16283-17 Versi v The Spectator

Decision: No breach - after investigation

Decision of the Complaints Committee 16283-17 Versi v The Spectator

Summary of complaint

1. Miqdaad Versi complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Spectator breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The ‘hate preacher’ hypocrisy”, published online on 22 June 2017.

2. The article was a comment piece which discussed the general response of the public to the terror attack which took place in Finsbury Park. It made reference to a discussion which was broadcast on the BBC Daily Politics show in which the complainant had appeared, and reported that he had “named [the columnist] as a hate preacher who should not be allowed to speak in public”, on the television programme. The article also reported that another individual “named [the columnist] as a hate preacher” in a BBC interview. It reported that the BBC issued a formal apology to the columnist for “allowing their guest to defame” him.

3. The article included various embedded videos. One video was an extract of the complainant’s appearance on the BBC programme and another video was an extract of the BBC interview in which a man had referred to the columnist as a “hate preacher”. It also included a video of a BBC news reporter formally apologising to the columnist, but the video did not specify which interviewee had made the remarks which led to the apology. The article also included a picture of the complainant.

4. The complainant said that he did not “name” the columnist as a hate preacher, imply that he was a hate preacher, or state that he should not be allowed to speak in public. The complainant said that he had queried the BBC’s tolerance to individuals who spread bigoted views, and that he was referring specifically to the BBC giving such individuals a platform to speak, and not to these individuals generally speaking in public. He referred to the recording of the programme in which he said:

“We’ve talked very much about hate speakers being unacceptable, being un…non-tolerated, and now we know that BBC and many others will not have [an Islamist convicted of terrorism related offences] and others on the TV despite having had them in the past. What about the same people on the right? What about the people like [the columnist], who just last week came on this show and said ‘less Islam is the answer’ to terrorism. That kind of attitude within even the BBC, within the show like this, giving a platform to people like that, to spread their hate, is unacceptable, and we should be intolerant to that intolerance.”

5. The complainant also said that the wording of the article gave the misleading impression that the BBC apology referred to his appearance on the programme, particularly because only his picture was included in the article. He said that the BBC had only apologised in relation to the comments made by the other individual.

6. The magazine said that the article reported an accurate summary of the complainant’s comments. The complainant had said that the columnist was given a platform to spread hate; the magazine said that it was not inaccurate to characterise this as the complainant naming the columnist as a “hate preacher”, particularly in circumstances where he had named the columnist when comparing “Islamist hate speakers” to “the same people on the right”. The complainant had also said that “giving a platform to people like that, within even the BBC, is unacceptable”; the magazine said that it was not inaccurate to characterise this as stating that the columnist should not be allowed to speak in public, particularly in circumstances where the BBC is a public service broadcaster.

7. The magazine also said that the article did not state or suggest that the BBC had apologised for the remarks made by the complainant, and said that it referred to “a guest” as opposed to “guests”, having previously discussed the other individual in the article. Nonetheless, it offered to amend the article to make clear who the BBC apology related to and also offered to add the following footnote to the article:

“The original post said the BBC had apologised for allowing its ‘guest’ to call [the columnist] a hate preacher. This has been changed to [name removed] so as to clarify that the BBC apology was not related Mr Versi’s comments.”

8. The complainant said that this would satisfactorily resolve this aspect of his complaint.

Relevant Code Provisions

9. 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.

Findings of the Committee

10. On the BBC programme the complainant had said that the columnist, and those who share similar views, should not be given a platform by the BBC to “spread their hate”. He named the columnist and compared him to an Islamist who had been convicted of terrorism related offences. The complainant also referred to a specific comment previously made by the columnist and suggested that his attitude was hateful, “unacceptable”, and that we should be “intolerant to that intolerance”. In circumstances where the complainant’s full comment was included in the video, the Committee did not consider that the characterisation of his comments as “naming [the columnist] as a hate preacher who should not be allowed to speak in public” was significantly inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

11. The complainant had accepted the magazine’s offer to amend the article and to publish a footnote which made clear that the BBC apology was not related to the complainant’s comments. The Committee would now expect the magazine to do so. As this aspect of the complaint was resolved, the Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been a breach of the Code on this point.


12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

13. N/A. 

Date complaint received: 22/06/2017
decision issued: 31/08/2017  

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