Decision of the Complaints Committee – 09574-21 Gauterin v thejc.com
Summary of Complaint
1. Tom Gauterin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thejc.com breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Time for direct action on social media”, published on 8 July 2021.
2. The article, which appeared online only, was a column, in which the writer set out that – after coming ”across a tweet by [the complainant…] which told his followers that [he] was a ‘lifelong hard right racist”– he had read the complainant’s publicly available Twitter biography and discovered that he was a conductor. The sub-headline to the article described as “how [the writer] made on errant tweeter pay the price”; the article itself stated that the writer was “here to tell you that you can take things into your own hands and, with a bit of persistence, show the antisemites that their actions can have consequences.”
3. The article went on to report that the writer had “searched [the complainant’s name] […w]hat emerged immediately was a link to [the complainant’s] day job” and that he had then “look[ed] at his timeline to see what else he had to say”.
4. The writer went on to comment that “[w]hat I found was a man with what might best be described as an obsession with Jews, with Jewish communal bodies and with denying the existence of Labour antisemitism” and that “he really doesn’t like Jews who make a fuss about antisemitism, such as [prominent Jewish celebrity]”. It included three examples of the complainant’s tweets; one such example was as follows:
“No idea what [prominent Jewish celebrity] thinks she is doing and why, but she’s a proven liar and a fraud who harms those Jews who really *are* suffering from anti-Semitic abuse. She’s utterly vile and to pretend otherwise is to deny reality. Plus: if you know her, tell her to stop it pronto.”
5. After setting out the above tweets, the article stated that the writer had written to the CEO of the company where the complainant was employed “alerting him to his employee’s behaviour. […]The CEO rang again. He was — he had to be — careful with his words. But he told me that [the complainant] no longer worked for [the company]. I have no idea if he jumped or was pushed. I don’t care. [The company] behaved honourably and a man I believe to be a Jew hater has suffered the consequences of his bigotry.”
6. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as it reported that he was “a man with what might best be described as an obsession with Jews, with Jewish communal bodies and with denying the existence of Labour antisemitism”, and described him as a “Jew hater”. The complainant provided statements from Jewish friends, confirming that they did not consider him to be antisemitic or a “Jew hater” to support his position that the article was inaccurate on this point.
7. The complainant then said that he was a critic of the state of Israel, and of “Jewish communal bodies” which supported the actions of Israel. However, he did not accept that this stance made him anti-Semitic; his criticism was based on the political stance of the organisations, rather than their ethnicity or religion. He also did not accept that he “den[ied] the existence of Labour antisemitism”, but rather that “the extent of antisemitic views within the Labour Party was and continues to be weaponised for political ends”. He further said that several of his tweets demonstrated that he took the issue of antisemitism seriously and did not deny its existence within the Labour party, although he was unable to supply these tweets as he had deleted his twitter account. He also said that, of the 80,000 tweets on his profile, the majority were about the Labour party in general and classical music; it was therefore inaccurate for the publication to state that his Twitter timeline showed “a man with what might best be described as an obsession with Jews, with Jewish communal bodies and with denying the existence of Labour antisemitism.”
8. The complainant then said that it was inaccurate for the article to report that “he really doesn’t like Jews who make a fuss about antisemitism, such as [prominent Jewish celebrity]” as his criticism was directed at the celebrity in particular, rather than at Jewish people in general who spoke up about concerns regarding antisemitism.
9. The complainant also said that the article contained the clear implication that he had had his employment terminated as a result of the allegations which the writer had made directly to the company chairman, in breach of Clause 1. He said that he was not aware of the writer’s complaint, or of the allegation that he was anti-Semitic, until he read the article under complaint – after he had been terminated from his role. The complainant accepted that he had been terminated due to concerns raised over his Twitter activity. However, he said that at no point had he been made aware that there were allegations that he was anti-Semitic – therefore, the article was misleading in implying that he had either been dismissed or given the opportunity to resign from his role over these allegations, where he was not aware of any such allegations. He said that the inaccuracy was compounded by the publication’s failure to seek his comment on these points.
10. The complainant then said that the publication had not approached him for any comment on the article and its allegations, and that he should have been given the opportunity to reply to what he considered to be significant inaccuracies within the article. He also said that, as the publication had not contacted him for comment, it had clearly not taken care over the accuracy of the article
11. The complainant then said that both the article and the actions of the journalist had breached Clause 2 of the Editors Code by intruding into his private life. He said that the actions undertaken by the journalist – contacting his place of work – demonstrated a clear lack of respect to his private life. He said that there could be no possible public interest in the intrusion; he was not a public figure, and the extent of his public profile was a public Twitter account with a little over 2000 followers. He further noted that his Twitter account did not include any reference to his professional role or his employment.
12. The publication said that it did not accept that the article or the writer’s actions had breached the Editors’ Code. Turning first to the complainant’s Clause 1 concerns, it said that the article was clearly distinguished as comment, and therefore as the writer’s view of the complainant and his public Twitter presence. It said that there were reasonable grounds at the time of the article’s publication to suspect that the complainant’s departure from his previous role was linked to his Twitter activity, and the article was not significantly inaccurate, misleading or distorted in its portrayal of the events leading to the complainant’s departure from his previous role: the journalist had contacted the complainant’s previous employer, and had later been informed that he was no longer employed by the company.
13. It then said that the writer’s characterisation of complainant’s Twitter thread was supported in the article by the inclusion of the exact wording of the Tweets – therefore, both the basis for the characterisation, and the fact that it was indeed the writer’s characterisation, were made clear in the article itself. It said that, from the outset of the article, it was clearly distinguished as the writer’s view and his retelling of his experiences. It further said that it did not consider that there was a need to approach the complainant, where the article was based on the complainant’s public tweets and there was no dispute that the tweets had been accurately quoted.
14. Turning to the complainant’s Clause 2 concerns, the publication noted that the article commented on the complainant’s public Twitter account, and that the actions of the writer had been prompted by information which was publicly available.
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.
Clause 2 (Privacy)*
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Findings of the Committee
15. The Committee noted that the Editors’ Code makes clear that the press is allowed to editorialise and to publish comment, provided it is distinguished from fact. With this in mind, the Committee first considered the article’s claims that the complainant had ”an obsession with Jews, with Jewish communal bodies and with denying the existence of Labour antisemitism” and that he was a “Jew-hater”.
16. While the Committee understood that the complainant disputed this characterisation of his comments, it was clearly distinguished as the view of the writer: it followed a first-person narrative account of the writer taking “a look at [the complainant’s Twitter] timeline to see what else he had to say”, and made clear that it was the writer who had “found” the timeline which he considered showed “a man with what might best be described as an obsession with Jews, with Jewish communal bodies and with denying the existence of Labour antisemitism”. The Committee also noted that the article stated that the writer ”believed” that he was a “Jew-hater”. The article included specific tweets that the writer had based his characterisation on, which the complainant did not dispute that he had published; the factual basis for the characterisation was, therefore, clearly set out in the article. Therefore, while the Committee understood that the complainant disputed the writer’s characterisation of his Twitter timeline, where it was clearly distinguished as the writer’s characterisation and the factual basis for the characterisation was not in dispute, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
17. The Committee next considered the complaint about the references to the complainant’s loss of employment, which the complainant had said were inaccurate as they misleadingly implied that he had left his role due to his previous employer finding that he was anti-Semitic. While he accepted that his social media activity was linked to his departure, he said that at no point had he been informed that his departure was linked to allegations of anti-Semitism. It was acknowledged by the publication that the writer had received no direct information about the reasons for the departure, including any information about whether any findings had been reached about the complainant’s conduct as part of that process, or the nature of any such findings. By contrast, in the view of the Committee, the article made a factual claim that the complainant had lost his job due to the claim of anti-Semitism; the writer stated that he had “show[n] the antisemites that their actions have consequences”; and that the complainant had “suffered the consequences of his bigotry”. In the view of the Committee, the publication of these claims in this form failed to distinguish the writer’s conjecture as such. The claims, appearing throughout the article, gave the misleading impression that it was a matter of fact that the complainant had departed his role due to anti-Semitism.
18. Where the publication had not distinguished the writer’s comment and conjecture from fact, there was a breach of Clause 1 (iv). This breach was significant, where it rendered the article misleading as to the circumstances in which the complainant had departed his role.
19. Turning next to the complainant’s Clause 2 concerns, the Committee noted that it was not in dispute that the information which the article reported on – the complainant’s Twitter presence, his hobbies, and his professional role – had all been in the public domain, either via the complainant’s public twitter page, or public search results about the complainant. The wording of Clause 2 makes clear that the Committee, in assessing possible breaches of Clause 2, should take into account the extent to which the material complained of is in the public domain. Where the material complained of in the article was in the public domain, the Committee found no breach of Clause 2 on this point.
20. The Committee considered next whether the actions undertaken by the writer when writing the article – namely, contacting the complainant’s employer – represented a breach of Clause 2. The Committee again noted that the writer had not used any information which was not in the public domain to contact the complainant’s workplace; his workplace and role had appeared in an internet search of the complainant, which he did not dispute. The Committee further noted that the terms of Clause 2 make specific reference to the “private and family life” and “home”. It did not consider that contacting the complainant’s workplace represented an intrusion into his private and family life. Therefore, the Committee found that the journalist’s actions did not breach the terms of Clause 2.
21. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1 (iv).
Remedial Action Required
22. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1 (iv), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
23. The article was significantly misleading with regards to the circumstances of the complainant’s departure from his previous employer, where it presented speculation on the part of the publication as fact. The Committee considered a correction to be the appropriate remedy to this breach, where the misleading information was limited to the text of the article, and the Committee was mindful of the need to balance the fundamental right to freedom of expression with the requirement to take care not to publish misleading information. Therefore, on balance, the Committee considered that a correction, putting the complainant’s position on record, to be an appropriate remedy.
Committee then considered the placement of this correction. This correction
should be added to the article, should it still remain online, as a footnote.
Should the article be removed, the correction should appear as a standalone
article. The wording of the correction should make clear that the publication
had no basis to imply that the complainant had departed his role due to his
employer finding that he was antisemitic. The wording should be agreed with
IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an
upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
Date complaint received: 30/08/2022
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/06/2022Back to ruling listing