Decision of the Complaints Committee – 03999-18 Bromley v Metro
Summary of Complaint
1. Robert Bromley complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Metro breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “50 of the protesters Israel killed were Hamas fighters”, published on 17 May 2018.
2. The article reported that “Hamas said 50 of the people killed by Israeli forces on the Gaza Strip this week were its fighters”. It said that Hamas had named them online, “including photographs and details of their ranks within the group”. The article went on to say that a senior Hamas official had “said 50 of the 62 Palestinians who died were members of the group that rules Gaza”, and included a response from an Israeli military spokesman who said “Hamas had ‘set the record straight’, adding: ‘This was no peaceful protest’”.
3. The complainant said the article was inaccurate: the senior Hamas official had said that 50 of those killed were its supporters, members or activists - not its “fighters”. He said that, given that Hamas won the last elections in Gaza, it was not surprising that many of those killed were its supporters; mischaracterising these individuals as “fighters” was a deliberate attempt to try and justify their killing.
4. The publication denied that the use of the word “fighters” was misleading, and that it had attempted to justify the killing of the 50 individuals. It said that Hamas was widely regarded by many nations as a terrorist organisation, and that it had released a picture of its dead members which showed some of them wearing military-style uniforms. It also said that the word “fighters” could also refer to a metaphorical “fighter” for a cause, and that, according to a direct translation of the senior Hamas official’s comments, he had said that “50 of the martyrs in the recent battle were from Hamas”. In these full circumstances, readers would not have been significantly misled by the use of the word “fighters”.
5. Nevertheless, the publication offered to amend the word “fighters” to read “members” in the online article, and to include a quote from a representative of the UN Human Rights Council condemning the use of force by Israel. It also offered to publish the following clarification on page 2, to explain the basis for the use of the word “fighters”:
A May 17 article about Gaza border protests reported that Hamas said that 50 of the protesters killed by Israeli forces were its ‘fighters’. We are happy to clarify that this was based on a translation of comments by a senior Hamas official who said that ‘50 of the martyrs in the recent battle were from Hamas’.
6. The complainant said that, in fact, the senior Hamas official had said “In the last round of confrontations, if 62 people were martyred, 50 of them were Hamas”; this translation didn’t give certainty as to the status of the individuals killed. He said that the term “martyred” usually referred to someone who died for a cause, rather than someone who fought for a cause.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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 article stated that Hamas had described 50 of the individuals killed by Israeli forces as its “fighters”. However, the translation of the Hamas official’s comments provided by the publication referred to them as “martyrs” in a “battle”; given that an individual can be considered to be ‘martyred’ without engaging in combat, and no translation provided had referred explicitly to “fighters”, this statement did not provide a basis for stating that Hamas had described all 50 individuals in this way. Similarly, the image apparently provided by Hamas showing a small number of the dead in military regalia did not support this characterisation of their comments. In these circumstances, the Committee found that the publication had not taken care to accurately report the information in the public domain, by stating that Hamas had described all the dead as “fighters”, and there had been a breach of Clause 1(i). This required clarification to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii). The publication had offered to publish a clarification which set out the basis for the characterisation, by providing its translation of the Hamas official’s comments. The Committee could not make a finding on the affiliations and actions of those who died; the misleading impression that required correction was that Hamas had publicly stated that these individuals were its “fighters”. In this context, this clarification, which made clear what the Hamas official had in fact stated, was sufficient to address any misleading impression, and had been offered with sufficient prominence and promptness. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii).
9. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial action required
10. The clarification offered was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii), and should now be published. On receipt of the decision, the publication clarified that it would also be willing to publish the correction online. This should also now be published.
Date complaint received: 15/06/2018
Date decision issued: 11/12/2018
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