Clauses Noted: 1, 12
Publication: The Mail on Sunday
Ms Sue Ainscough, Senior Student Adviser of the University of Essex, complained that an article in The Mail on Sunday on 17 August 1997 headlined "D-day in war on student fraud" was misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) and was unfairly prejudicial in breach of Clause 15 (Discrimination) of the Code of Practice.
The piece reported on the problem of "bogus students" making false claims for university grants. It was illustrated by several examples of people recently convicted of this kind of fraud.
The complainant believed the piece was misleading as all the examples given of defrauding students were Nigerians and the piece was illustrated with a photograph of one of the men, captioned "Michael Olusoji received £89,000 in grants" as well as a photograph of three unnamed white people with the caption "Model students: bogus applicants may squeeze them out". The complainant believed this suggested wrongly that the main perpetrators of such crimes were black or illegal immigrants from Nigeria. She also considered that the references to the men's nationality were not relevant to the story, in breach of Clause 15.
The newspaper replied that the examples of grant fraud included in the piece had been supplied by the head of the fraud unit at the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. The individual facts had not been challenged and the newspaper did not agree that the piece, viewed as a whole, suggested wrongly that all student grant fraud was committed by Nigerians or black people. However, they had been told that a high proportion of this type of fraud is carried out by Nigerian gangs and believed it was in the public interest for this to be revealed. They said there were no prejudicial or pejorative references to race or colour in the piece and that it was "entirely coincidental" that the stock photograph used to illustrate "normal student life" contained no black people. However, in view of the sensitivity of this issue, a copy of the complaint had been passed to the picture editor for his consideration.
The complainant believed the newspaper should not have relied on only one source for the story.
With regard to the complaint under Clause 15, the Commission did not find that the piece contained any prejudicial or pejorative reference to the men's race. Clause 15 of the Code does not proscribe reference to a person's nationality.
The Commission noted that none of the individual facts had been disputed by the complainant. The newspaper rightly reported on the story, which was clearly a matter of public interest. Whilst the Commission considered that more care could have been taken in the overall presentation of the piece, it noted that the picture editor had been made aware of the complaint, and it did not consider that the piece was, overall, misleading in breach of the Code.
The complaint was rejected.
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