Decision of the Complaints Committee – 00914-21 Open Labour v The Mail on Sunday
Summary of Complaint
1. Open Labour complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Mail on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) in an article headlined “Labour’s Nandy praises report calling for woke ‘peace force’ to replace Army” published 24 January 2021.
2. The article also appeared online the day before in a substantially similar format under the headline: “Labour shadow Foreign Secretary praises calls for British Army to be replaced with a 'gender-balanced human security force' in new woke row”.
3. 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 discussed a new approach to foreign policy. The print article stated that this pamphlet advocated “for [a] woke ‘peace force’ to replace Army”; whilst the online article reported that it called for the “British Army to be replaced with a 'gender-balanced human security force'”. Both articles 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”.
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 “replaced”. Whilst the pamphlet did advocate for a shift in the nature of the armed forces, it 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.
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. Further, the publication emphasised that the text of the articles 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.
6. In response, the complainant said that it was contradictory to claim in the headline that the military was to be “replaced” whilst also claiming that it would also be retained as part of the new force.
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. The headline claims that the pamphlet called for the armed forces to be “replaced” by a new human security or “peace force” was clearly the newspaper’s characterisation of the pamphlet. This was supported where the pamphlet did call for a real shift in the nature of our services from classic armed forces to a broader human security force; the pamphlet 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 the accuracy of the headlines. Nor did either article contain a significant inaccuracy or misleading claim. There was no breach of Clause 1.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 03/02/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 03/06/2021Back to ruling listing