Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01871-21 Muslim Council of Britain v thejc.com
Summary of Complaint
1. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thejc.com breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Tory minister sparks anger after meeting Muslim Council of Britain’s new head”, published on 22 February 2021.
2. The article reported on the criticism faced by a minister after a meeting she had with the leader of the Muslim Council of Britain despite a “’non-engagement’ policy for ministers”. It reported that a “’non-engagement’ policy for ministers towards the group has existed since 2009” and that a “government spokesperson confirmed: ‘The UK government has a long standing policy of not engaging with the MCB and that has not changed’”. The article also said that “The last Labour government cut ties with the group after a leading member backed calls for violence against Israel.”
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as there was no “non-engagement” policy that had been in place since 2009. The complainant said the correct position was that there had been a non-engagement policy instigated in 2009, but that this had not been continuous until the present time. It said the correct position was that Labour had instigated a non-engagement approach in 2009, the Conservative party had such a policy during the coalition government from 2010-2015 and the government from 2015-present. The complainant provided several instances of interactions between itself and the government since 2009. It provided a Tweet by former Labour MP John Denham from 2018 which said it was wrong to say that Labour broke relationships permanently with the complainant as he had re-established relations in 2010 when he was Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government; an article from 2014 which said that the deputy prime minister had written to the complainant to express concern about Islamophobia in schools; and said that the complainant had engaged with the Home Office in 2017-2018 and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government in 2019-2020.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code, but accepted that there had been meetings between the complainant and Government officials on at least one occasion since 2009. It added the following sentence to the article: “The Labour government broke off all ties with the MCB in 2009, although Communities Secretary John Denham did meet them in 2010. After the coalition took office in 2010 Conservative ministers reimposed the boycott, which was confirmed in 2015 as government policy”, and the following footnote:
This story has been updated. An earlier version implied the non-engagement policy was a continuing process.
The publication noted, however, that a journalist had sought comment from a Government spokesperson and had quoted their response accordingly in the article. The publication was not able to provide the notes of this exchange as the journalist had since left its employment.
Relevant Code Provisions
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.
Findings of the Committee
5. The complaint related to the statement that a “’non-engagement’ policy for ministers” towards the complainant had “existed since 2009”, the accuracy of which was disputed by the complainant. The first matter for the Committee to consider was the basis for this statement and whether the publication had taken sufficient care over the accuracy of the reference. The Committee noted the newspaper’s position that before publication it had sought comment from a Government spokesperson, who had confirmed the existence of the policy. While the Committee noted with some concern that the publication had not been able to provide corroboration, for example by providing notes, the complainant did not appear to dispute that it had taken place, or that it accurately represented the position of the current Government. Given that the claim related to the Government’s approach to engagement with the complainant, the Committee considered that this approach demonstrated care taken over the accuracy of the claim. In these circumstances, the Committee found that the publication had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate information and there was no breach of Clause 1(i).
6. The Editors’ Code calls for the correction of significant inaccuracies, even where care was taken to report information accurately. Notwithstanding its finding that there was no breach of Clause 1 (i), the Committee therefore also had to consider whether the claim amounted to a significant inaccuracy which required correction.
7. The Committee noted that article focused on criticism of the minister who recently met with the complainant, and mentioned briefly the historic nature of the policy of “non-engagement”. The complainant had demonstrated that there had been some contact between various MPs and the complainant over the period in question; however, this did not in itself mean that the policy had necessarily been overturned: as with the recent example reported in this article, meetings could occur whilst an official policy of non-engagement remained in place. Such instances of interaction did not necessarily amount to a withdrawal of the official policy. It was not in dispute that a formal policy of non-engagement commenced in 2009. Although the complainant had demonstrated that there had been a few examples of interaction, there did not appear to be any communication stating the policy had ended. While the Tweet from former Labour MP John Denham suggested the policy instigated by his government in 2009 was overturned in 2010, where that Government was only in power for a few months of that year, it was not significantly inaccurate to omit reference to this alleged brief hiatus. In these circumstances, the Committee did not find the assertion that a policy of non-engagement had been in place since 2009 amounted to a significant inaccuracy or misleading statement, and no correction was required under Clause 1(ii). It did, however, welcomed the newspaper’s attempts to clarify the article.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 22/02/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 30/06/2021
Independent Complaints Reviewer
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.Back to ruling listing