Complaints about misleading newspaper photos dismissed

Picture: stock image
A complaint about a misleading photo showing cyclists apparently breaching covid distancing guidance have been dismissed by the press watchdog
A complaint about a misleading photo showing cyclists apparently breaching covid distancing guidance have been dismissed by the press watchdog
Adrian Wills's picture

Complaints about misleading newspaper photos dismissed

Cycling UK has complained to the chief executive of the press watchdog after our concerns about misleading photographs of cyclists during the coronavirus lockdown were dismissed.

A series of images were published in the Mail Online and the Mirror in April, purporting to show groups of people on bikes cycling closely together in London’s Regent’s Park.

In the Mail, the photographs were captioned: “Cyclists in Regent’s park have been ignoring the government's social distancing rules by riding in close proximity to each other.”

A headline in the Mirror accused cyclists of flouting strict social distancing rules during the first few weeks of the full lockdown.

However, it was apparent from those who saw the photographer taking the pictures that they had been shot using a long lens.

This has the effect of foreshortening an image and would have made it appear that the cyclists were closer together than they were.

Detailed examination of the images, comparing the cyclists’ relative positions to other static points such as road markings and the pavement, seems to confirm this.

The photograph has been taken to create a misleading impression and support a factually inaccurate narrative.

Duncan Dollimore, head of campaigns

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns complained to IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation), explaining: “The photograph has been taken to create a misleading impression and support a factually inaccurate narrative.  

“Publication of the photograph in the context of an article which inaccurately implies that exercise outdoors is somehow in breach of the regulations and guidance, unfairly and inaccurately suggests that those cyclists, others cycling in parks for their permitted and recommended exercise, and people choosing to cycle during the coronavirus crisis were or are behaving irresponsibly, and potentially either illegally or contrary to guidance - all of which is incorrect.”

However, IPSO responded to say they wouldn't investigate as the complaint did not fall into an area covered by the editor's code of practice.

A subsequent appeal against that decision was also dismissed.

Mr Dollimore said: “That left us with no option but to write directly to IPSO’s chief executive to express our frustration that supposedly reputable national newspapers can get away with using misleading, inaccurate and potentially damaging images without fear of censure.

“We’ve seen many more people riding bikes since the lockdown which demonstrates there is a clear appetite for people to cycle more given the right environment of safer roads, less traffic and better infrastructure.

“What we don’t want to see is national newspapers demonising people on bikes and making it wrongly appear as if they are somehow acting above the law.

“It’s clear there’s been a manifest failure by IPSO to even consider the evidence and merits of the complaint made, let alone undertake a proper investigation.”

The problem is, these distorted images and articles create a climate in which cyclists are abused, threatened, attacked and put in danger on the road. 

Cyclist featured in photo

Cycling UK has spoken with one of the cyclists in the pictures, who wishes to remain anonymous, and who is taking his own action against the newspaper who published the image.

He said “The problem with the media publishing distorted images and articles is that they create a climate in which cyclists are abused, threatened, attacked and put in danger on the road. 

“The article directly led to a lot of online abuse and calls for law abiding citizens like me, for example, to be ‘knocked off‘ our bikes and worse, 'to be shot'.”  

  • A copy of Duncan Dollimore’s full complaint to IPSO can be found below
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