Ruling

03063-16 InFacts v Express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      1st September 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03063-16 InFacts v Express.co.uk

Summary of Complaint

1. InFacts complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “EU free movement has allowed ISIS sleeper cells into the UK, warns security chief”, published online on 27 April 2016.

2. The article reported that James Clapper, the US director of National Intelligence, had claimed that “the European Union’s freedom of movement has allowed ISIS to plant sleeper cells across the continent”. It reported that Mr Clapper had warned that “packs of crazed jihadis have been planted in Britain, Germany and Italy”, and that he “also suggested that the Schengen agreement allowing free movement is putting the EU’s security in jeopardy”. The article went on to quote Mr Clapper saying that: “There’s a fundamental conflict – on the one hand there is the European Union’s incentives and drives to promote openness and free movement of people and goods and privacy, which is in some ways in conflict with the responsibility each country has as a nation state to protect the security of its border and its people”. It also reported that when Mr Clapper was asked whether the UK had sleeper cells similar to those hidden in Brussels and Paris, he replied “Yes they do”, and added: “We continue to see evidence of plotting on the part of [ISIS] in the countries you name”. In addition, the article reported that Mr Clapper had said that so-called Islamic State (IS) had “taken advantage, to some extent, of the migrant crisis in Europe”. The article was accompanied by a video of Mr Clapper’s press conference.

3. The complainant said that Mr Clapper did not draw any link between EU free movement and there being IS sleeper cells in the UK. Rather, Mr Clapper said that IS sleeper cells had been set up in the UK, Italy and Germany, and in response to a separate question, had said that IS had taken advantage of the migrant crisis. The complainant said that Mr Clapper did not explicitly link the two answers, and that for the article to do so was misleading. In addition, the complainant said that when Mr Clapper made his comments on the EU’s “drives to promote openness and free movement of people and goods”, he was responding to a journalist asking him to expand on his conviction that there were “other cells in Europe”, and that Mr Clapper had previously referred to IS having cells in Italy and Germany, as well as the UK.  The complainant said that in his comments on free movement, Mr Clapper did not state that “EU rules have allowed ISIS agents to cross Europe”, and that it was misleading for the article to connect these comments to there being IS cells in the UK.  The complainant said that the UK was not part of the Schengen Area, and that it was therefore not possible for “open borders” to allow IS to enter Britain. 

4. The publication said that in response to a question from a journalist, Mr Clapper had confirmed that IS had cells in places like Germany, Italy and England. Later in the same press conference, another journalist asked Mr Clapper to expand on his claim that there were “other IS cells in Europe”. In response, Mr Clapper made the comments on free movement quoted in the article.  The publication said that in these circumstances, Mr Clapper’s answers could be read together, and it denied that the article was inaccurate. However, in order to resolve the complaint, the publication offered to amend the headline to: “US Security Chief claims ISIS terror cells are in the UK, and that EU rules have allowed ISIS agents to cross continental Europe”. It offered the replace the word “continent” with “continental Europe” in a reference to “freedom of movement” allowing IS to place sleeper cells “across the continent”. It offered to amend the picture caption: “ISIS could attack British soil after taking advantage of EU’s free movement, experts claim”, to: “ISIS could attack British soil”. It offered to publish the following footnote to the article:

Clarification

On 20 June 2016 the headline was amended.  The article was originally headlined "EU free movement has allowed ISIS sleeper cells into the UK, warns security chief".  The headline was based on a number of answers given by the US Director of Intelligence James Clapper during a breakfast meeting with journalists on 18 April 2016.  When asked Mr Clapper confirmed that according to US intelligence ISIS have planted terrorist sleeper cells in Germany, England and Italy. Additionally Mr Clapper explained that ISIL have taken advantage of the EU incentives and drives to promote openness of free movement of people and goods and that those principles are in some ways in conflict with each nations duty to protect their borders and their people. 

Relevant Code Provisions

5. 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.

Findings of the Committee

6. It was not in dispute that Mr Clapper had said that IS had sleeper cells in the UK. Nor was it in dispute that when he was asked to expand on his “conviction that there are other [IS] cells in Europe”, Mr Clapper said that there was a conflict in Europe between the free movement of people and goods, and the responsibilities each nation state has to protect the security of its borders and peoples. Through these comments, Mr Clapper had identified that free movement within the EU formed part of the context which had allowed IS to operate in Europe. In circumstances where Mr Clapper had confirmed that IS had placed sleeper cells in the UK, and where the article directly quoted the relevant passages from Mr Clapper’s answers, the article’s claim that Mr Clapper had warned that free movement had allowed IS sleeper cells into the UK was not a significantly misleading summary of his comments, such as to raise a breach of Clause 1. The Schengen agreement forms part of the system of free movement in the European Union, and it was therefore not significantly misleading to report that Mr Clapper had suggested that the Schengen agreement was “putting the EU’s security in jeopardy”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

7. While the Committee did not establish a breach of the Code, it welcomed the publication of a clarification.

Conclusions

8. The complaint was not upheld.

Date complaint received: 19/05/2016
Date decision issued: 12/08/2016