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Complainant Name:
Full Fact

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: Daily Mail


Full Fact complained to the Press Complaints Commission that two articles headlined "UK doles out more aid than any other country" and "Britain's broken schools", published in the Daily Mail on 27 May 2011 and 11 July 2011 respectively, were inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

While there had been initial breaches of Clause 1, the newspaper had offered a sufficient form of remedial action under the terms of the Code.

Both pieces were front page articles, which also appeared online. The first article reported that a paper released at the G8 summit revealed that "Britain spends more on aid as a percentage of national income than any other country in the world - while British taxpayers suffer through an age of austerity". The complainant - and another individual - said that this was incorrect: while the UK paid out, as a proportion, more foreign aid than any other G8 country, five other countries (Norway, Luxembourg, Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands) paid more in percentage terms. It was also the case that the United States paid more in cash terms.

The second article reported on the state of Britain's schools, claiming that "violent behaviour in our classrooms has doubled in just a year". The article stated that almost 1,000 pupils had been excluded per school day in 2009/10, compared with 452 in 2008/09. Full Fact said that these figures were incorrect: the statistics for the academic year 2009/10 had not been released at the time of publication and the 1,000 figure was actually the total number of exclusions per day for the year 2008/09 including verbal abuse and threatening behaviour (not just for physical violence). The claim that violent behaviour had "doubled" in a year was inaccurate: the previous year, the equivalent figure was 1,103.

The newspaper accepted that the first article was wrong when it claimed that Britain spends more on aid than "any other country": the correct position was that it spends more on aid than "any other major country". The original copy had stated that the UK leads the "developed world" in terms of aid donations; the error had been introduced in the sub-editing process. The article itself (which had included a table which set out the figures in clear terms) had shown that the UK was, in percentage terms, at the top of the ranking for G8 countries. The newspaper said that it was plain that the UK was a world leader in terms of foreign aid: the countries which paid out more in percentage terms were not major economies (Luxembourg's cash contribution was less than 3% of the UK's donation; Norway, the largest donor of the five, donated less than a third of the UK total). To address the complaint, however, the newspaper amended the online article and offered to publish the following wording in the paper and online:

A front-page article on 27 May said that Britain spends more on aid as a percentage of national income than any other country in the world. In fact it spends more than any other G8 country as a percentage of GDP and is second in the world behind the US in cash terms.

The newspaper immediately acknowledged the error in the second article, explaining that it had inadvertently compared a previously reported figure for physical assault (around 450 pupils a day) against one which included verbal abuse and threatening behaviour (1,000 pupils a day). The figures had been put to the Department of Education prior to publication and had not been challenged. The newspaper amended the online article to remove the assertion that classroom violence had doubled and offered to publish the following wording, in the newspaper and online:

An article on July 11 reported that 1,000 pupils a day are excluded for violent behaviour and that this has doubled in a year. While the figure for exclusions is correct - and all statistics were put to the Department before publication - this does not in fact represent an increase.

The newspaper said both corrections would appear on page 2 in what was likely to become its dedicated Corrections and Clarifications column.

While Full Fact was content that both wordings addressed the complaints, it rejected the proposals because the newspaper had not offered to publish the corrections on the front page. Given that both stories had appeared on the front page, it did not agree that the proposals to correct the record on page 2 satisfied the requirements of the Editors' Code in regard to "due prominence".

Sufficient remedial action offered


The complaints were good examples of cases in which unconnected third parties had drawn factual errors to the attention of the PCC, which required remedial action. They allowed the Commission the opportunity to set out its thinking on the prominence of corrections in relation to the requirements of Clause 1 of the Editors' Code. The Commission has been monitoring the prominence of the corrections and apologies it negotiates for a number of years. In doing so, it has been able to show how the requirements of "due prominence" in the Code have meant that such texts are not hidden in the back pages of newspapers and magazines. However, the issue of "due prominence" will never be an exact one, and there will always be legitimate calls for newspapers and magazines to highlight corrections with greater clarity.

In these two cases, the Commission had to consider the specific question of whether the front-page inaccuracies required front-page corrections.

When considering the issue of "due prominence", the Commission has strong regard for the location of the original article. However, this cannot be the only determining factor. The Commission will consider the full circumstances surrounding the complaint: the nature of the breach of the Code; the scale of the error; the full context of the story; and the existence or otherwise of a designated corrections column. Whatever the circumstances, however, the appearance on two separate occasions of significant inaccuracies on the newspaper's front page was a matter of serious concern to the Commission. It was incumbent on the newspaper to correct the record in an appropriate way.

The Commission welcomed the newspaper's indication that it intended to institute a corrections column. A regular (and appropriately prominent) location for corrections can mean additional prominence for the rectification of mistakes, and the Commission considered that it was good practice for newspapers and magazines to make use of this facility.

In the first article, it was plain that the front-page headline (reiterated in the text) was factually inaccurate. The actual position was that, in percentage terms, the UK spent the most on foreign aid of all the G8 countries, rather than any other country. However, the overarching point remained that the UK was a world leader in terms of foreign aid. The article went on to make clear that the UK outspent other G8 nations in percentage terms. As the newspaper had argued, the five countries which paid out more (in percentage terms) in foreign aid were making small cash contributions in comparison with the UK.

This was a significant inaccuracy, which raised an initial breach of Clause 1 of the Code. Greater care should have been taken by the newspaper in presenting the story. However, given the nature of the inaccuracy, the Commission considered that it was appropriate for it to be clarified online and in the newspaper on page 2 as part of a new Corrections and Clarifications column. In the Commission's view, the error was not of such import that the Code required a front-page correction.

The second article - in the Commission's view - contained a more straightforward inaccuracy: the claim that exclusion rates for violent behaviour had "doubled". The basis of the comparison had simply been wrong, contrasting the number of exclusions per day for physical assault for 2008/9 with the number of exclusions which also took in "verbal abuse and threatening behaviour".

Nonetheless, the figure itself (included in the article) of 1,000 exclusions per day for assault and abuse generally was correct, and the newspaper had sought to verify the accuracy of the statistics with the relevant authority before publication. The thrust of the article as a whole (discussing problems within British schools) was not negated by the error. Given the context of the error, and the steps the newspaper had taken prior to publication, the Commission concluded that the corrections column on page 2 represented a sufficiently prominent location for this item.

It may be appropriate, on some occasions, for a correction to a front page story to be published on the front page, and the PCC has negotiated such texts in the past. The Commission does not believe that every front-page error, in whatever context, must be corrected in the same location. In these cases, the Commission had to have regard for the full context of the errors. While the mistakes were sloppy, the issues were not personal to the complainant and had not caused personal harm. In addition, in the Commission's view, the errors did not render the coverage of either story to be wholly inaccurate, including on the front page. In the full circumstances of the complaints raised on this occasion, page 2 corrections (within a new column) were proportionate.

The Commission expected that the corrections should be published at the earliest opportunity, after the publication of this adjudication.

Date Published:

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