Wrong glucose headline

28 April 1999

EPC raised a question concerning the compliance of an article published in Eesti Päevaleht on 18 January 1999 headlined “ Wrong glucose killed two newborns” with Clause 4.11 of the Code of Ethics of the Estonian Press (Photographs, captions, headlines, leads and broadcast lead-ins may not mislead the audience).

The headline gave prima facie the impression that the accident had taken place in Estonia and thus caused agitation.

The chief editor of Eesti Päevaleht objected by saying that the headline could not be considered misleading, as it did not say the accident took place in Estonia. Kalle Muuli claims that the fact that the accident did not occur in Estonia becomes clear in the sub-head. The chief editor finds it unreasonable to insist that all headlines should mention the place of action. Kalle Muuli says that EPC has not considered this kind of headlines misleading before.

EPC examined the case and came to the conclusion that the headline of the article can be considered misleading due to the following circumstances:

1. A headline without place reference, an article being a central front-page story and a large eye-catching photograph depicting an Estonian hospital, but also possible associations with a case which took place in the Pelgulinna maternity hospital a couple of years ago (in Pelgulinna hospital two newborns were also injected wrong drug) do create a misleading context.

2. Also the caption and sub-head “Hospitals use products of the firm responsible for the deaths of infants in Belgium claiming that this batch cannot be found in Estonia“ rather support the associations with Estonia as the caption refers to the Tallinn Children’s Hospital and the sub-head contains both Belgium and Estonia. Complicated wording of the sub-head does not favor unambiguous understanding of the material.

3. Topics concerning public health and immediate security should not make the readers experience unnecessary fear and insecurity.

4. In this case EPC finds that alarming the readers with the headline was not justified as Eesti Päevaleht itself claims in the article that this kind of glucose cannot be found in Estonia.

EPC finds it necessary to stress that a misleading headline is not necessarily false. But at the same time according to good journalistic practice information should be comprehensive and exhaustive so that it could not be misinterpreted.

The only reason for EPC not to pay attention to misleading headlines before is the fact that dealing with this aspect of good journalistic practice has been beyond its powers until now. EPC as a form of media criticism is developing and will pay attention also to these problems of quality considered self-evident in common practice. EPC in no way restricts the freedom of action of any media organization but it is within its competency to assess independently the quality of journalism.

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