Resolution Statement Complaint 02746-16 Kozbar v The Sunday Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      6th October 2016

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Complaint 02746-16 Kozbar v The Sunday Telegraph

Summary of complaint

1. Mohammed Kozbar complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Corbyn and the mosque leader who blames the UK for Isil”, published in print on 13 March 2016, and “Jeremy Corbyn and the mosque leader who blames the UK for Isil”, published online on 12 March 2016.

2. The article said that Jeremy Corbyn had held 15 meetings with the complainant, the chairman of the Finsbury Park mosque and vice-president of the Muslim Association of Britain. It said that the complainant had called for the “destruction” of Israel in December 2011, and that in October 2015 he “appeared to praise the recent wave of terrorist stabbings” in Israel by writing on his Facebook page that “Palestine is uprising, Alquds is uprising and our brothers and sisters are giving everything to defend Al-Aqsa Mosque. This question is what are we doing to support them and show them that they are not alone on this”.

3. The article went on to quote a post from the complainant’s Facebook page in which he said that Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who it described as the “ideological leader” of the Muslim Brotherhood, was “always cracking the words of truth”. It also quoted him as saying that “foreign interference” in the Muslim world by Western powers had an “impact on Muslims in the UK… it is no surprise therefore to see that a small minority of young British men and women have decided to join and fight alongside the extremists abroad”. It said that the Finsbury Park mosque continued to host “bigots, extremists and terrorist supporters”, and that the complainant declined to comment when contacted. It was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant with the caption “Mohammed Kozbar supported the wave of stabbings by Palestinians”.

4. The complainant said that the headline was inaccurate because he did not blame the UK for Isil; rather, he said that western interference in the Muslim world had a negative effect young on British Muslims, and that it was no surprise that a tiny minority had travelled abroad to join Isil. He said that this was a factual statement, and one shared by numerous analysts. He said that he never called for the “destruction” of Israel. He said that at a protest in 2011, he argued that if Israel were to repeat earlier mistakes in killing civilians, and invading Gaza, then world opinion would be so outraged that it would mean the end of Israeli. He said that while he had said “down, down Israel” at the rally, this was a typical rallying cry calling for the end of an unjust government; he said that his motivation in saying this was entirely peaceful.

5. The complainant denied that he supported the stabbings of Israelis by Palestinians; he said that he never condoned violence of any kind, and never would. He said that the comments about supporting Palestinians were made in the context of the illegal invasion of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which was condemned by the United Nations (UN), and what he described as the murder of Palestinians by Israeli individuals and soldiers, which he said was condemned by the UN and human rights organisations; he said he was not calling for or supporting violence against Israelis. He said that the context of his Facebook post agreeing with Mr al-Qaradawi was connected to his condemnation of the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. He also disputed the criticism in the article of the Finsbury Park mosque, which he said had developed “an outstanding reputation for its work against all forms of racism” under his leadership, and had won an award endorsed by the Charity Commission. He also said that the accusations contained in the article discriminated against him on the basis of his religion.

6. The newspaper said that there was no significant difference between reporting that the complainant “blames the UK for Isil”, and the complainant’s position that western interference had led to extremists travelling to join Isil. It also said that it was not inaccurate to report that the complainant had called for the destruction of Israeli in circumstances where said at a rally that “this time it will be the end of Israel, inshallah”, and “down, down Israel”; it said this indicated that the end of Israel was his personal wish, and that the article did not say that he wished for the violent destruction of Israel.

7. The newspaper said that the article did not report that the complainant supported the stabbing of Israelis by Palestinians, as the article said that his Facebook post was made “amid a wave of stabbings of Israelis by Palestinians”, and that he “appeared” to support the stabbings”. It said that given what was occurring in the region at the time, it was not an unreasonable interpretation of the complainant’s post, and in any event, he had not explicitly said that the use of stabbings as a form of protest could not be condoned. The newspaper said that its criticism of the Finsbury Park mosque as playing host to “bigots, extremists and terrorists” was justified, and it had identified two individuals who had visited the mosque, one who called on people to “wage holy war against the US and British invaders in Iraq”, and another who said that “wives who displease their husbands should be beaten”.  

8. The newspaper said that its reporter had contacted the mosque on the day before publication of the article, and while it had been unable to speak to the complainant, it had received an email address for him from somebody who had answered the phone. It said that the complainant was then sent an email, which asked him to comment on the claims what were published in the article. It said that on checking his junk folder for the purposes of this complaint, the reporter discovered a “bounce-back” email from the address he said he had been given.  

9. The complainant said that he had not been contacted by the newspaper prior to publication, and had therefore not “declined to comment”. He said the email address the newspaper purported to have sent an email to about the article did not exist. He said that he did not understand why the reporter did not used the contact form on the mosque’s website to get in touch, or the record the conversation he said he had with a member of the mosque’s staff.

Relevant Code Provisions

10. 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.

Mediated Outcome

11. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

 12. Following IPSO’s intervention, the newspaper published the following correction in print, as a stand-alone correction online and as a footnote to the original article:

An article of 13 March 2016 portrayed Mr Kozbar, the Chairman of the Finsbury Park Mosque, as someone who 'blamed the UK for ISIL', and appeared to support the use of violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict. In fact, Mr Kozbar has never ‘blamed the UK for ISIL’ and abhors and condemns the use of violence under any circumstances. Mr Kozbar also disputes a number of other accusations contained in the article, and regrets that he was denied a right of reply. We are happy to set the record straight.

13. The complaint said that this resolved the complaint to his satisfaction.

14. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code. 

Date complaint received: 5/5/2016
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 18/9/2016