Wednesday 8 June 2016

In this referendum, don't believe everything

This referendum debate has been debased by some who support Brexit distributing misinformation.

Unfortunately, prominent examples of alleged misreporting can be found in most of the newspapers that back Britain leaving the EU – including The Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Telegraph and The Times and The Sunday Times.

Last month the press regulator, IPSO, ruled that The Sun’s front page headline claiming ‘Queen backs Brexit’ was inaccurate. The ruling was forced on The Sun after it refused to publish a correction.

IPSO found the newspaper’s headline (but not the story itself which did not refer to the Queen 'backing Brexit') had breached Clause 1 (accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice and was ‘significantly misleading’ and contained ‘a serious and unsupported allegation’ about the Queen’s views.

The Daily Express ran a front-page story claiming that Britain had to ‘Quit the EU to save our NHS’. However, there was no substance to the story, or evidence to back it up. (To see a comprehensive debunking of the article go to EU migrants are NOT bleeding dry the NHS). 

The Daily Mail later ran a similar story claiming, “Report shows the NHS is nearly at breaking point as massive influx of EU migrants forces doctors to take on 1.5 million extra patients in just three years.” 

But again the story was wrong. As fact-checkers, InFacts, pointed out:

‘The Mail Online provides no evidence that EU migrants are responsible for the NHS being at “breaking point”. 

'The 1.5 million “extra patients” figure relates to the rise in GP registrations from all sources including increasing life expectancy and migration from outside the EU. The data is provided by the Health & Social Care Information Centre, which does not record the nationality of patients.’

The Daily Mail also ran a front-page story claiming, ‘Migrants spark housing crisis’. The newspaper asserted, ‘Britain has been ordered by Brussels to build more houses – to cope with all the EU immigrants.’

But this was also wrong, according to InFacts, who complained to the Mail that, ‘The word “ordered” is inaccurate. The EU has no powers to order the UK to adopt any housing policy. The Daily Mail is referring to “country specific recommendations” which, as the term implies, are recommendations, not orders.’

Unfortunately, this is just the tip of a nasty iceberg of prolific anti-EU stories that are not based on reliable, cold, hard facts, but contain mistruths or sometimes entirely inaccurate stories. 

These don’t seem to be honest mistakes of poor journalism, but appear to be aimed to mislead the electorate to vote ‘Leave’ in the forthcoming referendum.

InFacts has complained to IPSO about a string of inaccurate EU stories in three newspapers –The Mail, The Sun and The Express. You can read the InFacts dossier about these allegedly untrue stories at InFacts Hateful 8 and InFacts Sinful 6 

Will the press regulator rule on the complaints about these stories before the referendum on 23 June? It seems unlikely, although Infacts has asked IPSO to hurry up. 

Unfortunately, the allegedly misleading stories being published by pro-Brexit newspapers come on top of untrue claims being promoted by Vote Leave – such as that Britain sends £350m a week to the EU, or that the EU accounts haven’t been signed-off by the auditors. 

After the result of the referendum is announced on 24 June, there will surely need to be an investigation into the way this campaign has been conducted. How can democracy fairly function when voters have been told so many mistruths masquerading as facts?


Other articles by Jon Danzig:


 Readers comments are very welcome, including opinions that oppose mine. Comments need to be on-topic. Personal attacks and anonymous postings will not be allowed. To read more about the style of debating that I encourage on all my blogs, please read my article: 'Debate, don't hate'

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