04225-19 Versi v The Sun

Decision: Breach - sanction: publication of correction

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04225-19 Versi v The Sun

Summary of Complaint

1. Miqdaad Versi complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice, in an article headlined “Go with the BoJo or end up like dodo”, published on 13 May 2019.

2. The article was a comment piece by a columnist. A boxed section of the article, which did not carry a separate headline, stated that in Iran, men had been ordered not to look at women during Ramadan, and that in Afghanistan, religious police wanted to ban non-religious music. It also said that “Meanwhile in Britain, the Government is proposing laws which risk making criticism of Islam a hate crime”.

3. The article also appeared online in the same format on the same day. The relevant section of the article was sub-headlined “Hidden women”.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy), because no laws were proposed which risked making “criticism of Islam” a hate crime. He noted that a new definition of Islamophobia had recently been proposed by the APPG on British Muslims, but this was not a proposed law, and the authors of the report on the definition made clear that it did not refer to criticism of Islam.

5. The publication denied any breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). It said that the sentence under complaint was the columnist’s interpretation of discussions in Government that related to the APPG definition of Islamophobia. It said that there had been pressure on the government from members of the House of Lords for it to adopt the definition in order to try and better tackle hate crime, and said that comments made by the Minister for Faith in response to this pressure indicated that the government was considering adopting the definition. The publication accepted that, since the article was published, the Government had declined to adopt the definition, and therefore no legislation had been proposed. However, it said that at the time of publication concerns had been expressed that the Government adopting the definition could impact on freedom of expression; its columnist had been attempting to succinctly capture these concerns, in a column that was not a detailed examination of the APPG definition or the government’s consideration of it.

6. Nevertheless, the publication offered to amend the relevant sentence in the online article to read "Meanwhile in Britain, the Government is considering adopting a definition of Islamophobia which could make criticism of Islam a hate crime”. It also offered to publish the following clarification on its Corrections & Clarifications column on page 2, and as a footnote to the online article:

A column published on 13 May suggested that the Government was proposing laws which risked making criticism of Islam a hate crime. In fact, the Government was considering adopting a definition of Islamophobia which, in the view of the columnist, risked making criticism of Islam a hate crime.

 7. The complainant said that the Minister for Faith had not proposed any law in relation to the definition. He rejected the publication’s offer of clarification, on the grounds that it was insufficiently unequivocal as to the error made, and noted that it did not include an apology.

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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

9. The publication had not been able to substantiate the claim that the Government was proposing any “laws” in relation to Islamophobia. Stating that such a law was proposed in the absence of any specific proposal represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1(i). This gave rise to the misleading impression that the government was planning legislation based on the APPG definition, when the publication had not been able to demonstrate that this was the case. This was a significant inaccuracy that required correction in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

10. The publication had offered a correction within 10 days of IPSO beginning its investigation; this was sufficiently prompt. The proposed prominence of the print clarification on page 2 was sufficient, where the article had originally appeared on page 10. The relevant sentence had not been central to the article under complaint, and appeared at the end of the online piece, in a boxed section. In these circumstances, a footnote correction was sufficiently prominent as the relevant online remedial action.

11. The wording of the publication’s offered correction stated that the columnist’s criticisms had in fact related to the APPG definition of Islamophobia. However, the Committee did not consider that the offered wording made clear that no legislation had been proposed, at the time of publication, which related to the criticism of Islam. In addition, it stated that the article had “suggested” that such laws were proposed, when in fact the article had made this explicit claim as a point of fact. In these circumstances, the offered wording was not sufficient to correct the misleading impression created by the original article, and there was a breach of Clause 1(ii).

 12. There was no requirement for the correction to contain an apology: the misleading impression had related to a point of fact that was not related to any particular individual, such as would have been a cause of personal distress or upset.

Conclusions

13. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i) and Clause 1(ii).

Remedial action required

14. Having upheld the complaint, 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 adjudication. The nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

15. In this case, the misleading impression, although significant, was confined to a single sentence in a small boxed section of the article. In this context, the Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction which made clear that, at the time of publication, no new laws were proposed in relation to criticism of Islam.

16. The correction should appear with the prominence of the publication’s original offer (on p2 and as a footnote to the online article), and should state that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The full wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance.

Date complaint received: 15/05/2019

Date complained concluded: 07/08/2019 

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