· Decision of the Complaints Committee 03470-15 Ismail v The Times
Summary of complaint
1. Sufyan Ismail complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of Muslim Engagement & Development (MEND) that The Times had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Muslim radicals send death threats to teachers”, published in print and online on 4 May 2015.
2. The article followed comments made by a head teacher at an education conference during a discussion about on-going concerns relating to the so-called “Trojan Horse” plot. She had made reference to “dead animals hung on the gates of schools, dismembered cats on playgrounds”, and said that teachers who had taught against homophobia had received death threats on social media, and that schools had been presented with petitions, objecting to such teaching.
3. The complainant said that there was no evidence to suggest that any death threats received had been sent by Muslims. In fact, the teacher who had made the comment had stated in another publication that she did not know who had sent the threats or placed the dead animals outside schools. He also said that there was insufficient evidence to support the article’s assertion that “Muslim radicals behind the original plot are urging communities to attack schools that tackle homophobia, an education conference was told”.
4. The newspaper defended the accuracy of its coverage. The article was based on comments made at a public meeting at which the press was present. The references to dead animals and death threats had been made in the context of a discussion about the continuation of the “Trojan Horse” campaign. The article had not misrepresented any comments made.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence.
iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
6. It was not in dispute that the teacher had referred to fears about intimidation and death threats in the context of a discussion about the continuation of the “Trojan Horse” plot. While she did not claim to know precisely which individuals were responsible for the conduct, the discussion had clearly centred on fears about Muslim extremism. The newspaper’s headline claim that “Muslims” had sent death threats to teachers was speculation, based on comments made by the teacher. The Committee underlined the importance of clearly distinguishing individual comment from established fact. In this instance, the first sentence had made clear the basis for the newspaper’s headline claim, indicating that it was based on a comment made by a teacher. In this context, it was not misleading for the newspaper to characterise the speaker’s comments as indicating that “Muslims” had sent death threats to teachers.
7. The article had reported teachers’ experiences of objections in their local communities to children being taught that homophobia was wrong. These experiences had been shared in the context of a discussion about fears of the influence of Islamic extremists on schools, and the newspaper was entitled to characterise the concerns in the way that it had.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 06/05/2015Date decision issued: 22/06/2015 Back to ruling listing