Clauses Noted: 1
Publication: The Sun
Mr A J Crompton of London NW1 and 6 others complained that an article headlined " Its cruel to let gay kids try sex at 16" published in The Sun on July 15 1997 failed to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code of Practice.
The article, written by Anne Atkins, said "this is not opinion: it is fact. The life expectancy of a gay man without HIV is a shocking 43 years" and "a gay man is, alarmingly, 17 TIMES more likely to be a paedophile than a straight man."
The complainants denied that either of these statements was fact. They suggested that the American research upon which they suspected the claims had been based was flawed. Details of the sexuality of paedophiles were not collected and they submitted a government written answer which stated that the expectation of life for homosexuals is not available as information about a persons sexuality is not recorded at death registration. The statements of Ms Atkins could not therefore be factual.
The newspaper and the journalist stood by the story and submitted references to academic research and calculations which they said supported the claims. However, the newspaper offered a clarification which accepted that the statistics on which the journalist had based her case had been challenged, and that "although broadly accurate" her interpretations should not be regarded as absolute.
As in previous cases, the Commission was clear that claims such as this should not have been presented as fact. As a result there was a clear breach of the Code which seeks to ensure that conjecture and fact are clearly differentiated. The newspaper had offered a clarification which the Commission did not consider adequate in the light of the fact that it continued to maintain the assertions were "broadly accurate" and not the conjecture they clearly were.
The complaint was upheld.
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