02988-16 Kiai v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      4th August 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee 02988-16 Kiai v The Sun

Summary of complaint

1. Maina Kiai complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Meddling UN Human Rights chief sparks fury by demanding UK waters down vital counter-terrorism laws”, published on 21 April 2016. It was published in print with the headline “U.N. Row”.

2. The complainant is the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and the article reported that he had “launched a series of attacks on Government policies after a three-day visit to the UK.” It included a quotation from an MP that “this lecture on human rights by somebody from Africa is staggering. He should clear off back to his own continent to look at some of the grotesque abuses of human rights that take place on a daily basis led by people like Robert Mugabe.”

3. The print version of the article was significantly shorter than the online version and the only reference to the quotation from the MP was that he had called the complainant’s comments “staggering”.

4. The complainant raised concerns that the suggestion he should “clear off back to his own continent” was a pejorative reference to his race. He said that, as a UN Special Rapporteur whose job is to monitor and report on around 200 UN member states, his continent of origin had no relevance to the story. He said that he had been invited to conduct his assessment by the UK Government. Additionally, he does do extensive work on human rights issues in Africa. The complainant questioned whether the newspaper would have published similar comments if he had been American or European. He said that the overall tone of the article was disrespectful and dismissive of his work, and the use of the quotation from the MP rendered it discriminatory.

5. The newspaper said that there was nothing discriminatory about a journalist expressing his opinions on statements made about UK policies by international dignitaries, or in reporting the comments of MPs about the input of those dignitaries. It said that the references to the complainant’s background were relevant to the story, and it was ridiculous to suggest that there were racial undertones. It said the MP was making the point that many African countries have terrible human rights records, especially compared to the UK. It noted that the article concluded with examples of other international officials “lecturing” the UK, and said it would certainly have reported similar criticisms of the complainant if he had been American or European.

Relevant Code provisions

6. 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

7. The newspaper was entitled to report criticism of the complainant’s intervention, and it was in this context that it reported the MP’s reaction. The newspaper did not adopt the MP’s comments as its own, or endorse them. The Committee takes seriously any claim of discrimination. In this case, having carefully balanced the complainant’s concerns with the newspaper’s right to report political reaction, the Committee concluded that the inclusion in the article of criticism of the complainant did not constitute a prejudicial or pejorative reference to his race.  There was no breach of Clause 12 (i).

8. The newspaper’s criticism was based on the fact that the complainant was not from the UK, and therefore the newspaper was not prevented from reporting that he was “from Africa”. There was no breach of Clause 12 (ii).


9. The complaint was not upheld.

Date complaint received: 17/05/2016
Date decision issued: 18/07/2016