Mail Online breached the Editors’ Code of Practice more times than any other newsbrand in 2021, according to the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s annual report.
IPSO, the UK’s largest press regulator, ruled against the DMGT-owned website 15 times. Four complaints were fully upheld while 11 were partially upheld.
Sister print title the Daily Mail had one complaint against it partially upheld, while two were upheld against the Mail on Sunday.
IPSO's report highlighted the case of actress Lily James who successfully argued that Mail Online had harassed her in commissioning freelance journalists to wait near her home after she had asked for restraint. The actress also convinced the press regulator that Mail Online breached her privacy with photos of her dining at a London restaurant.
Second-most in breach were Reach's express.co.uk, with three fully upheld complaints and one partially upheld, and News UK's thesun.co.uk, with two of each type. The Daily Telegraph meanwhile had four complaints against it partially upheld.
Mail Online was the most complained about publication overall (665 complaints received of which 401 were considered to fall under IPSO’s remit). It was followed by the Daily Mail (238 complaints, 162 of which were in IPSO's remit), thesun.co.uk (176 complaints, 132 in remit) and express.co.uk (173 complaints, 143 in remit).
IPSO’s report noted that the most complained about publications were unsurprisingly those with the highest audience reach. Overall, the proportion of breaches as a share of complaints received by these titles was low. Just 2% of all complaints received about the Mail Online and sun.co.uk for instance were considered to be breaches of the code.
A spokesperson for Mail Online said: "Mail Online takes its responsibilities and obligations very seriously under the Editors’ Code of Practice, and always strives to uphold the standards maintained by IPSO.
"While we are naturally disappointed at the number of upheld decisions in relation to articles published in 2021, we note that only four were fully upheld. It is also worth recording IPSO’s observation that it is unsurprising that the publications with the highest readership receive the most complaints, and that given the large amount of content produced the number of complaints are comparatively low.
"We are pleased to report that our record regarding complaints filed this year is very strong and to date we have had no complaints upheld over articles published in 2022."
Mail Online was also the newsbrand with most articles (27) subject to an IPSO ruling or mediation in 2021 as well as the most complaints resolved directly with the publication (24).
The Guardian, FT, Independent and Evening Standard are the only national newsbrands that are not members of any press regulator - therefore complaints information about them is not available.
IPSO investigated complaints against several brands that ultimately had no breaches of the code. Of 51 complaints in IPSO's remit, The Sunday Times was deemed eight times to have not crossed the bounds of the code. Telegraph.co.uk was subject to three investigations which all resulted in a decision of no breach.
Reach, the largest publisher regulated by IPSO with the Mirror, Express and Star and more than 100 regional brands, unsurprisingly had the most complaints upheld against it (31) - up from the last full dataset from 2019 when 19 complaints were upheld against its titles.
It was followed by Daily Mail and Metro publisher Associated Newspapers (22 complaints upheld) and Newsquest (nine complaints upheld) which is the UK's second-largest regional publisher.
IPSO's Complaints Committee decides whether or not an article is in breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice. For complaints resolved before the stage of referral to the committee, IPSO does not determine whether or not they were breaches of the code.
In the report, IPSO chief executive Charlotte Dewar said that privacy notices - industry-wide alerts notifying media when someone does not want to speak - continued to be an important tool at the public’s disposal. Dewar said IPSO issued 54 such notices during 2021, including in the case of Lily James.
In total, IPSO received 14,355 complaints in 2021. Of these 461 were investigated by the regulator as potentially in breach of the Editors’ Code, and 88 were upheld. Twenty-five complaints were resolved with IPSO mediation, while more than 200 complaints were successfully resolved between publisher and complainant.
In his opening statement to the report, IPSO chairman Lord Faulks said: "The debate surrounding press regulation has not ended. Opposition parties have not clarified their policies in this area. In the meantime, IPSO continues to provide independent regulation of a high quality.
"In applying the Editors’ Code, we endeavour to strike a balance between the interest of those with justified complaints and the interests of a free, vigorous but accountable press. We hope this approach has the support of all political parties, and of the general public."
IPSO regulates some 2,600 newsbrands and 89 publishers in the UK.
Royal Charter-recognised regulator Impress regulates a further 190 newsbrands, mostly small, independent or specialist publications. In 2020/21, Impress recorded 40 complaints of which seven were investigated, one of which was upheld and six dismissed.
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