Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11860-20 Bunglawala v Express.co.uk
Summary of Complaint
1. Inayat Bunglawala complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Sanctions must be placed on Nigeria after horrific Christian persecution, lobby group says”, published on 25 July 2020.
2. The article was a comment piece, in which the columnist called on the Government to better align the United Kingdom’s foreign policy with its core values such as upholding the right of law and democracy. In the course of the article the columnist turned his attention to the persecution of Christians in Nigeria and stated that “all the signs that Boko Haram are attempting in Nigeria what ISIS failed to do in Syria are crystal clear”. The columnist then added “that in the last ten months alone [Boko Haram] have invaded and permanently occupied 350 Igbo villages and communities.”
3. The complainant said that the statement in the article that Boko Haram had “invaded and permanently occupied 350 Igbo villages and communities” was inaccurate. He noted that the disputed statement was hyperlinked, taking readers to coverage of a report by an organisation called the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (InterSociety). However, this report did not identify or make reference to Boko Haram invading and occupying Igbo villages but instead “Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen” and ‘imported’ Shuwa Arbas”. There was no evidence that Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen were one and the same group. Furthermore, the complainant did not consider InterSociety to be a reliable source, being a Christian lobby group with a limited public profile, and therefore any information contained in its report should be clearly presented as a claim, not fact.
4. The publication maintained that there were links between Boko Haram and the jihadist Fulani Herdsmen. It amended the article upon receipt of the complaint to “It is claimed in the last ten months alone [Boko Haram] have invaded and permanently occupied 350 Igbo villages and communities.” The publication also offered to publish the following as a clarification footnote:
“A previous version of this article reported as fact that Boko Haram had invaded and permanently occupied 350 Igbo villages and communities in the last 10 months. We are happy to clarify that this statement is based on a report by InterSociety, which has been hyperlinked within the article.”
5. The complainant said this clarification did not address his concerns. In response the publication offered to amend the article further and publish the following, updated correction:
“A previous version of this article linked to a report by InterSociety and stated that Boko Haram had invaded and permanently occupied 350 Igbo villages and communities. Although there are known links, in fact, the Intersociety report stated that these villages were invaded by Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen and ‘imported’ Shuwa Arabs. We are happy to clarify this.”
6. The complainant also rejected this offer. He said that the proposed clarifications did not make clear that the publication had inaccurately reported that Boko Haram had invaded and permanently occupied 350 Igbo villages and communities.
Relevant Code Provisions
7. 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.
Finding of the Committee
8. The Committee did not consider the source linked to by the newspaper in the article supported the assertion that “Boko Haram had invaded and permanently occupied 350 Igbo villages and communities in Nigeria”. The report by InterSociety clearly referred to the 350 villages and communities being invaded by ‘Jihadist Fulani Herdsmen and Shuwa Arabs’”, and while the newspaper maintained that there were links between these jihadists and Boko Haram, there was no suggestion in the InterSociety report that they could be considered one and the same group. In such circumstances, the Committee considered the publication of the statement represented a failure to take care under Clause 1 (i). The Committee considered the inaccuracy to be significant as the article did not properly attribute the invasion to the specific group(s) that the InterSociety report had identified as being responsible. As such, the article required a correction under Clause 1 (ii).
9. The publication had offered to publish an amendment and clarification to the online article at the start of IPSO’s investigation. However, the Committee did not consider that the proposed action satisfised the terms of Clause 1 (ii) as it did not identify, and then correct, the significant inaccuracy within the original article. The Committee noted that the proposed wording did not make explicitly clear that a previous version of the article was inaccurate to state that the InterSociety report attributed the invasion of Igbo villages to Boko Haram, as opposed to requiring clarification. This was exacerbated by the inclusion of “although there are known links” between Boko Haram and the invasion, which was not referenced in the InterScoiety report and detracted from any clarity that the original article was inaccurate. As such, there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).
10. The complaint was upheld.
Remedial Action Required
11. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action was appropriate. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or adjudication. The nature, extent, and placement of which is determined by IPSO.
12. In this case, the Committee found that the publication had failed to take care over accuracy and its proposed clarification had been inadequate. In such circumstances, the Committee decided that the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction. This should appear under the headline of the online article. The correction should acknowledge that the previous version of the article was inaccurate; that the InterSociety report did not identify Boko Haram as the group responsible for the invasion and the occupation of the Igbo villages referred to and then identify the specific group(s) that were. The wording of this correction should state that it was published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation. The full word and position of this correction should be agreed with IPSO in advance.
Date complaint received: 16/07/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 24/12/2020Back to ruling listing