Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11891-20 Islamic Human Rights Commission v thejc.com
Summary of Complaint
1. Islamic Human Rights Commission complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thejc.com breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Government lawyer joined rally featuring call for removal of Jews from Israel”, published on 27 May 2020.
2. The complaint was made on the complainant’s own behalf and own behalf of Nazim Ali and Imam Muhammed al-Asi, with their consent. The article reported on an annual Al Quds Day rally, which in 2020 was held online. It said that previously “The JC has reported on how past Al Quds Day marches witnessed calls for extreme violence against Israel”. The article described who was present and spoke at the rally, as well as containing a quote from a “campaigner against antisemitism” which stated “I don’t think anybody should associate with a toxic event like this. It is beyond understanding how someone who works for the Government Legal Department can possibly justify her appearance when the event is clearly linked to the violent and radical Islamist ideologies of the ayatollahs in Iran.’’ The article also referred to how “In June 2017, Nazim Ali faced a police investigation after he was filmed suggesting Zionists were responsible for the Grenfell Towers fire tragedy in West London. After consideration, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute.” The article also contained a quotation from Imam Muhammad al-Asi which stated "There are certainly some of the Jewish faith who have the freedom to settle in the Holy Land. But there are definitely many more others who don't have the right to be there. So our concern in the future should be on trying to figure out those of the Jewish faith who have been hijacked by Zionism and sort them out from the Zionist culprits and war criminals that have to be defeated, and have to withdraw by force because that is the only option left for them by their own choice. Begin to speak about who can stay in Palestine.”
3. The complainant, one of the groups who organised the rally, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. It noted that the rally took place every year for almost 40 years and that it took place online this year. It refuted that participants at the event had called “for extreme violence against Israel”.
4. The complainant also said that referring to the police investigation of Nazim Ali’s comments regarding the Grenfell Towers tragedy were not relevant to the story or the calls for extreme violence. It also said that to omit to refer to a third party campaigning group was misleading as the campaign had lobbied for the prosecution and attempted to prosecute Mr Ali privately, as well as judicially review the decision not to prosecute.
5. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to characterise a quote as being given by a “campaigner against antisemitism” as the person who gave the quote was controversial and a columnist for the newspaper.
6. The complainant said that the quote from Imam Muhammed al-Asi was misleading as it wasn’t reproduced within its full context. It said that the full speech discussed the rights of Jews including Zionists to settle in and stay in the Holy Land, and his comments about “war criminals” were very specific and related to self-defence.
7. The complainant said that the article had failed to give them an opportunity to reply to their claims in breach of Clause 1.
8. The complainant also said that the article was discriminatory in breach of Clause 12 as it felt that the complainant as a corporate body, and also Nazim Ali and Imam al-Asi, who they were representing, were discriminated against by the article. It said that their religious affiliation and the ethnic affiliations of some of its members had been highlighted pejoratively. It said the use of the words “extreme” and “violence” were pejorative.
9. During IPSO’s investigation the publication failed to respond within IPSO’s time frame. The delay was reported to IPSO’s Standards Department, and when the publication still failed to respond within the time limit set by IPSO the matter was proceeded to the Complaints Committee without the benefit of the publication’s full response.
10. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. The publication failed to supply any articles where the JC had previously reported on “calls for extreme violence against Israel”. It said Hezbollah flags had been raised and chants of “death to Israel” had been heard, but provided no evidence of this. It did supply a video, which it said showed the head of the complainant’s organisation calling for “Jihad in Palestine like in Syria” and members of the crowd cheering this. The video supplied by the publication did not contain this quote. It started part way through the head of the complainant’s organisation’s speech and showed him saying that people from around the world who had left “to go and do Jihad in Syria. What about Jihad in Palestine?”. It also stated that in 2012 the head of the complainant’s organisation had been filmed calling to the crowd: “Let’s get rid of the greatest oppressors in the region, the Zionists, then all our other problems will be resolved, one by one.” It did not provide the video of this. The publication also said that an Iranian State television interview the head of the complainant had said “it is” when asked if resistance was the message of the Al-Quds Day march. It did not provide the video of this.
11. The publication said that the publication of information relating to the police investigation of Nazim Ali’s comments regarding the Grenfell Towers tragedy and the omission of referring to the campaigning group was not a breach of the Code.
12. The publication said that the person described as a “campaigner against antisemitism” had investigated concerns about antisemitism in his blog, and therefore it was not inaccurate to describe him as a “campaigner against antisemitism”. It also said the person had wrote three or four articles for the publication, and that they were entitled to use his comments without having to declare this. It described the man as an expert and that he was an appropriate source.
13. The publication said that Imam Muhammed al-Asi’s quotations had not been published selectively or in a way that was misleading. It also said that the complainant had made similar comments, such as in an article he wrote for another website and during two speeches at an American university. It said that clips of these speeches had been published by a project which investigated racism.
14. The publication said that it had approached the government lawyer referred to in the headline and the Government Legal Department for comment.
15. The complainant said that the quotes provided by the publication were either cropped to the point of distorting their meaning, or in many cases did not exist. It said that the video supplied by the publication had clearly been edited and cropped mid-sentence. It supplied a full version of the speech which included the full quote “You know, people are rushing in large numbers from Britain, from Europe, from all around the world, from Arab countries, to go and do jihad in Syria. What about jihad in Palestine? [Cheers from crowd]. What even not a single one of them gone to fight for Palestine?” The complainant said this speech was criticising those who went to Syria to fight and to call out their hypocrisy, and not to say that there should be Jihad in Palestine.
16. It provided a video of the head of the complainant’s organisation’s speech from 2012 and said the quote provided by the publication did not appear in it. It did acknowledge that in his speech of 2013 he said "We want people to stand up for the oppressed, and stand up for what is just. Let us get rid of the racist oppressors in the region, the Zionists, then all our other problems will be solved one by one." The complainant said that this was not a call for extreme violence against Israel, but a condemnation of those who were fighting in Syria as hypocrites. It also said it did not know what interview the publication was referring to as it had provided no evidence or even named the program. The complainant said that the project the publication had got the video clips of Imam Muhammed al-Asi speaking to universities in America came from a discredited study which had been criticised as being inaccurate, libellous, and inciting Islamaphobia and racism.
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 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
17. The Committee was very concerned that the publication had failed in its obligations to respond to IPSO within its set timelines. However, the publication had supplied a video of a past Al-Quds Day march in which a speaker had stated that people went “to go and do jihad in Syria” and then asked: “what about jihad in Palestine?” followed by cheers from the crowd. The video showed the same speaker saying: “what even not a single one of them gone to fight for Palestine?”. Whilst the Committee acknowledged that “jihad” has a multitude of meanings, the reference to “jihad” in the speech referred to travellers going to two locations that have been the site of armed conflict, Syria and Palestine. In this context, the Committee found that the publication was entitled to characterise this as “calls for extreme violence against Israel” in the article, which focused on the 2020 event. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
18. The Committee noted that whether information is of relevance to the article in general does not fall under Clause 1 unless the inclusion of the information is misleading. In this case, reporting that Nazim Ali had been investigated by the police was not misleading. The omission of the campaigning group was also not misleading when reporting the facts that a police investigation took place. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.
19. The person who had been described as a “campaigner against antisemitism” had multiple public campaigns against antisemitism, and therefore it was not misleading to characterise him in this way. In addition, when quoting from him, it was not a breach of Clause 1 to omit to mention that he was a controversial figure and that he had previously written for the publication. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.
20. The article had quoted a large portion of a speech by Imam Muhammed al-Asi. The complainant had not disputed the accuracy of the quote, and where a large portion of the quote was included in full this was not misleading.
21. The right to reply is not a standalone requirement of the Code, but failing to contact a person or organisation for comment can lead to a failure to take care under Clause 1(i) where there are allegations in the article. In this case, the article did not contain unproven allegations against the Islamic Human Rights Centre directly and did not require a standalone correction.
22. The Code makes clear that the protections of Clause 12 only apply to individuals, and therefore the Clause was not engaged with regards to the Islamic Human Rights Commission. With respect to the individual complainants, the Committee did not consider that an allegation of advocacy for “extreme violence” constituted a pejorative or prejudicial reference to either man’s race or religion. There was no breach of Clause 12
23. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 15/07/2021
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 16/06/2021Back to ruling listing