Decision of the Complaints Committee – 06339-21 Extinction Rebellion v Telegraph.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Extinction Rebellion complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Telegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Bank of England must not become a tool of Extinction Rebellion”, published on 9th June 2021.
2. The online article was an opinion piece that reported on new stress tests that model the climate risks that banks and insurers face, commenting on the potential effects of such tests and exercises. It commented that “the danger is that the exercise is hijacked by activists desperate to accelerate an aggressive green agenda” and referred to the activities and actions of Extinction Rebellion that involved financial institutions. The article went on to comment that “we are yet to see the same brave activists staging violent demonstrations outside China's London embassy”. It further reported that “[t]he growth orthodoxy that has dominated post-war Western economies is increasingly being challenged by the left amid concerns about climate change.” The article concluded by stating that “the Bank of England has to remain neutral on climate change. It cannot allow itself to be captured and used as a tool to accelerate the left’s green agenda.”
3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it characterised Extinction Rebellion as being potentially violent. It said that the quote “we are yet to see the same brave activists staging violent demonstrations outside China's London embassy” indicated that Extinction Rebellion have previously staged violent demonstrations, which it considered to be demonstrably untrue. The complainant added that Extinction Rebellion’s stated tactic is “Non-Violent Direct Action” and that “this is writ large in every [Extinction Rebellion] press release and published mission statement”.
4. The complainant also said that it was misleading to report that “[t]he growth orthodoxy that has dominated post-war Western economies is increasingly being challenged by the left amid concerns about climate change”, when the challenge to “the growth orthodoxy” and environmentalism is not the preserve of the left, particularly not in the case of Extinction Rebellion. It said that this misleading characterisation was further perpetuated with the quote “[the Bank of England] cannot allow itself to be captured and used as a tool to accelerate the left’s green agenda”. The complainant said that the growth orthodoxy was being challenged by all quarters of society and that the issue of climate was not a party-political stance, providing examples of individuals from a number of political parties who were concerned with the climate and ecological emergency.
5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the reference to violence was hypothetical and was a comment on demonstrations that have not yet been held. The publication said that regardless of Extinction Rebellion’s statements regarding non-violent protest, there had been a number of previous protests that have been violent and criminal, which supported the columnist’s reference to hypothetical violence, such as activists having shattered windows at banks, obstructed railways illegally and assaulted emergency workers.
6. The publication highlighted that the article was a comment piece and said that the references to the “left” were clearly the columnist’s opinion. It added that “the characterisation of where a particular individual or group falls on the [political] spectrum is, by its very nature, inherently subjective”. Further, the publication said that the article did not state that Extinction Rebellion was left wing and was commenting generally on the motivations of activists interfering with economic systems to further their climate change agenda. In addition, the publication also said that in the article, the columnist argued that the challenging of post-war Western economies through banking stress tests and the “degrowth movement” are commonly categorised as left wing. It added that, while Extinction Rebellion and other environmental groups have been able to garner support from across the political spectrum, this did not invalidate the columnist’s argument that the views of such groups regarding the corporate banking sector fall on left of the spectrum.
7. The complainant disputed that any individual from Extinction Rebellion had been charged or convicted of assault against an emergency worker.
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.
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
8. The Committee first considered whether the comment that “we are yet to see the same brave activists staging violent demonstrations outside China's London embassy” was significantly inaccurate or misleading. The complainant considered that the reference to “violent demonstrations” implied – inaccurately – that Extinction Rebellion activists had previously engaged in violent demonstrations. The Committee noted that the disputed reference related to a hypothetical event, which the columnist made clear had not occurred and was, in his view, remarkable by its absence. The Committee did not agree that this reflection on a hypothetical event amounted to a statement of fact that Extinction Rebellion activists had previously engaged in violent protests. In any event, the newspaper had provided coverage of previous protests involving members of the group that reported arrests being made for criminal damage and assault. In all the circumstances, the Committee did not find that the reference to hypothetical “violent demonstrations” represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, or a significant inaccuracy requiring correction.
9. The Committee next considered whether it was misleading to report that “[t]he growth orthodoxy that has dominated post-war Western economies is increasingly being challenged by the left amid concerns about climate change” and that “[the Bank of England] cannot allow itself to be captured and used as a tool to accelerate the left’s green agenda”. It first noted that the article did not make any comment on whether Extinction Rebellion was of the “left”. It was not in dispute that the “degrowth movement” and a green agenda were often endorsed by individuals or groups that considered themselves, or were widely considered to form, part of “the left”; rather the complaint lay with whether these were solely the preserve of the left as, in the view of the complainant, the article implied. In the view of the Committee, the references fell short of claiming that concerns about climate change and the “green agenda” were limited to “the left”. Further, it noted that the characterisation of where an individual or group falls on the political spectrum is a subjective assessment, rather than a verifiable fact. The Committee was satisfied that, in these circumstances, it was not inaccurate or misleading for the columnist to say that “the left” challenged growth orthodoxy or had a “green agenda”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
10. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 13/06/21
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 01/11/21Back to ruling listing