The Mirror Online’s headline claim that a young millionaire had called people on benefits “scroungers” has been ruled inaccurate by the UK’s largest press regulator, which said it went “somewhat beyond” his actual views.
Dhillan Bhardwaj, who founded clothing brand Ratchet Clothing aged 16, appeared on an episode of Channel 5’s Rich Kids Go Skint earlier this year in which he spent two days living with a mother-of-five on benefits.
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The article on Mirror.co.uk about the programme, portraying both participants’ views on the experience, reported that Bhardwaj said in an interview: “Previously, I thought a lot of people on benefits didn’t work because they were lazy. Now I know this isn’t the case.”
The headline paraphrased his words, saying: “I made £1 million at 16 and thought poor were scroungers – until I lived like one.”
The article, published on 1 May, said Bhardwaj had “said the show had destroyed his illusion that people living on handouts were lazy scroungers”, and in a picture caption claimed he “said the show destroyed his illusion that people on benefits were lazy”.
Bhardwaj, now 22, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the article breached Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice because he had never used the word “scroungers”, adding that the use of this word did not reflect his views.
The Mirror acknowledged that Bhardwaj had not used the word “scroungers” directly but defended its use of the word but saying Bhardwaj had told the paper he thought “a lot of people didn’t work because they were lazy, couldn’t be bothered and chose to have hand-outs instead”.
The publication therefore did not consider it was a significantly misleading or inaccurate report of the interview.
However it amended the headline to swap the word “scroungers” for “lazy”, removed the relevant paragraph, and added a footnote which read: “A previous version of this article suggested that Mr Bhardwaj referred to people on benefits as ‘scroungers’.
“We are happy to clarify that at no time did Mr Bhardwaj use the term ‘scroungers’.”
The website could not provide a recording of the interview because the reporter had lost her dictaphone, the Mirror said, but it showed IPSO her original copy of the transcription done the same day.
Bhardwaj told IPSO the changes to the article were insufficient and that he had not used the term “handouts” or said people on benefits were “lazy” or “could not be bothered”.
The Mirror and IPSO both pointed out that he had not raised these concerns until he was aware the website did not have a recording of his comments, and IPSO declined to uphold a breach on these points after seeing the transcript of the interview.
However did find that the Mirror’s use of the term “scroungers” was a breach of Clause 1 (accuracy).
It said: “The headline had said that the complainant ‘thought [the] poor were scroungers’ – this was presented in the first person, as a claim made by the complainant directly. This allegation had been repeated in the article.
“This was a significant claim, due to the pejorative nature of the term ‘scroungers’, and because the headline presented it as a term used by the complainant.”
The ruling added that the use of the word “scroungers” in the headline went “somewhat beyond” what the original copy suggested about Bhardwaj’s views.
IPSO said the changes already made to the article by the Mirror were sufficient.