Ruling

01735-20 Downing v The Jewish Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      3rd December 2020

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 01735-20 Downing v The Jewish Chronicle

Summary of complaint

1. Gerald Downing complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors' Code of Practice in an article headlined “Hampstead chair thanked ‘Jewish Question’ activist”, published on 13 March 2020.

2. The article reported that “the new chair of a local Labour Party that has hundreds of Jewish members thanked an ex-member who was expelled over ‘sickening’ comments about Jews that were raised in Parliament”. It reported that the Chair had written “thanks comrades” on Facebook in reference to the complainant, after he said the Chair had “defeated the Zionists”. The article went on to report that the complainant “was thrown out of Labour in 2016 over his involvement with the Socialist Fight group which has published articles including one that was headlined “Marxists must address the Jewish Question” and another that referred to a “world Jewish-Zionist Bourgeoisie”. The article reported that in 2016, David Cameron had “attacked Mr Corbyn over [the complainant’s] membership of Labour during prime minister’s questions, and that David Cameron had “called [the complainant] a ‘9/11 sympathiser’ and said Labour must expel him”.

3. The article also appeared in much the same format online under the headline “Hampstead and Kilburn Labour chair thanks ex-member who was expelled for ‘sickening’ comments about Jews”, published on 10 March.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate. He said that he was not expelled from the Labour Party for making “sickening comments about Jews”; the complainant provided letters which stated that he was expelled for publicly supporting another political party. The complainant said that the letters communicating the decisions regarding his expulsion, readmission, and re-expulsion made no reference to antisemitism or comments about Jews, and that this could have been easily established by contacting him or the Labour Party prior to the article’s publication.

5. The complainant said the inaccurate information in the article and the headline was designed to harass him and his family in breach of Clause 3.

6. The publication denied that the article was inaccurate. It did not dispute the official reasons given by the party in its correspondence but said that this would have merely stated procedure and it would not have expanded on the wider meaning or reasoning behind the decision. The newspaper initially suggested that the reference to “sickening comments” came from comments by David Cameron in the House of Commons. It later accepted that Mr Cameron had not referred to claims of antisemitism in his comments about the complainant, and suggested instead that the comments were made by an MP in the House of Commons. It later said that these comments came from a letter from the MP to Jeremy Corbyn MP, then Leader of the Labour Party. It provided a copy of this letter, however the letter received by IPSO did not feature or reference comments about Jews and instead appeared to refer to the complainant’s previous disclosures on the September 11 attacks. The publication provided articles from 2016 which reported that his expulsion was linked to comments he had made about Jews on his website and noted that the complainant’s website had published articles including one which demanded that "Marxists must address the Jewish Question" and another referring to a "world Jewish-Zionist Bourgeoisie". It emphasised that while the exact reasons for a party member’s expulsion may not always be clear, there was evidence to suggest that this was the reason behind the complainant’s expulsion.

7. The publication denied that the terms of Clause 3 (Harassment) were engaged.

8. The complainant said that neither Mr Cameron nor the MP had made any reference whatsoever to him making comments about Jews in the House of Commons, let alone “sickening comments”. The complainant accused the publication of misrepresentation as it had changed its position by claiming that the remarks were made in a letter from the MP, a claim the complainant disputed. The complainant said that he was owed an apology from the publication.

9. The publication provided examples of disclosures by the complainant on his website which it said demonstrated that he that he held antisemitic views and said that the publication had drawn certain conclusions that the reasons for his expulsion related to his previous disclosures.

10. On 12 May, and 13 days after IPSO began its investigation, the publication offered to amend the headline of the online article from “Hampstead and Kilburn Labour chair thanks ex-member who was expelled for ‘sickening’ comments about Jews”, to “Hampstead and Kilburn Labour chair thanks ex-member who was expelled following ‘sickening’ comments about Jews”.

11. On 20 May, and 21 days after IPSO began its investigation, the publication offered to amend the headline of the online article from “Hampstead and Kilburn Labour chair thanks ex-member who was expelled for 'sickening' comments about Jews”, to “Hampstead and Kilburn Labour chair thanks expelled member criticised in the Commons for 'sickening' comments about Jews”, it also offered to amend the article to reflect this change.

12. On June 10, 42 days after IPSO began its investigation, the publication offered to amend the headline of the online article to “Hampstead and Kilburn Labour chair thanks ex-member who was expelled after Commons plea by Cameron”. The publication also proposed amendments to the article which it said made the reasons for the complainant’s dismissal from the party clear. However, given his previous disclosures and the nature of the alleged inaccuracies, the publication did not accept that an apology was appropriate in the circumstances.

13. The publication offered the following clarification in print to be published on its Letters page:

Gerald Downing

In a headline dated March 13 we referred to Gerald Downing's expulsion from the Labour Party as being the result of his views about Jews. He was, in fact, expelled for his membership of the Socialist Fight organisation.

14. The publication offered to publish the following clarification as a footnote to the online article:

This article has been amended to make clear that the official reason for Mr Downing’s expulsion from the Labour party was his membership of Socialist Fight, not his antisemitic views.

Relevant Code Provisions

15. 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.

v) A publication must report fairly and accurately the outcome of an action for defamation to which it has been a party, unless an agreed settlement states otherwise, or an agreed statement is published.

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 Complaints Committee

16. The article reported as fact that the complainant had been expelled from the Labour Party due to his “sickening” comments about Jews; the online article featured this claim in its headline. In addition, the article stated that these comments had been raised in Parliament. The letters from the Labour Party to the complainant made clear he was expelled from the party for publicly supporting another political party. The publication provided articles and material written by the complainant that it had alleged formed the unofficial reason he was expelled from the Labour Party, however this was directly contradicted by the official basis provided by the Labour Party. The publication was not able to provide any evidence to support its position that the Labour Party had considered any of the material it wished to rely on when reaching its decision. In addition, the publication had not demonstrated that comments made by the complainant about Jews were raised in Parliament. The Committee did not consider that going on to report that the complainant was expelled for supporting another political group clarified the position or mitigated the significance of these inaccuracies. The publication had no evidence to support that the complainant had been expelled from the Labour Party for making “sickening” comments about Jews which were raised in parliament, and particularly where this featured in the headline of the online article, it had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information and there was a breach of Clause 1(i). Where the inaccuracy had falsely stated that the complainant had made antisemitic remarks that had been discussed in Parliament, which was a very serious accusation which could have had a detrimental effect on the complainant, this was a significant inaccuracy and a correction was required under Clause 1(ii).

17. The publication offered to amend the online article’s headline on three separate occasions, and also offered to publish a correction as a footnote to the online article, and in the print version of the paper. The Committee considered that the proposed clarifications offered by the newspaper were not adequate. Corrections must address the original inaccuracy, and put the correct position on record. The online correction did not refer to the original headline, which was inaccurate. Neither version of the correction made clear that the complainant’s views on Jewish people had not been described as “sickening” in Parliament. For these reasons, there was a further breach of Clause 1(ii).

18. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when researching a news story, and is meant to protect people from being repeatedly approached by the press against their wishes. As the complainant’s complaint regarding harassment was based on the inaccuracy of the article, this Clause was not engaged.

Conclusion

19. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial Action Required

20. 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 adjudication, the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

21. The Committee considered that there was a serious breach of Clause 1(i). The article had inaccurately reported that the complainant was expelled from the Labour Party for making sickening comments about Jews, and reported that this had been discussed in Parliament. The publication was unable to provide any evidence for the allegations it made. Whilst it had offered to make multiple amends to the online article and clarification to both versions, none of these were sufficient to correct the original inaccuracy. In light of the newspaper's failure to take care over the article's accuracy, and its failure to correct the inaccuracies in line with its obligations under Clause 1(ii), the Committee concluded that an adjudication was the appropriate remedy.

22. The Committee considered the placement of this adjudication. The article had featured on page nine. The Committee therefore required that the adjudication should be published on page nine or further forward in the newspaper. 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.

23. The adjudication should also be published on the newspaper’s website, with a link to the full adjudication (including the headline) appearing on the top half of the newspaper’s homepage, on the first screen, for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. If the newspaper intends to continue to publish the online articles without amendment to remove the significantly misleading statements identified by the Committee, the full text of the adjudication should also be published on the article, beneath the headline. If amended to remove the inaccurate statements, a link to the adjudication should be published with the article, explaining that it was the subject of an IPSO adjudication, and explaining the amendments that have been made.

24. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

Following an article published in print on 13 March 2020 headlined " Hampstead chair thanked ‘Jewish Question’ activist” and online on 10 March 2020 headlined “Hampstead and Kilburn Labour chair thanks ex-member who was expelled for ‘sickening’ comments about Jews”, Gerald Downing 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 Jewish Chronicle to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.

The article reported that Mr Downing had been expelled from the Labour Party after making “’sickening’ comments about Jews” and that these comments had been discussed in Parliament.

The complainant said that the article was inaccurate; he had been expelled from the Labour Party for publicly supporting another political party, not for making comments about Jews, sickening or otherwise. The complainant provided official Labour Party letters to IPSO which supported this position. He also said that no comments he had made about Jewish people had been discussed in the House of Commons.

IPSO found that it was significantly inaccurate to report that the complainant had been expelled from the Labour Party for making “sickening” comments about Jews which were raised in parliament, and particularly where this featured in the headline of the online article, it had failed to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1.

Date complaint received: 13/03/2020 

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 04/11/2020