Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01933-21 Muslim Council of Britain v thejc.com
Summary of Complaint
1. 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 “The Muslim Council of Britain should back off”, published on 25 February 2021.
2. The article was a comment piece about reactions to a BBC interview with the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain. It said that after the interview, a letter of complaint was sent to the BBC, stating that the interview had been “strikingly hostile”, which had been signed by multiple people, including Labour MPs and a Tory peer. It also stated that in “the 2010s, the then-Labour government cut off all dialogue with the MCB because of its links to extremism” and that the “Labour government — and all governments since — rightly regarded the MCB as beyond the pale”. It stated that “MCB supporters in the media gleefully smeared the presenter” and that radical social media activists wanted “to make sure that groups like the MCB have a free ride, not just on the BBC but in the culture as a whole”.
3. The publication also posted a link to the article on its Twitter account with the caption “The Muslim Council of Britain should back off”.
4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. Firstly, it said that the headline was not supported by the text. Whilst the complainant accepted that two former MCB officer-holders had been signatories to the letter, it said these two people did not currently form part of the complainant’s leadership and did not hold decision-making roles within the organisation. It said that the MCB was not a signatory to the letter, and the headline gave the misleading impression that it was responsible for driving the letter, which was not the case. The complainant said the publication’s tweet was misleading for the same reason.
5. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to write that the Labour government “cut off all dialogue” with the complainant in the 2010s. It said that there had been a brief suspension of dialogue of less than a year between the complainant and the Labour Party in 2009, and that communication was restored in 2010, prior to the general election that year. It provided a 2018 tweet from the then-Secretary of State which stated he had “re-established relations in 2010”. The complainant further said that the reason for the break in dialogue was due the personal view of a particular individual who had a connection to the complainant.
6. Furthermore, the complainant said it was inaccurate to publish that either the Labour government of 1997-2010 or the coalition government of 2010-2015 regarded the complainant as “beyond the pale”. It noted several meetings with ministers between 2010-2015 as evidence further governments did not consider the complainant to be “beyond the pale”, in particular several meetings with Liberal Democrat MPs during the coalition.
7. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article was a comment piece and as such the headline was an assertive statement which accurately conveyed, reflected and summarised the writer’s sentiment for the rest of the article. It also said that the Labour government cut ties with the complainant in March of 2009, and it was not significantly inaccurate to describe 2009 as “the 2010s”. The newspaper said that in addition to the cessation of dialogue in 2009, the Government denied the complainant links throughout the 2010s, and it was not misleading for the newspaper to summarise this as “the then-Labour government cut off all dialogue” with the complainant in the 2010s.
8. The complainant distinguished the complaint from a previous instance in which IPSO has ruled on a related claim (01871-21 Muslim Council of Britain v thejc.com); the article under complaint stated that “all” governments had found the complainant to be “beyond the pale” since 2010, whereas the previous article had stated that a “’non-engagement’ policy for ministers towards the group has existed since 2009”. The complainant considered that finding the complainant to be “beyond the pale” was more of a statement of fact, and worse than the previous reference to a “policy of non-engagement”.
9. Finally, the publication said that whilst individual ministers had, in a personal capacity, engaged with the complainant, the article referred to government policy. It said that it was clear that the complainant had no status as a representative body in Whitehall and was not consulted on this basis. It said, that as there was a government policy of non-engagement since 2009 and therefore Labour, and following governments, could be described as regarding the complainant as "beyond the pale".
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
10. The suggestion in the headline that the complainant should “back off” was clearly an expression of personal opinion, and there was no complaint that it did not accurately reflect the views of the journalist about the complainant. The expression of this opinion did not amount to a statement of fact that the complainant had itself been a signatory to the letter: neither the headline nor the body of the article stated or implied this. The body of the article provided the basis for the headline and referred to the actions of the complainant’s supporters and activists in response to the interview. While the Committee acknowledged that the complainant appeared to disagree with this view, where the comment was clearly presented as an opinion and included no statement of fact, the publication was entitled to publish the journalist’s comment. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
11. The complainant accepted that the Labour Government had suspended engagement with the complainant in 2009. It also provided a tweet published in 2010 from the then-Secretary of State which said that relations had been re-established. It said, therefore, that it could not be accurate to publish that all governments since the Labour government “regarded the MCB as beyond the pale”. The Committee noted that the phrase “beyond the pale” could be interpreted widely. Where the Labour government had broken off dialogue with the complainant in 2009, and the article explained the context of this, it was not inaccurate for the newspaper to state that the Labour government “regarded” the complainant as “beyond the pale”. There was no breach of Clause 1.
12. Whilst the complainant provided evidence to demonstrate it had engaged with individuals in government since the break of dialogue in 2009, there did not appear to be any official communication stating that the policy of non-engagement with the complainant had ended, nor was the complainant able to provide examples of engagement with the government as a whole. As the Committee had previously ruled in complaint 01871-21 Muslim Council of Britain v thejc.com, it was not inaccurate to suggest that a policy of non-engagement between the government and the complainant had been in place since 2009. Where the successive governments had a policy of non-engagement with the complainant, it was not inaccurate to characterise this as further governments having regard to the complainant as “beyond the pale”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. The complainant had also said that the article misrepresented the reason for the Labour Party cutting off dialogue with the complainant. It said that the reason for the dialogue being cut was due to the views of an individual, not “links to extremism”. However, the complainant did not dispute that the investigation into the actions of an individual connected with the complainant related to the then-government's definition of extremism. It was therefore not inaccurate to state that "the then-Labour government cut off all dialogue with the MCB because of its links to extremism". There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
14. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 25/02/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 23/11/2021Back to ruling listing