When Boris Johnson wrote his first Daily Telegraph column of 2019, he made some claims that were far from accurate. The column that earns him £5,300 each week was published online on the 6th January 2019 and available in printed form on page 18 a day later but also featured on the front page of the paper. The piece stated “When 17.4 million chose to leave the EU, they didn’t vote to stay locked in the customs union or the single market….. They didn’t vote for anything like Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. They voted to come out. It is no deal or WTO terms, that actually corresponds to their idea of coming out;” Yet three weeks later on 29th January after a vote had taken place in the House of Commons he told Sky News Reporter Beth Rigby as part of a TV interview “Nobody wants to leave without a deal. Everybody wants a deal. And that was clearly the view of Parliament.” The view that his earlier statement was a serious problem led to a chap called Mitchell Stirling who decided to challenge the publisher of this £5,300 a week column to correct his dishonest statement. Mitchell clearly needs to be applauded for this effort. Just over a week ago on 4th April a ruling was published by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). As part of their ruling they published this comment from the Daily Telegraph “the article was clearly an opinion piece, and readers would understand that the statement was not invoking specific polling – no specific dates or polls were referenced… the writer was entitled to make sweeping generalisations based on his opinions and… the article was clearly comically polemical, and could not be reasonably read as a serious, empirical, in-depth analysis of hard factual matters.“
It seems clear that anyone wishing to earn such a sum from a credible newspaper like the Daily Telegraph needs to pay attention to this response. However they also need to pay attention to the ruling from IPSO which states “Columnists are free to be partisan, and express strong opinions using hyperbole, melodrama and humour. However, there remains an obligation to take care over the accuracy of any claims of fact. In this case, the article made a factual claim… it was a significant inaccuracy, because it misrepresented polling information. The publication had not offered to publish any correction and this meant there was also a breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.”
Perhaps even more importantly, a man who some people claim wants to be our next Prime Minister, should consider if telling the truth in a newspaper column is a better way of considering being treated with credibility?