Chaotic reporting of Covid-19 data: why IPSO must do better

By Ella Boon, Hacked Off intern

In challenging times, people need accuracy from the press more than ever.

A channel to reliably get the facts on how critical things are and the rate of their improvement.

And newspapers – with their unique access to millions of readers every day, benefitting from various tax breaks and Government support – have a responsibility to provide the public with reliable and accurate news.

On April 29th, 2021, the Express newspaper claimed on their Covid-19 case map that there were no new daily Covid-19 cases reported in several UK regions.

FullFact has since confirmed that this was not the case.

Bogus figures

The figures are constantly fluctuating, making daily figures unreliable.

But even on the basis of the daily rate, FullFact, has been unable to even work out where the Express sourced their bogus figures.

For the Express to falsely claim zero cases in so many regions, is grossly irresponsible and could have a wider impact on public behaviour, which ultimately puts vulnerable people further at risk.

On average, the Express had a monthly audience of over 26.9 million individuals from April 2019 to March 2020 in Great Britain. That means around 38% of the UK population is exposed to the Express, and at risk of being misled by these false claims.

None of this would have been discovered if Full Fact had not investigated the figures against official sources. Why was an independent fact-checking campaign necessary for the British public to know the truth instead of an independent regulator? Even when it was uncovered, the Express chose not to respond to FullFact’s questions.

Dangerous misinformation 

Much misinformation has the potential to be dangerous, but falsities about the rate of a potentially deadly pandemic could even lead to loss of life, where there is an impact on reader’s behaviour.

Despite IPSO having a very clear ‘responding to Covid-19’ section on their website homepage, they do not appear to have taken any action (at the time of writing) to actually address misinformation, bypassing the clear danger about the spread of the virus.

This is typical of the complaints-handler, which exists to serve the press, not the public.

If IPSO were a competent organisation, it would ensure that the Express would be held accountable for its mistakes.

Don’t hold your breath.

Words by Ella Boon – Hacked Off intern 

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