New Hacked Off supporter Terry Pearson writes about his experience complaining to IPSO.
I’ve never complained about a newspaper article before, but I felt compelled to do so after reading the frontpage of the Daily Express on January 3rd 2020.
Triumphantly, the headline announced “BRITAIN’S £26BN BREXIT TOURIST BOOM.”
The story was based on a report by Visit Britain, which had made projections for tourism in the UK. Surely, any reasonable person would understand from the headline that Visit Britain had predicted a tourism “boom” caused by Brexit.
Yet I had soon read the whole story, and nowhere did it suggest that this boom would be caused by the UK leaving the EU. I considered this headline to be inaccurate and misleading, so I decided to check whether there were grounds for an IPSO complaint.
Clause 1 of their “Editors’ Code of Practice” (Accuracy) says:
”i) The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images including headlines not supported by the text.”
On this basis I made my complaint. Instead of investigating it immediately, IPSO referred it back to The Daily Express’ internal complaints procedure, which rejected my complaint altogether. After I wrote to IPSO again, they eventually agreed to refer it to their own complaints committee.
In their published adjudication, this committee said (on April 23rd, more than three months after the article appeared):
“The committee noted that whilst the headline of the article had used the term “Brexit tourist boom” there was no suggestion within the text of the article that the tourist boom would be caused by the UK leaving the EU.”
I was delighted: clearly the Committee had seen my point. Maybe IPSO is not so useless after all.
But hang on. Despite admitting that the headline was at odds with the rest of the article, the committee said my complaint was “not upheld”.
You would think a rule prohibiting “headlines not supported by the text” would make it a breach of standards to publish headlines not supported by the text. Well, not when it comes to IPSO, who appear to have misapplied their own rules here to ensure the Express got off scot-free.
The committee’s justification was that the article commented on the projections of income for 2020, and that Visit Britain had approved of the story itself (according to the Express). This was my point: Brexit didn’t come into it, so why did the headline clearly indicate that the “boom” was associated with Brexit?
I had even asked IPSO themselves to ask Visit Britain to comment on the headline, but astonishingly IPSO said this was outside their competence.
I thought I had a cast iron case. And I cannot see that even IPSO found fault with it – they have just twisted the rules to fit the newspaper. If cases as strong as this are mishandled by IPSO, you wonder how severe a case of inaccuracy would have to be for IPSO to take any action at all.
The facts could not be clearer here: the newspaper was unable to justify its headline in this instance, and yet IPSO did nothing and somehow managed to find in favour of the Express.
Headlines are important. On newsstands and held up in TV paper reviews, the headline is often the only part of a story which is seen or read. So when they are inaccurate, they have the potential to mislead a huge number of people.
It is also notable that Mr Pearson reports asking IPSO to make contact with Visit Britain to establish their views on the matter, and that IPSO declined to do so. Any genuine regulator would have no hesitation in reaching out to Visit Britain to verify the position.