Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01494-19 Ormesher v The Jewish Chronicle
Summary of complaint
1. Richard Ormesher complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined "Push to oust Berger led by hate theorist, neo-Nazi-link activist" published 14 February 2019.
2. The article reported that "two pro-Jeremy Corbyn activists who led the move to deselect Luciana Berger" had promoted anti-Semitic or anti-Israel conspiracy theories, and a third, "Labour activist", who "played a key role in driving the online abuse against the Jewish Labour MP" had links to a neo-Nazi website. The article went on to report that the twitter account had retweeted a "vicious anti-Semitic attack" on the MP found on this website. The attack in question was a GIF depicting the MP holding cards which read that "as a Jewish Labour party MP" she was "working hard on your demise". The article went on to report on the anti-Semitic nature of the MP's profile on the website. The article reported that the twitter account had repeatedly attacked her.
3. The article was published online, under the headline "Labour activist leading online attacks on Luciana Berger has links to neo-Nazi website" published 14 February 2019. This version of the article also reported that the twitter account also claimed that the MP was "not trusted by her CLP"
4. The complainant, the owner of the twitter account, and the "Labour activist" referenced in the article said that the article was inaccurate. The complainant believed that the article alleged that he was anti-Semitic and a neo-Nazi, when he was not, and he had never posted anything anti-Semitic on social media. He claimed that he had not heard of, or visited, the website in question, and did not retweet material from it; the GIF was taken from a fellow twitter user and he was unaware of its origin. He said the GIF was not intended to refer to the MP's race in a derogatory manner; he had sarcastically referenced it, as the MP had previously and repeatedly cited anti-Semitism as the reason a vote of no confidence had been made against her. The complainant emphasised that the tweet referred to her performance as an MP, and simply communicated that she was not up to the job. The complainant said that he was not contacted prior to publication, or provided an opportunity to comment on the claims.
5. The complainant said that publishing an article he believed to be inaccurate without his consent constituted harassment in breach of Clause 3.
6. The publication did not accept any breach of the Code. It said that it was not inaccurate to report that there were links between the account and this website; the GIF could be found on the website in question. The publication also highlighted that the complainant did not disclose where the GIF came from, despite it requesting this information; he only specified that it had come from another twitter user. The publication said that it was not inaccurate to report that the GIF was anti-Semitic; the GIF had been offensively doctored and referenced the MP's Jewish heritage, this had offended the Jewish community. It said that the website where it also featured described itself as an "Aryan organisation", which referred to "Jewish controllers" attempting to manipulate, undermine and destroy societies and appeared to paint an image of somebody using neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic propaganda to attack the MP. The publication said that the article did not name the complainant and it was not necessary to contact him for comment prior to publication; the article only referred to the account which sent the tweets.
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 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.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
8. Clause 3 *(Harassment)
i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.
ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.
iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.
Findings of the Committee
9. The Committee acknowledged that the text of the complainant's tweet referenced the MP's performance. However, the tweet also included a GIF which had been doctored to give the impression that the MP was holding a sign declaring that she was "working hard on your demise" and included an express reference to the MP being Jewish. In the Committee's view, the GIF suggested that there was a link between her being Jewish and this declaration and noted that this biographical detail had no relevance to the comments being made by the complainant in the tweet. The publication was entitled to express the view that publication of the GIF on the complainant's website amounted to a “vicious anti-Semitic attack”, which would have been understood by readers as the comment of the publication. The complainant’s tweet, including the GIF, had been reproduced in the article which did not give rise to a significantly inaccurate or misleading impression as to the nature of the complainant’s remarks. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
10. The article claimed that the complainant had links to a neo-Nazi group. It was not in dispute that the GIF which had been tweeted by the complainant was featured on the website of a named group which promoted conspiracy theories on the actions and intentions of Jewish politicians. The Committee acknowledged the complainant's position that he had obtained the GIF from a different source and had not previously been aware that it had appeared on the group's website. However, it was not inaccurate or misleading for the publication to claim that there was a link between the complainant and the group in circumstances where the article explained that the alleged link was that the GIF could also be found on the group’s website. The article did not claim that the complainant, who was not named in the article, was anti-Semitic or a neo-Nazi; these references in the article were made in relation to the GIF and website respectively. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
11. There is no requirement under the Code to contact complainants prior to publication. The publication reported on the complainant's publicly available tweet and not contacting the complainant for comment in these circumstances did not represent a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
12. The purpose of Clause 3 is to prevent intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit by the press, subject to public interest exceptions, and principally relates to the contact journalists have with members of the public. In this instance, publishing an article on the activity on the complainant's social media account, did not engage the terms of Clause 3.
13. The complaint was not upheld
Remedial action required
Date complaint received: 17/02/2019
Date decision issued: 02/07/2019
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.