The press watchdog has rapped a regional daily for claiming there was an “overwhelming scientific consensus” regarding the effect of lockdowns in reducing coronavirus-related deaths.
The Independent Press Standards Organisation has found against the Liverpool Echo after it published the statement to preface what it called “incorrect claims about Covid-19″ by a council candidate ahead of May’s local elections.
In her candidate statement published in the newspaper, Joanne Ellman said that “research shows that lockdowns do little to reduce virus-related mortality, but have a devastating impact on society, education, the economy, and physical and mental health”.
In an introductory paragraph to the statement, the Echo branded this “incorrect,” prompting Ms Ellman, who stood for anti-lockdown party Freedom Alliance on Sefton Council, to complain to IpSO.
After an investigation, IPSO concluded that the Echo had not been able to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of its claim about Ms Allman’s statement being “incorrect”.
The Echo had stated that the “overwhelming scientific consensus, based on evidence from both the UK and other countries, is that lockdowns are the most effective way of cutting transmission of the virus and thus reducing the number of deaths from Covid-19″.
Complaining under Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, Ms Allman considered the Echo’s statement was an opinion and should not have been presented as a fact.
She further stated that the claim was inaccurate on the grounds that there was a “considerable body of peer-reviewed research based on empirical data” which supported her statement that lockdowns do little to reduce virus-related mortality – and provided links to 11 studies, published in a range of scientific journals, which she said demonstrated that lockdowns had done little to reduce virus-related mortality specifically.
As such, she said that this showed that the statement that there was an “overwhelming scientific consensus” regarding this matter was inaccurate.
Denying a breach of Code, the Echo said there were an “overwhelming” number of scientific studies that demonstrated the effectiveness of lockdowns in reducing deaths related to Covid-19 and further noted that the decrease in the number of cases and deaths within the UK all coincided with lockdowns.
The Echo provided links to some of the studies which it said demonstrated the efficacy of lockdowns in reducing virus-related transmission – and, by extension, deaths – as well as articles that had reported the findings of these studies.
It also referenced a statement made by the Prime Minister, in which he said that the reduction in the number of infections, hospitalisations, and deaths was predominantly due to the lockdown as opposed to the vaccination programme.
The Echo also stated that there will “always be a small number of researchers who disagree with the consensus” within the scientific field and so all science should not be “reduced” to a matter of opinion.
IPSO noted the complaint centred around published statements concerning the effectiveness of lockdowns in reducing Covid-19 mortality, rather than transmissions, and that it was not in a position to determine the efficacy of lockdowns as a method of reducing Covid-19 related mortality.
The question for the Committee, it said, was whether the Echo had taken care over the accuracy of its statement and in reporting that Ms Allman’s statement had, accordingly, contained an inaccurate claim.
While some of these links provided by the Echo suggested lockdowns as an effective way to reduce transmission more generally, most did not describe the effect lockdowns had on deaths related to Covid-19 specifically.
In addition, those that did reference mortality did not always have data that supported this finding but cited statements made by politicians or the opinions of scientists.
IPSO therefore concluded the Echo had not been able to demonstrate that it had taken care over the accuracy of its claim that Ma Allman’s statement was “incorrect” and that “[t]he overwhelming scientific consensus, based on evidence from both the UK and other countries, is that lockdowns are the most effective way of cutting transmission of the virus and thus reducing the number of deaths from Covid-19”.
The Echo was ordered to publish a correction making clear it had been unable to demonstrate that “overwhelming scientific consensus” existed in favour of lockdowns reducing mortality from Covid-19, thus demonstrating that Ms Allman was incorrect.
The complaint was upheld, and the full adjudication can be read here.