Ruling

01447-22 Rahman v The Jewish Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      22nd September 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01447-22 Rahman v The Jewish Chronicle

Summary of Complaint

1. Mizanur Rahman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the articles headlined “Cabinet Office anti-racism trainer wished death and mutilation on 'Zionists'”, published on 26th November 2021 and “Sacked: Cabinet Office trainer exposed by JC for wishing death on Zionists”, published on 23rd December 2021.

2. The first article, published on 26th November, reported that the complainant, “[a]n anti-racism trainer who ran an inclusivity workshop for civil servants at the Cabinet Office [had] wished death and mutilation on ‘Zionists’”. It included a number of statements and Tweets that the complainant had made in relation to Israel, including a tweet he had posted in 2014 in response to news that an Israeli soldier had lost his hands in an attack by Hamas: “Hopefully he, and all IDF soldiers and Zionists, will lose more than just their limbs … their lives!!!!”. The article went on to state that the complainant had “this month lodged a complaint after Labour banned him from its list of potential council candidates”. The article reported that a spokesman for the Cabinet Office had told the newspaper “that it had since tightened up on due diligence on invited speakers, including carrying out a thorough scan of social media posts”.

3. The article went on to state that when asked if he still believed all Zionists should die, the complainant had tweeted: “The answer to that is no. I, personally would like a peaceful solution to the conflict where Palestinian rights would be upheld and treated equally to their Israeli counterparts”. The article also reported that the complainant had attended a Quds Day March in 2018 “at which flags were flown for the terrorist group Hezbollah and one speaker called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’”.

4. The first article also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline “EXCLUSIVE: Cabinet Office anti-racism trainer wished death and mutilation on ‘Zionists’”.

5. The second article, published online on 23 December, was a follow up to the first article. It reported that the complainant had been fired from his job and suspended from the Labour Party after the newspaper had revealed that the complainant had “wished death and mutilation on ‘Zionists’”. The article included some posts published by the complainant, including the tweet made in response to news of the Israeli solider who had lost his hands in an attack by Hamas. The sub-headline stated that “'Mizan the Poet' wrote in 2019 'Israel = white supremacy'”. It went on to report that in a recent post on social media, the complainant had “revealed that following the revelations by the JC, he had lost an appeal to become a Labour candidate and received a notice of investigation by the party over three posts which he said were not ‘offensive or even controversial in any way’”.

6. The complainant said that both articles were inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that the first article was inaccurate to claim that he had been “banned” from the Labour party’s list of potential council candidates. He said that, while he was rejected as a candidate for a councillor role, he had not been banned; he considered this suggested that he could never reapply for such a position, when no such prohibition existed.

7. In addition, he said that it was inaccurate and misleading to claim that "[i]n 2018, he attended a Quds Day march in London at which flags were flown for the terrorist group Hezbollah and one speaker called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’” as he was at the march as a legal observer, rather than in a personal capacity. He said that by reporting that he had attended, alongside the views of other attendees, this affiliated him with their views and politics and suggested that he held those views and supported them.

8. The complainant said that the second article was inaccurate in its claim that he had written in 2019 “Israel = white supremacy”. He said this was inaccurate as he had not written this tweet in 2019, but in 2014, and the error suggested that he held these views more recently than he did.

9. In addition, the complainant said that the second article was misleading to state that he had “received a notice of investigation by the party over three posts”, without mentioning what the three tweets under investigation were. He said that by omitting to mention specifically which tweets were under investigation, alongside old tweets that he had made, the misleading impression was given that he was under investigation for the tweets included in the article, which was not the case.

10. The complainant further said that both articles as a whole, including their headlines, were inaccurate. He said that the headlines and the articles suggested that he still held the views expressed in the headlines and that it was only made clear at the end of the first article that this was not the case. He added that he did not think many readers would get to this part of the article, or that they might miss it, as it was only a small part of the whole article. The complainant added that he had done a lot of work on anti-racism and with the Jewish Community since 2014 and had publicly acknowledged that the views he had held previously were problematic.

11. The complainant further said that the articles were in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment). He said that the publication had “trawled” through his social media, and that this amounted to intrusion into his private life. In addition to this, the complainant said that the newspaper had breached his privacy by speaking to individuals at the Labour Party and the Cabinet Office. The complainant also said that publishing two articles of the same nature about him within a month amounted to harassment in breach of Clause 3.

12. The publication did not accept that the first article had breached the Editors’ Code. In regard to the complainant’s concerns about the use of the word “banned”, the publication said that the article made clear that the complainant had been suspended from the Labour Party and had lost an appeal to become a candidate. It said that there was no speculation as to whether the complainant could try again at a later date, and that it was clear from the article that this related to the “here and now”.

13. The publication said that it was not in dispute that the complainant had attended the march referenced in the article. It said that the article made no assumption on the reasons for the complainant’s attendance, nor would the reporter have known the complainant’s reasons for attending. It added that the article did not claim that the complainant protested or that he supported the individuals mentioned, merely that he attended.

14. The publication accepted that it was an error to state in the second article that the complainant had said “Israel = white supremacy” in 2019, and that this had in fact been written in 2014. On 15 March 2022 – during direct correspondence with the complainant after IPSO had referred the matter to the publication – it said it would be happy to amend and correct this error. The publication said that the error had been removed on 10 March and that this error had been introduced in the final stages of editing. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to publish the following correction as a footnote on the online article:

An earlier version of this story referred to a Tweet about Israel and white supremacy being written in 2019. It was in fact written in 2014. This has been corrected.

15. In regard to the complainant’s concerns about the “three posts” referred to in the second article, the publication said that the sentence merely referred to “three posts” and did not specify which posts it was referring to. It added that given the prolific nature of the complainant’s tweeting, there would be a lot of posts that the “three posts” could refer to.

16. In relation to the complainant’s concerns about the accuracy of the articles as a whole, the publication did not agree with the complainant that readers would not read to the end of a story and would therefore not be aware that the complainant’s views had changed. It went on to say that the first article made clear that the complainant’s views had changed, and it noted that it had contacted the complainant in December 2021 for a comment about the article to which he refused. It also added that it had offered to add a statement from the complainant to the story, giving him the opportunity to expand on his current views, but that the complainant declined this offer. The publication also offered to publish a letter written by the complainant.

17. In relation to Clause 2 and Clause 3, the publication said that there was no breach of these Clauses. It said that it did not consider Clause 2 was engaged as the complainant recorded his activities extensively on Twitter, had run for public office and regularly appeared on podiums. The publication added that the complainant’s social media posts were public and there to be read. In relation to Clause 3, it said that there was no evidence to consider the complainant’s concerns under this Clause and that nothing suggested that the newspaper had engaged in any inappropriate or persistent approaches. It added that it did not consider publishing two stories about the complainant constituted harassment.

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 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii)  Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

Findings of the Committee

18. The second online article had incorrectly reported that that the complainant had written “Israel = white supremacy” in 2019; there was no dispute that this tweet had been made in 2014, rather than 2019. Where the Committee noted that the publication said that this error had been introduced in editing, it took the view that the publication had failed to take sufficient care not to publish inaccurate information and found that there had been a breach of Clause 1 (i). As the inaccuracy implied that the complainant had made this comment more recently than he had, it was the Committee’s view that this was a significant inaccuracy. Therefore, the newspaper was obliged, in accordance with the terms of Clause 1(ii), to correct this promptly and with due prominence.

19. The Committee then turned to the question of whether the action proposed by the publication was sufficient to avoid a further breach of Clause 1 (ii). The newspaper had offered to amend the article during direct correspondence with the complainant on 15 March and to correct the inaccuracy. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to publish a footnote correction on the online article. The correction offered identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record. The Committee considered that the offer of the correction was prompt, given that the publication had said that it would be happy to correct the error in its first substantial response to the complainant after the complaint was passed to it by IPSO. As the inaccuracy – which had appeared in the sub-headline had been removed from the article – the proposed position of the correction as a footnote on the online article was of due prominence. As such, the Committee considered that this was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1 (ii), and there was no further breach of this sub-Clause.

20. The complainant had also said that the first article was inaccurate to claim that he had been “banned” from the Labour party’s list of potential council candidates, and that – while he was rejected as a candidate for the role of councillor – he had not been “banned”. He added that he considered this suggested he could never reapply for such a position. It was not in dispute that the complainant had been rejected as a potential councillor and the Committee noted the publication’s point that the article made no comment on whether the complainant could try again to become a candidate at a later date. It was the Committee’s view that the whole sentence made clear the nature of the “ban” – that this was in relation to the party’s “list of potential council candidates”. Where the complainant had been rejected as a potential candidate and therefore would not appear on this list, the Committee considered there was sufficient basis to describe this as the complainant having been “banned” from such a list. There was no breach of Clause 1 in regard to this.

21. The Committee next turned to the complainant’s concerns that it was inaccurate and misleading for the first article to claim that "[i]n 2018, he attended a Quds Day march in London at which flags were flown for the terrorist group Hezbollah and one speaker called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’” as he had attended the march as a legal observer, rather than in a personal capacity. The Committee noted that it was not in dispute that the complainant had attended the march, therefore, it was not inaccurate for the article to have included this information. The complainant had also expressed concerns that, by reporting his attendance alongside the views of other attendees, this affiliated him with their views and politics and suggested that he also held those views. The Committee noted that the article made no comment on whether the complainant held the same views as the speaker, it merely stated that “one speaker called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’”, which the complainant did not dispute. For these reasons, there was no breach of Clause 1.

22. The complainant had also said that he considered the second article was misleading to state that he had “received a notice of investigation by the party over three posts”, without mentioning what the three tweets under investigation were. The Committee noted that it was not in dispute that the complainant had received notice of an investigation by the party in relation to three posts; the complainant’s concerns lay with the omission of which specific posts the investigation was in relation to. The Committee noted that the article made no suggestion that any of the social media posts already referenced were the posts which the complainant was being investigated over; rather, it stated that he had “received a notice of investigation by the party over three posts”. For this reason, the Committee did not consider the publication’s account of the situation was inaccurate or misleading and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

23. The complainant had also said that both articles as a whole were inaccurate as he considered they suggested that he still held the views expressed in the headlines. The complainant added that it was only made clear at the end of the first article that this was not the case. The Committee noted that the headline of the first article stated that the complainant “wished death and mutilation on 'Zionists'”, with the past tense indicating that the ”wish” had happened previously. The tweets referenced in the course of that article were clearly dated.  In addition, the second article, a follow up to the first, made no suggestion that the complainant still held the views expressed in the headline, with the exception of the inaccurate dating of one tweet in the sub-headline. However, the body of the second article clearly dated all the posts referred to and, furthermore, included the complainant’s recent comments on his current stance in relation to his previous views. As such, the Committee was satisfied that the articles made clear when the statements had been made and as such there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

24. The complainant had also said that Clause 2 and Clause 3 had been breached. The complainant’s social media account was public and had no privacy restrictions, and therefore he did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over the information included in it. In addition, the Tweets were about views that the complainant had chosen to share with a public audience and reporting them did not represent an intrusion into the complainant’s private life. The complainant had also said that he considered it was a breach of his privacy to speak to individuals at the Labour party and the Cabinet Office. The Committee noted the Code does not prevent newspapers from speaking to third parties in relation to stories or approaching people for comment. There was no breach of Clause 2.

25. The complainant considered there had been a breach of Clause 3 as he believed it was harassing for two articles to have been published about him within the space of a month. The Committee did not consider that two articles published over the period of a month represented a pattern of behaviour which could be said to be harassing. There was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusion(s)

26. The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

27. 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: 02/02/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 30/08/2022