Ruling

01701-20 Bythell v Sunday Mail

    • Date complaint received

      8th February 2021

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01701-20 Bythell v Sunday Mail

Summary of Complaint

1. Shaun Bythell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Sunday Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Anger over bookshops’ link to Nazi hate paper”, published on 8 March 2020.

2. The article reported that Nazi propaganda was on sale on a specialist book website, and that it acted as an online marketplace for the two bookshops named in the article. The subheading reported that the material had been “sold via the websites" of the two bookshops and the article named and included a photograph of one of the bookshops’ owners. The article reported that copies of Nazi propaganda could be ordered by visiting the bookshops’ websites, where the search “redirected to” the online marketplace. The article contained a quote from the World Jewish Congress president who had said “It is inconceivable that we should have to revisit this issue time and again in order to ensure the safety and security of our communities from those who might well be inspired through these purchases to attack Jews and other minorities in the spirit of Nazi virulence. Julius Streicher propagated an image of Jews as subhuman, violent sexual abusers and enslavers, using his publications as a mouthpiece for blood libels and smear campaigns that shaped Nazi Germany and incited the near destruction of European Jewry.” The article also reported that the owner of one of the named bookshops could not be reached for comment.

3. The article was also published online in substantially the same terms under the headline “Anger over Scots bookshops' link to Nazi hate paper”. The subheading of this article reported that “Two prominent members of the Association of Wigtown Booksellers have been criticised for their links to works by Julius Streicher” and the text of the article also reported  that “Two shops in Scotland’s ‘book town’ have been criticised for helping to sell propaganda by a Nazi war criminal”.

4. The complainant was named in the article as the owner of one of the two bookshops and a photograph of him also appeared in the article.  He said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that no “anger” or criticism had been directed at his bookshop. He said that he had received no complaints and that even if the quote from the World Jewish Congress president had been directed at his bookshop, this was only because the newspaper had drawn his attention to the bookshop.

5. The complainant also said that it was misleading to report that there was a link between his bookshop and the Nazi propaganda when he had simply used an online market place alongside thousands of other booksellers. He said that the article, and the inclusion of his photograph, gave the false impression that he was complicit in the selling of antisemitic material. He also said that he no longer used the online marketplace and it was inaccurate to report that he did.

6. The complainant also said he had not received any contact from the publication prior to the article being published and that it was inaccurate to report that he could not be reached for comment.

7. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It explained that the anger reported in the headline represented the publication’s opinion on the issue, in light of the quote from the World Jewish Congress president who had said that it was “inconceivable” that the issue had to be re-visited time and time again. The publication said it was justified in reporting in the online article that there was anger at Scottish bookshops, as the complainant’s bookshop had been named in the email sent by the publication to the World Jewish Congress president at the time that he was invited to comment. The publication was, however, unable to provide a copy of this email. It also said that the article had not reported that there was anger over the link to the complainant’s bookshop, but towards Scots bookshops in general.

8. The publication said that it had singled out all the bookshops within Scotland’s “Book town” which used the online marketplace where the offensive material had been found. It provided a copy of a page from the complainant’s website which contained a search function. When search terms were typed into the complainant’s website and the “search” button was pressed, the user was taken to the website of the online marketplace, where the publication had been able to purchase Nazi propaganda. It said it was therefore not misleading to say that Nazi propaganda could be purchased “via” the complainant’s website and to describe this as a ‘link’. The website of the online marketplace could still be accessed via the complainant's bookshop's website during IPSO’s investigation, and the publication therefore said it was not inaccurate to report that the online marketplace was used by the complainant’s bookshop, even if he said he no longer used the marketplace.

9. The publication said that its reporter had phoned the complainant’s bookshop and had spoken to a member of staff who had said that the complainant was in England. It said that the reporter had stressed that it was important to speak to the complainant and outlined the story, but that the complainant had not returned the call. Furthermore, it provided an email it had sent to the bookshop’s contact address prior to the publication of the article.

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

10. The headline to the print article reported a “link” between a “Nazi hate paper” and bookshops and the headline to the online article reported a link with “Scots bookshops”.  The articles explained the link further by reporting that the Nazi material had been “sold via the websites” of the two named bookshops and the online version additionally reported that the bookshops were “helping to sell” the material.

11. The Committee noted that the article referenced the involvement of the online marketplace in the sale of the material, but that it did not explain that the marketplace was used by hundreds of bookshops throughout the country.  The Committee noted, further, that the material had neither been sold directly on the complainant’s bookshop’s website nor advertised for sale on the website; the complainant’s involvement in the transaction was limited to the automatic redirection of a search request to the site of the online marketplace. The Committee also took into account that the websites of hundreds of bookshops link to the website of the online marketplace and found that singling out the complainant’s bookshop in the article implied that the complainant’s role in the sale of the material was greater than was actually the case. On this basis, to report that the material had been “sold via” the complainant’s website, and that the complainant’s website was “helping to sell” the material was a distortion of the position. Therefore, the publication had failed to take care not to publish distorted material in breach of Clause 1(i). The reported link between the complainant’s bookshop and the material was central to the article and was significant given the damage which was likely to be caused to the complainant and his business.

12. The publication had not offered to publish a correction in relation to the ‘sold by’ claims, and there was therefore a further breach of Clause 1(ii).

13. The headline to the print version of the article had reported that there had been anger over a link between the material and bookshops in general, whereas the online version had gone further by reporting that anger had been directed at “Scots bookshops”. The Committee found that this would be understood to be a reference to the two bookshops named in the article, noting that the online article also reported that the complainant’s bookshop, and the other bookshop named in the article, had specifically been criticised for “helping to sell’ the material.

14.   The basis for the publication reporting that the complainant’s bookshop had been the subject of anger and criticism was the published quote from the World Jewish Congress president. The president could reasonably be described as having expressed anger that such material could be purchased, but the criticism he expressed of those who sold the material was not specifically directed at the complainant. The report that the complainant’s bookshop had been criticised and was the subject of anger was, therefore, not supported by the quote itself.  The publication had also been unable to provide a copy of the email to which the President was responding, in which the publication said the complainant’s bookshop had been named. Accordingly, in reporting that anger and criticism had been directed at the complainant’s bookshop, the publication had failed to take care not to report inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1(i).

15. The claim had featured prominently in the headline and the subheading of the online article and it appeared to support the other matters reported in the article.  The report that anger and criticism had been directed at the complainant’s bookshop was, therefore, significant and required correction.

16. The publication had not offered to publish a correction in relation to the claim that anger and criticism had been directed at the complainant’s bookshop, and there was therefore a further breach of Clause 1(ii) in respect of the online article.

17. Finally, where the complainant accepted that he had been on holiday and had not responded to the email which had been sent by the newspaper, it was not misleading for the newspaper to report that he had been unavailable for comment. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

18. The complaint was upheld in part under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

19. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

20. The reports that the complainant’s bookshop was “helping to sell” Nazi propaganda and that it had been “sold via” his website had been a distortion of the position, and it had been inaccurate to report that, as a result, anger and criticism had been directed at the complainant’s bookshop. The online article had since been deleted, but following receipt of the complaint, the publication had failed to offer any further remedial action. Given the damage which was likely to be caused to the complainant by the publication of the inaccurate and distorted material, the Committee considered that the appropriate remedy was the publication of the Complaint Committee’s adjudication.

21. The Committee considered the placement of this adjudication. The article had been published on page 31. The Committee therefore required that its full adjudication should be published on page 31 or further forward in the newspaper. An adjudication should also be published online, with a link to it (including the headline) being published on the newspaper’s homepage for 24 hours, as well as via a link on the publication’s social media channels where the photograph of the complainant had appeared. The headline to the adjudication should make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint, give the title of the newspaper and refer to the complaint’s subject matter. The headline must be agreed with IPSO in advance.

22. The terms of the adjudication for the print version of the publication are as follows:

Following an article published 8 March 2020 headlined “Anger over bookshops’ link to Nazi hate paper”, Shaun Bythell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the newspaper had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice. IPSO upheld this complaint and has required the Sunday Mail to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.

The article reported that Nazi propaganda was on sale on a specialist book website, and that it acted as an online marketplace for the two bookshops named in the article. The subheading reported that the material had been “sold via the websites" of the two bookshops and the article named and included a photograph of one of the bookshop’s owners. The article reported that copies of Nazi propaganda could be ordered by visiting the bookshops’ websites, where the search “redirected to” the online marketplace. The article contained a quote from the World Jewish Congress president who had said “It is inconceivable that we should have to revisit this issue time and again in order to ensure the safety and security of our communities from those who might well be inspired through these purchases to attack Jews and other minorities in the spirit of Nazi virulence. Julius Streicher propagated an image of Jews as subhuman, violent sexual abusers and enslavers, using his publications as a mouthpiece for blood libels and smear campaigns that shaped Nazi Germany and incited the near destruction of European Jewry.”

The complainant was named in the article as the owner of one of the two bookshops and a photograph of him also appeared in the article.  He said that it was inaccurate to report that Nazi propaganda was sold via his bookshop’s website in breach of Clause 1.

The Committee noted that the article referenced the involvement of the online marketplace in the sale of the material, but that it did not explain that the marketplace was used by hundreds of bookshops throughout the country.  The Committee noted, further, that the material had neither been sold directly on the complainant’s bookshop’s website nor advertised for sale on the website and the complainant’s involvement in the transaction was limited to the automatic redirection of a search request to the site of the online marketplace. The Committee took into account that the websites of hundreds of bookshops link to the website of the online marketplace and found that singling out the complainant’s bookshop in the article implied that the complainant’s role in the sale of the material was greater than was actually the case. To report that the material had been “sold via” the complainant’s website was a distortion of the position and IPSO found that the publication had failed to take care under Clause 1.

23. The terms of the adjudication for the online version of the publication are as follows:

Following an article published 8 March 2020 headlined “Anger over Scots bookshops’ link to Nazi hate paper”, Shaun Bythell complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the newspaper had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors' Code of Practice. IPSO upheld this complaint and has required the Sunday Mail to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.

The article reported that Nazi propaganda was on sale on a specialist book website, and that it acted as an online marketplace for the two bookshops named in the article. The subheading reported that the material had been “sold via the websites" of the two bookshops and that they were “helping to sell” the material. The article reported that copies of Nazi propaganda could be ordered by visiting the bookshops’ websites, where the search “redirected to” the online marketplace. The article contained a quote from the World Jewish Congress president who had said “It is inconceivable that we should have to revisit this issue time and again in order to ensure the safety and security of our communities from those who might well be inspired through these purchases to attack Jews and other minorities in the spirit of Nazi virulence. Julius Streicher propagated an image of Jews as subhuman, violent sexual abusers and enslavers, using his publications as a mouthpiece for blood libels and smear campaigns that shaped Nazi Germany and incited the near destruction of European Jewry.”

The complainant was named in the article as the owner of one of the two bookshops and a photograph of him also appeared in the article.  He said that the article was published in breach of Clause 1 because it was inaccurate to report that Nazi propaganda was sold via his bookshop’s website and that he was helping to sell the material. He also said that it was inaccurate to report that anger and criticism had been directed at his bookshop as a result.

The Committee noted that the article referenced the involvement of the online marketplace in the sale of the material, but that it did not explain that the marketplace was used by hundreds of bookshops throughout the country.  The Committee noted, further, that the material had neither been sold directly on the complainant’s bookshop’s website nor advertised for sale on the website and the complainant’s involvement in the transaction was limited to the automatic redirection of a search request to the site of the online marketplace. The Committee took into account that the websites of hundreds of bookshops link to the website of the online marketplace and found that singling out the complainant’s bookshop in the article implied that the complainant’s role in the sale of the material was greater than was actually the case. To report that the material had been “sold via” the complainant’s website and that he was “helping to sell” the material was a distortion of the position and IPSO found that the publication had failed to take care under Clause 1.

The basis for the publication reporting that the complainant’s bookshop had been the subject of anger and criticism was the published quote from the World Jewish Congress president. The president could reasonably be described as having expressed anger that such material could be purchased, but the criticism he expressed of those who sold the material was not specifically directed at the complainant. To report that the complainant’s bookshop had been criticised and was the subject of anger was, therefore, inaccurate in breach of Clause 1.

 

Date complaint received: 11/03/2020

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 15/01/2020