· Decision of the Complaints Committee 00776-15 Nielsen v Daily Mirror
Summary of complaint
1. Magnus Nielsen complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mirror had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Manifestoads”, published on 16 April 2015. The online version of the article included video footage of the complainant.
2. The complainant was a prospective MP at the time of publication, running as a candidate for UKIP. The article reported that he had attended a rally in Westminster which had been organised by Mothers Against Radical Islam and Sharia (MARIAS); he made a speech at the rally in which he warned of the threat which he believes Islam poses to democracy.
3. The complainant was concerned that an undercover reporter had approached him to discuss the issues, and had secretly filmed their conversation. The reporter had then joined the complainant, along with several other demonstrators, in a pub, without disclosing that he was a journalist and using an assumed name. The complainant said that this breached Clause 10.
4. He also said that the article was a smear which sought to discredit him among voters, and had quoted his speech at the rally selectively in order to distort his message. He provided the text of his full speech to demonstrate this. He said that the article implied that he was a member of the English Defence League (EDL), when he is not, and that MARIAS as a group did not have links with the EDL, as the article had reported.
5. The newspaper said that the investigation had been undertaken by a freelance journalist, and the story had been purchased by the newspaper after the investigation was complete. It confirmed that the journalist had covertly filmed the complainant, and joined him in a pub without disclosing that he was a working reporter.
6. The newspaper said that the use of subterfuge and misrepresentation was both necessary and justified on this occasion. It said that MARIAS has links with far-right groups, and that these links are at odds with UKIP’s position that membership is not open to those who are members of, or have previously been members of, far-right organisations. It said that the Editor believed that it was of great public interest that the electorate was fully informed of the true opinions of parliamentary candidates. This particular rally was targeted as it was being organised by an association that openly welcomes far-right extremists. It was believed that the complainant would privately express critical views of Islam generally, as opposed to the views on radical Islam which he had voiced in his public speech at the rally.
7. The newspaper provided historical screenshots of the complainant’s Facebook page, showing posts about Islam which had subsequently been deleted. The posts included comments such “Islam is organised crime under religious camouflage” and “historically, whenever politically-activated Muslims gain power they remove freedom of speech and human rights”. The newspaper said that these views could legitimately be described as “radical”. In contrast, the newspaper said that earlier this year the complainant had expressed a desire to license mosques, so that only licensed imams could preach. It said that this view demonstrated that he now believed that there could be moderate Muslims and lawful practice of Islam, and showed moderation of his earlier views. Separately, the journalist was also concerned for his security at the event; he was worried that any visible camera would be taken from him or damaged.
8. After the freelance journalist brought the story to the newspaper, the news team raised it at an editorial conference. During discussions between the Editor and an editorial executive it was decided that the journalist had gathered sufficient evidence that subterfuge was justified on this occasion. The Editor believed that it was justifiable to place in the public domain the question of whether the complainant’s role as a UKIP candidate was compatible with his “extreme beliefs” about Islam, this concern having been highlighted to the newspaper by the freelance journalist when he presented it with the story.
9. The newspaper noted that the article had not stated that the complainant was a member of the EDL, and provided evidence that members of the EDL had been encouraged to attend the rally: in a promotional video MARIAS’s leader had stated that “unfortunately whether we like it or not, if you support the English Defence League you are automatically deemed as being a racist Islamophobe. Which is complete nonsense…MARIAS takes away that. So everybody, no matter who you are affiliated with, can stand together under one umbrella.”
Relevant Code Provisions
10. 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.
Clause 10 (Clandestine devices and subterfuge)
i) The press must not seek to obtain or publish material acquired by using hidden cameras or clandestine listening devices; or by intercepting private or mobile telephone calls, messages or emails; or by the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs; or by accessing digitally-held private information without consent.
ii) Engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge, including by agents or intermediaries, can generally be justified only in the public interest and then only when the material cannot be obtained by other means.
The public interest
The public interest includes, but is not confined to:…
iii) Preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
Whenever the public interest is invoked, the Regulator will require editors to demonstrate fully that they reasonably believed that publication, or journalistic activity undertaken with a view to publication, would be in the public interest and how, and with whom, that was established at the time.
Findings of the Committee
11. The Editors’ Code makes clear that subterfuge and misrepresentation can be justified in order to prevent the public from being misled by the statement of an individual. During the campaign period for a General Election it is of great importance that the public are not misled by candidates running for public office.
12. The rally had been a public one, at which the complainant had addressed the crowd. The journalist had been entitled to attend the event; his attendance was not an act of misrepresentation or subterfuge. After the complainant had finished speaking, the journalist questioned him about the views which he had just publicly expressed, without revealing that he was a journalist. When speaking to the complainant he had filmed the conversation using a hidden camera, in doing so he had engaged in misrepresentation and subterfuge, and so the Committee considered whether these actions breached Clause 10.
13. In this case, the newspaper had been able to show that the complainant’s public views on Islam had varied over time, and it was reasonable for the journalist and newspaper to believe that they would be unable to ascertain his true views of Islam without employing subterfuge and misrepresentation. The use of a hidden camera, and the journalist’s failure to disclose his identity, was justified in the public interest, in order to prevent the public from potentially being misled by the actions of the complainant.
14. When the newspaper had been presented with the story by the freelance journalist it had appropriately and satisfactorily considered the issues raised under the Code. The Committee found that the newspaper had satisfied the requirements of the public interest section of the Code; there was no breach of Clause 10.
15. The Committee was satisfied, having had sight of the complainant’s full speech from the rally, that the quotations used in the article had not given a distorted impression of the complainant’s message. Further, the article had not stated that the complainant was a member of the EDL. Given that it was clear that members of the EDL had been encouraged to attend the rally, the Committee found that it was not significantly misleading to state that MARIAS has links with the EDL. Further, the newspaper was entitled to question and criticise the complainant’s views on Islam. There was no breach of Clause 1.
16. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 23/04/2015
Date decision issued: 24/07/2015Back to ruling listing