Decision of the Complaints Committee 04872-18 Muslim Association of Britain v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Muslim Association of Britain 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, “Corbyn is pitting Britain’s Muslims against Jews” published on 6 June 2018.
2. The article reported on the links between a UK political party and various Muslim representative groups. It reported that these organisations, including the complainant, were linked to a “radical” Islamist group, and that they, “have grand names, but they are essentially cut form the same ideological cloth of opposing the West, seeking to destroy Israel and to create Islamist governments across the Middle East.”
3. The article was also published online, with the headline, “Jeremy Corbyn’s pitting Britain’s Muslims against Jews”. It was substantially the same as the article that appeared in print.
4. The complainant said that the article’s characterisation of the group was inaccurate. It said that the organisation was not linked to the allegedly “radical” group referred to in the article, but was an independent, separate entity which worked to “build and sustain hope by encouraging Muslims to participate proactively in the British Society, to make the most of the many legitimate avenues available and to function positively to become fruitful citizens in the UK.” It said that although a number of its members were also involved with this Islamist organisation, the links between the two organisations were vague, and it could not be said they were “cut from the same ideological cloth”.
5. The complainant also said that it did not oppose the West. It said that this reference conveyed resentment toward the culture and world-view of Britain, which the group did not support. The complainant also questioned the newspaper’s characterisation of the “West”, and said that a number of actions of Western countries, such as the invasion of Iraq, called into question the notions of pluralism and secularism regularly attributed to Western Democracies. It said that the formation of a Caliphate (an Islamic state), arguably allowed for more religious pluralism and greater autonomy for different communities.
6. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to report that it sought to “destroy Israel”, or wanted to create “Islamist governments across the Middle East.” The complainant said that the article had provided no basis for these claims, and had inaccurately presented these opinions as proven points of fact.
7. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the article was an opinion piece, which presented the columnist’s personal opinion of various Muslim groups in the UK. It said that while the complainant disagreed with the columnist’s views, the newspaper was entitled to publish them.
8. In response to the specific alleged inaccuracies identified by the complainant, the newspaper said that the columnist’s views were based on statements made by the organisation and its members, as well as other publicly available information and government reports. It said that a review, commissioned by the government in 2015, had found that the “radical” group referred to in the article “dominated” the organisation. It also referred to a statement issued by the complainant, which said that it enjoyed “good relations with every mainstream Islamic organisation in the UK and abroad,” and had referred specifically to the allegedly “radical” Islamist group in this context. The newspaper said that these statements, amongst other evidence of links between the two organisations it provided, demonstrated a strong link between the two organisations, as reported in the article.
9. The newspaper also said that the allegedly “radical” group referred to in the article sought to establish an Islamic Caliphate under sharia law. It said that in its view, this was incompatible with the pluralist and secular foundation of Western democracies. Given the close links between the two organisations, the newspaper said it was accurate to report that the complainant also sought to establish Islamic governments in the Middle East. It also said that the complainant’s president had been listed at an international event as the representative of the Islamic Party in Iraq, and said that its founder had also appeared to call for an Islamic theocracy in Egypt. Therefore the newspaper maintained that the article’s claim that the complainant wanted to create Islamist governments in the Middle East, was accurate.
10. Further, the newspaper said that the founder of the organisation had described the Palestinian cause as “an absolute clash of civilisations: a satanic programme led by the Jews and those who support it”. It also referred to a previous statement issued by the organisation’s founder where he said that “every night when I go to bed, I pray to wake up the next day to see Israel is wiped off the map.”
11. It said that these statements supported the newspaper’s position that the complainant wanted to see the destruction of Israel.
Relevant Code Provisions
12. 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
13. Newspapers are entitled to publish opinion pieces, so long as they do so in a way that complies with the terms of the Code. In this instance, the newspaper had taken care to present the article as an opinion piece, as required by the terms of Clause 1. While the complainant disagreed with the columnist’s characterisation of the organisation, and its alleged links to other groups, the question for the Committee was whether the newspaper had taken care, as required under the Code, not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information.
14. The article discussed, broadly, the relationship between a British political party and various Muslim groups in Britain, and why the columnist believed this was a cause for concern. It was not an in-depth analysis of the complainant’s policies and ideologies. In this context, the newspaper had been able to provide a number of sources which it said showed a link between the complainant and the reportedly “radical” group named in the article, including a government report as well as a statement from the complainant confirming the “good relations” between the groups. The Committee was satisfied that the newspaper had taken care over the accuracy of the claim that the two groups were linked and reporting this did not represent a significant inaccuracy. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
15. Further, the Committee acknowledged that the reference to the complainant being “essentially cut from the same ideological cloth” as the groups referred to in the article, could be interpreted as inferring similarities between the complainant and other Muslim organisations named, as well as the radical Islamist group. However, the article clearly identified which ideological aspects it believed the complainant shared with the Islamist group, as well as the other organisations referred to in the article. As the basis was clear, the publication had taken care over the accuracy of this statement, and reporting this did not give a misleading impression of the alleged link between the groups. In all these circumstances, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
16. The newspaper had relied on a number of statements issued by senior individuals within the organisation to provide the basis for its characterisation of the wider ideological beliefs the complainant shared with other named organisations. The newspaper was entitled to rely on these public statements, and although the complainant did not agree with the newspaper’s interpretation of these comments to support the columnist’s claims, it did not deny the accuracy of these statements. The Committee considered that the material provided by the newspaper was sufficient to support the columnist’s characterisation of the groups broader beliefs, in the context of the limited reference made to the complainant in the article. There was no breach of Clause 1.
17. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 03/08/2018
Date decision issued: 18/12/2018Back to ruling listing