Decision of the Complaints Committee 00184-15 Tameez v The Sunday Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Sajjad Tameez complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of the Wycombe Islamic Society (WISE) that The Sunday Telegraph had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “High Wycombe, jihad central”, published in print and online on 9 November 2014.
2. The article was a report of concerns about the radicalisation of young Muslim men in High Wycombe. It reported that Yousaf Syed had been arrested in connection with an alleged plot to mount a terrorist attack in Great Britain, and that Omar Hussain and Shabaz Suleiman were thought to have travelled to Syria to fight for Islamic State. The article went on to repeat concerns expressed by community leaders, that eight men aged 18-27 were missing, and believed to be in Syria fighting for IS.
3. The article claimed that these men had formerly attended the WISE mosque. It reported that Mr Syed had previously distributed propaganda leaflets outside this mosque. It had included comment from local people, and the Imam at WISE, who had said that Mr Syed had been banned from the mosque six months previously. The article had included statements from the Imam and WISE condemning extremism, with the Imam stating that “we don’t want extremists, we are against them. We do all we can to stop them”, and WISE asserting that “we work with the authorities to protect the young people of High Wycombe from the lies which turn some from Islam into an anti-religion of hate and brutality”, and that “the mosques and Islamic associations of High Wycombe reject the ideology of groups such as [IS] who terrorise and kill those who oppose their beliefs, including other Muslims”.
4. The complainant said that, contrary to claims made in the article, no former students of WISE were missing. He said that this assertion would suggest to readers that WISE had been responsible for the radicalisation of the young people who were allegedly missing. He also said that it was inaccurate to state that Yousaf Syed had distributed “radical leaflets” outside WISE. The complainant contended that the newspaper could not have obtained its information from “community leaders” as stated in the article. He also said that one of the sources cited, “Zaf Hussain”, did not exist. While the newspaper had interviewed Sheikh Abu Suhaib, the Imam at WISE, prior to publication, he was not the official media spokesperson for the organisation. Furthermore, the newspaper had not put the specific allegation that students were missing to any representative of WISE; the Imam had been asked about missing “youths”, but not “students”. The complainant considered this to be a breach of Clause 2.
5. The newspaper defended its coverage. It said that it had spoken to the founder of Islamix, a well-known community interfaith organisation. This individual served on the local police and crime panel, and was well connected in the local community. He had told the reporter that “there have been a number of local students go to Syria from the WISE mosque”, and that “eight ex-WISE mosque students are missing at the moment”. This individual had been in contact with the parents of some of the students who were believed to be missing, and had originally suggested that they might be willing to speak to the newspaper. However, they had later declined to do so for fear of jeopardising their primary aim of getting their children home safely. The newspaper maintained that it was entitled to rely on this individual as an authoritative source. The reporter had contacted the Imam at the WISE mosque to seek comment on what she had learned from her source. Each of the points that related to the mosque had been put to him in turn. The Imam had said that a number of young people had recently stopped attending WISE. He could not be sure whether the eight missing youths had ever attended WISE mosque, but insisted that no current students were missing. The reporter had then spoken to a number of other local people, including Zaf Hussain, who had confirmed that the missing students had attended the WISE mosque. Mr Hussain lived close to Mr Syed. He had given his name to the reporter, and confirmed that he worked for the local council. The newspaper provided extensive notes of all conversations, in support of its position.
6. The newspaper noted that at the time of preparing the report, Mr Syed was being held in custody, and it was not therefore possible to contact him directly for comment. However, two of his neighbours had told the reporter that Mr Syed had distributed leaflets outside the mosque. The mosque’s Imam had confirmed that Mr Syed had been banned from attending the mosque six months earlier, due to fears that he was seeking to radicalise other worshippers.
7. The newspaper emphasised that the report had made clear that WISE’s only connection to the eight missing youths was that they had attended the WISE mosque but had left some months previously, when Mr Syed had been banned.
Relevant Code Provisions
8 Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)
A fair opportunity to reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.
Findings of the Committee
9. The article was a report of concerns about the radicalisation of young Muslim men in High Wycombe. It had not suggested that WISE was responsible for this radicalisation, and had included extensive comment from the mosque, condemning extremism. The newspaper had received information that eight former students of WISE were missing. In light of the nature of the claims, it was appropriate for the reporter to then seek direct comment from WISE. While WISE maintained that the Imam was not their official media spokesperson, given his position at the mosque, it was reasonable for the newspaper to rely on information provided by him. There was evidently some dispute over the newspaper’s assertion that all claims relating to the mosque had been put to the Imam. Nonetheless, the complainant did not deny that the Imam had been contacted for comment prior to publication. The journalist had then spoken to members of the local community, to gain a further source for its article. The complainant noted that one community source cited by the newspaper had denied making the claims attributed to him. Regardless, the newspaper had provided details of a number of sources which had been approached to corroborate the claims in the article, and the quotations included in the article were supported by detailed notes provided by the publication. The Committee was satisfied that there had been no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information in breach of Clause 1(i).
10. While the complainant disputed that eight former students from WISE were missing, and that Yousaf Syed had previously distributed propaganda leaflets outside the mosque, these claims had originated from a number of sources in the local community, and had been put to the Imam of the mosque. While the Imam may have been asked about missing “youths”, rather than “students”, he had not explicitly disputed that men who had attended the mosque were now missing. The Committee had not established that there had been a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, and did not consider that the article had included significant inaccuracies meriting correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii).
11. The terms of Clause 2 do not relate to the seeking of comment prior to publication, but provide the opportunity to respond to published inaccuracies. In this instance, the complainant had not raised concerns as to the action taken by the newspaper following publication. As such, the terms of Clause 2 were not engaged.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 10/01/2015
Date decision issued: 08/05/2015Back to ruling listing