The founder of a pro-Remain fact-checking website has claimed that a series of “significantly misleading” articles misled the British public when they voted to leave the EU last week.
Hugo Dixon is a columnist for Reuters and founder of the Breaking Views business website.
He also claimed that press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation failed to deal with misleading stories adequately.
He said corrections were insignificant, compared with often front-page prominence for the original stories. And he said that most of the 19 complaints In Facts has made to IPSO about anti-EU stories were not dealt with before Referendum day (23 June).
(Full list of 24 complained-about stories is at the bottom of this article)
Press Gazette research has found that over the last month of the referendum campaign The Daily Mail, Sun, Express and Telegraph titles all strongly favoured Leave in their choice of front-page stories. This meant that over the last 28 days of the campaign around 90m newspapers were printed with pro-Leave front pages versus around 30m with pro Remain fronts.
Dixon said: “I think the pro Brexit newspapers didn’t just print Brexit comment pieces, they produced a series of significantly misleading stories, mainly on migration.
“I think these helped give a misleading impression to the British publish when they voted.
“Many of these stories were extremely prominent, often front-page splashes. We managed to get, before people voted, seven corrections, but these were hidden away often in the inside pages or at the bottom of an online article.
“Looking to the future, IPSO needs to do three things. It needs to speed up its process because in our case more than half the complaints are still outstanding after referendum day.
“They also need to ensure greater prominence for corrections.
“Thirdly, there is a pattern of misleading articles in these particular newspapers and IPSO should investigate their overall poor editorial standards, not just individual stories.”
Press Gazette has looked at all the Europe-related IPSO adjudications published since last November, and also tallied up the complaints made by In Facts.
We found six anti-EU stories published by the Daily Express have been corrected as a result of complaints and five IPSO complaints against such stories are ongoing.
The Sun has corrected one anti-EU story (its Queen Backs Brexit front page) and has one complaint ongoing.
Mail Online has corrected three stories and has one complaint ongoing.
The Telegraph has corrected three and has two complaints ongoing.
The Daily Mail has one ongoing complaint over an anti-EU story, according to In Facts, as does The Times.
Press Gazette understands that some of these In Facts complaints have been rejected by IPSO – but are ongoing because In Facts is appealing.
A source at one of the titles concerned, who did not want to be named, said: “Dixon sounds like a sore loser, lashing out because he didn’t get the result he wanted. If In Facts wanted to be taken seriously they should have applied the same scrutiny to some of the Remain papers’ more ludicrous claims.”
A spokeperson for IPSO said: “When investigating any complaint, it is important that both complainant and publication have a reasonable opportunity to put their case to IPSO’s Complaints Committee.
“It would be unjust to cut corners in order to meet a timetable insisted upon by one side or another. IPSO encourages all potential complainants to make their complaint in a timely fashion in order to expedite any ruling or resolution.”
IPSO complaints and adjudications relating to the European Union
Daily Express, 12 November 2015
“75 % of new jobs go to EU migrants in one year”
The page-two article reported figures from the Office of National Statistics. The complainant said that the vast majority of new jobs went to people born in the UK. He said the figure refers to changes in employment rather than new jobs.
The Express printed a correction on page two remedying the error.
Daily Express, 18 January 2016
“Europe’s leaders have no plan to cut immigration”
The article claimed there was an “annual tidal wave of 228,000 non-EU migrants who use European passports to gain access to Britain”.
The online version of the article was amended on 4 March to reflect that the 228,000 figure was not an annual one, but referred to the total number of EU citizens born outside the EU living in Britain.
On 19 April, IPSO ordered the Express to also issue a print correction for the error.
Express.co.uk, 29 January 2016
“Now European Union bureaucrats could make Britons put out SEVEN bins every week”
Peter Jones complained that the article reported an academic study commissioned by the European Union has if it were policy. The complaint was resolved via IPSO when the Express agreed to take the story down just after a month later.
Daily Telegraph, 6 February 2016
“Abu Hamza and the latest blow to British Sovereignty”
This front-page story stated that an ‘EU law chief’ had ruled that the daughter-in-law of a terrorist could not be deported from the UK.
The complaint was upheld by IPSO just over two months later and resolved by the Telegraph publishing a correction on page two and amending the online version of the article.
The Telegraph website, 17 February 2016
“More than 700 offences are being committed by EU migrants every week, official figures suggest”
Mail Online, 17 February 2016
“Criminal convictions for EU migrants leap by 40% in five years: 700 found guilty every week in the UK but less than 20,000 foreign criminals have been deported”
Express website, 17 February 2016
“EU migrants convicted of 700 crimes each WEEK – but only thousands of them are deported”
In Facts said the stories were misleading because they did not make clear that they were not based on conviction data, but were “convictions and ‘updates’ to convictions such as appeals and breaches of court orders”.
All three stories were corrected by the publications concerned.
Daily Express, 8 March 2016
“Now EU wants asylum control – Madness as Brussels plots to tell us who can come and stay in our country”
In Facts says this front-page story was a follow-up from a piece in the FT and was misleading because it did not make clear David Cameron had promised to opt out of the European Commission proposal.
Daily Express website, 7
“EU seeks control of our coasts”
The Express said: “The EU has drawn up plans to seize control of the British coastguard service as it creates a Europe-wide border force.”
In Facts said the European Commission proposals only applied to Shengen area countries (so not the UK).
The Sun, 9 March 2016
“The Queen backs Brexit”
Following a complaint from Buckingham Palace over this front-page story, IPSO ruled that it was “significantly misleading”. The Sun was forced to publish the adjudication setting this out on page two, with a small mention of the correction on page one.
Mail Online, 30 March
“Britain could stop ten times more terror suspects from entering the country if it leaves the EU, justice minister says as he blasts EU rules for allowing terrorists to ‘waltz into Britain’”
In Facts said: “Dominic Raab, the pro-Brexit justice minister, never said the UK could ‘stop ten times more terror suspects’ if it left the EU. He said that, since 2010, the UK has refused entry at its borders to 67,000 non-EU citizens compared to 6,000 EU citizens.” It also said that not all those stopped were terror suspects, so the headline was wrong.
Mail Online has since changed the headline to say: “Britain has stopped 67,000 non-EU nationals from entering the country but only 6,000 EU nationals, justice minister says as he blasts EU rules for allowing terrorists to ‘waltz into Britain'”.
Mail Online, 3 April
“Report shows the NHS is nearly at breaking point as massive influx of EU migrants forces doctors to take on 1.5 million extra patients in just three years”
In Facts says the extra patients figure quoted includes increases due to life expectancy and migration from outside the EU.
After being contacted by In Facts Mail Online changed the headline to read: ‘Figures show strain on NHS as doctors take on 1.5million extra patients in just three years – with Vote Leave campaigners blaming rise in EU migrants’.
The Daily Telegraph, 27 April 2016
“Open borders across Europe have allowed ISIL to plant sleeper cells in the UK, poised to carry out Paris or Brussels-style massacres, America’s intelligence chief has warned”
Mail Online, 27 April 2016
“Isis has taken advantage of Europe’s open borders to plant sleeper cells in the UK, Germany and Italy, head of American intelligence warns”
Express, 27 April 2016
“EU free movement has allowed ISIS sleeper cells into the UK, warns security chief”
In Facts says the Telegraph front-page story and, website follow-ups, quoting US director of intelligence James Clapper were misleading. It says: “he was asked whether Islamic State had ‘clandestine cells like they had in Brussels in places like Germany, England and Italy’. He said yes. In a subsequent question he said IS had ‘taken advantage, to some extent, of the migrant crisis in Europe’. Linking the two answers is seriously misleading, not least because the UK is not in Europe’s border-free Schengen Area.”
The Daily Telegraph, 13 May
“The gap between the official migrant figure and the truth is as wide as the Grand Canyon. We are owed an apology”
“0.9m. Before yesterday, the official number of EU migrants who came to Britain between 2011 & 2015.”
“2.4m. The real number of EU migrants we now know came to Britain. ”
Daily Express, 13 May
“Britain’s 1.5 million hidden migrants”
In Facts said this story added five years’ worth of “short-term vistors” to the ONS estimate of long-term migrants. It said: “To add the two numbers together for five years in a row is nonsense since short-term visitors leave within a year.”
The Daily Telegraph, 15 May
“EU citizens may face deportation threat after Brexit”
Daily Express, 16 May
‘Project fear: ‘Three million EU citizens in Britain to be KICKED OUT if UK votes Brexit‘
This claim from a Government minister was denounced as “absurd” by anti-EU campaigners, according to the Telegraph. But In Facts says it was never made.
The story was based on this statement from Lord Keen: ““If the UK voted to leave the EU, the Government would do all it could to secure a positive outcome for the country, but there would be no requirement under EU law for these rights to be maintained.”
Daily Express, 16 May
“Soaring cost of teaching migrant children – £3 BILLION bill ‘another reason to quit EU”
This story quoted government figures which show 700,000 school-aged children had had least one parent who was a citizen of another European Economic Area country.
In Facts said it was innaccurate to call these children migrants: “Such a definition would include Nigel Farage’s children with his German wife. Even children with two parents from another EEA country would not be ‘migrant children’ if they were born in Britain.
Complaint resolved after the Express corrected the story.
The Sun, 19 May
“Brits just not fair: 4 in 5 British jobs went to foreign nationals”
This story said that out of a 414,000 rise in employment, 80 per cent of jobs went to foreign-born workers (according to the ONS).
In Facts said that 414,000 figure “refers to the net increase in jobs – in other words, new hires minus people who switch jobs, retire, stop working and so on. The proportion of new hires filled by non-UK born workers in 2014 was about 17.5 per cent, according to London School of Economics’ Jonathan Wadsworth.”
Daily Mail, 20 May
“Migrants spark housing crisis”
Front-page story saying that “Britain has been ordered by Brussels to build more houses – to cope with all the EU immigrants”.
In Facts notes this was based on a published recommendation from the European Council, and was not order.
Express website, 23 May
“NHS will be £10 BILLION in the red in three years time – creaking under weight of migrants”
In Facts: “The basis for the £10 billion shortfall is a report by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy, which does not mention migration… The article does contain a separate claim that the NHS is creaking under the weight of migrants, but this is from Vote Leave.”
Complaint resolved after Express published a correction.
The Times, 27 May
“EU army plans kept secret from voters”
Front-page story followed up by Mail Online and Express websites quotes plans drawn up by the EU’s foreign policy chief for “new European military and operational structures, including a headquarters”.
In Facts said the headline was misleading because it suggested combined military forces under a single command.
The Times told InFacts: “Headlines are not read in isolation… The term ‘EU army’ is a common, and in our view reasonable, headline shorthand for the ‘permanent structured defence cooperation’ in question.”