Decision of the Complaints Committee – 03072-21 Agbetu v thejc.com
Summary of Complaint
1. Dr Toyin Agbetu complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thejc.com breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Sadiq Khan's statue diversity appointee resigns over antisemitism claims”, published on 24 February 2021.
2. The online article reported that the complainant had resigned from his position on the Mayor of London’s Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm after being accused of anti-Semitism. It went on to report that the Conservative Mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, had called for his resignation in the light of social posts made by the complainant which claimed “there was an ‘immoral hierarchy of suffering’ which Jews benefit from and black people do not”. The article included the comments made by Mr Bailey and a spokesperson for the London Mayor Sadiq Khan, with the former saying that the complainant’s “record of antisemitic comments and anti-vaccine lies put him beyond the pale”. The mayor was quoted as confirming the resignation of the complainant and agreeing that it was the right course of action. The article went on to report that the complainant had previously signed a letter that described an inquiry into anti-Semitism within the Labour Party as “unwittingly discriminatory” because “racism against Jewish people is set apart from racism and prejudice against other people” and had also praised an academic who had claimed that Jews played “an integral role in the slave trade”.
3. The complainant said that the article included a number of inaccuracies about him, in breach of Clause 1. He denied that he had resigned from his position with the Commission as a result of the allegations of anti-Semitism; he had, in fact, resigned to preserve his health and family’s wellbeing, following a media campaign against him. The complainant further denied that he had a “record of anti-Semitic comments and anti-vaccine lies” and said that the article misrepresented his comments regarding the “immoral hierarchy of suffering”. He said that his statement, included within a blog post, had concerned access to justice for the victims of the Maafa [the transatlantic slave trade] and been taken out of context by the publication. This was compounded, he argued, by the use of the term “benefit” and the omission of the following statement from the original blog post: “Victims and survivor-descendants of the Shoah (Jewish holocaust) have been served well by Nazi hunters, Holocaust remembrance days, apologies, acts of atonement and wide ranging reparations from those responsible for facilitating their unjust suffering.” He also expressed concern that he had not been provided with an opportunity to reply to the article’s serious claims.
4. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that the headline was supported by the text of the article, maintaining that the complainant had resigned from his position after Mr Bailey had called for him to “go” over his “history of anti-Semitism”, irrespective of the other reasoning provided by the complainant. The publication noted the context of the resignation: in the week leading up to his resignation, a number of separate publications had reported that the complainant had been accused of racism and the radical misuse of the word ‘Nazi’; another publication had shared the blog posts which referred to the “hierarchy of suffering” with City Hall.
5. During direct correspondence with the complainant, the newspaper had sought further clarity as to how the article had misrepresented his previous comments in relation to the “hierarchy of suffering” and offered him the opportunity to respond. In response, the complainant said that the disputed statement had been “pruned” from the following paragraph, with the article inappropriately introducing the topic of the Holocaust and radically altering the context of his comments:
“It would seem that access to justice for African people continues to be decided through an immoral hierarchy of suffering. Victims and survivor-descendants of the Shoah (Jewish holocaust) have been served well by Nazi hunters, Holocaust remembrance days, apologies, acts of atonement and wide ranging reparations from those responsible for facilitating their unjust suffering. In contrast victims and survivor-descendants of Maafa (African enslavement and its legacy) have been denied moral, political, spiritual and economic justice at every turn. Most Britons engage with Maafa denial unless they are connected to those teaching about Pan-African freedom fighters and liberation movements based both in the Diaspora and the Motherland”.
6. The publication maintained that, in considering the full paragraph, it was unable to see how “hierarchy of suffering” could mean anything other than a system than benefits Jewish victims above black victims of racism and genocide.
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
7. The complainant was concerned that the article had reported that he had resigned from the Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm “over” claims of anti-Semitism. The newspaper argued that the complainant had resigned after Shaun Bailey had called for his resignation for his “record of anti-Semitic comments”, which justified its use of the word “over”. Whilst the Committee recognised that the complainant was best placed to comment on the exact reason for his resignation, it was clear that the complainant’s position on the Commission had come under considerable public criticism following revelation of alleged “anti-Semitic comments” in the days leading up to his resignation. By the complainant’s own account, coverage of this criticism, which he considered to form part of a “media campaign” against him, had played a direct role in prompting his decision to resign. Given that the complainant had cited his desire to protect his family’s and his own wellbeing in the face of the “campaign” as his reason for resigning, and that central to the coverage was the allegation of anti-Semitism, the Committee did not consider that the headline claim that the complainant had resigned “over antisemitism claims” significantly misrepresented the situation. There was no breach of Clause 1.
8. The complainant denied that it was reasonable to interpret his comments on the “hierarchy of suffering” as the publication did, reporting that he had claimed there was a hierarchy of suffering “which Jews benefit from and black people do not”. Whilst the complainant clearly disagreed with this interpretation of his comments, the newspaper was entitled to characterise them in this way and provided a sufficient basis to do so with the reference to a “hierarchy of suffering” immediately followed in his blog post by the juxtaposition of the justice received by the victims of the Holocaust and the victims of the Maafa. In such circumstances, the Committee did not consider that there had been a failure to take care over this characterisation, and it did not give rise to a significantly misleading impression that required correction under Clause 1. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
9. There is no standalone requirement to contact subjects of articles for comments prior to publication, although not doing so may constitute a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article if it gives rise to a significant inaccuracy. In this case, the article had reported publicly available remarks made by the complainant, and not contacting the complainant for comment did not give rise to any significant inaccuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1 in not contacting the complainant for comment prior to publication of the article.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 29/03/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 28/10/2021
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