Decision of the Complaints Committee – 06034-21 Versi v The Daily Telegraph
Summary of Complaint
1. Miqdaad Versi 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 “We're not drifting into segregation, we're hurtling perilously towards it”, published on 31 May 2021.
2. The article was an opinion piece, setting out the writer’s view that “[a] growing mood of sectarianism threatens to undo the many successes of multiracial Britain”. In the article, reference was made to a letter to schools, written by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, “warning that while pupils are allowed to express political views, anti-Semitic language and threats must not be tolerated”. It then went on to state the following: “In response to the Williamson letter, Miqdaad Versi, spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, complained that the Government was being ‘one-sided’. The letter, of course, was not about events in Israel, but the harassment of British Jews. In suggesting there might be two sides to racism, Versi revealed more than he intended about why the Government refuses to engage with the MCB.”
3. The complainant was the man who, the article said, “complained that the Government was being ‘one-sided’” in response to Mr Williamson’s letter. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to state that he had “suggest[ed] that there might be two sides to racism.” He said that this was based on misinterpretation of a Twitter thread he had posted, in which he had stated in response to the letter that: “We currently have a government which is so one-sided, they are unwilling even to acknowledge concerns of those children who support Palestine & the issues they have faced in schools. The bias & unfairness will be felt by many across the country.”
4. He said that later tweets clarified that he was not saying that racism was “one-sided”; rather, he was calling on the government to also take action on the discrimination and racism encountered by Muslim children, and that not doing so was “one-sided”. A further tweet referred explicitly to “Muslim children”, and another stated that “[m]any appear to not realise that calling for our government to equally care for Muslims, does not detract from caring for Jewish children facing antisemitism.”
5. Prior to the complainant contacting IPSO, and outside of the publication’s complaint process, the complainant wrote a letter to the newspaper for publication, setting out why he considered the article was inaccurate in its reporting of his tweet. The letter, which was published, said the following: “I spoke out because Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, was tone deaf to the bigotry faced by Muslim children when he wrote about the racism faced by Jewish children. My plea was simply that Muslim children should not be ignored and I pointed to many examples where young Muslims were censured for simply saying ‘Free Palestine’ and displaying Palestinian flags.”
6. The complainant said that he wished for the publication to acknowledge, immediately correct, and apologise for its error, and for him to be given the right to reply in an opinion piece to be published in the newspaper. He also wished to discuss the matter further with the publication to see what more could be done to compensate for what he considered to be a breach of the Editors’ Code and an attack on his reputation.
7. The publication said it did not accept that the Editors’ Code had been breached. It first noted that his original tweet did not refer to Muslim children, nor to the discrimination encountered by them, but only to the “concerns of children who support Palestine & the issues they have faced in schools.” It also said that, as the letter to which the complainant was responding to referenced specifically a rise in anti-Semitism and the bullying of Jewish pupils and teachers in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, rather than Muslim children generally, it logically followed that the tweet was addressing those who expressed their political beliefs about Palestine in a school setting. It also said that the complainant could not have been complaining “about the Education Secretary limiting pupils’ rights to express themselves about Palestine sensibly and respectfully”, as the letter made clear that such expressions were not prohibited. Therefore, it said, “[b]y taking issue with the letter” the complainant could “only have been complaining about the prohibition of protests that cross the line into antisemitism. By complaining that the letter was ‘one-sided’ [the complainant] could not have been saying that the Government was unreasonably supportive of Israel and not the Palestinians because that was not what the letter was about. The letter sought to stop the antisemitic intimidation of Jewish people in schools and [the complainant] chose to describe that as ‘one-sided’”. As such, the publication said, the columnist was entitled to interpret the tweet in the manner he did and to question was the other side of racism was that the complainant referred to; the reference to the tweet in the article was clearly distinguished as the writer’s interpretation of the tweet, in line with Clause 1 (iv).
8. The publication also noted that a letter had been published by the newspaper which made clear that the complainant disputed the article’s characterisation of his tweet, and put his position on the record.
9. The complainant said that the later tweets in the thread made clear that he was referring to the discrimination faced by Muslim children who expressed their support for Palestine; he noted that the one posted immediately after his first tweet stated that “"No care about the Islamophobia that students have faced, the assumptions of inciting terror, the double standards on flags / posters. Those who reject Israel's right to exist are excluded. But not those who reject Palestine's right to exist? Not those who support apartheid?" He said that he had chosen to highlight the issue as he had been personally approached by the parents of Muslim children who had been mistreated at school after expressing their support of Palestine.
Relevant Code Provision
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 Editors’ Code makes clear that the press is entitled to campaign, be partisan, and express an opinion. However, there remains an obligation under the Clause 1 to take care over the accuracy of any claims of fact made within a comment piece and to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact. Neither party disputed that the alleged breach of Clause 1 had appeared in the context of a comment piece; what was in dispute was whether the alleged breach – that the complainant had “suggest[ed] that there were two-sides to racism” – was presented as fact or comment within the comment piece.
11. The column was critical of the complainant, and it was clear that the writer was not speaking on behalf of the complainant nor setting out what his intent was in criticising the government. Instead, the writer had quoted the complainant’s “one-sided” comment regarding the tweet, and had interpreted the tweet as the complainant “suggesting that there were two-sides to racism”. It was not in dispute that, as the article reported, the complainant “[i]n response to the Williamson letter […] complained that the Government was being ‘one-sided’.” This was the factual basis for the writer’s characterisation of the tweet, which was that “[i]n suggesting there might be two sides to racism, Versi revealed more than he intended about why the Government refuses to engage with the MCB”. This was clearly distinguished as the writer’s interpretation of the tweet by way of the use of the phrases “suggesting”, “might”, and “revealed”; the tweet had, according to the writer, “suggest[ed]” that “there might be two sides to racism”, and this had “revealed” something to the writer. The phrases appropriately distinguished this as the writer’s comment on the tweet, rather than a statement of fact that the complainant had said there were “two-sides to racism”. The complainant was entitled to dispute this interpretation, but where it was based on a portion of the complainant’s own tweet in which he referred to the Williamson letter about anti-Semitism in schools as “one-sided” – therefore setting out the basis for the writer’s interpretation – and it was clearly distinguished as the writer’s characterisation of the tweet, there was no failure to distinguish between comment and fact and there was no breach of Clause 1.
12. While the Committee did not find a breach of Clause 1, it welcomed the publication’s decision to publish a letter from the complainant and giving him the opportunity to put his position on record regarding what he considered to be a misinterpretation of this original tweet.
13. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 03/06/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/10/2021Back to ruling listing