Mail Online has been reprimanded after incorrectly claiming EU regulations had halted a German Christmas tradition.
A compliant was made to the Independent Press Standards Organisation after an article headlined “German children banned from sending their Christmas wishlists to Santa …because it breaks EU’s privacy laws”, was published on 22 November last year.
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The report stated that the Bavarian town of Roth had banned children from publicly hanging their Christmas wishlists, which include their name, age and address, on a tree in its market – blaming “new EU privacy laws”.
A bullet point between the headline and the body of the article stated “GDPR rules prevent children leaving their personal details on trees in public”.
The article went on to explain that the town council’s lawyer said GDPR rules left the council with no choice but to ban the practice.
The article said under GDPR, the council “must obtain written permission from the parents of the 4,000 children who usually take part, making it clear their data could be shared with third parties”.
The article quoted from the town’s events manager, who said that “There won’t be any sparkling children’s eyes in front of the Christmas tree”. It included a response from a European Commission spokesperson, who said that the town had incorrectly interpreted the rules.
White said the headline was in breach of Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, arguing the article had incorrectly claimed the EU had been behind the ban when in reality the council had misinterpreted the law.
However, Mail Online denied a breach and said the article accurately reported that Roth town council blamed GDPR for stopping the tradition, along with the fact it was the council’s misinterpretation of the law which had stopped the tradition.
Following the complaint the website updated the headline to read “German children stopped from sending their Christmas wish lists to Santa…because of council fears that it would break EU’s privacy laws”.
It also removed two of the bullet points below the headline, and added two new bullets and a more extensive comment within the story to reflect the European Commission’s position that the practice could continue as usual.
The website also published a clarification at the bottom of the story which read: “Since the publication of this article, we have been contacted by the European Commission to advise that Roth town council’s fears that their annual Christmas tradition of the town’s children hanging their Santa wish lists on the tree in the public market would be stopped due to the new EU privacy laws were misplaced.
“We are happy to clarify that all that is needed for the children to publicly display their wish lists to Santa is parental consent, and that this procedure has been in effect for the past 20 years. The new EU privacy laws have had no impact on these types of Christmas traditions whatsoever.
“The EC have also confirmed in a statement that the Bavarian town of Roth’s Christmas tradition will go ahead as usual.”
It also offered to publish a standalone correction on its news homepage for 24 hours.
IPSO’s complaints committee said the article presented as fact that children had been banned from sending their Christmas wishlists “because it breaks EU’s privacy laws”.
It had also stated prominently in the bullet points that “GDPR rules prevent children leaving their personal details on trees in public”.
Both of these claims were adopted as fact, and were not attributed to the representatives of Roth, so IPSO found there was a failure to take care over the accuracy of both the headline and bullet point.
This gave rise to a misleading impression of the effects of GDPR legislation, IPSO said, as it found a breach of Clause 1 (accuracy).
The regulator said the addition of a footnote correction to the article and steps to amend it with attribution to the claims regarding GDPR legislation and more detail from the European Commission was sufficiently prompt, having taken place within ten days of the publication receiving the complaint.
But due to the prominence of the article and the fact the headline had appeared on the Mail Online homepage for 12 hours the committee said a standalone correction was needed, with the wording that had been offered.
This should appear on the news homepage for 24 hours, IPSO said.
The correction, which apologises “for any confusion caused”, has now been published here.
Picture: Reuters/Matthias Schumann