Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04182-21 Interlink v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Interlink complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Not anti-Semitic to tackle forced marriage, says Jewish group”, published on 9 February 2021 and an article headlined “Forced marriage has no place in Britain, says PM”, published on 12 February 2021.
2. The first article described the report of a Jewish think tank, which it called “the nation’s first think tank to tackle extremism in Judaism”. It reported that the think tank had warned that “Anti-Semitism is being weaponised as a ‘fig leaf’ to shut down reports of forced marriage in Orthodox communities”. It went on to the state that “the report said addressing the issue [of arranged marriage] within some Charedi communities “may lead to accusations of anti-Semitism, levelled either at [the think tank], or another organisation we work with””. The founder of the think tank was also quoted as saying “I understand people are worried about anti-Semitism but we don’t have time for anti-Semitism to be eradicated before we address harms perpetrated in our community. For too long we have been asked to stay silent on anything perceived as criticism of our community for fear of stoking anti-Semitism – it is just wrong. Bigots are responsible for their own bigotry. We have work to do and there is no time to waste. We must not allow anyone to manipulate bigotry as a fig leaf for harmful practices”. The article also contained a quote from a government spokesman who stated: “Forced marriage is not a problem specific to one country or culture. The Forced Marriage Unit runs an ongoing outreach programme to raise awareness of this practice”.
3. The first article also appeared online under the headline “Anti-Semitism weaponised as a 'fig leaf' to shut down forced marriage reports”. It contained the same information, but also included quotes from the CEO of Interlink from an interview on a radio programme, in which she “said it was ‘absolutely abnormal’ for young people in the [ultra-Orthodox Jewish] community to be pressured into marriage” and that “forced marriage [w]as an ‘alien concept’ in Judaism and that consent is required to ensure the marriage is valid”.
4. When the first article was shared on Twitter, the link included a photograph of several men in ultra-Orthodox Jewish dress.
5. The second article reported that “Boris Johnson has described forced marriage in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community as a ‘despicable, inhuman and an uncivilised practice’” and that his spokesman had told another newspaper that “forced marriages have ‘no place whatsoever in Britain or anywhere in the world’”. The article reported that these comments followed on from the report referred to in the previous article under complaint.
6. The second article also appeared online under the headline “Forced marriage in ultra-Orthodox Jewish community 'despicable', says Boris Johnson”. The online version contained the same information as the one in print, and repeated the claims that the think tank’s founder had said “anti-Semitism is being weaponised as a ‘fig leaf’ to shut down reports of forced marriage in Orthodox communities”. It also contained a reaction from the founder of the think tank referred to in the first article who stated that the Prime Minister had “rightly condemned forced marriage – there is no ambiguity in his statement. We condemn all coercive practices that fly in the face of the liberty that all citizens should enjoy".
7. The complainant, a membership organisation for ultra-Orthodox Jewish organisations, whose CEO was quoted in the online version of the first article, said that both the articles were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. With regards to the first article, it said that the reference to the report was not prominent enough in the article, and therefore that a reader who only scanned the article, or read just the headline, would be given the misleading impression that forced marriages were common in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. It stated that it was misleading to state that anti-Semitism was used as a “fig-leaf”, as the report itself did not contain these words, and only stated that criticism of the community “may lead to accusations of anti-Semitism”. The complainant said that on this basis the headline of the online version was not supported by the text, and also breached Clause 1(iv) as it stated as fact that anti-Semitism is weaponised as a fig leaf by the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, when it should have been attributed as conjecture by the authors of the report.
8. The complainant said that by describing the think tank as tackling “extremism” the article inaccurately implied that the complainant’s community was made up of extremists, which was bolstered by the inclusion of the photograph of people in ultra-Orthodox clothing which appeared when the article was shared on social media. In addition, the complainant said that, as the article related to the community the complainant represented, the newspaper should have contacted the complainant for comment in advance. It said it was not enough to include the comments from its CEO without putting the allegations to it directly.
9. With regards to the second article, the complainant said it was inaccurate to report that the Prime Minister had “described forced marriage in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community as a ‘despicable, inhuman and an uncivilised practice’” and that in fact the quote supplied by the spokesperson had condemned forced marriages in general, and had not specifically targeted the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. The complainant noted the online version of the first article contained a statement about forced marriage which had made clear it was “not a problem specific to one country or culture”. It said the second article contradicted this. The complainant contacted Number 10 and provided the correspondence, which said that when the spokesperson had been asked about “specific concerns”, it responded with “general lines that forced marriage has no place in the UK” and gave the following stock lines:
All forced marriage has no place whatsoever in Britain or anywhere in the world. - There have been significant steps taken since 2010 to tackle the practice and the Government has already significantly strengthened the law on forced marriage and introduced lifelong anonymity for victims. - This Government will continue to work with the police, other agencies and partners abroad to do all we can to combat forced marriage and support victims. Details: In 2014 the Government made forced marriage a criminal offence. In 2017, we introduced lifelong anonymity for forced marriage victims to provide them with further protection and help ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
10. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code with regard to either article. In the first article, it confirmed that the think tank’s report did not directly refer to the use of anti-Semitism as a “fig leaf”. However, it said that it was the quote of the think tank’s founder, which was included in the article, that provided the basis for the use of this term. The publication said that the founder went further than the report, and her quote justified the use of the term ‘fig leaf’ as well as the headline of the article. It drew particular reference to the following sections of the quote: “we don’t have time for anti-Semitism to be eradicated before we address harms being perpetrated in our community […] For too long we have been asked to stay silent on anything that can be perceived as criticism of our community for fear of stoking anti-Semitism: it is just wrong […] We must not allow anyone to manipulate bigotry as a fig leaf for harmful practices”. The publication said that where the founder had stated that the subject of forced marriage was shut down on the grounds that to discuss the subject is anti-Semitic, then it was not misleading for the article to characterise anti-Semitism as being weaponised.
11. The publication said that the article was not confusing comment, conjecture or fact – it said it was a factual account of the findings of the report. It also said the quotes from the founder of the think tank were attributed to her and were clearly her comments on the findings of the report.
12. The publication said that the report focused on forced marriage within some ultra-Orthodox communities, and therefore the article was clearly referring to sections of the community represented by the complainant. It said that where arranged marriages move into coercion it becomes a criminal offence of forced marriage. It said that the word “extremism” was therefore not misleading for parts of the community who broke the law in this way and fell short of the general norms of society in this way.
13. The publication said that it was not a failure to take care to not contact the complainant for comment prior to the publication of either article. It said the article was a report about the findings of a respected think tank into the issue of forced marriage in some sections of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. It said that the complainant’s CEO had given an in depth, broadcast interview responding to the findings of the report which was extensively quoted in the article, and that there was no additional requirement to approach Interlink Foundation under Clause 1(i).
14. With regards to the second article, the publication said that another newspaper had asked the Prime Minister’s spokesperson at a parliamentary lobby a question about forced marriages in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. The reporter had spoken to the other newspaper on the phone after the lobby, and it had provided the publication with the specific question it had asked the spokesperson, as well as the response. The question had been: a “new report […] highlighting the prevalence of forced marriage in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community has called on the government to ‘ensure that education around forced marriage will be included in the mandatory Relationship and Sex Education’, and to bring criminal prosecutions for those conducting religious only ceremonies, particularly for children under 18 years old. What’s the PM’s reaction to this, and the report, and will these recommendations be followed up?” The publication did not have a recording of the response; however it confirmed that when asked specifically about the findings of the report into forced marriage in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, the Prime Minister’s spokesperson responded with the “stock line” set out at paragraph 9. The publication said there was no doubt that the Prime Minister was being asked to respond directly to the calls to the government arising from the report by the think tank, and that it was irrelevant in the context of the question put to him, and the article under complaint, that he held the same view about forced marriage generally.
15. Whilst the publication did not accept a breach of the Code, it offered to publish the following clarifications in its first substantial response to IPSO’s investigation. It offered to publish the following in print in the corrections and clarifications column:
In an article 'Forced marriage has no place in Britain, PM' (12, Feb) we quoted Boris Johnson's response to a direct question about forced marriages in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities, which was the subject of a think tank report. Mr Johnson answered the question directly whilst also condemning all forced marriages.
And as a footnote to the online article:
CLARIFICATION: Boris Johnson's response to the direct question about forced marriages in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities also condemned all forced marriages.
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
16. The first article was a news report on the think-tank’s findings, and contained quotes from various sources which were clearly attributed respectively. The complainant had concerns that the headline of the online version was not supported by the text, and it stated anti-Semitism was used as a “fig leaf” as fact, when this was an opinion. The Committee noted that headlines are summaries of articles, and should be read with the article, rather than in isolation. The term “fig leaf” in the headline of the online article was in quotation marks – indicating that this was a quote. Where the article went on to include the quote the term derived from, and explain the basis of the headline, the headline was supported by the text, and comment and fact were distinguished. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
17. The article had stated in its opening paragraph that anti-Semitism was weaponised as a “fig leaf” to shut down reports of forced marriage in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. It did not say that this term was contained in the report – in fact it confirmed that it was the “think tank” that had warned this. The founder of the think tank had given a quote, reported in the article, which stated that the community “had been asked to stay silent on anything that can be perceived as criticism of our community for fear of stoking anti-Semitism […] We must not allow anyone to manipulate bigotry as a fig leaf for harmful practices”. The Committee considered that this quote, by the think tank’s founder, could be characterised as stating that the think tank had warned that anti-Semitism was being used as a “fig leaf” to stop reports of anti-Semitism. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
18. The think-tank had been described as “the nation’s first think tank to tackle extremism in Judaism”. This description reflected the purpose of the organisation, as stated by the think tank itself, and the complainant was not in a position to state what the think tank’s aims were. The article did not report that all members of the ultra-Orthodox community were extremists, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
19. The article reported on the findings of a published paper, as well as containing quotes from the think tank’s founder, a government spokesperson, and publicly available quotes from the complainant’s CEO (in the online version of the article only). It was not necessary for the publication to go to the complainant for comment where it was reporting the facts of the report, and quotes from other people, which did not contain direct allegations against the complainant. There was no failure to take care under Clause 1(i) on this point.
20. The second article reported that “Boris Johnson has described forced marriage in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community as a ‘despicable, inhuman and an uncivilised practice’”. Both parties accepted that, in fact, the exact wording of the response had been about forced marriage in general, rather than within the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. The publication had said the quote could be attributed as relating specifically to the ultra-Orthodox community as it had been in response to a specific question about the think tank’s report about the community. Whilst the publication was entitled to offer its own interpretation of the response – including the fact that it had been given in answer to a specific question about the occurrence of the practice within a particular community – the Committee found that it was misleading to report as fact that Boris Johnson had said that forced marriage in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community specifically was a “despicable, inhuman and an uncivilised practice” without making clear in the article that this phrase had been used as part of a comment on the practice generally. The publication had not taken care not to report the response in a misleading way, and the Committee therefore established a breach of Clause 1(i).
21. The quote, and the focus of the article on the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, was the central point of the article, and it did not report the context in which it had been given. The article suggested as fact that the Prime Minister had condemned the practice within a specific community, which was not the case. This was significantly misleading and required correction.
22. The publication offered to publish a clarification on this point. However, this clarification stated that the Prime Minister had “also” condemned all forced marriages. This did not make clear that in fact, whilst the Prime Minister had been responding to a direct question, he had only condemned forced marriage in general, and had not referred to a specific community. The clarification was, therefore, also misleading as it implied that the Prime Minister had condemned both forced marriage in general and in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community specifically. As the clarification did not identify the original inaccuracy and put the correct position on the record, there was a further breach of Clause 1(ii).
23. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1.
Remedial Action Required
24. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
25. The Committee considered that the publication did not take the necessary care when reporting the context in which the Prime Minister’s quote had been given. The Committee considered what remedy was appropriate to the breach. It noted that the publication had offered a clarification during IPSO’s investigation. While the Committee had ultimately concluded that the clarification offered was not sufficient for the reasons explained, given the publication’s offer to clarify and the nature of the misleading statement, it concluded that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction to put the correct position on record.
Committee then considered the placement of the correction. It should appear in
the established print corrections and clarifications column. If the publication
intends to continue to publish the online article without further amendment,
the correction on the article should be published immediately beneath the
headline. If the article is amended, the correction should be published as a
footnote which explains the amendments that have been made. It should state
that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press
Standards Organisation. The full wording and position should be agreed with
IPSO in advance.
Date complaint received: 22/04/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 04/11/2021Back to ruling listing