00913-21 Open Labour v The Sun

Decision: Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00913-21 Open Labour v The Sun

Summary of Complaint

1. Open Labour complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “LABOUR'S LISA BACKS SCRAP ARMY REPORT” published 24 January 2021.

2. The article reported on the Shadow Foreign Secretary’s response to a pamphlet on issues of foreign policy published by the Labour-affiliated group, Open Labour. The pamphlet, described in the article as a “scrap army report” and a “loony left wish list”, discussed a new approach to foreign policy. The article stated that this pamphlet advocated for “the Army to be replaced with a “gender balanced and ethnically diverse” peace force”. It went on to report that the pamphlet recommended that government “Consider a real shift in the nature of our services from classic armed forces to [a] human security services which would include the military but would also include police, engineers, aid workers, or health workers and would be gender balanced and ethnically diverse; that “the main job of the forces should be to ‘dampen down violence rather than intervene on one side or the other’”; and that its “central task would be to protect human security”.

3. The article also appeared online on the same day in a substantially similar format under the headline: “LIABILTY LISA Labour’s Lisa Nandy in fresh ‘woke’ row over abolishing Army and ‘reconsidering’ Britain’s nuclear sub fleet”.

4. The complainant, the group that published the pamphlet, said the article breached Clause 1 as the pamphlet did not call for the armed forces or army to be “scrap[ped]“, “abolish[ed]” or “replaced”. Whilst the pamphlet did advocate for a shift in the nature of the armed forces, it had acknowledged that there would still be a role for the traditional military and accepted that force may still need to be used in certain limited circumstances. It also said it was inaccurate to describe the report as a “looney left wish list” as this was not distinguished as the newspaper’s own interpretation and the phrase was hyperlinked to a previous article with no relevance to that under complaint.

5. The publication did not accept it had breached the Code. It said that the pamphlet did call for the armed forces as we currently know them to be subsumed into a broader human security force with significant non-military parts. It was therefore reasonable to state that the new force would replace the armed forces; and that the changes would amount to effectively abolishing or scrapping the armed forces as currently structured. Further, the publication emphasised that the text of the article contained other quotes from the pamphlet which made clear the nature of the new human security force, its aims and the fact it would retain a military element. The publication also said it was entitled to describe the report as a “loony left wish list” as claims about the political spectrum are inherently subjective. On receipt of the complaint, the publication amended the online headline and published the following clarification as a footnote to the online article:

CLARIFICATION: The headline on an earlier version of this article referred to a proposal for 'abolishing' the Army. The Open Labour proposals at issue called for the armed forces to be replaced by 'human security services' that would 'include the military'.  It has been amended.

In its first response during IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper also offered to publish the following wording in its corrections and clarifications column, which normally appears on page 2:

A 25 Jan article referred to an Open Labour proposal to 'scrap' the Army. The report at issue in fact called for the armed forces to be replaced by 'human security services' that would 'include the military'. We are happy to clarify.

6. In response, the complainant said these offers did not resolve its complaint as both clarifications repeated one of the alleged inaccuracies, namely the claim that the armed forces would be “replaced”.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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 correction, 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.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

8. Under the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice, newspapers have the right to editorialise and campaign. Nevertheless, the headline claims that the pamphlet called for the armed forces to be “scrap[ped]” and “abolish[ed]” gave the strong impression that it had proposed getting rid of the traditional military entirely. This was inaccurate as the pamphlet clearly stated that the proposed human security force would still retain a military element and that military force may still need to be used for defensive or other limited purposes. The publication therefore failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information, and both print and online headlines were not supported by the text. There was a breach of Clause 1(i).

9. These prominent headline claims were inaccurate as to the nature of one of the pamphlet’s key recommendations and were employed as part of a strong critique of Open Labour’s approach to foreign policy. These headline claims were therefore significantly inaccurate and required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). Both clarifications were offered promptly and with due prominence; appearing in the established corrections and clarifications column and as a footnote to the amended online article respectively. The clarifications were also offered on receipt of the complaint and at the first instance during IPSO’s investigation respectively. However, the complainant had maintained that the clarifications did not put the correct position on record. Both clarifications stated that in fact the human security force proposed by the pamphlet would “include the military”. In the Committee’s view, this put the correct position on record, as it was the implication that the pamphlet had suggested getting rid of the military entirely which had made the original headlines significantly inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).

10. The Committee next considered whether the articles were inaccurate in describing the report as having recommended that the Army “be replaced with a “gender balanced and ethnically diverse” peace force”. The pamphlet did call for a real shift in the nature of our services from classic armed forces to a broader human security force. It was also clear in emphasising the difference between these old and new forces, and their respective aims and component parts. Further, the article as a whole provided more detail about the nature of this new force and made clear that it would still contain a military element. In these circumstances, the publication had not failed to take care over this description of the pamphlet’s proposals. Nor did this constitute a significant inaccuracy or misleading claim. There was no breach of Clause 1.

11. The description of the pamphlet as a “loony left wish list” was clearly the newspaper’s characterisation of the pamphlet. The Committee noted that that where a given political party or grouping is placed on that spectrum is subjective and would be understood as a statement of opinion rather than fact in this context. Further, the complainant had expressed concern that this statement was hyperlinked to a different article. It was not clear whether the complainant argued that this constituted a breach of Clause 1. In any event, newspapers regularly link to content that may be of interest to readers; the linked article contained no claims about the complainant or their pamphlet so the Committee did not consider that the hyperlink rendered the article under complaint misleading or inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial Action Required

13. Both clarifications put the correct position on record and were printed, or offered in the case of the print clarification, promptly and with due prominence. The print clarification should now be published to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

 

Date complaint received: 03/02/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 02/06/2021

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