Ruling

01732-22 Rahman v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      22nd September 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 01732-22 Rahman v Mail Online

Summary of Complaint

1. Mizanur Rahman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 ( Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Anti-racism trainer who ran 'inclusivity' workshop for civil servants at Cabinet Office wished death on 'Zionists' in Twitter post and compared Israel to 'white supremacy'”, published on 25th November 2021.

2. The article reported that an anti-racism trainer – the complainant – had “compared Israel to 'white supremacy' and has wished death on ‘Zionists’”. It quoted 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 “oversaw a training session for public servants in 2019 called ‘an inclusive Britain’ despite previously sharing anti-Semitic posts on social media”. The article stated that the complainant had shared “anti-Semitic posts on social media since 2014”.

3. The article went on to state that the complainant had “attended a Quds Day march in London at which flags were flown for the terrorist group Hezbollah. During the rally, one speaker called for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’”. It further reported 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 “lodged a complaint after Labour banned him from its list of potential council candidates. He claimed the decision was based on ‘institutional islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism’”. The article concluded by stating that a spokesperson for the Cabinet Office had told the newspaper, “‘[t]he Cabinet Office has recently adopted an increased due diligence process for guest speakers in line with cross-government best practice”. At the bottom of the article, a suggestion to share or comment on the article stated: “Share or comment on this article: Muslim ‘anti-racism’ trainer who ran Cabinet Office inclusivity workshop compared Israel to Nazis”. The URL of the article contained the phrase: “Muslim-anti-racism-trainer-ran-Cabinet-Office-inclusivity-workshop-compared-Israel-Nazis” and the title of the webpage, which in practice appeared in the title bar of the browser window, said “Muslim anti-racism’ trainer who ran Cabinet Office inclusivity workshop compared Israel to Nazis”.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. He said that it was inaccurate to state that he had shared anti-Semitic posts on social media “since 2014” as the posts the article referred to were confined to 2014. He said that using the word “since” suggested that he continued to share posts of this nature beyond 2014, which was not the case. The complainant further said that the 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. 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.

5. The complainant said that the article was also 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.

6. In addition, he said that it was inaccurate and misleading to claim that he “attended a Quds Day march in London at which flags were flown for the terrorist group Hezbollah” and a 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 said that the article had breached Clause 1 by stating that “[t]he Cabinet Office has recently adopted an increased due diligence process for guest speakers in line with cross-government best practice” as this inaccurately implied that his attendance at the event had been problematic and that the Cabinet Office had changed its policies after he had been a guest speaker.

8. The complainant further said that the article was in breach of Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment). He said the publication had “trawled” through his social media, and that this amounted to intrusion into his private life, as did the publication’s approaches to individuals at the Labour Party and the Cabinet Office.

9. In addition, the complainant said that the article had breached Clause 12. He said that when searching the internet for the article, the headline appeared to contain the word “Muslim”. He said that this reference to his religion was pejorative and was not relevant to the article.

10. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. In relation to the complainant’s concerns regarding the phrase “since 2014”, the publication said that this was a minor grammatical error, which it had amended to “in 2014”. It said that while it had done so, it considered the original sentence accurate, as the complainant had been sharing the posts since 2014, because he had not removed them. The publication went on to say that it did not agree with the complainant’s interpretation of the word “banned”; it said that this clearly related to the list of potential Labour candidates “earlier this month” and that it did not agree that this implied the complainant could never reapply for such a position in the future. It said that the complainant was prohibited from being on the list of candidates in 2021, that he appealed and that this was rejected, and that the article characterised this as the complainant having been “banned” from the list. In an effort to resolve the complaint, the publication offered to change the word “banned” to “rejected”.

11. The complainant did not accept this as a satisfactory resolution to his complaint.

12. In regard to the complainant’s concerns about the article stating he had attended a Quds Day march, the publication said that the article did not report or suggest that the complainant attended it as a supporter. It said that the article merely stated the complainant attended, which was accurate. It said that the complainant did not dispute that he had attended the march and provided a screenshot from the complainant’s social media account in which he stated that he was attending the march. In addition, the publication said that it was accurate for the article to state that the Cabinet Office had recently adopted a due diligence process, and that the article did not report or imply that the complainant’s attendance at the event at the Cabinet Office was problematic.

13. In relation to the complainant’s concerns about the accuracy of the article as a whole, the publication said that the article had made clear at length what the complainant considered his current views to be.

14. Regarding the complainant’s concerns that the article had breached Clause 2 and Clause 3, the publication did not agree that reporting on historic, open social media posts was a breach of the complainant’s privacy, or constituted harassment. It added that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy over a publicly available social media post and that the press is entitled to seek comments from third parties on matters relating to articles.

15. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 12; it said that the reference to the complainant’s religion was neither prejudicial nor pejorative and that his religion was a relevant biographical detail. It said that the complainant’s faith was referenced in his claims of discrimination by the Labour Party, which was included in the article: “Earlier this month, Mr Rahman lodged a complaint after Labour banned him from its list of potential council candidates. He claimed the decision was based on ‘institutional islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism’”. It went on to state that the reference to the complainant’s religion made clear the context of his historic posts against the Jewish community and his current campaigning against Islamophobia.

16. After the complaint was first passed to the publication and within its direct correspondence with the complainant, the publication said that the complainant’s faith was a matter of public record, citing articles and webpages which apparently referenced his religion in the context of convictions for criminal offences. The publication subsequently accepted that this was a different person of the same name, entirely unrelated to the complainant. It withdrew this claim and apologised to the complainant for the error.

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.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

17. The complainant had said that it was inaccurate to state that he had shared anti-Semitic posts on social media “since 2014” as the posts to which the article referred were confined to 2014. He said that using the word “since” suggested that he continued to share posts of this nature beyond 2014, which was not the case. It was not in dispute that the complainant had shared posts of this nature in 2014, and that they had remained on the social media account in question. Where this was the case, the Committee was of the view that the posts had been shared “since 2014”, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

18. 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 that this suggested that he could never reapply for such a position. It was not in dispute that the complainant had been rejected as a councillor and it was the Committee’s view that the whole sentence made clear the nature of the “ban” – that this was in relation to the Labour 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 regarding this point.

19. The Committee next turned to the complainant’s concerns that it was inaccurate and misleading to claim that he had attended a Quds Day march in London at which a 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. It further noted that the complainant had posted on social media that he was attending the march, without the caveat that this would be as a legal observer. 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.

20. The complainant also said that the article had breached Clause 1 by stating that “[t]he Cabinet Office has recently adopted an increased due diligence process for guest speakers in line with cross-government best practice” as he considered that this inaccurately implied that his attendance at the event had been problematic, and that the Cabinet Office had changed its policies after he had been a guest speaker. The Committee noted that the article did not state that the complainant’s position as a guest speaker had been problematic, it merely stated that the Cabinet Office had recently adopted a new practice. Where the complainant did not dispute that this was the case, there was no breach of Clause 1.

21. 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 towards 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 this was a historic desire. The tweets referenced in the article were clearly dated, 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.

22. 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 also complained that 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 or Clause 3.

23. The complainant had also raised concerns under Clause 12 in relation to the text “Muslim ‘anti-racism’ trainer who ran Cabinet Office inclusivity workshop compared Israel to Nazis”, which appeared in the webpage title. This also appeared in the ‘Share and comment’ section and in the case of the URL contained a hyphenated version of that same sentence. The Committee first considered whether those references to the complainant’s faith were prejudicial or pejorative. It noted that, while the statements in question did refer to the complainant’s faith, they then went on to accurately provide a summary of the points made in the article, which had reported that the complainant – an anti-racism trainer – had “compared Israel to 'white supremacy' and has wished death on ‘Zionists’”. In that context, the reference to the complainant’s faith was provided as a biographical detail about him, rather than part of a negative description. Where the complainant’s religion had been identified by its correct name, and no pejorative or prejudicial language was used, the reference itself was neither prejudicial nor pejorative. The publication was not required by the terms of Clause 12 to limit its reporting of things which the complainant had said or done nor was it the case that any perceived criticism of him included in the article constituted a pejorative reference to his religious faith. There was no breach of Clause 12 (i).

24. The Committee then considered whether the references to the complainant’s faith were “genuinely relevant” to the story. The article reported that the complainant had “lodged a complaint after Labour banned him from its list of potential council candidates. He claimed the decision was based on ‘institutional islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism’”. While the complainant considered that his religion was irrelevant to the article, it provided context to his complaint that the Labour Party’s decision was based on “institutional islamophobia”. In these circumstances, the peripheral references to the complainant’s religion, which did not constitute a focus of the article, were genuinely relevant to the story. It was the Committee’s view that the peripheral references to the complainant’s religion were proportionate to the relevance it had to one element of the article. There was no breach of Clause 12 (ii).

Conclusion(s)

25. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

26. N/A


Date complaint received: 20/02/2022

Date complaint concluded: 02/09/2022