13659-16 Ashraf v The Sunday Times

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee 13659-16 Ashraf v The Sunday Times

Summary of Complaint

1. Mohammed Ashraf complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “‘Trojan Horse’ plotters dodge teaching ban”, published on 27 November 2016.

2. The article reported on the current activities of individuals who it said had been associated with the “Trojan Horse” allegations in state schools in Birmingham. The article referred to Golden Hillock School, which had been placed in special measures following a report into the “Trojan Horse” allegations, published in 2014. It described the complainant, who had been a governor at Golden Hillock School, as a “figure who helped run a Trojan Horse school”. The article reported that the complainant had been subsequently “removed” from his post at the school. It also reported that the complainant had applied to be a Labour Council candidate in the 2018 Birmingham City Council election, but had subsequently “dropped the application”.

3. The article appeared in substantially the same form online.

4. The complainant expressed concern that by describing him as a “figure who helped run a Trojan Horse school”, the newspaper had created the inaccurate impression that he had been identified in the 2014 report. Whilst the complainant did not dispute that he had been a governor at Golden Hillock School, he said that the article had created the inaccurate impression that he had been running the school alone, rather than as part of a broad governing body. Further, the complainant said that he had not been “removed” from his post; he was no longer a governor because the governing body had been disbanded.

5. The complainant denied that he had ever made an application to be a Labour Council candidate in the Council elections. The complainant said that he had submitted a three-month activity diary, which appeared on the 2018 Birmingham City Council election website. The complainant said that he was a constituency Labour Party Secretary who was responsible for signing off members’ activity diaries, and it was in that capacity that he had submitted his activity diaries. He said that he had done so to set an example of what was expected from candidates who wanted to complete an application to be a Labour Council candidate in the 2018 Birmingham City Council election.

6. The complainant said that although submitting an activity diary was a requirement in the application process, this requirement was one part of a longer application form. On that basis, the complainant said that the completion of the activity diary did not amount to an application to be a Labour Council candidate in the 2018 Birmingham City Council election, and that he had not “dropped” an application because he had never submitted one.

7. The newspaper did not accept any breach of the Code. It said that the article did not state that the complainant had been identified in the 2014 report, and it made the complainant’s position as a governor at the school clear. It said that the governing body of a school provides strategic management, sets budgets and appoints and dismisses senior teaching staff, and therefore governors can be considered as “helping to run” their school.

8. The newspaper said that the complainant had been removed as a governor of Golden Hillock School, along with the rest of the governing body, in the wake of the “Trojan Horse” allegations and the school’s placement into special measures. It also noted that the complainant had been described as having been “removed” as a governor by other media outlets.

9. The newspaper said that the complainant’s name appeared on a list entitled “Applicants” on an official Labour Party document, which was publicly available. The complainant’s name featured his activity diaries which detailed his campaigning activity from January 2016 to March 2016. The newspaper said that the application process to be a Labour Council candidate involved two stages. The first stage was for the candidate to put their name on the list of applicants and to submit campaign activity diaries from 1 January 2016 onwards. The second stage was to fill out an application form and pay a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. The newspaper said that the inclusion of the complainant’s name in the list of applicants, alongside an activity diary beginning in January 2016, showed that the complainant had begun the application process.

10. The newspaper said that, given that the activity diary ended in March, this showed that the complainant had “dropped” his application at that point.

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.

Findings of the Complaints Committee

12. It was not in dispute that the complainant had been a governor at a school which had been put under special measures following the “Trojan Horse” allegations. In those circumstances, it was not inaccurate to describe the complainant as a “figure who helped run a Trojan Horse school”; the article had set out that he had been a governor. The Committee did not accept that by reporting this, the newspaper had suggested that the complainant had run the Golden Hillock School alone, or had been named in the 2014 “Trojan Horse” report. There was no breach of the Code on this point.

13. The Committee did not consider that it was significantly inaccurate for the newspaper to say that the complainant had been “removed” from his position, given that he accepted that the school’s governing body had been disbanded following the “Trojan Horse” report and the school being placed into special measures. There was no breach of the Code on this point.

14. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that he had not completed an application to be a Labour Council candidate in the 2018 Birmingham City Council election. However, the complainant’s name appeared as one of many names on a list, all of whom were making an application to be a candidate. This list was entitled “Applicants” and was published on the Labour Party website entitled “City Council Election 2018”. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that he had submitted his activity diaries as an “example”; however, the complainant’s diary was not identified as such in the list or on the website. In circumstances where the newspaper had provided evidence that the complainant had undertaken the early stages of an application to be a Birmingham City Councillor, it was not inaccurate or misleading to refer to him as having applied, when the article made clear that the process had been discontinued. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on this point, and it was not inaccurate to characterise the fact he had not continued with the application process, as “dropping” the application. There was no breach of the Code.

Conclusion

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 27/11/2016
Date decision issued: 20/02/2017

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