Ruling

01400-22 Jesus College Cambridge v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      18th August 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01400-22 Jesus College Cambridge v Daily Mail

Summary of Complaint

1. Jesus College Cambridge complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “A double first in double standards”, published on 29th January 2022.

2. The article was a feature that examined the controversy over the complainant’s proposals to move a memorial, presenting them in a critical light. It reported that “Academics at Jesus College, Cambridge want to tear down a memorial” to Tobias Rustat. It stated that an application had been made to move the memorial from “its lofty perch on the walls of the Grade I-listed building [to] a nearby basement that had been used as a wine cellar”. The article reported that a hearing on the matter would be held in the chapel and overseen by the Diocese of Ely and that “[a]t the centre of legal arguments […] will be a number of thorny and highly topical questions” discussed, such as, “is it fair to hold long-dead historical figures to today’s ethical standards? Do places of worship have an enduring duty to respect the wishes of the deceased regarding their final resting place? And is our heritage compromised when cultural institutions decide to jettison architecturally significant memorials to once-eminent people whom it is now fashionable to hate?”.

3. The article suggested that, “despite its holier-than-thou approach to slavery carried out more than three centuries ago, [the complainant] appears to have a remarkably relaxed approach to equally reprehensible forms of slavery that continue to this day”. It reported that the complainant had recently “pursued an alarmingly close commercial relationship with the autocratic Chinese Communist Party”. The article stated the College had received “£200,000 from the Chinese state and £155,000 from the Chinese telecoms firm Huawei” in 2020. It referenced a “senior” professor who had received funding for their non-profit from “Chinese state-owned companies” and that their “professorship is itself funded […] by a trust said to be controlled by the daughter of a former Chinese prime minister.”. It included a quote from the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee “’refusing to talk about abuses of Uighur Muslims for fear of causing offence,’” The article stated that, “to understand how things reached this point, we must wind the clock back to May 2019, when [the current Master], was appointed Master of Jesus”. It continued, “Shortly after she arrived, it was decided to create a ‘Legacy of Slavery working party’ to explore the College’s potential links to that ugly trade and ‘address wider dynamics of institutional racism’. The article reported that this group “made no effort to probe the College’s modern paymasters in Communist China” but focused on “publicly renouncing Rustat”. The article continued by stating the group “had decided his name ought to be erased from a number of college events”, such as the “’Rustat Conferences’, a series of annual talks he… funded, [which] changed to the ‘Jesus College Conferences’”. It said that because “a tiny proportion” of Rustat’s business investments “involved slavery, his entire legacy is being shredded”.

4. The article also appeared online “A double first in double standards: Cambridge academics want to tear down a memorial to a benefactor who made a tiny portion of his money from investments in slavery. Yet it's pocketed a fortune from China which enslaves thousands of Uighur Muslims today”.

5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because the College was not looking to “tear down” the memorial. It said that the expression “tear down” implied “demolish[ing] something” and destruction and it was different to simply removing something. Instead, it said it was applying to have the memorial relocated from place of worship to a still prominent location that was more approate. The complainant also said the article had misrepresented the criteria by which the application would be judged. It said the article provided specific questions that would be “[a]t the centre of legal arguments”. The complainant stated that the “Duffield Questions” formed the basis of legal arguments and these questions were in the public domain as they appeared in the Church of England guidance on managing Church buildings. The Duffield Questions were:

a. Would the proposals, if implemented, result in harm to the significance of the church as a building of special architectural or historic interest?

b. If the answer to question 1 is “no”, the ordinary presumption in faculty proceedings “in favour of things as they stand” is applicable, and can be rebutted more or less readily, depending on the particular nature of the proposals.

c. If the answer to question 1 is “yes”, how serious would the harm be?

d. How clear and convincing is the justification for carrying out the proposals?

e. Bearing in mind that there is a strong presumption against proposals which will adversely affect the special character of a listed building, will any resulting public benefit (including matters such as liturgical freedom, pastoral well-being, opportunities for mission, and putting the church to viable uses that are consistent with its role as a place of worship and mission) outweigh the harm?

6. The complainant also said it was inaccurate to report that it had applied for the memorial to be moved to a “nearby basement that had been used as a wine cellar”. It said the application concerned moving the memorial to a permanent exhibition space and that it would be accompanied by other items of historical significance and panels that provided historical context close to the chapel; this was not a wine cellar or basement. The complainant further said it was inaccurate for the article to state that the Rustat Conferences had been “funded” by Rustat. It said that the conferences started in 2009 and were not funded by Rustat.

7. The complainant disputed that, “In recent years the College has pursued an alarmingly close commercial relationship with the… Chinese Communist Party” and that China was its “paymasters”. It asserted that it had no relationship of any kind with the Chinese Communist Party and that it had only received two “modest” research grants from China in the past five years. It stated that these grants represented only 0.4 per cent of its income. It further said that the article had described the amount donated by Rustat as “tiny” as it was 1.7 per cent, but the amount from the research grants from China was even smaller. The complainant said “paymaster” connoted a sense of control or influence over something, which was not the case.

8. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to refer to the current master of the college in the context of the Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP). It said that the LSWP had been established in May 2019 following the creation of a Cambridge University Legacy of Slavery Enquiry. The current master had been appointed at the end of May 2019 but did not assume her position until October; it was therefore inaccurate to state that the group had been established after her arrival. It said that the timing of the master’s appointment in relation to the creation of the LSWP had been discussed by telephone with the reporter before publication.

9. The publication said it did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said it was not misleading to claim that the complainant was seeking to “tear down a memorial” as it had applied to physically remove the memorial from the chapel wall. The publication also said it was not inaccurate to state that it was proposed that the memorial would be moved to a “wine cellar”. It stated that a previous planning application raised the possibility of the wine cellar being used as a new location for the memorial and that the ecclesiastical application provided by the complainant did not contradict this. The publication said the applications suggested housing the memorial temporarily in the wine cellar whilst the planning application for a separate exhibition space is submitted and considered. It said that the position regarding this plan had changed and so offered a correction on this point.

10. The publication said it was not inaccurate to report the questions for consideration during the court case would be, “is it fair to hold long-dead historical figures to today’s ethical standards? Do places of worship have an enduring duty to respect the wishes of the deceased regarding their final resting place? And is our heritage compromised when cultural institutions decide to jettison architecturally significant memorials to once-eminent people whom it is now fashionable to hate?”. It said the article had not stated this represented every question or issue to be discussed and that these questions reflected the fourth Duffield Question.

11. The publication said it was also not inaccurate to describe the complainant’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party as “alarmingly close”. It said this represented the writer’s opinion that any money accepted from the Chinese government was “alarming”. In addition, it stated that the complainant did have a commercial relationship with the Chinese State. It referred to the article which had reported that the complainant “accepted £200,000 from the Chinese state” and that a senior professor “runs a non-profit that has been paid tens of thousands of pounds to host training courses for executives from Chinese state-owned companies”. The publication said that, as China is a one-party state, the “Chinese Communist Party” was effectively the Chinese state. It also said it was not inaccurate to describe the complainant as having “paymasters” in China. It said that China had attempted to gain influence in British universities through donations and collaborative research. It said the relationship between the complainant and the Chinese state had been clearly set out in the article and so this description was not misleading.

12. The publication accepted the explanation from the complainant that the appointment of the current Master had taken place after the formation of the LSWP. However, it denied that this had been raised by the complainant before publication; it noted that the point had not been mentioned in pre-publication correspondence and said that if it had been raised in a telephone conversation, the information would have been reflected in the article. It said the reporter had relied upon a public announcement made in July 2019 regarding the LSWP which came after the election of the new Master, which had taken place in May of that year. The publication provided links to these announcements as they appeared on the complainant’s website. The publication also accepted that the conferences had been established in 2009 and were not directly funded by Rustat. However, it said that this was not a significant inaccuracy in the context of the overall article.

13. Despite this, as a gesture of goodwill, the publication offered to amend the online article and publish a footnote, as well as publishing standalone wording in the corrections box of page 2 of the article:

“A feature on January 29 about Jesus College Cambridge’s plans to remove a memorial to its benefactor Tobias Rustat said that the College had set up a Legacy of Slavery Working Party (LSWP) after the arrival of its new Master Sonita Alleyne in 2019. In fact, while the group was announced after Ms Alleyne’s election, it had been created earlier. We also said there were plans to relocate the memorial to a wine cellar and that the College’s “Rustat Conferences” were funded by Rustat – neither of which was the case.

The complainant reemphasised that it was inaccurate for the article to report that the memorial would be “torn down” and referenced the judge’s remarks  on the application, which were published after the article, as they said “’The College now seeks (in summary) a faculty authorising: (1) the careful removal from the west wall of the Grade I listed College Chapel of the memorial to Tobias Rustat, (2) the making good of the wall, using appropriate traditional materials, and (3) the conservation of the memorial, which is to be re-erected in an exhibition and study space to be created in a room on the ground floor of East House, which is situated within the College grounds to the north-east of Library Court.’”.

14. The complainant did not accept the publication’s offer as a resolution to the complaint.

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.

Findings of the Committee

15. The Committee first considered the complaint regarding the chronology of the formation of the LSWP and the election and arrival of the new Master. The Committee noted that where the article said that the origin of the issue began in “May 2019, when [the current Master], was appointed Master of Jesus”, and “[s]hortly after she arrived, it was decided to create a ‘Legacy of Slavery working party’”. Whilst the Master had been elected at the end of May 2019, she did not formally assume the position until October of that year. The LSWP had been formed by the College Counsel in May 2019 following the foundation of a Cambridge University Legacy of Slavery Enquiry. The publication had accepted that attributing the formation of the LSWP to the new Master was inaccurate but said that care had been taken as the reporter had used a public announcement regarding the creation of the LSWP and compared this to the election of the Master. It had also stated that this issue had not come up in the correspondence with the complainant, either via email or over the phone, before publication. The Committee reviewed the email correspondence which showed the chronology of the master’s appointment had not been discussed at that time. However, the announcement cited by the publication as the source for its information about her appointment stated clearly and prominently that she would be taking up the post in October 2019. In circumstances where this information was in the public domain, including in sources relied upon by the publication, the Committee considered that the publication had not taken sufficient care when it implied that her “arrival” at the college was connected with the launch of the group. There was a breach of Clause 1(i) on this point.

16. The chronology of these events was significant where the publication presented the misleading chronology as important to understanding the origins of the LSWP, whose actions it presented in a critical light. By suggesting that the formation of the group was connected with the arrival of the new Master, the article attributed to her responsibility for decisions that, the publication accepted, predated her involvement with the college. This was significant and required correction under the terms of Clause 1(ii). During the referral period, the publication offered a proposed  correction on this point that put the correct position on record. This was sufficiently prompt. It proposed to print the correction in its established corrections box on page 2 and to amend the online article and publish the correction as a footnote. Where the inaccuracy appeared within the body of the article, this was sufficiently prominent. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii) on this point.

17. The Committee then considered the complaint regarding the proposed site for the relocation of the memorial. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s position that the proposal was to house the memorial in an exhibition space and that the application under consideration did not propose a “wine cellar”. Whilst an earlier application, provided by the publication, stated that “[t]here is… a suitable room in the Basement… Currently, it is used as a wine store”, the article reported that the upcoming court hearing “revolves around an application […] for the ‘Rustat Memorial’ to be removed […] and placed instead in a nearby basement that had been used as a wine cellar”. The article therefore attributed the relocation of the memorial to a wine cellar to the most recent application due to be discussed. The publication, therefore, had not taken sufficient care over this claim and there was a breach of Clause 1(i).

18. The Committee considered that this claim misrepresented the intentions of the complainant and how the application had evolved over time. Where it represented a planning application that would be discussed in an upcoming court hearing and where it was being used to further the criticism of the complainant’s intention towards the memorial, this was a significant inaccuracy that required correction. The remedial action offered addressed the inaccuracy and made clear the correct position – that the proposal was not to move the memorial to a wine cellar. It was offered promptly and with due prominence, as set out above, and so there was no breach of Clause 1(ii) on this point.

19. Regarding the Rustat Conferences and whether they were funded by Rustat, where it was not in dispute that the name had been changed to limit association with Rustat, whether they were funded by him was not a significant detail. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

20. The Committee acknowledged that the complainant disputed that it wanted to “tear down” the memorial and that “tear down” implied a strength of feeling. However, the article had provided sufficient basis for this characterisation; the proposal was to physically remove the memorial from its current position. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

21. The Committee then considered the article’s reporting of the questions to be considered at the hearing and whether it was inaccurate for them to be referred as “centr[al]” to “legal arguments”. The complainant had highlighted the Duffield Questions, which the Committee acknowledged appeared in the Church of England guidance on managing Church buildings. However, the article had made clear that its list of questions was not exhaustive as it stated that there “will be a number of thorny and highly topical questions. Among them…”. This was also speculative — the article was suggesting questions that would feature in a future hearing, as opposed to questions already discussed. The Committee also noted that the questions posited in the article could fall within the general themes and purposes of the Duffield Questions. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

22. Finally, the Committee considered the complaint regarding the reference in the article to the complainant’s “modern paymasters in Communist China” and the comment that the complainant had “pursued an alarmingly close commercial relationship with the autocratic Chinese Communist Party”. The article had described the nature of the sums which the complainant had received from the Chinese State and Chinese state-owned companies, and the donations received to fund academic posts and research from contributors with links to China. The publication’s characterisation of the sources of these funds as “paymasters” was not significantly inaccurate or misleading in circumstances where the contributions made had been set out in the article.  That the commercial relationship was “alarmingly close” was plainly the opinion of the columnist, as the complainant accepted.  Considering the paragraph as a whole, it was clear that the article was equating the Chinese Communist Party with the Chinese State and doing so was not significantly inaccurate or misleading where the article included details of the commercial relationship which was the subject of the columnist’s comment. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusion(s)

23. The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

24. The correction which was offered clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.


Date complaint received: 31/01/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 19/07/2022