Decision of the Complaints Committee 02822-18 Sivier v The Jewish Chronicle
Summary of complaint
1. Mike Sivier complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Labour readmits member following 'antisemitic' remarks on Jews and Zionism”, published on 4 February 2018.
2. The article reported that the complainant had been readmitted to the Labour Party, after having been suspended last year for “remarks he made about Jews and Zionism, including a claim that he could not comment on whether thousands or millions of Jews died in the Holocaust he said ‘I don’t know’” [sic]. It also stated that “in a post on his website, he said ‘it may be entirely justified’ for former Scottish Linlithgow MP Tam Dalyell to remark that Tony Blair had been unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers”. It said that the complainant had written a book “defending former London mayor Ken Livingstone’s claims about Hitler and Zionism”. The article stated that the complainant had been asked to attend a workshop on antisemitism, as a condition of readmittance to the party, but had declined.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), because it gave a misleading account of comments he had made on his website. Another commenter had stated that a Labour politician had said that Tony Blair was “unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers”. He had replied saying “I would point out that (without further information) concerns that Tony Blair was being ‘unduly influenced’ by a ‘cabal of Jewish advisers’ may have been entirely justified”.
4. The complainant said that it was inaccurate for the article to say that he had said he “could not comment” on whether thousands or millions of Jews died in the Holocaust because he ‘didn’t know’. A commenter on the website had been listing incidents of anti-Semitism on the Left, and had referred to a leaflet which he said omitted Jews from a list of Holocaust survivors, and put the number of deaths from the Holocaust at thousands, rather than millions. In response to a comment about the leaflet, the complainant had said “I’m not going to comment on ‘thousands’ instead of ‘millions’ because I don’t know, but the Nazi holocaust involved many other groups as well as Jews, and it seems likely that the SWP was simply being ‘politically correct’”. He said he was referring to not knowing why the leaflet made this claim, rather than to not knowing the number of Jews who died.
5. The complainant said that his book had defended Ken Livingstone’s comments made in defence of another Labour MP in 2016, but not those made after his suspension in 2017. The comments it had defended, in relation to Hitler and Zionism, had been accurate. In addition, the article was inaccurate because it omitted his reasons for refusing to attend antisemitism training – namely, that it would be an admission of guilt.
6. The publication amended the article on receiving the complainant’s initial complaint, to include a comment from him stating that he was not a Holocaust denier and had always used the figure of six million Jews having been killed in the Holocaust, and to say that “his comment on the numbers killed referred to another post in which the SWP had queried the total who were murdered”. It also removed the reference to the complainant having defended Ken Livingstone’s “claims about Hitler and Zionism”, and appended a footnote stating ‘This article was edited after Mr Sivier contacted the JC to say that he was not a Holocaust denier’.
7. The publication denied that the article was inaccurate. In respect of the ‘thousands or millions’ claim, its interpretation of the comments thread was plausible, and there was no significant inaccuracy. Similarly, the publication said that the reference to the complainant’s book was inaccurate, but not significantly so: the book had defended Mr Livingstone’s comments in the domain of antisemitism. Finally, it was not misleading to omit the complainant’s reasons for refusing to attend antisemitism training. However, it offered to add a footnote to the article as follows:
This article was amended after Mike Sivier contacted the publication. Mr Sivier says that his comment “I don’t know” had been made in reference to whether an SWP leaflet put the number of Holocaust victims at ‘millions’ or ‘thousands’; he says that he does not dispute that six million Jews died in the Holocaust. He also says that he did not defend Ken Livingstone’s comments made after his suspension from the Labour Party in 2017, and that any comments he defended were not antisemitic. We have amended the article to reflect Mr Sivier’s account of his position.
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
8. The complainant had not expressly said that he “could not comment on whether thousands or millions of Jews died in the Holocaust”. There was no reference in the discussion surrounding the leaflet to “whether thousands or millions of Jews died in the Holocaust”, because the leaflet had explicitly not referred to Jews among the victims of the Holocaust. The publication was entitled to give its own interpretation of what the complainant had meant by his comments. However, the article did not make clear that it was reporting the publication’s interpretation of the complainant’s comments. This represented a failure to take care, in breach of Clause 1(i). The article gave the impression that the complainant had said something which he had not, on a subject liable to cause widespread offence; a clarification was required to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii). The publication had offered to issue a clarification stating the complainant’s position that he had been referring to why the leaflet made this claim when he said “I don’t know”, and stating his position on the number of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. This clarification made the complainant’s position clear, and was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii).
9. The complainant said that his book had defended accurate comments made by Ken Livingstone in relation to Hitler and Zionism, and had not defended comments made after his suspension in 2017. The article’s claim that he had written a book “defending former London mayor Ken Livingstone’s claims about Hitler and Zionism” was accurate, and there was no mention in the article of the year these comments were made. No misleading impression of the book was given that required correction under Clause 1(ii).
10. It was not misleading to omit reference to the complainant’s reasons for refusing to attend antisemitism training: he had refused to attend, and the publication was not obliged to explain his reasons for doing so. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
11. In response to a commenter referring to comments by a Labour politician stating that Tony Blair was “unduly influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers”, the complainant had written “(without further information) concerns that Tony Blair was being ‘unduly influenced’ by ‘a cabal of Jewish advisors’ may have been entirely justified.” Omitting the reference to “further information” in reporting this exchange did not give a misleading impression of the complainant’s comment as a whole, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
12. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial action required
13. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The publication had offered a clarification which set out the complainant’s position in relation to the number of Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and on the meaning of his comments. This clarification made the complainant’s position clear, and addressed the article’s misleading presentation of his comments. This was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii), and should now be published.
Date complaint received: 04/04/2018
Date decision issued: 24/07/2018
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