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