Ruling

00170-19 Salih v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      6th June 2019

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00170-19 Salih v The Daily Telegraph

Summary of complaint

1. Roshan Salih complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles:

  • “Iranian regime has infiltrated Labour” published on 8 September 2018
  • “I fought against anti-Semitism. That’s why I was targeted” published on 8 September 2018;
  • “Labour gives banned channel free rein”  published on 8 September 2018;
  • “Labour’s nightmare has no end in sight” published on 7 September 2018.

2. The articles alleged that journalists acting on behalf of Press TV, an arm of the Iranian state broadcaster, had “infiltrated” the Labour party. They reported that the complainant had filmed and broadcast a vote of no confidence in a Labour MP during an Enfield North constituency party meeting. The articles noted that Press TV had its licence to broadcast in the UK revoked by Ofcom in 2012.

3. The first article reported that the complainant had been “entitled to cast a ballot in a successful vote of no-confidence in [a Labour MP]”. It said that a “Labour insider” had told the newspaper that the complainant had joined the Labour party “months ago”. The article reported that the complainant had answered questions on Twitter about whether he was a Labour party member by saying: “I might be, I might not be. I suggest you do your job and investigate whether I am.” The article reported comments from the MP: “I’m horrified they’ve infiltrated the Labour Party and I think it needs to be investigated, because it is incredibly serious”.

4. Referring to the complainant, the second article reported: “the Press TV journalist who filmed the event, a Muslim who only yesterday described Israel as a ‘terror state’, joined the Labour Party in May this year, enabling him to attend meetings such as the one in Enfield North”. The article reported that the chairman of the Enfield North Constituency Labour Party (CLP) had “insisted on Twitter that he had told the ‘member’ to stop filming, but Mr Salih responded [on Twitter] by taunting him, saying: ‘There were no ‘no filming’ posters at the meeting’ and tweeting pictures of a toilet roll with the Israeli flag on it”.

5. The third and fourth articles repeated the claims that the complainant was a Labour party member and that he had filmed and broadcast the event. The third article characterised the complainant as a “[Labour] party supporter” who had previously called Israel a “terror state”.

6. The complainant said that he was not a Labour Party member, nor had he filmed and broadcast the no-confidence motion vote on behalf of Press TV, or been entitled to cast a vote. The complainant also said that the reference to his religion, made in the second article, was irrelevant to the story, in breach of Clause 12.

7. The complainant said that he was not a Labour Party supporter, as claimed, although he acknowledged that he supported Jeremy Corbyn as an individual. The complainant said that he had not addressed the chairman of the Enfield North CLP directly on Twitter; he had simply been responding to general requests for clarification. The complainant denied that he had tweeted pictures of a toilet roll with an Israeli flag on it during this period, although he had tweeted this image in 2016.

8. The newspaper acknowledged that the complainant had not been in attendance at the meeting, but said that the he had actively conspired to give the impression that he had been in attendance at the Enfield meeting, and was filming it. The newspaper provided a tweet from the complainant, dated 6 September which said: “BREAKING: The chair of Labour Friends of Israel and Enfield North MP has had a vote of no confidence passed against her. #weareEnfieldNorth”. In a tweet dated 7 September, the complainant said: "There were no “no filming” posters at meeting, no announcement was made that filming was prohibited, footage we got was openly filmed and no one tried to stop filming”. In a tweet dated 8 September, the complainant said “I can also confirm that Press TV was not invited or let into the Joan Ryan vote. We just filmed stuff because no-one told us we couldn’t and no one stopped us while we were doing it”.  The newspaper said that the complainant had also used the hashtag #weareEnfieldNorth to further imply that he was personally in attendance.

9. The newspaper said that, in any event, the person who had attended the meeting on Press TV's behalf, had done so with the complainant’s knowledge and co-operation. It noted that the complainant had accepted that he had worked with Press TV to allow the media to believe that he had attended the meeting in order to shield the person who had attended from discovery. The newspaper said that on that basis, the complainant was as much a part of the operation to infiltrate and film the meeting as the person who did; in that context, whether or not the complainant had physically been there was not a significant point within the meaning of Clause 1 of the Code.

10. The newspaper said that the complainant had been intentionally obfuscatory regarding his association with the Labour Party. It noted that, as reported in the first article, when asked by a journalist from another publication on Twitter whether he was a Labour party member, the complainant had responded that he "might or might not" be. The newspaper said the journalist had approached two separate reliable sources in the Labour Party who said they had checked the complainant’s name against their membership lists and believed that he was a member; the newspaper provided a phone note of this conversation. The newspaper said that the journalist further approached the Labour Party Chairman of the Enfield constituency and was told that no members of the media were permitted to attend the meeting and all attendees were required to show photographic ID and their party membership cards on entry. It said that this reinforced the journalist’s reasonable assumption that the complainant must have been a Party member to be able to attend.

11. The newspaper said that the journalist recalled that the complainant’s “toilet roll” post had been retweeted at the time of publication, although he had not retained any contemporaneous evidence. It said that reference to the post had been introduced to highlight the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic comments and attitudes the complainant routinely displayed. In that context, the newspaper said that whether or not the tweet in question was contemporaneous or made in response to the Chairman was not significant.

12. The newspaper said that whether or not Mr Salih in fact lives in the Enfield North constituency was a trivial point in an article which had focussed on the wider question of whether and why a Press TV journalist had attended the vote.

13. Eight days after IPSO began an investigation into the complaint, the newspaper offered to publish the following correction in its established corrections & clarifications column on p.2 of the print edition, as well as online. It confirmed that the online correction would appear in a free-standing page on its website, which would be accessed via a link which would appear at the top of the articles, as well as on the homepage for 24 hours.

Roshan Salih

Contrary to what he appeared to suggest at the time, Roshan Salih did not in fact attend or film an Enfield North Labour constituency party meeting as articles of Sept 7 stated; rather, his Press TV colleague filmed the meeting and was later suspended from the Party. There is no evidence that he tweeted a picture of lavatory roll imprinted with the Israeli flag in order to 'taunt' the meeting Chairman, as one article stated, albeit that he has tweeted such a picture in the past. Mr Salih has also asked us to put his position that he is not a member of the Labour Party. We are happy to do so.

14. The newspaper denied that the reference to the complainant’s religion represented a breach of Clause 12. It said that the complainant described himself as a “Muslim journalist”, and his religious affiliation is central to his professional image. It said that Press TV is an arm of the Iranian state and was banned from broadcasting in the UK after Ofcom found that it breached the terms of its licence; it had also concluded that decisions governing the channel were taken in Tehran. The newspaper said that the channel's operations and editorial positions are motivated by the interests of that country, and suggested that Anti-Israel factions, including Iran and Press TV, inevitably saw the MP’s deselection as a totemic victory for their cause. The newspaper said that Press TV therefore infiltrated and filmed the meeting at which the vote took place as an eye-catching PR 'coup' to give the event maximum publicity for political advantage. The newspaper said that, in that context, the complainant’s religion was clearly relevant to the story.

Relevant Code Provisions

15. 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)

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

16. The complainant had published a number of tweets during the course of the vote of no confidence, which had disclosed information about the events taking place within the meeting. One such tweet had been cited by the complainant as “breaking news”, and disclosed that the vote had been passed against the MP. In the immediate aftermath of the vote, the complainant had continued to post on his Twitter account, including detailed information about the circumstances in which Press TV had been able to film. In doing so, the complainant had created the clear impression that he had direct knowledge of the events taking place within the meeting, and was disclosing this information while acting in a professional capacity. In those circumstances, it was not a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information, for the newspaper to have reported that the complainant had attended the vote and filmed it as a journalist acting on behalf of Press TV. There was no breach of Clause 1 (i).

17. Upon receipt of the complaint, it was accepted that it was an error to report that the complainant had attended the vote and filmed it on behalf of Press TV. The Committee acknowledged the newspaper’s position that the complainant had supported the actions of the journalist who had been in attendance. However, the central claim in the articles – that an arm of the Iranian state broadcaster had “infiltrated Labour” – had been partly predicated upon the complainant’s own personal attendance at the vote. In that context, naming the complainant as the journalist involved was a significant inaccuracy which required correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).

18. The newspaper had been told by confidential sources within the Labour Party that the complainant was a Party member. The Committee noted that the complainant had refused to answer a direct question regarding his membership of the Party, on Twitter. In the absence of any denial from the complainant to this claim, the Committee did not consider that it was a failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information to rely on sources within the Labour Party and report that the complainant was a Party member. Nevertheless, in light of the further explanations provided by the complainant, and given that his personal attendance partly predicated the central claim in the articles that Press TV has “infiltrated Labour”, the Committee considered that it was a significant inaccuracy, which required correction, to assert as fact that the complainant was a member of the Party and had therefore been “entitled” to cast a vote.

19. The newspaper had not been able to demonstrate that the complainant had posted a photograph of a toilet roll with an Israeli flag on it, in response to comments made by the chairman of the meeting on Twitter. However, it was the case that the complainant had posted this image in 2016. The reference to this twitter post in the second article did not give a significantly inaccurate or misleading impression of the complainant’s views, in those circumstances. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to publish a correction on this point.

20. The newspaper had offered to publish a correction which made clear that the complainant did not attend or film the meeting. It also set out the complainant’s denial of being a member of the Labour Party. The offer had been made promptly, eight days after IPSO began an investigation into the complaint. The publication of this wording on p.2 in the newspaper’s established Corrections and Clarifications column and online, represented due prominence. In order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii) this wording should now be published. The Committee did not require that this wording refer to the toilet roll tweet, for the reasons set out at paragraph 19 above.

21. It was not misleading to report in the third article that the complainant was a “Labour party supporter”, in circumstances where he was a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. Any inaccuracy relating to where the complainant lived was not a significant point in the context of the article.

22. The Committee turned to consider the complaint under Clause 12. The terms of Clause 12 (ii) are designed to prevent an unjustified link being created in the mind of a reader between a person’s characteristics and matters which are irrelevant to that characteristic, even if only by inference. The second article had identified the complainant as “the Press TV journalist who filmed the event, a Muslim who only yesterday described Israel as a “terror state”. The Committee noted that the reference to the complainant’s religion was not pejorative, further Press TV is an affiliate of the state broadcaster of Iran, an Islamic country. In that context, the Committee considered that the reference to the complainant’s religion was plainly relevant to the story being reported. There was no breach of Clause 12.

Conclusions

23. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

24. N/A

Date complaint received: 08/01/2019

Date decision issued: 09/05/2019