Reviewing factchecks of the Mail group
- 20 Dec 2012, 12:31
- Christian Hunt and Robin Webster
As part of its
recent investigation into consumer energy markets, the ECC
committee wrote to newspaper editors about the issue of accuracy in
media coverage of energy bills. The committee received quite an
extensive response from the Mail group, particularly responding to
comments that we made about its coverage. We take a look at it.
submission to the Energy and Climate Change (ECC) Committee's
investigation, we made the case that a series of newspaper
"....overstate the current impact of
green policies (or 'environmental and social costs') on energy
bills. Some appear to be the result of simple errors (for example,
confusing electricity prices with energy bills, or ignoring the
impact of gas prices on bills), others are the result of research
being reported in a what seems to us a highly partial or selective
The ECC Committee
raised the issue with newspaper editors in a letter. It
particularly invited the Chair of the Mail group to respond to our
suggestion that it had reused inaccurate figures, even after those
figures had been corrected following a PCC complaint.
The Mail has responded with a detailed submission addressing all
the examples that we had raised. It concludes by saying that its
explanations show that "Carbon Brief's complaints are unfounded".
We think this is worth responding to - partially because this is
the first time we've heard from the Mail on how many of these
articles were sourced or written. The only previous contact we have
had is when the Mail has been asked to substantiate a figure via
the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).
In summary, in four of the examples our original criticisms
still stand. In one we think that the Mail's defence of its article
is reasonable. Because these examples are now a year or more old,
we'll have to over them in a bit of detail:
£200, or £300 on energy bills
In the last six months of 2011 we made three different
complaints to the PCC over claims made by the Mail group about the
impact of 'green taxes' on consumer energy bills.
The Mail said in a front page
headline in June 2011 that green measures were then adding 15
to 20 per cent, or £200 to bills. Later the Mail on Sunday said
that the figure was £300.
The actual figure was closer to £100, according to the energy
regulator Ofgem. The Mail group recognised this in three
PCC-negotiated corrections to its coverage. Further details are
given in our blog post
One point we made was that the £200 figure was cited twice by
the Mail on Sunday after the Daily Mail had corrected it. The Mail
"Carbon Brief's complaint is based on
the assumption that the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday knew the
£200 figure was inaccurate prior to publication. This is
On 18 September 2011, two days after the Daily Mail printed its
correction, the Mail on Sunday stated in separate articles that
green subsidies add both £300 and £200 to bills.
The Mail says "the editorial team were not aware that the
previous use of a similar figure by the Daily Mail had led to a
correction" and "...this is unsurprising given that the newspapers
have separate editorial teams and used different sources for the
When we pointed out via the PCC to the Mail on Sunday that the
£200 figure was inaccurate and had already been corrected, the
newspaper recognised the figure was wrong.
On October 13th 2011, the newspaper offered to correct its use
of the £200 figure, in a letter to the PCC which was forwarded to
The Mail on Sunday then reused the £200 figure two weeks later
on 29th October in the paper's main editorial column. On this
occasion, the paper should have known that it was inaccurate -
because it had already agreed to correct the earlier use of the
The £300 figure - which did have a different source - was also
inaccurate, and was
later corrected by the Mail after we made another PCC
£1,000 for green energy?
On 13th July 2011, the Mail published a front page
headline "£1,000 bill for green energy: families face huge
annual levy to appease the climate lobby".
In our submission to the ECC Committee, we said:
"The Mail wrote a front-page headline
article claiming that energy bills are "set to rise by around
£1,000 a year - to £2,000" as a result of green policies, based on
research by the bank Unicredit. This research was not publicly
available. When we obtained a copy, the figure was cited just once,
in a section which had been quoted in a blog by the FT some months
before. It seems likely that the Mail had not seen the report. The
report did not detail how the figure had been calculated, or
specify how much of the projected cost increase would be due to
The Mail defends the figure, saying "the journalist spoke to
Unicredit who confirmed that the passages quoted by the FT were
accurate". It also says the article cited competing views, as it
did - although
not in a way that was likely to balance the front page
The Mail does not say that the newspaper had seen the report or
spoken with the author, and it also says that the report "was not
publicly available". We wrote at the time
that the source was a poor choice for a front page report, as the
number was "at odds with mainstream estimates and comes from a
report which is not publicly available, which the authors will not
discuss, and which contains no further detail about how the figure
was calculated." All of that appears to be the case.
One in four pushed into fuel poverty
On 12th October 2011 the Mail wrote an article
headlined "Green taxes could force one in four into fuel
In our submission to the ECC Committee, we said:
"The Mail's headline misrepresented the
report's findings which were that rising gas prices would account
for a significant proportion of any rise in bills".
The Mail says in its response that the research for the article
"was based on research by Deloitte". We think this might be a
mistake as the article was based on a report released by Deutsche
we detailed at the time, the Deutsche Bank report finds - and
states clearly in the summary - that it is both the rising price of
fossil fuels and measures designed to encourage decarbonisation
which will push up bills, potentially pushing one in four people
into fuel poverty.
The Mail says:
"...while the Deloitte report mentioned
increases in gas prices as part of the explanation as to why energy
bills were rising, a solution proposed to tackle these rises was
the abandoning of a number of green policies".
This is correct, but it doesn't make the headline accurate.
Rocketing electricity bills
In December 2011, the Mail published an article claiming "
Electricity bills to rocket by 25% because of 'green' targets,
In our submission to the ECC Committee, we wrote:
"This 25% figure was from an annex of
the report, and applied only to the one in ten "non-typical"
households which use electric heating and which would be
disproportionately impacted. This was not mentioned in the
The Mail says that it didn't take the figure from the Annex. It
says it was calculated from figures on p.17
of the report, which showed that low carbon policies would add
approximately 23.8 per cent to electricity prices.
Bills and prices are not the same thing, which means the full
effect of the electricity price rise only falls on around one in
But here we misinterpreted the Mail article - as the article
recognises, the effect on bills is dependent on how much
electricity is consumed, and energy efficiency measures can drive
bills down by reducing consumption. And the article notes that the
effect on households which heat their homes using electricity will
be higher. We'll update our blog to reflect these points.
15% on your bills
In February 2012, the Mail used figures released by the
Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) as the basis for a
story headlined "Official: Green taxes add 15% to your bills."
In our submission to ECC, we wrote:
"The headline... inflated DECC's
estimate of green costs from 7% to 15%, by conflating energy bills
with electricity prices".
The Mail says that "Carbon Brief's complaint is… unfounded"
because the first sentence of the
article says that "Electricity prices are 15 per cent more
expensive than they should be because of green policies" - and that
a graphic makes it clear that the headline refers to electricity
prices, not bills.
In fact, here the Mail is basically agreeing with us. When we
highlighted that the headline was wrong, we noted that
it was contradicted by the article. The Mail goes on:
"It is true that the hard copy of the
article included the headline 'Official: green taxes add 15% to
your bills... However this headline was not written by the
journalist (as you are probably aware, reporters do not write
headlines for their stories) and it appears that the word 'bills'
are used rather than 'electricity prices' purely as shorthand
because of the limited spaces for the headline."
In other words, the headline was wrong. This is recognised in an
"An earlier version of this article suggested that green taxes
would add 15% to energy bills. In fact, the 15% referred to
An editorial line?
Arguing - for example - that green policies are expensive and
cost consumers around £100 a year seems to us reasonable
But when such figures are wrong and significantly higher than
they should be, it raises the question of why. The Mail argues that
mistakes are "occasionally made" but that "the fact is these
mistakes are the exception rather than the rule". It says:
"The accusation that ANL [Associated Newspapers
Limited] is merely pursuing an 'editorial line' displays a
misunderstanding of how ANL and its titles operate. ANL operates
numerous and varied titles (each with their own entirely
independent editorial teams) which themselves operate in different
parts of the UK and, in the case of Mail Online, globally and
employ an immensely diverse range of journalists. The primary
purpose of these titles is to produce accurate reports of issues
that are of concern to their readers".
Our view is that when the Mail and Mail on Sunday has covered
this issue prominently - in front page headlines, in a campaign
against green taxes, in editorials - the kind of mistakes we've
documented have occurred often enough to make it difficult to pass
them off as isolated exceptions.