Jeremy Clarkson’s Game of Thrones-inspired comments about Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle has become press regulator IPSO’s most-ever complained about article.
It took less than two years for the previous most complained about article, covering the Stonehaven rail crash, to be displaced from the top spot. But the 2020s already appear to be a far more fertile time for bulk complaints: the three articles to have received the most complaints since IPSO began in 2014 have all been published since 2020.
None have yet become the most complained about article in press regulator history. Notching up 25,000 complaints, that was Jan Moir’s Daily Mail 2009 column rejecting coroner findings over the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately and suggesting his death was linked to his being gay. IPSO’s predecessor, the Press Complaints Commission, ultimately dismissed those complaints.
Like the Gately article, the biggest complaints to IPSO have almost always been rejected. Often, the outpourings of scorn have related to what IPSO considers matters of taste, which are outside its remit, or the complaints have been made by third parties rather than the subject of an article.
IPSO does not keep a list of which articles about which it has received the most complaints, but Press Gazette has rounded up some of the most notable and highest-volume controversial articles. If we have missed any with notably high numbers, please email at [email protected].
Top five articles by number of complaints made to IPSO:
- Jeremy Clarkson’s Sun column on Meghan Markle – 20,800 complaints and counting
- Scottish Sun ‘Death Express’ front page – 16,860
- Mail on Sunday’s ‘Basic Instinct’ piece on Angela Ranyer – 6,000
- Sun ‘1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ front page – 3,000
- Sun splash saying Jeremy Corbyn has ‘blood on his hands’ – 2,894
April 2015: Katie Hopkins’ ‘cockroaches’ article gets 400 complaints
In April 2015, six months after IPSO launched, Katie Hopkins wrote what was then one of the most complained about articles for the young regulator. Her now infamous Sun column was headlined: “Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants”.
Hopkins, who no longer writes for The Sun and has been banned from several social media platforms, described migrants crossing the Mediterranean as being “like cockroaches”.
Her comments generated at least 400 complaints, most of which cited accuracy or discrimination concerns. The Sun was not found to be in breach on either point because the article did not deal with a single individual and because it was mainly concerned with expressing “strong and, to many people, abhorrent views” rather than making factual claims.
November 2015: Sun ‘1 in 5 Brit Muslims’ story prompts 3,000 complaints
In November the same year, The Sun published a front page claiming that “1 in 5 Brit Muslims” had “sympathy” for jihadis.
The claim was based on a Survation poll of 1,000 British Muslims, 19% of whom had said they had at least some sympathy for young Muslims going to fight in Syria. The poll did not ask about jihad specifically however, and the chief executive of Ipsos Mori told The Guardian that “could of course include British ex-servicemen fighting against Isis with the Kurds, or anti-Assad Muslim forces who are also fighting against Isis”.
More than 3,000 people complained, mostly citing accuracy concerns. It was at the time the most complained about article in IPSO’s history. In this case, those complaints were upheld, and The Sun was ordered to publish a correction.
July 2016: Kelvin MacKenzie objection to hijab-wearing newsreader causes 1,700 complaints
Following the 2016 Nice truck attack, former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie wrote an opinion article for the paper questioning why Channel 4 News journalist Fatima Manji, who is Muslim and wears a hijab, had presented a bulletin covering the incident given her faith.
There were at least 1,700 complaints – one of them from Manji herself. Manji’s direct involvement allowed the regulator to pick up the complaint, but MacKenzie’s article was nevertheless not found to be in breach of the Editors’ Code of Conduct.
IPSO said that there could “be no doubt that this was deeply offensive to the complainant and caused widespread concern and distress to others”, but “these were views he had been entitled to express” and “the article did not include a prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant on the grounds of her religion”.
MacKenzie would later depart The Sun after another opinion article he wrote compared Everton footballer Ross Barkley, who is part Nigerian, to a gorilla. That article prompted 219 complaints to IPSO.
November 2016: Daily Mail’s ‘Enemies of the People’ front page gets at least 1,000 complaints
In November 2016, following a High Court ruling that the government needed Parliament’s approval to trigger Article 50 and commence the Brexit process, the Daily Mail published a front page labelling the three judges responsible “Enemies of the People”.
The splash, which has since become emblematic of former Mail editor Paul Dacre’s reign, attracted more than 1,000 complaints, according to The Independent. IPSO does not appear to have published a formal ruling on the matter, likely dismissing the complaints outright for failing to engage any clauses of the Editors’ Code.
March 2017: ‘Legs-it’ prompts 2,034 complaints
In March 2017, the Daily Mail published a front page depicting then-Prime Minister Theresa May and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon alongside the headline: “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!” The two leaders were sat with their legs on display in the illustration.
IPSO would ultimately reveal the splash led to 2,034 complaints. When that figure was still only 300, the Mail hit back saying: “For goodness sake, get a life! Sarah Vine’s piece, which was flagged as light-hearted, was a side-bar alongside a serious political story. It appeared in an 84-page paper packed with important news and analysis, a front page exclusive on cost-cutting in the NHS and a health supplement devoted to women’s health issues.”
Neither Sturgeon nor May apparently complained, however, so the complaints were not picked up.
May 2017: Jeremy Corbyn ‘blood on his hands’ story leads to 2,894 complaints
The most complained-about story in 2017 was a Sun splash focusing on an “ex-IRA killer’s Corbyn verdict” that the then-Labour leader had “blood on his hands”. The complaints were not investigated because IPSO said it did not raise a possible breach of the Editors’ Code.
June 2017: Mail Online story identifying owner of Grenfell fire flat gets 2,111 complaints
The next month, a Mail Online story prompted 2,111 complaints for identifying the owner of the flat thought to have been where the Grenfell tower fire started.
The article, which was published the day after the fire and remains online in the same form, was headlined: “The man ‘whose faulty fridge started tower inferno’: Neighbour reveals how Ethiopian taxi driver raised the alarm when deadly blaze started in his fourth-floor kitchen”.
The Mail argued it had “attached no blame whatsoever to the occupant of that flat and in fact details how he raised the alarm and alerted his neighbours personally”. IPSO does not appear to have published a ruling on the matter, and may have dismissed the complaints because they did not come from the subject of the coverage.
August 2020: Stonehaven ‘Death Express’ becomes most complained about article
In August 2020, The Scottish Sun published an article in print titled “Death Express” covering the Stonehaven train derailment which killed three people. The article led to what was at the time the most complaints ever made to IPSO over a single story – 16,860.
IPSO explained in a blog post that the complaints covered numerous objections including press intrusion, potential harassment, taste, reporting on a death and accuracy. However, in each case the regulator said that the story did not raise a breach of the code – particularly so because they all came from third parties.
April 2022: Angela Rayner ‘basic instinct’ story generates 6,000 complaints
The third most complained about article on this list and second involving a Mail title and legs, in April 2022 the Mail on Sunday published a story carrying Conservative sources’ accusations that Angela Rayner had been using a “Basic Instinct ploy” to distract Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the despatch box by crossing and uncrossing her legs.
The article prompted anger away from IPSO: Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle asked MoS editor David Dillon to come to Parliament to explain the coverage, which Dillon declined.
All 6,000 complaints were rejected by IPSO, with the regulator saying Rayner herself had not complained. IPSO acknowledged that some complainants said the article breached Clause 12 (Discrimination), but said: “Complainants’ concerns that the article discriminated against women in general, or was classist, did not relate to an individual.”
December 2022: Jeremy Clarkson’s Game of Thrones fantasy prompts 17,500 complaints and rising
Former Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson’s column for The Sun in which he wrote of his “hate” for Meghan Markle rapidly garnered complaints. At the start of Monday 19 December IPSO had received 6,000 complaints about the article; by 9am Tuesday it had received 17,500, more than it had received for all articles across 2021 and making it its most complained about article ever. By 5pm this figure had reached 20,800 complaints.
No ruling has yet been made but previous evidence suggests the complaints will likely all be thrown out unless Markle herself complains.