Decision of the Complaints Committee 16766-17 Lustigman v The Times
Summary of Complaint
1. Anthony Lustigman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined ”Israel backs Hungary’s ‘antisemitic’ poster against Soros after U-Turn”, published on 11 July 2017. The article was also published online.
2. The article
reported that Israel had “backed” a campaign by the Hungarian government
against ”the Jewish billionaire George Soros.” The article reported that the
depiction of Mr Soros in the poster campaign had been described as anti-Semitic
by a number of organisations and had been criticised by the Israeli ambassador
to Hungary. The article stated that Israel had initially endorsed the
ambassador’s comments but had issued a clarification stating, “In no way was
the statement meant to delegitimise criticism of George Soros, who continuously
undermines Israel’s democratically elected governments by funding organisations
that defame the Jewish state.”
3. The article
originally appeared online with the headline, “Israel endorses Hungary’s
‘antisemitic’ poster against George Soros after U-turn.” Shortly after
publication the headline was amended to reflect the headline that appeared in
print. The online article reported that Israel’s ambassador to Hungary had
stated that the poster campaign “not only evokes sad memories but also sows
hatred and fear,” and that “his bosses in Israel initially endorsed the call
but later issued a clarification” saying that Mr Soros “threatened democracy by
funding charities critical of Mr Netanyahu.”
4. The complainant
said that the both the headline of the print article, and the headline that
first appeared on the online article, were inaccurate. He said that Israel had
not “backed” or “endorsed” the anti-Semitic poster, but simply made clear that
it did not object to legitimate criticism of George Soros.
5. The newspaper
did not accept that the headline was inaccurate. The newspaper said that the
poster campaign had been condemned as anti-Semitic by various groups, including
Hungary’s Jewish community and the Israeli ambassador to Hungary. It said that
the ambassador’s original statement condemned the poster campaign directly and
specifically, as he had stated that “the campaign not only evokes sad memories,
but also sows hatred and fear,” and called for action to be taken. However, it
said that the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs then issued a clarification
to its ambassador’s remarks, claiming that the “sole purpose” of the
Ambassador’s comments had been to “deplore any expression of anti-Semitism” and
was a general denunciation of anti-Semitism rather than specific condemnation
of the posters campaign. The newspaper said that the clarification defended the
attack as legitimate criticism of George Soros, who the newspaper said does not
support the Israeli government.
Relevant Code Provisions
6. 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 comments of Israel’s ambassador to Hungary, reported in the article, specifically and directly condemned the poster campaign against George Soros. The Israeli Foreign Ministry then issued a statement, which carried the headline “Foreign Ministry clarification regarding anti-Semitism in Hungary,” and stated that the “sole purpose” of the Ambassador’s statement had been to “deplore any expression of anti-Semitism”. The clarification further stated that the ambassador’s comments did not mean to “delegitimise criticism” of George Soros, and provided reasons why it believed Mr Soros should be subject to criticism. Where the Ambassador had specifically condemned the poster campaign, and the clarification reframed these comments as criticism of anti-Semitism generally, this did represent a change in the Foreign Ministry’s position. In these circumstances, the newspaper was entitled to characterise the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s clarification as a “U-turn” on its ambassador’s comment, and it was not misleading for the headline to claim that Israel “backed” or “endorsed” the poster campaign in Hungary. There was no breach of Clause 1.
8. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action required
Date complaint received: 10/07/2017
Date decision issued: 31/08/2017
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