 2020.

2. The headline of the online article was followed by the sub-heading: “THE CORONAVIRUS vaccine being developed is 95 percent effective, scientists revealed today. But as the US plans to make vaccination mandatory for residents, can the UK do the same?”.

3. The complainant said the sub-heading was inaccurate to report that the “US plans to make vaccination mandatory for residents”, with this particular assertion not supported or clarified in the text of the article.

4. The publication accepted that it was inaccurate and altered the article on 23 November upon receipt of direct correspondence from the complainant, amending the sub-heading to: "But as the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) passed a resolution urging the state to consider enforcing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in the USA, could the UK see enforced vaccines?" and further detailed this recommendation, including the statement issued by the Chair of the Health Law Section’s Task Force, in the body of the article.

5. The complainant did not accept that this was sufficient. She suggested that the amended article was still misleading and inflammatory. She noted that the article did not make clear that a previous version had been inaccurate or that it had since been amended. In response, on 7 December, the newspaper added the following footnote correction to the online article:

Correction: A previous version of this article carried the sentence which said: "The US plans to make vaccination mandatory for residents". This is not the case. The article has now been amended to explain "the New York State Bar Association passed a resolution urging the state to consider enforcing mandatory COVID-19 vaccination in the USA". We are happy to set the record straight.

6. Whilst the complainant welcomed this addition, she did not consider the footnote adequate or sufficiently prominent. She expressed concern that the article itself did not make it sufficiently clear that the recommendation put forward by the New York State Bar Association contrasted with the position of the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee which indicated that it would not endorse mandatory vaccinations in the US.

7. In response the publication offered to add the correction to the top of the article and to amend the online article further, making the FDA’s own position clear in the following statement:

“New York's recommendation contrasts with the U.S. FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee recommendation on October 22, 2020, which opposes mandatory vaccination policy since the initial COVID-19 vaccines are considered 'experimental' without proven vaccine efficacy. Furthermore, the FDA committee have raised specific concerns regarding paediatric vaccinations with unproven COVID-19 vaccines, for a population generally unaffected by this new disease.”

8. The complainant also rejected this offer of resolution and requested the Committee make a ruling.

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

9. The article had made the clear assertion in its sub-heading that the US planned to make vaccination mandatory. The newspaper accepted that this statement was incorrect. In the view of the Committee, this assertion had no basis in fact – indeed, the FDA had expressly opposed mandatory vaccination - and was a serious misrepresentation of the true position: that the NYSBA had passed a resolution urging New York state to consider making the vaccination mandatory. This inaccuracy was particularly concerning given its prominence and the subject, which was a matter of significant public importance. The publication evidently had not taken the necessary care over the accuracy of this assertion, with the significantly inaccurate statement representing a clear breach of Clause 1 (i) and thereby requiring correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

10. The Committee noted that the sub-headline of the article had been amended, following direct correspondence with the complainant, to reflect the correct position – that the NYSBA had passed a resolution urging the state to consider mandatory vaccination - and a sentence had been inserted into the article detailing this recommendation. These amendments had been made promptly, with a footnote subsequently appended to the piece recording them. In the view of the Committee, the publication of this footnote, which identified and corrected the position appropriately, satisfied the requirements of Clause 1 (ii) in circumstances where the newspaper had amended the online article upon receipt of the complaint. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii). Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s further offers of resolution in regard to the placement of the published correction and the addition of the FDA’s statement to the online article.

Conclusion

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

Remedial Action Required

12. The newspaper had published a correction, which identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record. This correction should now appear at the top of the article.

 

Date complaint received: 22/11/2020

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 22/04/2021