Decision of the Complaints Committee 00733-17 Versi v express.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Miqdaad Versi complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined "TERROR ATTACK ON MUSLIMS: Six dead as gunmen ‘shout Allahu Akbar’ in Sunday prayer attack”, published on 30 January 2017.
2. The article reported on a live breaking news story at a Quebec City mosque in which six people were killed and eight wounded following a shooting incident. The article reported that “speaking to Radio Canada, a witness said two masked individuals entered the mosque during prayers on Sunday evening. It seemed to me that they had a Quebecois accent. They started to fire, and as they shot they yelled, ‘Allahu Akbar!’”.
3. The article was amended following the attack, to reflect the developing story. The subheadline reported that ‘A FRENCH-CANADIAN student has become the sole suspect in a shooting in a Quebec City mosque in which six people were killed and eight wounded in a horrific incident described by Canada’s prime minister as a “terrorist attack on Muslims”.
4. The complainant expressed concern that, given that the article had been amended to report that a sole gunman had been charged in the incident, the article’s headline inaccurately reported that “gunmen” had been involved. He further said that the article’s headline became inaccurate because it reported the witness’ testimony which was now in dispute, once it had been determined that one gunman had been charged.
5. The newspaper said that the article was a breaking news story and was accurate at the point of publication. It said that the original version of the article reported an initial statement given to Radio Canada from a witness who had claimed gunmen had attacked the mosque and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’.
6. The newspaper said that the article was then subject to multiple changes in order to reflect the ‘breaking’ nature of the story. Whilst the newspaper accepted that the headline became inaccurate once it had been determined that the French-Canadian student became the sole suspect in the shooting, it did not accept that the failure to update the headline amounted to a significant inaccuracy.
7. It further said that two follow up articles were subsequently published online about the attack, which both accurately set out the events preceding the sole gunman being charged. Further, the newspaper removed the article along with social media posts relating to it.
8. The complainant said that these actions did not resolve the complainant to his satisfaction and requested that the newspaper also publish an acknowledgment of the error and an apology.
Relevant Code Provisions
9. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i. The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.
ii. A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and — where appropriate — an apology published. In cases involving IPSO, due prominence should be as required by the regulator.
iii. A fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given, when reasonably called for.
Findings of the Complaints Committee
10. The Committee acknowledged that the requirement to take care under the terms of Clause 1(i) is dependent on context, and in this instance, will reflect the particular challenges of reporting breaking news stories.
11. It was accepted that, contrary to the witness’ account, only one gunman had been involved. The website had made a series of amendments in an effort to reflect more accurately this position, as facts later emerged. This included an amendment to the sub-headline which made clear the correct position that a French-Canadian student had become the sole suspect in the shooting. It was this subsequent version of the article which the Committee was asked to consider.
12. The Committee noted that the headline had not been amended to reflect the fact that one gunman had been involved. However, in light of the content of the sub-headline, and in the context of a breaking news story, the failure to amend the headline did not amount to a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information. The Committee did not consider that a discrepancy relating to the number of gunmen involved, was significant. There was no breach of Clause 1.
13. Whilst the Committee did not find a breach of the Code, it welcomed the website’s decision to publish follow up articles which made the correct position clear.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 30/01/2017
Date decision issued: 04/05/2017