Decision of the Complaints Committee 06491-18 For Britain Movement v The Northern Echo
Summary of Complaint
1. The For Britain
Movement (FBM) complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that
The Northern Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice
in an article headlined “Responding to the far right”, published on 11 August
2. The article was a comment piece by a local councillor which discussed how schools and colleges should respond to the increasing incidence of groups he described as “far right”. He said that “The fall-out from Brexit could spawn the growth of a new far right national socialist movement, such as For Britain, led by people like Anne Marie Waters, the unsuccessful UKIP leadership candidate and Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the EDL”.
3. The article was
also published online in the same format with the headline “Stephen Lambert:
Responding to the far right”.
4. The complainant
said that it was inaccurate to describe the FBM as “far right”. It said that
“far right” would be understood to refer to illiberal, authoritarian, and
anti-democratic politics, which it said did not reflect its values; the
characterisation was baseless. It said that the article should have included
the FBM’s dispute of this characterisation.
5. The complainant
said that the term “national socialism” was a creation of the Nazi party and
thus would be understood to refer directly and only to the Nazis. The
complainant said that the FBM was in no way supportive or connected with Nazi
ideology. It said that no reader would understand the phrase as referring to
the discrete concepts of being nationalistic and socialist.
6. The complainant
said that it was inaccurate to state that the group was led by people such as
Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the EDL; only Ms Waters led the group, and Mr
Robinson had no involvement in the FBM.
7. The publication
said that political values lie on an inherently subjective spectrum; the author
was entitled to put across his opinion that the group were “far right national
socialist”, and had a sufficient basis to do so. It said that it was clear from
the FBM’s published policies on culture and immigration that it held
nationalist views, and pointed to its leader’s socialist origins within the
Labour party; together, these facts gave a sufficient basis for the “national
socialist” description. It also said that others had described the group as far
right; that the group was associated with acknowledged far right groups; that
members had been part of other far right groups; and that a documentary titled
“Undercover: Inside Britain’s new Far Right” featured a attendee of the group’s
events. In addition, it pointed the group’s populist policies; its frequent
invocation of ethnic and cultural loyalties; and its anti-immigration and
pro-deportation stance - all of which the publication said were established
conventions of both national socialism and far right ideology. For all of these
reasons, it said that it was not misleading to characterise FBM as being “far right”.
8. In any event,
the publication said that it was not true that the article compared the FBM to
Nazis, or that the phrase “national socialists” would automatically denote
Nazism or its politics. It said that the fact that all Nazis were national
socialists did not mean that all national socialists were Nazis, and that
national socialism was a broad ideology which had many points of tangency with
9. The publication accepted that its reference to Tommy Robinson was inadvertently ambiguous, and offered to clarify this point. However, it did say that Tommy Robinson shared similar views to Anne Marie Waters and the complainant, and so it was not significantly misleading to link him to the group’s beliefs.
10. The publication said that it would be happy to consider publishing a letter from the complainant setting out its position. In addition it also offered to publish the following clarification:
“An opinion article by Stephen Lambert published online and
in The Northern Echo on August 11 2018, headlined ”Responding to the far right”
said that the fall-out from Brexit could spawn the growth of a new far right
movement, such as For Britain, led by people like Anne Marie Water, the
unsuccessful UKIP leadership candidate and Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the
EDL. We would like to make clear that Tommy Robinson is not a member of For
Britain, which is led by Anne Marie Waters.”
Relevant Code Provisions
11. 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
12. The placement of policies and values on a political spectrum is a subjective assessment; individuals’ and publications’ views on where particular policies and parties fall on such a spectrum will necessarily vary. However, 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 national socialist” movement had been based on the publication’s assessment of particular policy positions adopted by the group, and on the presence within the party of individuals associated with groups generally understood to be “far right” in character. It was also based on the FBM’s leader’s political views, which the publication characterised as nationalist, and on her past political affiliations with the Left. In setting out its basis for characterising the FBM as “far right”, the publication had shown that the party had attracted attention from individuals associated with groups at that end of the political spectrum. In all these circumstances, the Committee did not consider that there had been a failure to take care over this characterisation, and it did not give rise to a significantly misleading impression that required correction under Clause 1. The Committee did not consider that the article suggested that the group was linked to Nazism in the way the complainant suggested, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
13. The article did not state as fact that Tommy Robinson
was the leader of the FBM; rather, it suggested that new “far right” groups
could arise, “such as For Britain, led by people like Anne Marie Waters, the
unsuccessful UKIP leadership candidate and Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the
EDL”. While the Committee acknowledged that the sentence could carry the
meaning attributed to it by the complainant, it did not consider that this
grammatical ambiguity represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of
the article. In the context of a wide-ranging opinion piece which considered
how education providers could respond to alleged “far right” groups, which was
not a detailed description of the FBM and its leadership, the Committee did not
consider that the article gave rise to any significantly misleading impression
on this point, such as would require correction. There was no breach of Clause
1. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to clarify any ambiguity
in the sentence.
14. The complaint was
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 02/10/18
Date decision issued: 24/01/19
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