· Decision of the Complaints Committee 04697-15 Issroff v Hampstead & Highgate Express
Summary of complaint
1. Dr Kim Issroff complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Hampstead & Highgate Express breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined “Primary pupils at risk of extremism”, published in print on 23 July 2015, and “Hampstead primary school pupil referred to anti-terror agency over Islamic extremism fears”, published online on 23 July 2015.
2. The article reported that Channel, a counter-extremism project, had intervened at Fleet Primary School, where a child was deemed at risk of being drawn into Islamic extremism. It reported that the complainant, the Chair of the school's governors, had confirmed the referral to Channel at a public meeting. The article reported that it was the behaviour of the parents, rather than the child, which alerted the school and prompted the referral. It also referred to the involvement of Channel with pupils from other schools in the area, and provided a general description of how the Channel process worked.
3. The articles were identical in print and online except for the headline.
4. The complainant said it was inaccurate to report that Channel had “intervened” in the case of the pupil. She insisted there had been no intervention; it was her understanding that after the case had been referred, the panel had met and considered the available information about the pupil, and had decided not to act further as the family was not considered at risk. She also said that the school was located in Gospel Oak, not Hampstead, and the newspaper had only referred to the school being in Hampstead in order to sensationalise the story by reporting that such an incident had occurred in a “rich, liberal, middle-class” area.
5. The complainant did not dispute that the referral at Fleet Primary School related to Islamic extremism. However, she said that the newspaper had provided no factual evidence to back up that assertion; without such evidence, she said it was “lazy” of the publication to report that the referral of the pupil related to Islamic extremism.
6. The newspaper said that the journalist had attended the public meeting and had identified herself as a journalist. She had then spoken to a number of different sources, the complainant included, prior to publication. The newspaper said the word “intervened” had been meant in its general sense, that is, that Channel had become involved in the case. It said that having had conversations with people involved in the Channel process, it could be argued that an intervention begins when the Channel panel becomes involved in the case. In any event, the newspaper said it was not clear when a referral actually becomes an intervention. Nevertheless, in light of the complainant's concerns about the use of the word in the article’s first line, it had amended the online article to remove the word “intervened”.
7. The newspaper denied that it had reported that the case related to Islamic extremism without any evidence. It said that the journalist had spoken to a spokesman from Camden Council, who confirmed that the reference to “Islamic” extremism was not inaccurate. It also said that it was not inaccurate to report that the school was in Hampstead; the school had a Hampstead address, a Hampstead postcode, and it bordered Hampstead Heath.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. Clause 1 Accuracy
i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and - where appropriate - an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.
Findings of the Committee
9. There was a clear dispute between the parties about whether the word “intervened” or “referred” more accurately summed up the interaction between Channel and the pupil in question. The Committee was satisfied that in the circumstance where the pupil's case was referred to Channel for discussion by the panel, the use of the word “intervened” was not significantly misleading, even when no further action was taken. The article had made clear that the pupil had been referred to the panel, and had explained the Channel process, including that the family involved must agree to the referral; there was no breach of Clause 1. Nonetheless, it welcomed the decision of the newspaper to remove the word “intervened” from the online article in an effort to resolve the matter amicably, as well as the positive manner in which the newspaper had handled the complaint.
10. The school's address placed it in Hampstead; there was no breach of Clause 1 in this regard.
11. The newspaper had made clear during the investigation its source for the contention that the referral related to Islamic extremism. Newspapers are entitled to make use of “off the record” conversations with confidential sources to ensure the accuracy of material they plan to publish, and such conversations need not be attributed in the article. In any event, the complainant did not dispute that this element of the story was accurate.
12. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 23/07/2015
Date decision issued: 13/11/2015Back to ruling listing