Resolution Statement – 29978-20 Abdelrahman v The Times
Summary of Complaint
1. Dr Maha Abdelrahman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Cambridge lecturer ‘failed to help investigation into student’s murder’”, published on 14 December 2020.
2. The article reported on the claims of Italian prosecutors who ”accused a Cambridge University lecturer of lying and failing to assist them” in their investigation into the death of a PhD candidate she was tutoring. The article also reported that the lecturer “was unavailable for comment last night.”
3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format.
4. The complainant, the lecturer and tutor of the student, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. She said that whilst the Italian prosecutors had made this accusation against her, the criticism had been publicly rebutted on several occasions, and the accusations were fundamentally untrue. She also said that it was inaccurate to report that she had been “unavailable for comment” as the university’s press office had not received any calls or emails asking for her comment.
5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said it made clear that the criticism of the complainant was an allegation and did not adopt it as fact. It also noted that the allegation was heard in court. It said that a reporter had called the complainant’s place of work in order to get a comment, but had not been able to reach her. The publication said that it was not a significant inaccuracy to refer to this as her being “unavailable for comment”.
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.
6. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.
7. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to publish the following correction in print.
We reported on suggestions by Italian Prosecutors that Professor Abdelrahman of Cambridge University has failed to cooperate with their investigation into the death of student Giulio Regeni (News, 14 December 2020). Cambridge University maintains that Professor Abdelrahman has cooperated fully with the Italian investigation, having answered questions on three separate occasions and voluntarily providing material. We are happy to make clear their position.
It also amended the sentence in the online article that said the complainant was “unavailable for comment” to read “The Times was unable to reach Dr Abdelrahman for comment" and added two updates to the article:
Update [DATE]: Cambridge University deny the prosecutors’ accusations against Professor Abdelrahman and say that she has fully co-operated with the investigation, having answered questions on three separate occasions and voluntarily providing material.
This article was amended on [DATE] to reflect that The Times was unable to reach Dr Abdelrahman for comment, rather than her being unavailable, as previously stated.
8. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to her satisfaction.
9. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.
Date complaint received: 18/12/2020
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 04/02/2021Back to ruling listing