Decision of the Complaints Committee 05298-18 For Britain Movement v Sunday Life
Summary of Complaint
1. For Britain
Movement complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Sunday
Life breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the
Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Nazi Mark rejects call from
For Britain activists”, published on 3 June 2018.
2. The article reported that Northern Ireland’s “most notorious Nazi” had rejected an offer to lead a For Britain Movement “cell”, after he had been approached by For Britain Movement activists. It reported that this individual had recently taken part in White Pride marches, and that he had been questioned by police in connection with a series of UDA shootings in 2016. The article also described the For Britain Movement (which is a UK political party) as a “far-right” group and named its leader, referring to her as a “Dublin-born lesbian”.
3. The complainant
expressed general concern that the article was motivated by political bias and
written with the intention to draw an unfounded association between the For
Britain Movement (FBM) and an individual who it said was known for their
“racist, Nazi-sympathetic views”; it said that this was not in line with the
tolerant ethos of the FBM.
4. The complainant
denied that the FBM was a “far-right” group. It said that the newspaper had
reported this as a fact and had failed to justify the use of this term within
the article. The complainant said that the term “far-right” was generally
understood to mean the promotion of authoritarian governmental power and the
erosion of individual liberty, democratic institutions and the rule of law. It
said that these values were inconsistent with the FBM’s policy objectives. The
complainant said that while its political opponents frequently refer to it as a
“far-right” group, this is not an accurate description of its political stance.
5. The complainant
denied that a group of For Britain Movement activists, or any official
representative of the party, had offered the individual described in the
article as a “notorious Nazi” any role within the party, or that it had made
any contact with this individual. It said that only the party leader can offer
any roles within the party, and that in any event, the Northern Ireland branch
of the party did not exist at the time of publication. The complainant said
that there was a failure to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact on
this point. Furthermore, the complainant said that the use of the term “cell”
was misleading because it suggested that the FBM was an illicit organisation
rather than a legitimate political party.
6. The complainant
said that the newspaper did not contact it prior to publication, nor did it
provide a fair opportunity to reply to the alleged inaccuracies. It said that
it had contacted the newspaper five days after publication; however, it did not
receive an acknowledgement or a response. The complainant said that it had also
emailed the newspaper on two further occasions in July and August, and that it
did not receive a substantive response until August.
7. The complainant
said that the article’s reference to its leader as a “lesbian” was not
genuinely relevant to the story, and therefore its inclusion was in breach of
8. The newspaper
did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that it had taken care to
ensure the accuracy of the article. The newspaper said that its reporter had
been informed by reliable sources that the individual described in the article as
a “notorious Nazi”, had told people that he had rejected approaches from FBM
activists, regarding becoming a “cell” leader. It said that this individual had
also made this claim directly to one of its sources. The newspaper said that
once it became aware of this information, its reporter attempted to contact the
complainant for comment. It said that its reporter was not able to locate a
telephone number on the complainant’s website, and that he had sent an email to
the incorrect email address in error.
9. The newspaper
said that the FBM was widely regarded as a “far-right” group, and described as
such in various media reports and political commentary; this was a reflection
of the complainant’s position on the spectrum of UK politics. The newspaper said
that the complainant’s leader’s views had repeatedly been described as
“extreme”, “far-right” and “anti-Islam”, and that she had been known to
publicly make Islamophobic comments. It said that therefore, it described the
party as “far-right” in the context of its leader’s public statements, which it
considered to be extreme, rather than as a reflection of any official policy
statements published by the complainant; this included her having described
Islam as ‘evil’ and a ‘killing machine’, and having referred to the UK becoming
an ‘Islamic state’ in her lifetime. In addition, the newspaper said that some
members of the For Britain Movement were known to have links to other ‘Nazi’
organisations, and that FBM members had left UKIP to form the group after being
branded “Nazis and racists” by its leadership. The publication provided various
news reports taken from other media outlets which it said demonstrated its
position. The newspaper said that in this context, the use of the word “cell”
was a reference to a small group of a controversial political movement, which
was not misleading.
10. The newspaper said that the FBM’s leader’s sexuality had
been extensively reported on in other publicly-available media coverage,
regardless of the subject matter of these articles, and that therefore it was a
relevant detail. It said that the party’s leader had openly described herself
as an active LGBT rights campaigner; that she was a keynote speaker at “Gays
Against Sharia” rallies and other similar events; and that she had previously
referred to the sexuality of her political opponents. The newspaper said that
as such, the complainant could not reasonably object to the media referring to
its leader’s sexual orientation. The newspaper said that the inclusion of this information
did not represent a breach of Clause 12.
11. Nevertheless, the newspaper offered to interview a
representative of the For Britain Movement’s new Northern Ireland branch with a
view to publication, and also to publish the following clarification on page 10
of the newspaper:
“On 3 June 2018, we published an article headlined “Nazi
Mark rejects call from For Britain activists”, which stated that Mark Brown had
been approached by activists representing For Britain to set up a ‘cell’ in
Coleraine and Portrush. This claim was based on information provided by sources
close to Mr Brown, but was not corroborated by the party itself. We have since
been contacted by For Britain, who say that Mr Brown was not approached by
anyone with the authority to make such an offer. The party says that it is not
a ‘far right group’ operating ‘cells’ as the article claimed, and wishes to
dissociate itself from the views expressed by Mr Brown. We are happy to make
its position clear.”
The complainant did not accept this offer.
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.
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
13. The article had stated as fact that the FBM had offered
“Northern Ireland’s most notorious Nazi” the opportunity to “lead a cell”. This
claim had not been put to the complainant prior to the publication of the
article, because the reporter had failed to use the correct contact details.
There was clearly dispute over whether it was accurate to state that
individuals identifying themselves with For Britain had been in contact with
this individual; the Committee’s role was to determine whether sufficient care
had been taken over this claim. The Committee noted that only one source was
said to have heard this information directly from the individual concerned, and
the publication did not appear to have taken any steps to verify the
affiliation to the FBM of the individuals alleged to have approached this
person. This information had nevertheless been presented as a statement of fact
rather than a claim or allegation, and the publication had not obtained any
record of the complainant’s position. Presenting this information as fact, in
these circumstances, represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of
the article, in breach of Clause 1(i). A clarification was required to make
clear the status of this information, and indicate that it was disputed by the
FBM. The publication had offered to publish a clarification to this effect, and
had done so promptly, once the matter had been raised with it by IPSO. This
clarification had been offered on page 10, the same page as the article
originally appeared, which was sufficiently prominent where this was the page
on which the article had originally appeared. There was no further breach of
14. Characterisations of political groups on a spectrum is
in part a matter of editorial discretion, but the Code requires that care be
taken over the accuracy of such characterisations. In this instance, the
characterisation of the FBM as a “far right group” had been based in large part
on similar descriptions of the party in other media, but also on reports of the
temporary presence within the party of individuals affiliated with extremist
groups associated with the political right, and on the party’s public stance on
Islam. It was clear that the party had attracted individuals associated with
groups at the “far right” end of the political spectrum, and the publication
had provided its rationale for describing the group in this way based on its
own editorial viewpoint. Consequently, there was no failure to take care over
this characterisation, and the label “far right” did not give rise to a
significantly misleading impression that required correction under Clause 1.
Similarly, the Committee considered that the term “cell” could be understood in
the context of the article to refer to a small group within a large
organisation, which was not an inaccurate description of the alleged proposal,
and in these circumstances its use did not give rise to a significantly
misleading impression. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to clarify the
complainant’s position in relation to this.
15. The reference to the FBM’s leader’s sexuality had been included
as a relevant biographical detail in the context of the description of her as
“a former LGBT rights campaigner who began her career within the British Labour
Party”. It was not in dispute that the leader had been open about her sexuality
as a public figure, and that this was widely known, or that she had attended
rallies with the group ‘Gays Against Sharia’. The inclusion of the reference to
the leader’s sexual orientation, in these circumstances, was not prejudicial or
pejorative. There was no breach of Clause 12.
16. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial Action Required
17. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered
what remedial action should be required.
18. The publication had offered a clarification which had
addressed the inaccurate impression the article had given of the status of the
claims made, and had done so promptly once the matter was raised with it by
IPSO. It had offered to publish this clarification on page 10 – the same page as
the article appeared – and this was sufficiently prominent. The relevant
sections of this clarification should now be published, in the same font size
as is standard for that page, and with an appropriate headline in the same font
size as the original article’s sub-headline (“Hitler-loving racist now looking
for a quiet life”).
Date complaint received: 08/08/2018