Ruling

02182-16 Martinez v Hampstead & Highgate Express

    • Date complaint received

      7th July 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02182-16 Martinez v Hampstead & Highgate Express

Summary of Complaint

1. Herminio Martinez complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Ham & High breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “’Shylock’ jibe after bitter flats protest” published on 11 February 2016.

2. The front-page article reported that two property developers were the subject of anti-Semitic abuse after a “fracas broke out in the aftermath of a key planning decision”. It said that cries of “you’re anti-Semitic” and “you’re a fascist” could be heard in the lobby of Haringey civic centre after the developers’ scheme was approved by the council. It said that the complainant had admitted to the newspaper that he called one of the developers “Shylock”, but he did not believe his words were anti-Semitic. The article was accompanied by a sub-headline which read “Developer claims anti-Semitic abuse was hurled following planning win”.

3. The print and online versions of the article were identical.  

4. The complainant said he had not admitted to the newspaper that he called one of the developers “Shylock”. He said he had been asked for the spelling of his first name by the journalist, but told her he did not want his name in the article, and said he did not wish to talk to her. He said that immediately after the council meeting, he left the chamber and was called fascist and anti-Semitic by the two developers.

5. The complainant said that the “Shylock” comment was made at a public consultation meeting in 2015. He said that on being introduced to one of the developers, he made the remark in the context of comparing the developer to bankers, investors and developers down through the ages who had destroyed society. He said he did not know the developer was Jewish, and his remarks were not anti-Semitic.

6. The newspaper said that its journalist was part a group of people, which included the complainant, who were engaged in conversation after the meeting. It said that during this conversation, the complainant explained the meaning of the “Shylock” comment to the group. It said that its journalist was part of the conversation, and had introduced herself as a journalist as soon as she joined the group. It said that the complainant had initially engaged in conversation with the journalist, but when she had asked him his name, he said that he did not wish to give it and did not want to comment. The newspaper was unable to provide notes from either of these conversations. However, it said it did have further off-the-record conversations with witnesses prior to publication.

7. The newspaper accepted that the “Shylock” comment had not been made during the conversation. It said that its journalist believed, from the atmosphere of the conversation and the degree of confrontation, that the comment had only just been made; it said it was an honest misunderstanding. The newspaper removed the online article once it received the complaint, met with the complainant on a number of occasions and offered to publish the following correction on pages 4, 5, or 6 of the newspaper, as well as online. It said it would publish the correction on page 1 if required to do so under the Code:

Our front page story of February 11 quoted community campaigner Herminio Martinez as “admitting to the Ham & High” that he had used the word ‘Shylock’ to describe developers planning to build luxury flats at the Richardson’s site in Highgate. We would like to point out that this is not so. Mr Martinez did not speak to our reporter at the time and the ‘Shylock’ reference referred to a conversation he had with one of the developers at a consultation event last year. Mr Martinez did not use the word in an anti-Semitic sense and we accept that no such meaning was intended on his part.

Relevant Code Provisions

8. 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.

Findings of the Committee

9. It was not in dispute that the complainant had compared one of the developers to “Shylock”. However, the newspaper accepted that this comment was not made in the aftermath of the planning decision, as was claimed in the sub-headline and first line of the article, and that the complainant had not commented directly to the newspaper about this, as the article reported. The failure of the newspaper to verify when the comment had been made, and its inability to provide material to support the claims made in the article, such as notes, represented a failure to comply with the requirements of Clause 1(i) of the Code. These inaccuracies gave the significantly misleading impression that the complainant’s “Shylock” comment was made in the aftermath of the planning decision, this comment had caused a “fracas to break out”, and the complainant had “admitted” his role in this incident; a correction was required under Clause 1(ii).

10. The newspaper had promptly offered to publish a correction, in print and online, which addressed the inaccuracies identified in the article. While it had offered to publish the correction on page 4, 5, or 6 of the newspaper, the Committee did not consider, given the significantly misleading impression the article gave of events on the night in question, that this was sufficient to comply with the “due prominence” requirements of the Code. However, the newspaper had also said that it was willing to publish the correction on page 1 if required to do so. This was a sufficiently prominent position for the correction to appear; there was no breach of Clause 1(ii)

Conclusions

11. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

12. Having upheld the complaint under Clause 1(i), the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. The wording of the correction offered by the newspaper addressed the inaccuracies in the article, and had been offered promptly. The newspaper had offered to publish the correction on the front page of the newspaper if the Committee felt this was appropriate; given the significantly misleading impression this front-page article gave of events on the evening in question, the Committee believed that, in the circumstances, this was necessary. In light of the Committee’s decision, it should now be published promptly both in print and online. 

Date complaint received: 05/04/2016
Date decision issued: 16/06/2016