Decision of the Complaints Committee 05143-15 Lewis v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of complaint
1. Ivan Lewis MP 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 “Labour grandees round on ‘anti-Semite’ Corbyn,” published on 15 August 2015.
2. The article reported that a number of prominent members of the Labour Party had criticised leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn. It said that the complainant, the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, had accused Mr Corbyn of being an anti-Semite, and had attacked his “anti-Semitic rhetoric”. It quoted the basis of this claim: the complainant’s view, expressed in an article published elsewhere, that “Some of [Mr Corbyn’s] stated political views are a cause for serious concern. At the very least he has shown poor judgment in expressing support for and failing to speak out against people who have engaged in…anti-Semitic rhetoric. It saddens me to have to say to some on the left of British politics that anti-racism means zero tolerance of anti-Semitism, no ifs, and no buts”.
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate; he had not accused Mr Corbyn of anti-Semitism. He considered that the newspaper had misrepresented the article he had written for the other publication.
4. The newspaper did not accept that the article was an inaccurate summary of the complainant’s comments. It noted that headlines should be considered in the context of full articles, and in this case the piece had included full quotations from the complainant’s article. It said that the complainant was experienced at writing for public consumption and was aware of the need to express himself unambiguously. It said that it was widely accepted in modern western societies that to tolerate anti-Semitism was in itself a form of anti-Semitism. It was not therefore unreasonable to understand the complainant’s comments as indicating that Mr Corbyn had himself adopted an anti-Semitic position by failing to criticise anti-Semitism in others. Nonetheless, it offered to publish the following clarification on page 2, and beneath the online article:
"An article of 15 August said that Ivan Lewis had accused Jeremy Corbyn of being ‘anti-Semitic’. In fact, Mr Lewis said that Mr Corbyn had “shown very poor judgment in expressing support for and failing to speak out against people who have engaged… in anti-Semitic rhetoric”. We are happy to make this clear."
5. The complainant was not willing to accept the newspaper’s offer because he regarded it as insufficiently prominent. It should appear on the front page of the print edition and the home page of Telegraph.co.uk.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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.
Findings of the Committee
7. The newspaper was entitled to take a view as to meaning of the complainant’s remarks and the Committee did not seek to prevent it from presenting its interpretation. However, the article was a news report that stated prominently and without qualification that “Jeremy Corbyn was accused of being an anti-Semite by [the complainant]”. The headline had also referred to an accusation that Mr Corbyn was “anti-Semitic”, meaning the complainant’s comments.
8. An express claim that Mr Corbyn was an anti-Semite would have constituted an exceptionally strong attack by the complainant on Mr Corbyn, with potential implications for both men; this was a highly significant claim. In fact, the complainant had not made this criticism in terms, as the article stated. The coverage was therefore significantly misleading. This misleading impression was not remedied by the quotation of the remarks elsewhere in the article.
9. Furthermore, the misleading impression was reinforced by the article’s inaccurate claim that the complainant “attacked Mr Corbyn’s ‘anti-Semitic rhetoric’”; he had criticised Mr Corbyn’s failure to challenge the anti-Semitic rhetoric of others. The newspaper had distorted his comment on this issue.
10. On both points, the newspaper had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information and had breached Clause 1 of the Editors’ Code.
11. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial Action Required
12. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.
13. The newspaper had offered to publish a clarification on page 2, and beneath the online article. However, the wording offered did not identify in full the original published inaccuracy. The newspaper should therefore publish a correction which made clear that the complainant had not directly accused Mr Corbyn of anti-Semitism and had not made reference to Mr Corbyn’s “anti-Semitic rhetoric”. The correction should also note that it had been published following a ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. It should appear beneath the online article and on page 2 in print. The print edition should also include a front page reference to the correction, as the original article had appeared on page 1. The front page reference should make clear the subject matter of the original article, and direct readers to the page on which the correction could be found; it should be agreed with IPSO in advance.
Date complaint received: 17/08/2015
Date decision issued: 28/09/2015