Ruling

01731-22 Rahman v thetimes.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      28th July 2022

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01731-22 Rahman v thetimes.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. Mizanur Rahman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thetimes.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Cabinet Office anti-racism trainer Mizanur Rahman wished death on ‘Zionists’”, published on 26th November 2021.

2. The article reported that a Labour Party member – the complainant – had been “banned from [the] party’s list of potential council candidates”. It stated that the complainant had “been accused of antisemitism after it emerged that he compared Israel to ‘white supremacy’ during an anti-racism lesson for civil servants and claimed the country was ‘perpetuating a holocaust’ against the Palestinian people”. The article included a number of Tweets from the complainant’s Twitter account, and said that another newspaper had uncovered the posts on the account “including the tweet ‘Israel = white supremacy’”.

3. It went on to state that “[a]ccording to the [other] newspaper, Rahman attended a march in London in 2018 at which one speaker called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’”. It also stated that “[i]n 2014 he replied to a message about a soldier in the Israel Defence Force (IDF) who lost his hands in a Hamas attack. He said: ‘Hopefully he, and all IDF soldiers and Zionists, will lose more than just their limbs . . . their lives!!!!’” The article concluded by stating that after being asked if he still believed all Zionists should die, Mr Rahman had tweeted: “The answer to that is no. I personally would like a peaceful solution to the conflict. With that said, the Palestinians are living under an occupation and so therefore . . . Palestinians have a legal right to an armed struggle.”

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) in its claim that “he compared Israel to ‘white supremacy’ during an anti-racism lesson for civil servants”. He said this was the case as this actually referred to a tweet that had been written in 2014, and that he had not made such comments during the anti-racism lesson.

5. The complainant went on to state that the 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 councillor, he had not been banned; he considered this suggested that he could never reapply for such a position, when no such prohibition existed.

6. In addition, he said that it was inaccurate and misleading to claim that he had “attended a march in London in 2018 at which 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.

7. The complainant further said that article as a whole, including the headline, was inaccurate. He said that the headline and the article suggested that he still held the views expressed in the headline and that it was only made clear at the end of the 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.

8. The complainant further said that the article was in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment). He said that the publication had “trawled” through his social media, working in collaboration with another newspaper, 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. The complainant said that – in addition to the article under complaint – three other articles had been published about him within the same month, and that this amounted to harassment in breach of Clause 3.

9. The publication accepted that it had, due to an error introduced in editing, incorrectly reported that the complainant had “compared Israel to ‘white supremacy’ during an anti-racism lesson for civil servants”. On 8th March, during direct correspondence with the complainant after IPSO had referred the matter to the publication, it said that it would be happy to amend the article and address the point in a published correction, setting out that the complainant had expressed those views on Twitter and not in an anti-racism lesson. During the early stages of IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to publish the following correction as a footnote to the online article, in the online daily corrections and clarifications column, and in print:

Because of an editing error, we wrongly said that Mizanur Rahman had compared Israel to “white supremacy” during an anti-racism lesson for civil servants in 2019 (Cabinet Office anti-racism trainer wished death on Zionists, News, Nov 26, 2021). In fact he drew the comparison on Twitter in 2014. Mr Rahman has asked us to make clear that it no longer represents his view.

10. The publication did not accept that the complainant’s other concerns had breached the Code. In relation to the complainant’s concern that the word “banned” was incorrect, it said that it was not in dispute that the Labour Party had rejected the complainant’s application as a prospective Labour candidate and that it had dismissed his appeal against this decision. The publication added that the article had not said anything about the duration of such a ban, and that the article did not suggest that he could never reapply for such a role.

11. The publication said that it was accurate to state that the complainant had attended the protest and to include the views expressed by one of the speakers. In relation to the complainant’s concerns about the accuracy of the article as a whole, the publication said that the article concerned the Labour Party’s rejection of the complainant’s application to become a prospective councillor. It said that the facts could not have been reported accurately without reference to the historical facts that accounted for the rejection, and that the complainant’s earlier tweets were essential to understand why the Labour Party took the action it did. It noted that the complainant’s current views were included in the article.

12. In relation to Clause 2 and Clause 3, the publication said that there was also no breach of these Clauses. It said that, while Clause 2 refers to correspondence, including digital communications, this did not extend to the public social media activity of a prolific Twitter user with nearly 3,000 followers. In regard to Clause 3, it said that this related to the conduct of journalists in the course of the newsgathering process, and that the Clause does not seek to limit the number of articles that can be written about an individual.

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

13. The article had incorrectly reported that that the complainant had “compared Israel to ‘white supremacy’ during an anti-racism lesson for civil servants”; there was no dispute that this comparison had been made on Twitter in 2014, rather than during an anti-racism lesson. 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 that comment while delivering anti-racism training to public servants when, in fact, it had been made on social media five years earlier, 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.

14. 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 the 8th of March and to address the point in a published correction. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to publish a footnote correction on the online article, in addition to publishing the correction in its online daily corrections and clarifications column. The correction offered identified the inaccuracy and put the correct position on record. The Committee considered that the offer of the amendment and correction were prompt given that the publication had offered this in its first substantial response to the complainant after the complaint was passed to it by IPSO. As the inaccuracy had appeared in the body of the article, the proposed position of the correction as a footnote on the online article, in addition to publishing it in its daily corrections and clarifications column, 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.

15. The complainant had also said that it 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 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 councillor and the Committee noted the publication’s point that the article made no comment on the duration of this “ban”. 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.

16. The Committee next turned to the complainant’s concerns that it was inaccurate and misleading to claim that he had “attended a march in London in 2018 at which 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, and that 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, that 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.

17. The complainant had also said that the article as a whole was inaccurate as he considered it suggested that he still held the views expressed in the headline. The complainant added that it was only made clear at the end of the article that this was not the case. The Committee noted that the headline stated that the complainant “wished death on ‘Zionists’”, with the past tense indicating that ”wish” happened previously. The Committee acknowledged the complainant’s concerns but held the view that – where the article made clear that he no longer believed all Zionists should die – there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

18. 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. 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.

19. The complainant considered there had been a breach of Clause 3 as he believed it was harassing for four articles to have been published about him within the same month. The Committee considered that four articles over a month period, from a number of different publications did not represent a pattern of behaviour which could be said to be harassing. It noted that only one article had been published by thetimes.co.uk, which in and of itself, did not amount to harassment. There was no breach of Clause 3.

Conclusion(s)

20. The complaint was partially upheld under Clause 1 (i).

Remedial Action Required

21. The correction which was offered clearly put the correct position on record, was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published. If the article is amended, the correction should be published as a footnote; if the article remains unamended, the correction should be published at the top of the article.


Date complaint received: 20/02/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 05/07/2022