A British man, Colin Hales, built his own small aircraft and is flying around the world.
But the media coverage of his journey, he complains, has been skewed, especially that by the Daily Mail. Hales went to IPSO, the UK press regulator, for a remedy and won. But he still ended up frustrated.
“I will now be known as the guy who caused mayhem or chaos on my world tour, and of course there is not 1% truth in anything they have written,” Hales e-mailed iMediaEthics.
Hales continued, “The damage is done, people read it and believe it and your name is tarnished forever and no one bothers to read the news that my complaint was upheld. Why would they?”
The UK Mail Online published a story on his flight but included fake and lifted quotes, exaggerated information and errors, Hales complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
Hales told MediaEthics that the Mail‘s article was “sensationalist rubbish,” in his opinion and said inaccurate articles like it could “cause loss of jobs, cause family grief [and] personal insult.”
One key bit of fake news? The Mail Online claimed Hales was stopped at the Chinese border by “armed guards.” He was, in fact, stopped at the border, but there weren’t armed guards, he says. The Mail later admitted that they just guessed at their assertion.
Hales also complained that he never gave an interview to the Mail, despite the the online publication quoting him. Some of the quotes came from social media posts he made but the other quotes he says were fabricated.
Here, for example, is one fake quote: “I don’t know what they think I am going to do but there you have it. It is very frustrating. I haven’t got so much as a pea shooter on board – it would add too much weight – but my pleas have fallen on deaf ears. They take aerial security very seriously.”
Hales also complained that the Mail Online violated his copyright by lifting photos without permission from his website.
He told iMediaEthics, “They are just so lazy that they took a story from another publication that a friend of mine wrote for a local paper and did some research, took some stuff off my website and Facebook page and then just made up a load more to make it sound better and more exciting.”
The Mail Online’s Oct. 25, 2016 article was headlined “Pilot in DIY 14-foot plane he built in his shed is halted at Chinese border after being ruled a MILITARY THREAT during round-the-world trip.” It appears to have since been unpublished.
Going beyond the faked quotes, the Mail made several other inaccurate claims, Hales told press regulator IPSO. For example, Hales said he didn’t build his aircraft in his shed (but rather in an airplane hangar), he never flew by himself to Australia, and he wasn’t stopped by “armed guards.”
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In a daisy chain of excuses that minimize responsibility, the Mail Online blamed a freelance journalist who claimed he got the fake quotes from another “source in the aviation industry” who claimed it was an original interview with Hales.
But, the Mail Online didn’t provide IPSO with any other information about the alleged source or interview, the press regulator says. The The publication also didn’t have evidence to back up some of its claims, and even conceded the armed guards claim was more of a guess than a fact.
IPSO ruled against the Mail for not fact checking the alleged quotes and for “conjecture” in guessing Hales was stopped by armed guards while presenting it as a fact.
“The publication said that the Chinese border is patrolled by the People’s Armed Police, and the journalist had believed that any person prevented from entering the country on the grounds they posed a military threat would have been halted by armed guards,” IPSO reported. “The newspaper explained that other information in the article had been compiled from a variety of online sources, but was unable to specify where.”
iMediaEthics has written to the Mail Online asking who provided the story, if the Mail will use the freelance journalist again, if the journalist admitted to faking the quotes and if the Mail was aware the quotes allegedly came secondhand from an anonymous source.
IPSO rejected Hales’ complaint that the Mail Online’s use of information and photos from his website was an invasion of privacy.
After IPSO’s decision, the Mail Online had to publish the ruling on its homepage for 24 hours and link to it on the actual article. Hales told iMediaEthics by e-mail he wasn’t satisfied with the process of going through IPSO, which he said doesn’t “have any power.”
“When they cross-examined my complaint, they made me feel as if I was guilty for breathing,” he wrote, calling the ruling “pretty useless” and suggesting news outlets would be motivated to comply if they were fined.
“They write the sensationalist headlines, the damage is done without a care,” he told iMediaEthics in an email. “And IF I spend my time complaining, then have to copy and paste what the IPSO tells them somewhere no one is going to read about it and so what. If there was a huge fine then maybe they would think twice, but there is not.”
Hales said he pursued the complaint out of curiosity to see what would happen. Further, Hales said that the Mail‘s report led to other news outlets like the Daily Star re-reporting false claims about him, tarnishing his reputation.
This week, the Daily Mail and Mail Online paid nearly $3 million to U.S. First Lady Melania Trump after reporting allegations she was an escort before marrying Donald Trump.