Decision of the Complaints Committee 05311-19 Gregson v Sunday Herald
Summary of Complaint
1. Pete Gregson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Herald breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in two articles headlined “Scots Labour ‘branch office’ powerless to fight anti-Semitism” and “Scottish Labour's lack of power to fight antisemitism ‘beggars belief’” published on 14 July 2019.
2. The first article reported that senior Labour figures and Jewish leaders had said that Scottish Labour must be more of a branch office if it is to tackle antisemitism. It reported on the complainant’s expulsion from his trade union and his subsequent suspension by the Labour Party. It explained that he had been expelled from his trade union “for anti-Semitic remarks and abuse of one Jewish employee”. The article also reported that he had said that the “Holocaust was exaggerated for political gain” The article stated that he had since set up LAZIR (Labour Against Zionist Islamophobic Racism) “at Labour Party HQ” and contained criticism from a number of sources in Scotland with regards to the way in which the Labour Party was dealing with the situation involving the complainant.
3. The second article repeated these claims, however it also included comments from members of the trade union, including a chief who expressed the view that the complainant should also have been expelled from the Labour Party. The statement attributed to the complainant within this article was that the “Holocaust was exaggerated”. The article also stated that the complainant had started a petition calling Israel a “racist endeavour”, which the article explained is a term which, under the IHRA definition, is anti-Semitic. The article also made reference to an interview in which the complainant had called the Jewish trade union employee a “Crazy Zionist”.
4. The articles appeared in substantially the same format online with the headlines: “Row over Scottish Labour ‘branch office’ which is ‘powerless’ against anti-Semitism” and “Labour anti-Semitism row: Scots activist who claims 'Holocaust was exaggerated' formed anti-Zionist group while suspended”
5. The complainant said that the articles were inaccurate as they “promoted the idea” that he was anti-Semitic, which he said was untrue. He said that the statement regarding the exaggeration of the Holocaust was inaccurately quoted in the articles; as he had actually said that he believed “Israel exaggerated the Holocaust for political ends.” He also said that reference to LAZIR being set up at the Labour Party HQ was incorrect as it had been set up outside of the HQ and outside of working hours. Further, LAZIR operated independently and not under the Labour Party banner. However, he acknowledged that in order to receive full membership within the organisation, a member also needed to be a member of the Labour Party. Whilst he accepted that he had called the trade union employee a “Crazy Zionist”, he denied that it was a “targeted attack” and abusive as reported by the publication.
6. The complainant also raised concerns that the articles were unbalanced as they had only presented the side of the union and the Labour Party. He said that he only accepted the Oxford English Dictionary definition of anti-Semitism, and when his comments are viewed in light of this definition, he did not believe his remarks constituted anti-Semitism. The complainant provided correspondence from the trade union to support his claim that he did not agree with the IHRA definition. He also raised concerns that the publication had used unnamed sources and requested that their identity be revealed.
7. The publication did not accept that it had breached Clause 1. It stated that the articles accurately reported that he had been expelled from the trade union for anti-Semitic remarks and the abuse of a Jewish female employee of the union. It relied upon the SACC’s coverage of the matter which confirmed that the Scotland Secretary for the trade union had alleged that comments the complainant had made amounted to anti-Semitism. It also relied upon comments made by a trade union member referencing targeted attacks which he said the complainant had made on the Jewish employee. Furthermore, they pointed to a video on YouTube in which the complainant stated Israel was a “racist country”. The publication also did not accept that it inaccurately reported the formation of the LAZIR movement; neither of the articles had stated that it was set up inside Labour HQ- stating it was formed at the HQ would include outside of the building. It also pointed to the fact that it had quoted a Labour source who stated that it was not affiliated to the Labour Party despite the complainant not referencing this when given the right to reply before the article was published.
8. The newspaper accepted that it could have provided greater clarity when stating that the complainant stated the “Holocaust was exaggerated”. However, it did not accept that this represented a significant inaccuracy, as it did not believe omitting who the complainant believed exaggerated the Holocaust, and for what purpose, changed the main thrust of the complainant’s comment. Notwithstanding its position it offered to publish a clarification confirming the complainant’s position in the following terms:
“We reported on July 13 that Pete Gregson was suspended by the Labour party and expelled from the GMB trade union for claiming that the Holocaust was exaggerated and, in the case of the GMB, for abusive behaviour towards a female Jewish Labour member and union employee. Mr Gregson’s position, which we are happy to publish in full, is that it is Israel that exaggerates the Holocaust for political gain.”
Relevant Code Provisions
9. 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
10. The Committee considered whether it was misleading to report that the complainant had said that the “Holocaust was exaggerated”. Whilst the Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that he had criticised one particular country for exaggerating the Holocaust for political gain, he had still expressed a view that the Holocaust had been exaggerated. The articles had made no claim as to who the complainant believed had exaggerated the event, or for what purpose, and the Committee did not find grounds to render the omission of this further contextual information misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 in relation to this point.
11. The Committee considered the reference in the articles to the LAZIR movement having been set up “at Labour HQ”. The Committee considered that this would be understood to be shorthand to indicate the links which existed between the LAZIR movement and the Labour Party. It was clear, as was accepted by the complainant, that only Labour Party members received full membership and that the complainant had chosen to set up the organisation outside the building which houses the Labour Party HQ. Where the article also included a quote from a senior Labour source which confirmed that LAZIR was not affiliated to the Labour Party, the reference to Labour HQ was not misleading in the way the complainant suggested. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
12. With regard to the complainant’s concern that the articles promoted the idea that he is anti-Semitic, the Committee noted that they accurately reported that he had been expelled from his union and suspended from the Labour Party over allegations that he had made anti-Semitic remarks and that he had abused a Jewish employee. The second article further explained that he had called the employee a “Crazy Zionist” and had described Israel as a “racist endeavour”. Correspondence provided by the complainant and from the trade union, together with video footage from YouTube, confirmed that the complainant had made or was alleged to have made these comments. The article also made clear that the complainant’s comment about Israel was considered to be anti-Semitic under the IHRA definition of antisemitism. Whilst the Committee noted that the complainant disagreed with this definition, the newspaper had accurately reported the circumstances of the complainant’s expulsion and suspension. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. The Committee also noted that the complainant’s concern that the article was not accurate because it was not balanced. The Editors’ Code does not require coverage to be balanced and the press has the right to editorialise and to campaign provided that it distinguishes between comment, conjecture and fact. Whilst the Committee was not asked to consider a complaint made under Clause 14. With regard to the sources relied upon, the Committee noted that Clause 14 specifically recognises the moral obligation of publications to protect confidential sources and the publication was not obliged to reveal the identity of its confidential sources. These concerns did not engage the terms of Clause 1.
14. This complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 14/07/2019
Date decision issued: 28/10/2019
16. The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.