We recently complained to The Daily Mail about an inaccurate article compounded by a particularly misleading headline which extracted a minor fact from a judgment that had potential to make an attention grabbing headline, and made it sound as if it was what the case was all about. The headline was :

Nurse’s one-year-old son is taken from her care after she let him sit in a Bob The Builder toy car that was ‘inappropriate’ for his age.

Our complaint was rejected. We promised to progress our complaint to IPSO and to set out the basis of our complaint before we did so (on the basis that IPSO rules mean we can’t always publish the detail of complaints correspondence once we’ve entered the process).

You can read the original news item we complained about here, our original blog post here, and our post about the rejected complaint here. (The complaint to the BBC we mention there turns out to have been lost, so we’ve resubmitted it).

For context, here is Clause 1 of the Editor’s Code, so you can see what the framework is for dealing with this sort of complaint.

Below is what we will say to IPSO about the Mail article :

We have set out our basis for the breach of clause 1 in our original complaint and the linked blog post. In particular we consider that the headline is not supported by the text, and it is clear that the headline has indeed misled a number of those commenting on the article into thinking that the child was removed mainly or wholly because of the issue around the bob the builder car.

We object to the use of ‘after’ in the headline which tends to be read as implying a causal link which is not necessarily borne out by the article or source material. In this case it adds to the impression that the bob the builder incident was a key reason for the removal of the child, when it was but one of many factors that fed into that decision – arguably one of the more minor incidents. It appears that the car incident has been given greater emphasis in the headline and article than it can properly bear, simply because it is the feature of the case most apt for a memorable headline. This is distortion and it is part of a pattern of articles based upon published family court judgments that select headllne grabbing points of detail and cast them as some sort of lynchpin, often making a serious decision appear to be based upon trivial criticisms of parenting in the process. This is distortion.

Whilst the bullet points and body of the article does make somewhat clearer that this was not the only issue, even the body of the article is misleading through omission in that it does not make clear to the reader the full breadth and depth of proven concern leading to the judge’s decision. For the avoidance of doubt we do not accept, even when the headline, bullets and main text are taken together, that the piece is consistent with the requirements of Clause 1. It is misleading in its totality.

It is clear from the article that the author had access to the judgment, but the use of selective quotes gives rise to a distorted picture in that it tends to minimise the basis of the decision. The Daily Mail say we have not given examples, but those are contained in the linked blog post which we invited them to consider. We invite IPSO to do the same : http://www.transparencyproject.org.uk/bob-the-builder-mail-please-fix-it/. Omitted key facts include the fact that there had been an earlier fact finding hearing which had led to the conclusion that the child had suffered physical harm and the children had been exposed to domestic abuse.

We are unclear why the Daily Mail refer to intentional misleading or distortion – clause one has no requirement that inaccuracy should be intentionally so. We have screenshots of the first few pages of comments as at the point when we made the complaint and they make clear, that whatever the intentions on the part of the Daily Mail people were in fact misled.

We will update this blog post when we hear back. We will be interested to see whether or not Clause 1 is adequate to deal with these sorts of distortions – will IPSO adopt The Daily Mail’s interpretations of the requirements or ours?

UPDATE 5 July 2018 : IPSO are dealing with our complaint, and the BBC have corrected their article and added a link to the judgment in response to our request (See here).

Feature Pic : Courtesy of Tim Abbot on Flickr (Creative Commons – thanks)