Decision of the Complaints Committee 14258-16 Tilbrook v Yorkshire Post
Summary of Complaint
1. Robin Tilbrook complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Yorkshire Post breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Brabin’s ‘bit of a blur’ in Batley”, published in print on 19 October 2016, and “Batley and Spen candidate Tracy Brabin vows to put constituents before party politics amid ‘bittersweet’ campaign”, published online on 18 October 2016.
2. The article reported on the campaign activities of individuals who were running in the 2016 Batley and Spen by-election. The article reported that the election was “made all the more fraught by the involvement of far-right groups”; it continued by reporting that “the English Democrats and the National Front are both fielding candidates”.
3. The complainant, the chairman of the English Democrats, expressed concern that the article created the inaccurate impression that the English Democrats were a “far-right” political party. The complainant said that the English Democrats were a party with a membership originating from across the political spectrum, all of whom were converts to moderate, reasonable and patriotic English nationalism.
4. The newspaper did not accept any breach of the Code. It said that the English Democrats had not been directly labelled as a far-right organisation, because “far-right groups” and the reference to the English Democrats had been separated by a line break in the print article. It further said that the inclusion of the English Democrats in the article was in the context of the reporting of wider tensions in the Batley and Spen community.
5. However, the newspaper did provide examples of the activities of the English Democrats and individuals closely associated with it, which it said demonstrated that the party could reasonable be defined as “far-right”. These activities included: the resignation of a high profile figure in the party due to his concern at the influx of new members joining from the British National Party; the references to the English Democrats in the “Hope Not Hate” report which analysed the support for far-right groups in the UK; the complainant’s own assertion that the recruitment of former BNP party members would make the English Democrats more “electorally credible”; and third party submissions published on the complainant’s blog, which expressed extreme nationalist sentiments. It said this information would lead a reasonable person to assess the English Democrats as an organisation which appeals to, and represents, the far-right wing of politics. It also noted that the English Democrats had been described as “far-right” by other media outlets.
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.
Findings of the Committee
7. The Committee did not accept the newspaper’s position that the separation of “far-right groups” and reference to the English Democrats, through use of a line break in the article, meant that the article did not suggest that the English Democrats were a “far-right” political party.
8. The characterisation of political speech and parties within the traditional “left” and “right” political spectrum is a subjective assessment. In that context, the Committee acknowledged, as was the complainant’s position, that where a political party is placed on that spectrum, will be a matter of debate.
9. In this instance, the article referred to the English Democrats as one of the groups who were fielding candidates in the Batley and Spen by-election, against the Labour candidate. It juxtaposed these groups with mainstream right wing parties, such as the Conservatives and UKIP, who were not fielding a candidate in the by-election.
10. Furthermore, the newspaper had provided sufficient examples, of activities and speech associated with the English Democrats in support of its characterisation of the party as “far-right”. Given this, and in light of the context in which the reference to the English Democrats was made, the Committee did not consider that the reference to the party was significantly misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 20/12/2016
Date decision issued: 27/02/2017
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