PCC: Prime Minister breached clause 1 (accuracy) of Editors' Code in Daily Telegraph column

A Daily Telegraph column written by the Prime Minister was judged to have breached the Editors' Code of Practice.

The Press Complaints Commission, which has this week ceased to exist, ruled that the 29 July column – headlined "We're building an immigration system that puts Britain first" – included a breach of clause 1 (accuracy).

The article was subject to a complaint from Jonathan Portes, director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research.

He took issue with David Cameron's claim that "while most new jobs used to go to foreign workers, in the past year more than three quarters have gone to British workers".

Portes said that the Office of National Statistics figures being quoted related to net changes in employment, not "new jobs".

But it was found that the newspaper offered a sufficient action to remedy the breach – the article now has the following correction at the bottom:

The original version of this article stated that while most new jobs used to go to foreign workers, in the past year more than three quarters have gone to British workers. We would like to make clear that the Office of National Statistics data on which this was based track net changes in employment, not 'new' jobs. The data show that British nationals account for more than three quarters of the growth in employment over this period.

Here is the adjudication in full (and a link to the original):

Jonathan Portes, Director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, complained to the Press Complaints Commission that an article headlined "We're building an immigration system that puts Britain first", published by The Daily Telegraph on 29 July 2014, included an inaccuracy in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice.

The newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information in breach of Clause 1 (i), but had offered sufficient action to remedy the initial breach.

The article, written by the Prime Minister, set out the government's plans to impose further controls on immigration to Britain. In detailing the new measures, he wrote that "while most new jobs used to go to foreign workers, in the past year more than three quarters have gone to British workers".

The complainant said that this claim was inaccurate: the Office of National Statistics (ONS) figures from which it was drawn related to net changes in employment, not "new jobs". The Chair of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) had previously stated publicly that it was inaccurate to describe net change in employment as "new jobs". He had confirmed to the complainant, during the course of the complaint, that the article under complaint was inaccurate, for two reasons. First, the net change in the number of people in employment is not the same as the numbers who move into employment; it is the difference in the flows of people into and out of employment. Second, the number of people in employment and the number of jobs in the economy were not the same thing: an individual may have more than one job, or share a job. He confirmed that it was not possible to estimate the number of new jobs (or the proportion of those that were filled by UK nationals) based on the ONS figures. The complainant noted an analysis of statistics by the London School of Economics' Centre of Economic Performance (CEP), which found that immigrants had never accounted for the majority of all new jobs generated in the UK.

The newspaper initially defended the claim on the grounds that the public would understand an increase in employment as "jobs". The ONS figures showed that between 1997 and 2010, 53% of the rise in employment was accounted for by foreign nationals. Over the last four years, in contrast, nearly 70% of the rise in employment had been accounted for by UK nationals, rising to 76% over the last year. The point being made, therefore, still stood.

After the complainant supplied a copy of his correspondence with the UKSA, however, the newspaper offered to clarify the matter. It offered a wording that stated in part, "[ONS] data which the Prime Minister used for his analysis refer only to net changes in the number of foreign and British people in employment; it is not possible on this basis to determine the number of ‘new jobs'". This was accepted by the complainant as resolution to his complaint, but shortly afterward withdrawn by the newspaper following objections from the Prime Minister's office. The newspaper then offered to publish the following correction in its corrections column, in print and with the online article: Our item ‘We're building an immigration system that puts Britain first' (July 29), stated that while most ‘new' jobs used to go to foreign workers, in the past year more than three quarters have gone to British workers. We would like to make clear that the Office of National Statistics data on which this was based track net changes in employment, not ‘new' jobs. The data show that British nationals account for more than three quarters of the growth in employment over this period. 

The complainant said that, following the intervention from the Prime Minister's office, the Commission should issue a ruling on the matter to assist future discussion on the subject. He therefore declined the amended correction. He also maintained that the wording should refer to the CEP analysis and the UKSA correspondence, and a copy of the UKSA correspondence should be linked from the correction online.

DECISION: 
Sufficient remedial action offered

ADJUDICATION: 

The Commission acknowledged that there was a balance to be struck between presenting potentially complex statistics in a manner that was comprehensible to readers, and ensuring that the meaning of the statistics was not distorted.

In this instance, however, the Commission concluded that the statistics to which the Prime Minister referred had been significantly misrepresented: there was a significant distinction between the numbers of people in employment and the allocation of new jobs. While the Commission reached this conclusion independently from the UKSA, it was relevant that the organisation, which is formally charged with ensuring good practice in relation to official statistics, had previously made public its position that the statistics published by the ONS should not be interpreted in this way. The Commission concluded that in publishing the claim the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish misleading information in breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code.

It was therefore required under the terms of Clause 1 (ii) to publish a correction on this issue. While the Commission expressed significant concern about the newspaper's withdrawal of an initial offer of correction that had constituted an appropriate and sufficient remedy to the breach of the Code, it concluded that the subsequent correction it had proposed was sufficient to remedy the breach of Clause 1 (i). It clearly identified the inaccuracy and adequately explained the meaning of the statistics. There was no requirement, under Clause 1, for the newspaper to refer to the separate CEP analysis, which suggested a contrary interpretation to that originally (and baselessly) made in the article.

The newspaper should now publish the correction in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1 (ii) of the Code; there were no further issues to pursue.

 

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