Decision of the Complaints Committee 11868-15 Versi v Daily Star on Sunday
Summary of complaint
1. Miqdaad Versi complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Star on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “UK mosques give cash for terror”, published on 22 November 2015. It was published online with the headline “UK mosques fundraising for terror”.
2. The article reported that one of the newspaper’s journalists had posed as a man wanting to transfer money abroad which he had “raised with the help of a group of Bradford-based Isis sympathisers”. The man he contacted told him that he could assist him with transferring the money to Bosnia, and said that “we get funds from UK brothers from collections at mosques”. The article suggested that money is being transferred to Bosnia in order to fund terrorist training camps there. The text of the article was the same online and in print, only the headlines and sub-headlines differed.
3. The complainant said that the headlines were inaccurate as they suggested that UK mosques, generally, were raising money to fund terrorist activity. In fact, as the article had made clear, it was one group of men in Bradford, and not any mosque as an organisation, that was collecting money. Further, there was no suggestion that the practice was occurring beyond that single group, but the headline had given the impression that the practice was widespread. The statement that UK mosques had been collecting money to fund terrorism had been presented as fact, and not adequately distinguished as the claim of the one person with whom the journalist had been in contact.
4. The newspaper did not believe that the headlines had been significantly inaccurate or misleading. It said that the headlines should be read in conjunction with the text of the article, and in this case the text had made clear that the funding of terrorism by mosques was a claim made by one man. The sub-headline of the print article, “Radical in boasts about whip rounds”, made clear that the statement in the headline above it was the pretension of one individual. Similarly, the sub-headline of the online version of the article stated that “Cash collected in UK mosques is funding terrorism, it was claimed last night”, made clear that this was not established fact.
5. Nonetheless, the newspaper offered to publish the following clarification in a forthcoming edition, on page 2; the original article had appeared on page 9:
“The headline of an article, published on 22 November 2015, stated ‘UK mosques give cash for terror’. We would like to clarify that the headline was based on the claims of radical Isa Amriki that funding for terrorism came from collections at mosques, not by or on behalf of UK mosques, which were not involved in any way.”
6. It also offered to amend the online headline so that it read “Collections at UK mosques ‘fundraising for terror’”, and to append a version of the clarification as a footnote.
7. The complainant requested an opportunity to work with the newspaper in future to avoid repetition of similar inaccuracies, and the opportunity to write a positive story about Muslims. The newspaper declined to resolve the complaint on this basis, and so the complainant asked that the Committee adjudicate on the matter.
8. Relevant Code Provisions
Clause 1 (Accuracy)
(i) The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
(ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.
(iii) The press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
9. It was accepted by the newspaper that the money was being collected by individuals acting in a personal capacity, and not by mosques as organisations. However, both versions of the headline had given the clear impression that mosques were institutionally raising money for terrorism. The single text message conversation that the journalist had had did not support this assertion. Both the print and online versions of the headline represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and a breach of Clause 1 (i) of the Code.
10. The headlines were significantly misleading. They gave the impression that the newspaper had discovered serious, organised wrongdoing, when that was not the case, and the inaccuracies required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The newspaper had already offered to publish a clarification, and the Committee was satisfied that the proposed wording identified the initial inaccuracy and made clear the correct position. In the context of IPSO’s investigation of the complaint, the correction had been offered promptly. The newspaper had also offered to publish the clarification on page 2, when the article had appeared on page 9; this constituted sufficient prominence under the terms of the Code. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).
11. The sub-headlines of both versions of the article had made clear that the statement that mosques were raising money for terrorist activity was a “boast” and a “claim”, and the article itself had made clear the basis for that claim. The Committee considered the headlines in their full context, and while the evidence provided in the article did not support the statement in the headlines and the Committee had already established that they were significantly inaccurate, there was no additional failure to distinguish between conjecture and fact in either the headlines or the text of the article; there was no breach of Clause 1 (iii).
12. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1 (Accuracy).
Remedial Action Required
13. The newspaper had already offered to publish a clarification in print, as well as amending the online article and appending the clarification as a footnote. These actions would be sufficient to remedy the established breach of the Code and, in light of the Committee’s decision, they should now be published.
complaint received: 07/12/2015
Date decision issued: 31/03/2016