Earlier this year, the UK Mail Online claimed an Irish comedian performed the Heimlich maneuver on a fan who was choking during his performance. But, the story was bogus — the comedian, Ed Byrne, didn’t do any such action, he himself admits.
Despite the Mail Online conceding that it didn’t contact Byrne to fact check and relied only on the account a member of the public e-mailed into the site, the UK press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation found that the Mail didn’t violate guidelines requiring “The Press…not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.”
As iMediaEthics previously reported, blogger Peter Heimlich, the son of the Dr. Henry J. Heimlich who is associated with the maneuver, busted the sites for the bogus reporting (more than one publication reported the incident). He told us at the time that after seeing the articles, he contacted Byrne and Byrne quickly denied the story as “a great story, only partially ruined by the fact that it’s completely untrue.” Further, the theater where the event allegedly occurred had no records of the incident. The Mail then hit delete on its article.
Heimlich complained to IPSO over the article, noting it was a fake story and calling out the Mail for failing to fact check or publishing a correction. Heimlich told iMediaEthics he complained to IPSO since he never received any response to his emails to editors and staffers at the Mail Online. “Little did I realize that what should have been a simple fix turned into a seven-month bureaucratic runaround with IPSO making me jump through endless hoops in literally dozens of back and forth e-mails. And after all that, IPSO gave the MailOnline a pass, even though the paper tried to deceive readers by sending the story down the memory hole. It made me wonder if IPSO chose to put the interests of a member publication over journalism ethics.” iMediaEthics has written to the Mail for its response to the ruling and IPSO for its response to the criticism.
Heimlich added that he was concerned the ruling “sets a dangerous precedent” by not calling out the Mail Online for unpublishing.
The Mail told IPSO it published the story after receiving an “unsolicited email from a named member of the public.” The Mail said the woman then sent more details about the alleged story and photos but wouldn’t provide a phone number. Then, the Mail published the story saying it didn’t have any “reason to disbelieve the story,” IPSO reported. “Because the story was light-hearted, and showed the comedian in a good light, there was no obligation under the Code to put the allegations to him prior to publication,” IPSO reported the Mail claimed.
The Mail offered to publish a clarification to resolve the issue, but Heimlich wasn’t satisfied because it wasn’t offered fast enough in his opinion.
IPSO agreed with the Mail that it didn’t break the code even though it didn’t contact the comedian and based its story on the one person who e-mailed information in. However, since it was a “significant inaccuracy” the Mail should publish a correction. IPSO said it was fine that the Mail didn’t immediately correct because the newspaper offered to post a correction “shortly after” Heimlich complained to IPSO. The Mail published a correction Sept. 5 that reads:
On January 3 we published an article with the headline “Ed Byrne saved my life!” which reported claims that the comedian saved a fan from choking on an M7M using the Heimlich manoeuvre during his stand-up show in Bradford. The information was received and published in good faith. Nevertheless, after publication Mr Byrne said on social media that the claims were “completely untrue” and the article was swiftly withdrawn. We are happy to set the record straight.
Heimlich, the complainant, compared to iMediaEthics his experience with the Mail versus the Evening Standard, which also reported on the bogus incident. He noted that the Evening Standard, which isn’t a member of IPSO, re-wrote its article and admitted it published inaccurate information within a couple of days of his complaint.