Decision of the Complaints Committee 05228-18 Versi v Daily Mail
Summary of complaint
1. Miqdaad Versi complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “POWDER KEG PARIS”, published on 28 July 2018.
2. The article was a first person account of the journalist’s experiences of staying in Seine-Saint-Denis, a department in the northern suburbs of Paris, for five days. The journalist had visited the area, prompted by a French Parliamentary report, which identified a number of social welfare issues in Seine-Saint-Denis including serious crime and its contribution to the departement’s economy; the level of education and the poor quality of housing. The article under complaint referred to the findings of the report, and detailed what the journalist had seen, and the impressions which he had been left with.
3. The complainant
said that the journalist had misinterpreted what he had seen during his visit
to Seine-Saint-Denis to fit a false and damaging narrative. He further said
that the claims made by the journalist were not presented as his own views, but
rather, were adopted as fact by the publication, in breach of Clause 1(iv).
4. The complainant
disputed the journalist’s claims that “Arabic is more useful than French” in
the area; that “other faiths and religious are being driven from the area”;
that many of the “drug dealing by gangs” were Muslim; and that “when
helicopters flew overhead in training for Bastille Day celebrations earlier
this month, one man pretended to shoot at them with a machine gun. Another
pushed him away and pretended to fire a shoulder-mounted missile, tracing the
missile with his hand towards its targets and shouting: ‘Boom!’ Everyone
laughed”. The complainant also disputed that the journalist had seen a woman
“walking in full face veil”, as claimed by the journalist, and that the women
that he saw shopping were “always accompanied by male relatives”. The
complainant said that there were no religious courts in France and no sharia
councils, therefore it was incorrect for the journalist to refer to
Seine-Saint-Denis as a “a parallel state—a state within a state, with its own
rules and religious courts – where allegiance to Islam comes ahead of fealty to
5. The complainant
disputed that the French law introduced in September 2010, which prohibits the
concealment of a person’s face in public had been “introduced to promote
integration”, as the journalist had claimed. He said that the law had been
introduced for security purposes.
6. As he walked
around the streets of Seine-Saint-Denis, the journalist described taking his
mobile phone out to take a picture, but being confronted by a young man “waving
his index fingers in my face and shouting: La La La (No! No! No!)”. The piece
continued: “further down the street, there was a flurry of activity. A woman
was surrounded as she opened a huge bag full of phones, shoes, sunglasses and
handbags - clearly stolen from tourists or Parisians”. The complainant said
that the journalist had misunderstood the facts: in France, it is illegal to
take use and disseminate pictures without explicit consent. Further, he said
that the journalist’s allegation about the goods being “clearly” stolen, was
7. In the piece,
the journalist had referred to Seine-Saint-Denis as “Saint Denis”; he described
it as a “sprawling district” and a “teeming suburb” and said that the legal
population was estimated as £1.5million.
8. The complainant
said that the article had contained a fundamental error, as it had confused
“Saint Denis” - a town in France which had a recorded population of 110 733
people in 2014- and “Seine-Saint-Denis”, a large departement consisting of 40
cities over an area of 236 km2. He said that the reported claims which emanated
from this error- namely the claim that “300,000 illegal migrants” and an
“estimated 600,000 Muslims from North African or sub-Saharan African
backgrounds” were living in the area - could never relate to the populace of the
town, Saint Denis.
9. The complainant
said that the figure of “300,000 illegal migrants” was, in any event,
inaccurate because the French Parliamentary report which the article had
attributed the figure to, did not make this finding. The complainant noted that
the report had stated: “the only thing we are sure about is that the State
doesn’t know how many illegal immigrants there are”. The complainant also
disputed the figure reported to be the number of Muslims living in the area.
10. In the piece, the journalist had reflected on the
terrorist attack which took place in Paris in 2015, which claimed the lives of
130 people. The journalist claimed that the situation had, in many ways,
worsened. The article contained a quote from a police officer who had worked in
Saint-Denis for more than two decades: “The radicalisers use these hidden
places of worship to influence the young and impressionable. These radicalisers
are the ones who motivate the young towards terrorism”. The complainant
disputed the article’s claim that “there are around 350 known jihadists living
in Saint- Denis, while 1,700 are believed to have returned to France after
fighting for IS in Syria, with 15,000 terrorism suspects in France”.
11. The complainant disputed that there were a “record
number” of mosques in the area, and said that there were approximately 12
mosques, not over 160, as the article had claimed.
12. The complainant said that the article had presented the
fact that French police “will only drive through the areas armed and four to a
vehicle”, as unusual. He said that this was misleading because this type of
police activity was not unusual, as the article had suggested, and was actually
standard procedure throughout France.
The complainant also disagreed that the area was considered a police
“no-go” area, as the journalist had claimed.
13. During his visit to Seine-Saint-Denis, the journalist interviewed
a Rabbi who lived in the area and whose home, the article reported, had been
“firebombed” in 2009. The article reported that the Kosher restaurant next door
had also been burned down. The Rabbi told the journalist: “The problem is
people coming to France and wanting to change it. And its worse because they
want to force people to change. I respect this country because I was born here.
I respect the laws of this country. I respect Christmas even though it has
nothing to do with being a Jew. Now they won’t let Christmas happen”. The
article referenced the murder of an 85 Jewish woman, who it reported had vowed
“never to leave Paris”; “she was stabbed to death in her apartment in March”
and one of the perpetrators was a “Muslim neighbour [her family] said they had
known since he was a boy”.
14. The complainant disputed the Rabbi’s comments about
Christmas; he said that dozens of activities went on during the holiday period.
The complainant disputed that a kosher restaurant had burnt down in the area.
The complainant said that it was unclear why the article had referenced the
murder of the 85 year old woman, given that the event had no relevance to
15. The journalist had claimed: “even Left-wingers belatedly
acknowledge the scale of the problem” in Seine-Saint-Denis, and claimed that a
named former politician had been commissioned by the President of France to
write a report on “the burgeoning problem of Parisian suburbs”. The complainant
said that the politician referred to in the article was centre-right.
16. The journalist reflected on his time in the area. He
said, “having spent several days in Saint- Denis, it’s clear to me that the
area is already lost to France – to the rule of French law, equality, religious
freedom, and even access to the streets by the police themselves”. The reporter
claimed that “the only person to shake my hand during my visit was the Rabbi.
Everyone else offered me their wrist, not wanting to touch hands with an
infidel - someone unclean”. He concluded: “as a metaphor for what is happening
in the French capital, it couldn’t be more sad – or more troubling”.
17. The article was published in substantially the same form
online, under the headline: “Powder Keg Paris: As a devastating report reveals
300,000 illegal migrants are living in one French suburb….[journalist] explores
the tensions in a community at odds with mainstream society”.
18. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It
said that the article had been written by a reputable and careful freelance
journalist with over 30 years experience, who often worked as a foreign
correspondent. The newspaper said that the journalist stayed in
Seine-Saint-Denis to investigate the findings of the French Parliamentary
report further, and the style and tone of the article made clear it was written
on the basis of his own experiences there. The newspaper said that the
article’s style was a well-established genre of journalism, which allows
reporters to investigate claims made about parts of the world or segments of
society; this is compelling because it gives readers a descriptive account of
matters of important public interest. The newspaper denied that the article had
engaged the terms of Clause 12.
19. The newspaper said that without any admission of
liability, it had removed the piece online following complaints. In an attempt
to resolve the complaint, it offered to reinstate the article, and make
amendments to it, in an attempt to address the complainant’s concerns.
20. The newspaper did not accept that the presentation of
the journalist’s experiences in Seine-Saint-Denis was a breach of Clause
21. The newspaper said that the journalist’s assumption that
the goods had been stolen from tourists and Parisians, was not unreasonable
based on what he saw. The journalist observed that the seller was not part of
the flea market, and had made clear that everyone would have to hurry in case
the police showed up. The newspaper said that the complainant was not in a
position to dispute whether the goods were stolen or not. The newspaper said
that the journalist spent a number of days within the community, and was
provided with a great deal of “street information”; these sources told the
reporter that many drug related gang members were Muslim. The newspaper said
that the journalist’s claim that Seine-Saint-Denis was a “parallel state with
its own rules and religious courts”, was based on his own experiences. It said
that the journalist had interviewed many people, some of whom had outlined
their deepest religious philosophy, and explained to the journalist why their
religion can only allow fealty to Islam, and not France. The journalist told
the newspaper that based on his discussions with the residents of
Seine-Saint-Denis, it was clear that religious laws were administered by
religious courts in the community.
22. The newspaper accepted that the article had misreported
the name of the departement, and that Seine-Saint-Denis and Saint-Denis were
two different areas. The publication noted that Seine-Saint-Denis derives its
name from Saint-Denis, and it understood that the names were interchangeable.
It said the journalist’s original copy had referred to Saint-Saint-Denis, but
for simplicity’s sake, it had been shortened when the piece was edited. The
publication did not accept that the error would have misled readers in a
significant way. It said that the article reported, accurately, a total
population of 1.5m people and referred to a “suburb” and “sprawling district”.
It said that readers without knowledge of the distinction between Saint Denis
and Seine-Saint-Denis would have understood the article to be referring to a
large area. Notwithstanding this, the newspaper offered to publish a correction
on this point, as set out at paragraph 31 below.
23. The newspaper said that the claim that there are “around
350 known jihadists living in Saint- Denis” had been derived from comments from
an anonymous official, who had told another publication that there were an
estimated 30 possible terrorists living in Seine-Saint-Denis, and about 300
extremists who would support them.
24. The newspaper said that the article had accurately
reported that there were 15,000 terrorism suspects in France; this was based on
comments made by the French Prime Minister, and was the subject of widespread
coverage. In relation to the 1,700 jihadists which the article had claimed had
returned to France, the newspaper acknowledged that this figure related to the
number of French nationals that had left France to join IS in Iraq and Syria.
The newspaper did not accept this to be a significant inaccuracy, and offered
to amend the online article as follows: “…while 1,700 are believed to have left
France to fight for IS in Iraq and Syria…”
25. The newspaper said that as identified by the
complainant, the 300,000 figure of the number of illegal immigrants in
Seine-Saint-Denis was derived from analysis of the French Parliamentary report,
which estimated that between 150,000 and 400,000 illegal immigrants were living
in the area; this report had been the subject of widespread coverage. The
newspaper said that the figure of 300,000 originally came from estimates
reported in French media and the article under complaint had been clear that
the reported figure was an estimate.
26. The newspaper said that the statistic that there are an
estimated 600,000 Muslims living in Seine-Saint-Denis originated from a report
by the Institut Montaigne from 2000. It said that this figure was checked prior
to publication by a researcher in France, who referred to a French publication
which had reported that according to the Prefect of the region, about 45% of
the department’s population was Muslim. The publication said that at the time,
this amounted to 700,000; therefore the reported figure was sensible and
restrained. The newspaper did not accept the complainant’s position that
relying on this report was a failure to take care over the accuracy of the
article, given the year the report was made. It said that the figure of 600,000
was clearly labelled as an estimate and was not a significant point in the
context of the whole article. It noted that the complainant had not provided
any basis to show that the reported estimate was wrong.
27. The newspaper noted that integration had played a large
role in public debate regarding the veil ban, as noted by the then French Prime
minister: “the burqa is not welcome in France. We cannot accept in our country
women imprisoned behind bars, cut off from social life, deprived of identity”.
The newspaper acknowledged that the French veil ban was introduced for a number
of reasons, including security, as the complainant had highlighted in his
complaint. As a gesture of goodwill, the newspaper said it would be willing to
amend the online article to: “…illegal under a French law introduced in part to
28. The newspaper said that the reference made to the
actions of the police, was in order to highlight that the authorities are
reluctant to visit Seine-Saint-Denis. It noted that the Prefect of
Seine-Saint-Denis had said in an interview that the “police are too frightened
to enter alone most areas under [his] control”.
29. The newspaper said that it was not incorrect, as the
complainant had claimed, to report that there was a “record number” of mosques
in Seine-Saint-Denis. It provided an online directory which listed 160 mosques
and prayer rooms in the area, and another which listed 500. The newspaper did
not accept that the omission of reference to “prayer rooms” was significantly misleading;
the directory claimed that it would “let you find a place of worship” – the
newspaper said it was not unreasonable to assume that these prayer rooms were
open to the public, or at least intended to be.
30. The newspaper said that the reference to the 85-year-old
woman’s murder in Paris, was to illustrate a point which the Rabbi had made to
the journalist, and reported in the article, that people from within the Jewish
community were starting to leave. The newspaper said that the journalist was entitled
to interview the Rabbi, who detailed his own experiences with leaving in the
area; it said that care was taken to make clear that his comments about
Christmas were his own opinion. The newspaper said that the claim about the
kosher restaurant was based on statements made by French police, and reported
in another publication, that a petrol bomb attack on a community centre and
synagogue in Seine-Saint-Denis had sparked a fire in the kosher restaurant next
31. The newspaper said that it was a matter of subjective
comment as to whether a politician is left wing or not. It referred to an
article in another publication which suggested that the politician had left the
then-President’s party after it had taken a “sharp swerve to the right”. It noted
that the politician was the head of the Radical party in France, and one of his
election promises was to build a “republican, ecologist and social alliance”:
these are values some would consider to be left wing. The newspaper said that
in any event, this was not a significant point in the context of the article.
32. The newspaper said it had attempted to mediate a
resolution to the complaint and had suggested a number of formulations for a
clarification, all of which had been rejected by the complainant. While it did not accept a breach of the Code,
the newspaper offered to publish the following wording on p.2 in its
established Corrections & Clarifications column, in addition to online:
A July 28 feature about a Paris suburb which was the subject
of a French parliamentary report said that up to 300,000 illegal immigrants
lived there and referred to it throughout as Saint Denis. In fact, the suburb
is called Seine-Saint-Denis, in which the smaller commune of Saint Denis is
situated, and the report referred to estimates of 150-400,000 illegal
immigrants. The article also said 1,700 jihadists are believed to have returned
after fighting for IS. This is in fact the number of people understood to have
left France – not Seine-Saint -Denis – to join IS. The claim that the suburb is
home to ‘350 known jihadis’ was based on comments of an anonymous official who
told another publication that there are about ’30 possible terrorists living in
this area and about 300 extremists who would support them’, and there are no
official figures for the number of jihadis there. We are also happy to clarify
that the reference to 160 ‘mosques’ should have been to ‘mosques and prayer
rooms’; the French veil ban was introduced for reasons of security as well as
integration; [Name] was murdered in a different part of Paris; [Name] no longer
works at French anti-Islamophobia group CCIF; and [Name] is a teacher, not a
professor. We apologise for any confusion.
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.
iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment conjecture and fact.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
33. The article had reported that “around 350 known
jihadists lived in Saint- Denis”. This was a significant claim which gave
credibility to a central thrust of the article, which was that
Seine-Saint-Denis posed a real risk of “home grown” radicalised terrorism.
34. The newspaper had relied upon comments given by an
anonymous official to another publication, who had said that that there were an
estimated 30 possible terrorists living in Seine-Saint-Denis and about 300
extremists who would support them. While the reporter was entitled to detail
his experiences of staying in the area, in making this specific factual claim,
which the newspaper had failed to justify, the official’s comments had been
presented as established fact. In doing so, the article had failed to make
clear to readers the source of the claim, nor had it made clear that it had not
been based on any official figures. The newspaper had failed to take care over
the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1(i), and a correction was required
under the terms of Clause 1(ii).
35. The estimate of
1,700 French nationals who had not returned after joining IS in Iraq and Syria
related to France as a whole, not Seine-Saint-Denis, as the article claimed.
The newspaper accepted that the article was inaccurate on this point; the
Committee considered that this was a significant inaccuracy as it concerned a
central thrust of the piece, as set out above.
36. The headline to the online version of the article had
stated that “300,000 illegal migrants are living in one French suburb”. The
Parliamentary report which this figure had been based on, had contained
estimates that the area was home to between 150,000 and 400,000 illegal
immigrants. The Parliamentary report had not adopted any particular figure
within this estimated range, nor did the report adopt the range itself as being
accurate. Unlike the prominent subheadline to the print article, which had
presented the figure as an estimate, the online article’s headline had stated,
as fact, that there were 300,000 illegal migrants in the area. This factual
assertion represented a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate
information, in breach of Clause 1(i) and a failure to distinguish between
comment and conjecture and fact, in breach of Clause 1(iv). The
misrepresentation of the findings of the Parliamentary report was a significant
inaccuracy which required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).
37. The newspaper had offered to publish a correction in
response to the initial complaint, and had suggested a variety of word
formulations in direct correspondence with the complainant, and during IPSO’s
investigation. The offer of a correction had initially been made 17 days after
the complainant had complained directly; given the number of significant and
detailed issues raised in the complaint the Committee considered that this
offer was made promptly. A form of words – which clarified that 1,700 jihadists
had not returned to France after joining ISIS, and that the Parliamentary report
had referred to estimates of 150-400,000 illegal immigrants– had been proposed
by the newspaper ten days later. The correction which the newspaper had offered
in final settlement of the complaint, set out above, had made clear that the
claim that “there are around 350 known jihadists living in Saint-Denis” was
based on comments made to another publication by an anonymous official, and
made clear that there were no official figures for the number of jihadists in
the area. The Committee considered that the wording on these three points of
complaint identified the inaccuracies and the offer of correction was made
promptly for the reasons explained above; the publication of this wording on
p.2 in the newspaper’s established Corrections and Clarifications column and
online, represented due prominence. In order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii)
this wording should now be published.
38. The Committee turned to consider the broader complaint
relating to the overall presentation of the journalist’s experiences in
Seine-Saint-Denis. First person accounts bring life to subjects of media
interest; the journalist had travelled to Seine-Saint-Denis and stayed in the
region for five days, prompted by an official Parliamentary report which had
highlighted the presence of a number of social welfare issues in the area. The
Committee acknowledged that the complainant disagreed with the journalist’s
account of his time in the departement, and noted his explanations as to why
the reporter had misunderstood what he had seen. However, the complainant was
not in a position to dispute the reporter’s personal experiences of what he had
seen on the streets of Seine – Saint -Denis; what he had been told by the
people he had met there; or the impressions which the journalist had been left
with. Care had been taken to present the piece as a first-hand account of the
journalist’s personal experiences, and the Committee did not conclude that the
reporting of his claims represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of
the article, or a failure to distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture
and fact. This aspect of the complaint did not represent a breach of Clause 1.
39. The article had misreported the name of the departement.
However, it had been clear that the region being described was an area of
significant geographical size and population. The article referred to a
“sprawling district”, and a “teeming suburb” and had accurately reported that
the total population was estimated to be at 1.5 million. Readers would have
understood that the article related to a large area, the misreporting of its
name, in those circumstances, did not render the article significantly
misleading. The Committee noted that the error had been acknowledged swiftly by
the newspaper and while it did not represent a significant inaccuracy, the
prompt offer of a correction was welcomed by the Committee.
40. The article had reported that there were an estimated
600,000 Muslims living in the area. Care had been taken to report this figure
as an estimate, which had been based on report by the Institut Montaigne, and
checked by a researcher in France. There was no failure to take care over the
accuracy of the article on this point. The Committee noted that the complainant
had not provided an alternative figure and the Committee did not conclude that
this aspect of the article represented a significant inaccuracy which required
41. There appeared to be a number of reasons why the full
face veil ban in France in 2010 had been introduced, including concerns over
integration, which had been referenced by the then-President of France. The
omission of other reasons why the ban was introduced, did not render the
article significantly inaccurate or misleading. This aspect of the complaint
did not breach of Clause 1.
42. The newspaper had relied on an online directory which
had set out the availability of over 160 mosques and prayer rooms in the area.
There was no suggestion from this directory, nor from the complainant, that
these prayer rooms were not open to the public. The omission of references to
prayer rooms did not render the article misleading; the article had sought to
distinguish between “official” and “unofficial” places of worship, in the
context of concerns about radicalization. There was no breach of Clause 1 on
43. It was not disputed by the complainant that French
police drove through Seine-Saint-Denis armed and four to a vehicle. The
Committee did not find that the omission of information which made clear this
was standard procedure was misleading; the article was a focused report on
social welfare issues in Seine-Saint-Denis. The journalist had relied upon
comments made by the Prefect of the area, in claiming that the area was
considered a “no-go area”. The newspaper had taken care over this point, and no
correction was required.
44. The newspaper was entitled to report the claims made by
the Rabbi, who had spoken to the journalist at length about his experiences of
living in Seine-Saint-Denis; the complainant was not in a position to dispute
his claims, and care had been taken to clearly present them as such. The complainant
was not in a position to confirm the extent of the damage which had been
inflicted on the kosher restaurant as a result of fire; in any event, the
complainant did not dispute that the kosher restaurant referred to in the
article had been damaged as a result of a petrol bomb attack. Any inaccuracy
over the extent of the fire damage was not significant in the context of the
article. It was not misleading to reference the murder of the 85 year old
woman, in circumstances where the article had reported on wider concerns over
violence in Paris, as well as in France. The newspaper had provided a
sufficient basis to support its characterisation of the politician as
“left-wing”; in any event, this was not a significant point in the context of
the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
45. The article did not identify any individuals and make
any irrelevant, prejudicial or pejorative reference to their race or religion.
The terms of Clause 12 were not engaged.
46. The complaint was upheld in part.
Remedial Action Required
47. Having upheld the complaint in part, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required.
48. The newspaper had promptly offered a correction which had identified the three significant inaccuracies in the article highlighted at paragraphs 33-36 above. The correction which the newspaper had offered in final settlement of the complaint referred to material which the Committee did not consider to be in breach of the Code. However, the Committee welcomed the fact that this wording provided clarification on a number of further points of the complaint. The wording set out at paragraph 32 should now be published. The print correction should be published in the newspaper’s established corrections and clarifications column. The correction should also be published online as a standalone.
Date complaint received: 06/08/2018
Date complaint concluded: 23/01/2019
Back to ruling listing