Decision of the Complaints Committee – 29107-20 Bird v
The Jewish Chronicle
Summary of Complaint
1. Jo Bird complained to the Independent Press Standards
Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause
12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined
“Suspended Corbyn backs activist meeting at which speakers express inflammatory
views on Jews and Israel”, published on 5 November 2020 and an article
headlined “A leaked report says the only Jewish member of an East London Labour
Facebook group was ‘punished’ for raising the issue of antisemitism”, published
on 20 November 2020.
2. The first article under complaint was published online
and reported on a meeting. It reported that “one of the main speakers claimed
the ‘privileging’ of Jewish communities meant they were seen as more ‘worthy’
of resources to combat racism than other minorities”. It continued to report
the full quote: “controversial Labour councillor Jo Bird said: ‘I worry about
privileging the racism faced by Jewish communities in this country as more
worthy of resources than other forms of discrimination - such as against black
people, Palestinians, Muslims and refugees.’” The speaker was also described as
a “Wirral-based councillor” who “then added: ‘Privileging one group over
another is divisive - it is bad for the many, as well as bad for the Jews.’”
The article contained quotes from another speaker which it characterised as
3. The second article concerned a report that had been
commissioned into claims of antisemitism in the Labour Party. The article
described three issues which had been considered in the report which were
unrelated to the complainant before reporting: “Finally, a letter from Wirral
councillor Jo Bird - recently suspended
from Labour for a third time - was also published, which expressed
solidarity with [named individual], herself expelled over antisemitism
allegations”. The article then said that the author of the report had concluded
that the four examples were “indeed antisemitic”.
4. The second article was also published online on 17
November 2020 and was headlined “Only Jewish member of London Labour group left
with 'panic attacks’ over 'institutional antisemitism'”. It was substantially
the same format, however the online article stated the Wirral councillor had
been “suspended from Labour for a third time”.
5. The complainant said that the first article was
inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said that it was inaccurate to report
that she had claimed the ‘privileging’ of Jewish communities meant they were
seen as more ‘worthy’ of resources to combat racism than other minorities, as
her actual quote had raised concerns about the privileging of racism that
affected Jewish communities, as opposed to the Jewish communities themselves.
She said her full quote from the meeting was: “As a Jew, I worry about racism
against Jewish people. I also worry about privileging the racism faced by
Jewish communities in this country, as more worthy of resources than other
forms of discrimination such as against Black people, Palestinians, Muslims and
refugees. Abuses of power are measured in detentions, deportations and deaths”.
She said that the term “inflammatory” in the headline was inaccurate as it was
not justified in the text.
6. The complainant said that the second article was
inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it gave the impression she had written an
antisemitic letter. She said she had never written, nor been found by the
Labour Party to have written, an antisemitic letter. The complainant said that
the quoting a non-academic report which stated she had written an antisemitic
letter, should not have been allowed without contacting her for comment
7. The complainant also said that the online version of the
second article was inaccurate as it reported that she had been “suspended” from
Labour for a third time. She said she was under investigation, but had not been
8. The complainant also said both articles were inaccurate
to describe her as a “Wirral-based councillor” or “Wirral councillor” as the
speech was given in a personal rather than official capacity and she rarely
wrote in her capacity as a Wirral councillor. Furthermore, she said that the
newspaper had failed to take care to report accurate information as she had not
been contacted in advance nor given the right of reply with respect to either
9. The complainant said that both articles breached Clause 1
and Clause 12 by omitting to mention that she was Jewish. She said that her
Jewishness was genuinely relevant to the story, and by failing to include this
it removed the anti-Jewish racism she also faced and the article was therefore
discriminatory. She also said that the omission was misleading it distorted the
context in which her comments were made.
10. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code with
regards to the first article, or the print version of the second article. It
said that report that the complainant had claimed that the “‘privileging’ of
Jewish communities meant they were seen as more ‘worthy’ of resources to combat
racism than other minorities” was an accurate summary of what the complainant
had said. It also said it had published similar stories in the past which had
not been complained about.
11. The publication said that the letter written by the
complainant was a matter of fact, as well as a report which referred to it as
antisemitic. The publication said that the report referenced in the article had
been commissioned by the Labour Mayor of Newham, who accepted its findings. The
publication said that it had gone to the Labour Party and the Mayor for comment
prior to publication, and that it was entitled to publish the findings of the
12. The publication said it was not inaccurate to describe
the complainant as a Wirral councillor, or “Wirral-based-councillor” as this
was an accurate description of her. It said that the article did not imply that
she had acted within her role as a councillor. The publication said it did not
have a responsibility under Clause 1(i) to go to the complainant for comment on
comments she had made publicly and the newspaper had accurately reported.
13. The publication accepted that it had been inaccurate to
report in the online version of the second article that the complainant had
been suspended from Labour for a third time. It amended the article prior to
IPSO’s investigation, and added a correction which stated:
An earlier version of this story wrongly stated that Wirral
councillor Jo Bird had been suspended for a third time, rather than
14. The publication said it was neither inaccurate, nor discriminatory
to not include the fact the complainant was Jewish within the articles.
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.
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.
Clause 12 (Discrimination)
i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference
to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual
orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.
ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion,
gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability
must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.
Findings of the Committee
15. The publication had accepted that reporting in the
online version of the second article that the complainant had been suspended
for the third time was inaccurate, and it had therefore failed to take care not
to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1(i). Where the
inaccuracy related to the complainant’s position as a councillor, and
inaccurately reported the more serious sanction of suspension, this was a
significant inaccuracy requiring correction under Clause 1(ii).
16. Prior to IPSO’s investigation, the publication had
published a footnote to the article, which acknowledged the inaccuracy and put
the correct position on record. As this was added before IPSO’s investigation
this represented due promptness and as a footnote to the article it was duly
prominent, and there was no breach of Clause 1(ii).
17. The first article had included a summary of, as well as
the verbatim quote, from a public speech given by the complainant. The summary
of the quote had stated the complainant had claimed the ‘privileging’ of Jewish
communities meant they were seen as more ‘worthy’ of resources to combat racism
than other minorities, rather than the privileging of “the racism faced by
Jewish communities”. Where the summary made clear that privileging of the
communities related to being “more worthy of resources than other forms of
discrimination” as opposed to the community itself, and the verbatim quote was
also included in the article, this was not significantly misleading. The use of
the term “inflammatory” was subjective, and represented the publication’s
characterisation of the speaker which the complainant was not in a position to
determine, this was not inaccurate. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these
18. In the second article, the complainant did not dispute
that the named author of the report had claimed that she had written a letter
in which she had expressed support for another individual and that the author
had described the letter as antisemitic. Whilst the Committee acknowledged that
the complainant challenged the finding, it was clear from the article that it
was a finding made by the author of the report and was not adopted as fact. On
this basis it was not inaccurate to report the findings made in the report, and
there was no breach of Clause 1.
19. Both articles had referred to the complainant’s role as
a Wirral councillor. Where the complainant did not deny that she was a Wirral
councillor, this was not inaccurate. Further the publication did not state that
she had acted in an official capacity and was simply describing her job role. The
complainant had also said that the publication had failed to take care by not
going to her for comment prior to the publication of the article. The Committee
made clear that the Editors’ Code does not give a stand-alone requirement for
contacting subjects of articles for comment. Where the article reported on a
public speech and the findings of a report, it was not a breach of the Editors’
Code to fail to contact the complainant regarding these points of fact.
20. Neither article stated that the complainant was Jewish.
The Committee made clear that Clause 12 protects individuals from pejorative
and prejudicial references to protected characteristics, and from referring to
such characteristics unless it is genuinely relevant to the story. It does not
require that such characteristics are referred to. Clause 12 was therefore not
21. The complainant had also said it was misleading under
Clause 1 to omit that she was Jewish, as this changed the context of the quotes
she gave. Newspapers have the right to choose which pieces of information they
publish, as long as this does not lead to a breach of the Code. In this case,
where the complainants’ actions had been accurately reported within the
articles, omitting to mention that the complainant was Jewish did not make the
article inaccurate or misleading, and there was no breach of Clause 1.
22. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).
Remedial Action Required
23. The published correction put the correct position on
record and was offered promptly and with due prominence. No further action was
Date complaint received: 18/11/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/04/2021
Independent Complaints Reviewer
The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints
Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The
Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did
not uphold the request for review.