Decision of the Complaints Committee 04002-16 Various Complainants v Daily Star
Summary of complaint
1. A number of complainants complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Star breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Labour MP dead after attack by Brexit Nut”, published on 17 June 2016.
2. The front-page article reported that Labour MP Jo Cox was killed in a “Brexit-motivated attack”. It said that her alleged killer shouted “Britain first!” following the incident. The article on pages 6 and 7, to which the front-page article referred, quoted Clarke Rothwell, a witness to the aftermath of the attack, who said the alleged attacker was shouting “Britain first! Britain first!”. It also quoted Jo Cox’s husband who it said “pleaded with Britain to ‘unite to fight against the hatred that killed her’”.
3. IPSO received 303 complaints about the article, all of which raised similar issues. Complainants said that the headline of the article was inaccurate because there was no information to suggest that the alleged attacker was a Brexit supporter, and that the attack was “Brexit-motivated”.
4. The publication said that the article needed to be considered in the context of both when the incident occurred, which was one week before the EU referendum, and Ms Cox’s position as a pro-EU MP and a campaigner for refugees. It said that when Ms Cox was attacked, a number of witnesses heard her alleged killer shout “Britain first”, which led to links being drawn between the attack and Vote Leave’s focus on immigration. It said that while not all Brexit supporters held extreme “right-wing” views on immigration, those who held such views would inevitably support Britain’s exit from the EU, particularly somebody who would use violence to further their ideology. In this context, it said that the newspaper believed that the attack was politically motivated and wanted to convey the alleged attacker’s ideology on the front page.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. 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.
Findings of the Committee
6. The Committee recognised that the headline’s description of Jo Cox’s alleged attacker as a “Brexit nut” was the newspaper’s characterisation of his political views. Such an assessment is a matter of opinion, which is something to which the Code grants considerable latitude; however this does not absolve a newspaper of its obligations under Clause 1. It was widely reported on the day of the attack that the alleged attacker had shouted “Britain first” at the time of the incident; this information was included in the front-page article, with the article inside the newspaper carrying a more extensive quote from a witness. The newspaper had explained, that in its view, somebody who shouted “Britain first” in the context of a referendum debate which focused to a large degree on immigration issues, while attacking a pro-Remain MP who had campaigned on behalf of immigrants, was likely to support the Vote Leave, or “Brexit”, side of the campaign. The Committee wished to make clear that it was not making an assessment on whether Ms Cox’s alleged attacker was in fact “Brexit-motivated”; rather it had to decide whether the newspaper had provided a sufficient basis to characterise him in this way. Overall, it believed that the newspaper had provided a sufficient basis for the characterisation of the alleged attacker as a Brexit supporter considering what was known about the incident, and the political backdrop, at the time of publication; this basis was made clear in the front-page article. There was no breach of Clause 1.
7. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date decision issued: 30/08/2016Back to ruling listing