Decision of the Complaints Committee – 04283-21 Friel v thejc.com
Summary of Complaint
1. Chris Friel complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thejc.com breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Lie that won’t die: Israel practises ‘apartheid’”, published on 29 April 2021.
2. The article was an opinion piece, written by an academic in the field of political science. It was responding to the then-recent publication of a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report ‘A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crime of Apartheid and Persecution’. The article stated that Israeli “counter-terror measures” were “condemned” by the report’s authors on the basis that “the authors claimed (without foundation)” that the measures “were used ’to advance demographic objectives’ without ‘legitimate security justifications.’” It went on to say that ”[t]he accusations were facilitated by the complete absence of any reference to the thousands of victims of Palestinian terror — as if Israeli Jews were not entitled to human rights or security”. The article was accompanied by a photograph of a man, holding up a sign with the word ‘apartheid’ mis-spelt.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as, contrary to the article’s position that the HRW report authors had advanced claims “without foundation” regarding the Israeli’s authorities use of counter-terror measures “’to advance demographic measures’ without ‘legitimate security concerns’”, he considered that there was in fact foundation within the report for the authors’ claims. The complainant noted that the report quoted a 2005 statement by Ariel Sharon, a previous prime-minister of Israel, in which he had said that “[t]here’s no need to hide behind security arguments. There’s a need for the existence of a Jewish state.” He went on to note further refences within the report to demographic considerations on the part of the Israeli government, which he said demonstrated that the claims had not been made “without foundation”; these included the confiscation of farming land from Palestinians resident in Israel, the use of checkpoints, and the allocation of state land.
4. The complainant said that the inclusion of the photograph, showing a man holding up a sign with the word ‘apartheid’ mis-spelt, also rendered the article inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as it implied that Palestinian people could not spell the term.
5. The publication denied any breach of the Code. It said that the article was an opinion piece, based on a prominent academic’s view of the HRW report, which the publication was entitled to publish under the terms of Clause 1 (iv), provided the academic’s opinion was distinguished from fact – which the publication said it was. It said that the academic’s opinion was that the claims advanced by the report’s authors regarding the “legitimate security concerns” were without merit, and therefore were advanced “without foundation”, where the academic contended that: there were “glaring methodological errors” in the report; politicians were quoted selectively and without proper context in the report; and none of the report’s authors were security experts who would be in a position to examine whether the Israeli government did indeed have “legitimate security justifications” for its “counter terror measures”.
6. The publication also addressed the alleged inaccuracy regarding the photograph, stating that it was chosen solely to illustrate the article and the complainant did not consider the photograph was doctored. It, therefore, did not accept that the image rendered the article inaccurate, misleading, or distorted in breach of Clause 1.
7. The complainant said that, while he could accept that perhaps the article had intended to state that there was “no good foundation” to the author’s claims, this was not the same as saying that there was “no foundation”; therefore, the article was – in the complainant’s view – inaccurate in breach of Clause 1.
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
8. The Editors’ Code makes clear that the press is entitled to campaign, be partisan, and express an opinion. However, there remains an obligation under the Clause 1 to take care over the accuracy of any claims of fact made within a comment piece and to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact. A question for the Committee was, therefore, whether the statement that “the [report] authors claimed (without foundation) that counter-terror measures ‘were used ’to advance demographic objectives’ without ‘legitimate security justifications’” was presented as comment or fact.
9. The Committee was mindful of the context of the article. It appeared in the Comment section of the publication’s website, and was written in a polemical and opinionated style. It was also clearly attributed to the academic, and the article was accompanied by his brief biography. It was therefore clear that the article itself was a comment piece, setting out the reaction of the academic to the HRW report, rather than a news piece on the content of the report.
10. The alleged inaccuracy referred to claims made “without foundation”. The Committee considered that, in the context of a polemical comment piece, this phrase expressed the writer’s opinion about the adequacy of the evidence cited in the report to support its conclusions, rather than making a factual claim about the contents of the report. While the complainant considered that the report had provided sufficient evidence to support the claim that counter terror measures were being used without legitimate security justifications, the commentator evidently rejected this. Furthermore, the disputed assertion was followed by additional criticism by the writer elaborating on the grounds for his view. Given the nature of the claim and the context in which it appeared, the Committee was satisfied that the disputed claim was identified as comment and clearly distinguished from fact. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the claim, and no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
11. The photograph which accompanied the article was clearly intended for illustrative purposes only; the complainant had not suggested that the photograph was digitally altered, and neither the article nor the photograph caption made any broader claims about the extent to which it was representative of the Palestinian people. There was no breach of Clause 1.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 30/04/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/09/2021
Independent Complaints Reviewer
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.Back to ruling listing