Ruling

00437-16 Soliman v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      7th July 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 00437-16 Soliman v Daily Mail

1. Fadel Soliman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Campus cleric: It’s fine to hit wife who doesn’t please you”, published in print on 9 January, and “’It’s fine to hit a wife who doesn’t please you’: What Islamic cleric is telling students as he tours British universities unchallenged… and he’s not alone”, published online on 9 January 2016. He also complained about an article headlined “Daily Mail Comment: Socially acceptable?” published on 9 January 2016.

2. The first article said that the complainant, an Islamic cleric, was among a “string of extremist speakers” touring British universities. It referred to a series of YouTube videos in which it said the complainant spoke in favour of hitting women, and outlined the case for sex slavery and polygamy. It reported that the complainant “advises physical punishment for wives who have displeased their husbands”, and had said that “the hitting must be done with a small stick”. It said that he also explained why it was “necessary” to hit a wife after “passing through two stages of non-physical interaction”. The article included a denial from the complainant that he supported domestic violence.   

3. The online version of this article was accompanied by a video, which showed short clips from the complainant’s lecture at Sheffield University, as well as from his YouTube videos in relation to domestic violence, polygamy and sex slavery. It was identical to the print version, aside from the headline and sub-headlines. The relevant sub-headlines of the online article read: “Egyptian cleric Fadel Soliman told students to do the hitting with a stick”, and “Preacher’s one of many extremists permitted to voice views unchallenged”.

4. The second article was a comment piece which asked why students had tried to ban Germaine Greer from a lecture for saying that “men don’t become proper women after sex-change surgery”, when no such action had been threatened against the complainant despite him offering advice to Muslims “on the correct way to hit their wives”.

5. The online and print versions of the second article were identical.  

6. The complainant denied saying, either to students or in his “Islamophobia” series of YouTube videos, that “it’s fine to hit a wife who doesn’t please you”; that he told students to “do the hitting with a stick”; or that it was “necessary” to hit women. He said that during the video, he was explaining a verse from the Qur’an which says “as to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them first, next refuse to share their beds (and last) spank them”. He said that he then put across the views of an Islamic scholar who believed that after two stages of non-physical interaction, a small stick should be used to hit a wife in order to signify that the situation had become more serious, and divorce would be the next step. The complainant said that his own view was that divorce, rather than a physical warning, should be the next stage in the process; he said that he was opposed to domestic violence. He said that at the end of the video, he had emphasised that the Prophet Mohammed explicitly forbade such beating of women, and that men are not free to beat their wives. He said that the article was an unfair “cut and paste” job designed to portray him as an extremist.

7. The complainant denied that he had referred students to his YouTube videos when speaking at the five universities; he noted that the newspaper had only attended one of these lectures, and was not in a position to know what was said at the others. He also said the video accompanying the online article, which included clips from his YouTube videos on domestic violence, polygamy and sex slavery, had been selectively edited; he denied promoting polygamy and sex slavery, and was in fact opposed to both. 

8. The complained also denied he was an “extremist”. He said that he has engaged with governments, police and academics to help with de-radicalisation of Muslim extremists. He said that among Muslims, he is viewed as a moderate thinker, and emphasised that he does not support Al-Qaeda, ISIS or the killing of innocent civilians. He said that the newspaper had ignored the weight of his work against extremism.

9. The newspaper denied that it was inaccurate to report that the complainant had said “it’s fine to hit a wife that doesn’t please you”, that he “told the students to do the hitting with a stick”, or that it was “necessary” to hit women. It said that in his YouTube video, the complainant had said that the Qur’an tells husbands to adopt a process of three consecutive stages in relation to a disloyal wife; the complainant then quoted the views of an Islamic scholar who advocated “the physical stage” of this process. The newspaper said that the complainant had appeared in the video holding a sewak (small twig), which the scholar had advised should be used to strike a women during the process. It said that the complainant clearly advocated “the physical stage” of the process, and was effectively telling his audience that “it’s fine” to hit a wife. It quoted a passage from the video in which the complainant said that the next warning “must” involve something physical, and said that this justified the assertion that he had said it was “necessary” to hit a woman. In the overall context of what the complainant said in the video, it said that it was not inaccurate to report that the complainant defends domestic violence.

10. The newspaper acknowledged that the complainant does not support Al-Qaeda, ISIS or the killing of innocent civilians; nonetheless, it defended its characterisation of him as an “extremist” because his views were extreme compared to the “norms of acceptable behaviour in the UK in 2016”. It gave a number of examples of what it said were the complainant’s extreme views, including: instructing young male Muslim students to control their wives’ behaviour and to demand submissiveness from them; that wives should be “admonished”, treated coldly and hit with a stick if they do not conform; the advancement of views that Islam allows relationships between slaves and their masters; and views in relation to the appropriate relationship between young men and women, which it characterised as supporting a degree of segregation of the sexes.

11. The newspaper said it was not under an obligation to show the complainant’s videos in full, and that the clips shown were an accurate representation of his view. 

Relevant Code Provisions

12. 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

13. In his YouTube video on domestic violence, the complainant had said that in Islam “men are not free to beat their wives”, and that physical warnings are not “justification for men to physically abuse their wives”. However, the complainant had also spoken in detail about wives being given a physical “warning” before divorce in order to “escalate the intensity of the warning”, and that a small twig – which he displayed during the video – should be used to administer the “warning”. He also relayed a conversation he had with a woman who was considering converting to Islam, during which he persuaded her that this “physical stage” was a useful and necessary part of the process.  

14. In the full context of the video, the Committee did not consider that it was significantly misleading to summarise the complainant’s position as “it’s fine to hit a wife that doesn’t please you”, that it is “necessary” to hit women, or “the hitting should be done with a stick”. The newspaper had made clear the nature of the stick in the article; this did not undermine its right to criticise his position. Similarly, it did not consider that it was significantly misleading of the second article to say that he was offering “Muslims advice on how to beat their wives”. There was no breach of Clause 1 in relation to either article.

15. The Committee recognised that the articles’ characterisation of the complainant as an “extremist” reflected an assessment of his views. Such an assessment is a matter of opinion. The Committee acknowledged that an allegation of extremism is a serious one; however, it has a broad meaning and, as a statement of the newspaper’s opinion, is something to which the Code grants considerable latitude. However, the fact that the statement is a matter of opinion does not in itself absolve a newspaper of its obligations under Clause 1. The newspaper had provided a number of examples from the complainant’s YouTube videos which it believed supported its position: namely, the views expressed in relation to husbands’ treatment of their wives, sex slavery and the segregation of young men and women. The Committee wished to make clear that it was not making a judgement on whether the complainant was an “extremist”; rather, it had to decide whether the newspaper had provided sufficient evidence to support its characterisation of him in this way. In this context, while acknowledging the complainant’s position that he does not support Al-Qaeda, ISIS or the killing of innocent civilians, as well as the counter-extremism work he has conducted, the Committee considered that the newspaper had provided a sufficient basis to support its characterisation of his views as “extreme” in the context of generally accepted values and attitudes in Britain. There was no breach of Clause 1.

16. The newspaper was not in a position to know whether the complainant had referred to his series of YouTube videos in his lectures at each of the five universities; however, it had produced video evidence that he had done so at Sheffield University. In the context of the article as a whole, it was not significantly inaccurate to report that he had mentioned his videos at all five lectures; there was no breach of Clause 1.

17. The video that accompanied the online article contained clips from three of the complainant’s YouTube videos. It was clear the video contained clips, rather than the full videos, and the article said that the full videos were available online. In any event, the Committee did not consider that the clips shown gave a misleading representation of the complainant’s views on these issues as set out in the full videos; there was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

18. The complaint was not upheld.

Date complaint received: 28/01/2016
Date decision issued: 06/05/2016