Sunday, September 18, 2022

A few pointers for any readers thinking of reporting the Sun's lies about their independence poll to the press regulator IPSO

Duncanio asked me a question on the previous thread - 

"James - do you intend to report this to the Press Complaints Commission and/or Independent Press Standards Organisation as well as Deltapoll and possibly the British Poling Council?"

As I said in my blogpost, I don't think there's any real doubt that The Sun's brazenly inaccurate report on their own poll breaches the 'accuracy' clause in the IPSO code.  However, what there is considerable doubt over is whether IPSO are remotely interested in enforcing their own code.  In spite of the 'I' in IPSO standing for 'Independent', it's anything but - it's a self-regulator which allows the press to police itself, and naturally it grabs hold of any flimsy excuse available to find itself innocent as much as possible.  You may remember there was a previous occasion when I suggested to readers that it might be worth reporting the Daily Record for falsely claiming that a poll showed a drop in support for Yes - there was no doubt that the claim was false, because there was no drop for Yes since the previous poll from the same firm, and there was no drop since the most recent poll from any other firm.  At least one reader did lodge a complaint with IPSO, and showed me the correspondence.  Ludicrously, IPSO said there wasn't even a case to answer - essentially because polls can be "interpreted" in a variety of ways and the Daily Record were entitled to their own opinion.  Well, I suppose truth is one "interpretation" of reality and lies are another "interpretation" - but if that's IPSO's philosophy it's hard to understand why they bother with a code of accuracy at all, especially one that explicitly forbids "misleading and distorted information".

Does that precedent mean it's a complete waste of time reporting The Sun to IPSO in this case?  Not necessarily, because The Sun's transgression of the IPSO code is significantly worse than what the Daily Record did.  The Record merely cherry-picked a poll from the past as a conveniently unflattering point of comparison for Yes, but The Sun are going further and making an objectively bogus comparison between a Yes figure of 49% that excludes Don't Knows and a Yes figure of 42% that doesn't exclude Don't Knows.  On that basis, they're making the objectively false claim that the Yes vote has "plummeted" by seven points as a result of the Queen's death. 

So if you have the time, I do think there's some merit in putting IPSO to the test on this, because quite honestly if they're not prepared to enforce their own code in this case, it can be safely assumed they'll always allow any newspaper completely free licence to tell whatever outright lies about polling it wishes to tell.

The clearest breach of the IPSO code in the Sun article relates to the following two sentences: 

"In an exclusive poll, we found a seven per cent drop in those wanting a breakaway.  Just 42 per cent of Scots would vote for independence if there was a referendum tomorrow, compared to one poll last month that found 49 per cent were in favour of a vote."

If you're lodging a complaint with IPSO, I would clearly explain to them that the comparison being made is between the Sun's new Deltapoll survey, and the Panelbase poll carried out between the 17th and 19th August.  There are two ways in which the two polls can be compared - if you leave in the Don't Knows in both polls, the Deltapoll survey suggests a drop in Yes support from 46% to 42%.  If you strip Don't Knows out from both polls, Deltapoll suggests a drop in Yes support from 49% to 47%.  So it's either a two-point drop or a four-point drop, but either way The Sun's claim of a seven-point drop is a flat-out lie and thus a breach of the IPSO code.

That's the central issue, and I would advise not complicating your complaint with other points that IPSO can latch on to as an excuse for muddying the waters and 'overlooking' The Sun's main lie.  In particular, I would advise you not to suggest to IPSO that the unusually small sample size of 659 respondents somehow invalidates the poll's results altogether, because that's not actually the case - even a sample size of 500 can be adequate, although obviously it does increase the margin of error a bit.  

Although in principle it's worth making the point that a poll from one firm cannot be meaningfully compared to a poll from a different firm using different methodology (meaning there's nothing in the Deltapoll results to suggest that Yes support has even fallen at all), we already know from the previous complaint about the Daily Record that IPSO will simply refuse to acknowledge this widely-accepted truth.  So, as frustrating as it is to have to do this, it might be best to implicitly concede in your complaint that The Sun have the right to compare the two polls - but stress that they have blatantly lied in the way they have done so.

As for whether I'll lodge a complaint myself, I'd just note that the experience of Wings Over Scotland suggests there may be downsides to bloggers firing off complaints to IPSO.  It's probably better if readers do it independently, although I'd be grateful if you'd let me know if you do.  If after a few days I get the impression that no-one else has done it, I might grit my teeth and do it myself.

IPSO's complaints form can be found HERE.  Don't forget, incidentally, that there's a near-identical article on the Express website which can also be reported.


  1. Hi James, I've reported the Sun to IPSO, using your guidance. Hopefully others will follow suit.

  2. Ah, just checked my junk mail, and they have acknowledged my submission - really, it went to junk!

  3. James thanks for the pointers. I have submitted a detailed complaint to IPSO.

    They have informed me that I will hear back within 3 working days, so by the end of the week.

    Let me know if you wish to see the argument used in my complaint and I will share.

  4. In the coming months there will be many such *polls* and newspapers reporting "Blow to Independence* style headlines just as there will be TV media union boosterism, it's inevitable

  5. Hands up who believes polls on Scottish independence are untrustworthy hang on am i the only one with their hand up.I remember in 2014 I stated this on WGD and got pelted from him he had great faith in the trust of IPSO the self regulating body .More recently i read a report by prof Alf Baird where he provides evidence that Westminster have for years been assisting the emigration of Scottish people away from Scotland and assisting the immigration of English people into Scotland changing substantially the number of people likely to vote NO to Scottish independence he reckons since 2014 another half a million people in U.K. have moved from England Wales NI to Scotland and nearly all are English people who are likely to vote NO in the next Scottish independence referendum apparently half the NO voters in 2014 were not Scottish they were mostly English , again I recall WGD saying I was racist to suggest that a third of the NO voters in 2014 were English people living in Scotland he actually banned me from his WGD site for suggesting it.
    Today on WGD I mentioned a site called yours for Scotland and cited a blogger called MIA who too provides evidence that Westminster is systematically reducing the number of likely YES voters and increasing the number of NO voters using assistance given to Scottish people to seek work outside Scotland and assistance to English people to move to Scotland to live again WGD removed the links I posted to these reports and proceeded to ban me again .
    Fair enough , it’s his site , but it proves to me that he and his small band of followers are not interested in evidence based opinion or discussion it’s their way or the highway.
    I’m on the highway .
    I don’t mind being banned from WGD I’m sure I’m not the only one , they have their views and unless you agree with them they don’t want to discuss .
    Insults were flying my direction but I maintained a polite manner their loss Confucius says the problem with closed minds is their mouths are always open and their ears shut 😀

    1. "apparently half the NO voters in 2014 were not Scottish they were mostly English"

      That's statistically impossible - there aren't enough English people in Scotland for that to be true.

    2. A million is about half the NO voters 2014 , mostly English but all identified as U.K. other than Scotland

    3. That's quite simply impossible. There are far less than one million "UK other than Scotland" people who live here.

    4. Give it up Terence. You can’t just pluck made up statistics out the air to win an argument - this is James’ bread and butter.

    5. Well it would be nice if we had Scotland's census results available to help clarify the situation but Sturgeon due to her obsession with trans selfID delayed the Scottish census by a year.

  6. Initial response from IPSO to my complaint -
    "If we decide that your complaint does not raise a possible breach of the Editors' Code, we will write to you to explain why and send a copy of your complaint, including your name and any contact details you have provided, and our letter, to the publication.
    If we decide that the concerns you have raised fall within our remit and raise a possible breach of the Code, and you have not previously exhausted the publication's internal complaints procedures, we will send the publication:
    • a copy of your complaint, including your contact information, and
    • any other correspondence you have sent to us
    This will provide the publication with the opportunity to resolve your complaint directly with you through its own complaints procedure, if you have not already contacted them."

    Is this their standard response, which falls short of making a clear decision? If in the first instance they decide there was a "possible breach of the code", why don't they ask the Sun to argue the case with IPSO?

    1. Yeah, that's their standard response that they send to everyone who makes a complaint. You'll get a more substantive response within a few days.

    2. Indeed, but they're saying they'll either dismiss my complaint or pass the buck back to me to resolve it, or not, with the Sun. Surely there should be another option where the evidence is staring IPSO in the face, as it is here, and they take it up with the Sun directly?

    3. OK, I'll explain the full IPSO process as I understand it. First of all their own staff decide whether the complaint raises a "possible breach" of the code. If they decide it doesn't, they don't even investigate the complaint, although I believe there is a right of appeal to a committee. (Most appeals are rejected, needless to say.) But if they decide to let the complaints process go ahead, the next step is that the complainant is given a thrilling "opportunity" to negotiate directly with the newspaper to see if a compromise can be reached. The real reason for this, of course, is to allow the newspaper to browbeat complainants into accepting something less than a proper correction or apology. If you stand your ground and refuse to accept any compromise offered, IPSO will then make an adjudication themselves.

  7. Just so you are aware, the online version of the Sun now states comparisons explicitly including and excluding Don't Knows. It does not specify that the polls are from different companies and may have been using different questions and methodologies. It states the page was updated yesterday (19th) at 17:53
    Cynics might argue they waited until the damage was done before making any changes

  8. Response today from IPSO -
    "So we can be sure we properly understand your complaint, we would be grateful if you could confirm how you know the first poll referred to in the article was from Panelbase.
    It would also be helpful if you could provide a link to this original poll so we can see the data to which you refer."

    Proposed answer:- "The Sun said in the article "Just 42 per cent of Scots would vote for independence if there was a referendum tomorrow, compared to one poll last month that found 46 per cent were in favour of a vote.
    When undecideds are removed, the new poll shows 47 per cent backing for Yes and 53 for No, compared to 49 and 51 respectively in August."
    So the reference is clearly to a poll conducted in August this year, and the only poll in August was from Panelbase for the Sunday Times. That poll did report 46% for Yes, as stated by the Sun, which further confirms they were referring to the August poll by Panelbase.
    I'll add a link to the Wikipedia list of polls, and to the Sunday Times/Panelbase pdf that's in Wikipedia. I'd like to add a link to the Times article quoting the headline independence result, but can't find it.

    Do you have a link to the Times article?

    I'd be grateful for any suggestions for improvement.

  9. Breaking news (well, from 2 days ago): The Sun has now updated their article, first published on 17 Sept, on 19 Sept to provided the results with undecideds removed -
    If I carry on with the complaint, I'll have to point that out and send them the archived article from the 17th. My complaint was acknowledged on 19 Sept by IPSO. I wonder if they were tipped off by IPSO?

  10. I've replied based on the above, suggesting that even though they've updated the article - the Sun is still guilty of inaccurate reporting.