Senior Daily Mail staffers have been told by bosses that making another error similar to that which forced the paper to today signpost a correction on its front page in sub-headline size would put their careers “at risk”.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation told the paper, edited by Paul Dacre, to run the front page reference to the correction, published in full on page four, after upholding an accuracy complaint against it.
The complaint centred on a previous Mail splash about compensation paid to an Iraqi man, Abd Al-Waheed, who was unlawfully imprisoned and ill-treated by British soldiers during the Iraq War.
The newspaper published the story on 15 December last year under the headline: â€œAnother human rights fiasco!â€� and sub-headline â€œIraqi â€˜caught red-handed with bombâ€™ wins Â£33,000 â€“ because our soldiers kept him in custody for too longâ€™â€�.
The story about Al-Waheedâ€™s High Court win, which said that â€œtaxpayers face massive compensation bills after a suspected Iraqi insurgent won a human rights case against the Ministry of Defence yesterdayâ€�, began on page one and was continued on page four.
As a result of complaints received over the article, a major internal investigation at the Daily Mail was held which resulted in seven senior members of staffÂ being given â€œstrongly worded disciplinary notesâ€� making clear â€œif errors of the same nature were to happen again, their careers would be at riskâ€�, according to IPSO.
Human rights lawyer Shoaib Khan complained to the IPSO, saying the claim Al-Waheed had been caught â€œred-handedâ€� with a bomb, or that he was an â€œinsurgentâ€�, was false as it had been found by the court to be untrue.
Khan said the sub-headline was also inaccurate because Al-Waheed had been awarded Â£30,000 for ill treatment and only Â£3,300 for unlawful detention.
IPSO upheld both of these complaints under Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editorsâ€™ Code of Practice, saying inaccurate statements in the sub-headline and first two sentences of the story were central to the headlineâ€™s criticism of the case as a â€œfiascoâ€�.
The ruling said:Â â€œNeither on the front page, nor in the main body of the article, was it explained that the claim that Mr Al-Waheed had been caught with a bomb had been discredited shortly after his detention or that the judgment recorded the judgeâ€™s finding that the claim he had been caught with a bomb was â€˜pure fictionâ€�â€™
â€œAt the time of publication, these were no longer live allegations against Mr Al-Waheed. The judge had also found no evidence that Mr Al-Waheed had engaged in insurgent activity.”
The committee rejected the newspaperâ€™s argument that reporting the fact Al-Waheed had been successful in his claim for unlawful detention, because it could not be proven he was a threat to security, had the effect of making this clear.
It said: “This did not make clear that the judge found that the claim Mr Al-Waheed had been found with a bomb had been established to be untrue.
â€œIn these circumstances, the reference to these serious allegations against Mr Al-Waheed, without making clear they had been disproven, seriously misrepresented the basis of the judgment reported.â€�
The Daily Mail said it had relied on a three-page press summary of the case, which did not include the finding that the British soldiersâ€™ claim they had caught Al-Waheed with an IED was untrue.
According to the IPSO ruling, the newspaper said that â€œwhile the complainant may well object to the way in which the article was presented, subjecting the decisions of the courts to scrutiny is an important function of the pressâ€�.
It said that “providing robust and critical analysis of such decisions is essential to contributing to the system of open justice, and is a valuable public service”.
The newspaper also said the sub-headlineâ€™s reference to Â£33,000 of damages â€œbecause our soldiers kept him in custody for too longâ€� must be read in the context of the article as a whole, which accurately broke down the total.
Although the paper did not believe the article was significantly misleading, it published two clarifications on page two, the first on 20 December to make clear that the soldiersâ€™ claim against Al-Waheed was a false embellishment and break down the correct compensation.
The second was published on 18 January in response to a separate complaint raised by Leigh Day, the law firm that had represented Al-Waheed, although it was not representing him in its complaint.
The clarification made plain the series of events from the time of Al-Waheedâ€™s capture to the High Court judgement and again broke down the compensation. It said: â€œWe apologise if any contrary impression was formed.â€�
Khan argued that because the original story had contained significant inaccuracies and appeared on the front page, it was â€œonly fair, reasonable and proportionateâ€� that a correction should be published on the front page.
The Daily Mail said its page two clarifications and corrections box was the most prominent of any national newspaper, and that it carried stories from throughout the paper, meaning clarifications often appear significantly further forward than the original articles.
IPSO said: â€œThe newspaper was of course entitled to criticise the judgment. However, in this case, it had done so on a false basis.
â€œThe committee took into account that the newspaperâ€™s corrections column appeared very regularly, and prominently on page two of the newspaper. However, it considered that publication of the two corrections in the corrections column lacked â€˜due prominenceâ€™.
â€œThis was a serious case where â€˜due prominenceâ€™ required publication of a reference to the correction on the newspaperâ€™s front page.â€�
IPSO ruled that the previous corrections had not been sufficient under the Editorsâ€™ Code, which says a â€œsignificant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominenceâ€�.
It therefore ordered the newspaper to publish an adjudication in full on page four or further forward, with a front page headline directing readers inside in the same font size as the original articleâ€™s subheadline.
The headline was published today at the bottom of the newspaper’s front page, reading: â€œIPSO upholds complaint against Daily Mail on Iraq compensation claimsâ€�, with the full correction on page four.
Source: Digital Journalism