Ruling

03176-16 Delich v The Sun on Sunday

    • Date complaint received

      17th November 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03176-16 Delich v The Sun on Sunday

Summary of complaint

1. Jenna Delich complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun on Sunday breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Don’t let them in”, published online on 10 April 2016, and “Don’t let them in: As Bosnia bids to join EU, expert says ex-Yugoslav state is now ‘breeding ground’ for terrorism”, published online on 10 April 2016. 

2. The article reported that Britain’s security would be at risk if Bosnia joined the EU, as it had become a “breeding ground for terrorists”. It said that Bosnia, a country which it said was “home” to a Muslim population of 3 million, had applied for EU membership after being recognised as a candidate country and if successful, its citizens would have greater freedom to come to the UK. The article listed a number of factors that could potentially put Britain at risk, reporting that 300 “radicals” had left to fight with jihadis in Syria and Iraq, and that Bosnian weapons were used in recent terror attacks. The article quoted Peter Bone MP, who said the EU should not be considering Bosnia as a member and that the only way British citizens “can be sure Bosnian terrorists won’t come here freely, and our money will not be sent there, is by voting to leave the EU on June 23”. It also quoted a “Balkan expert” who described the country as a “safe house for radicals”, and the International Crisis Group who warned that Islamism and nationalism were “dancing a ‘dangerous tango’” in the country.

3. The online article was substantively similar to the version that appeared in print. 

4. The complainant highlighted a number of inaccuracies in the article. She said that there has never been a single incident linking Bosnian Muslims to terrorism, and it was inaccurate to report comments that Bosnia’s future membership of the EU would bring a threat of terrorism to the Britain. She said that it was inaccurate to report that Bosnia was home to three million Muslims, as the true figure was 1.76 million. She said that youth unemployment in the country was 40%, not 60% as reported, and it was inaccurate to say that the country’s economy was struggling; she also said that it was misleading to suggest that Britain would have to pay for Bosnia to join the EU as it was only one of 28 countries that would have to contribute.

5. The complainant said it was inaccurate to report that there were 300 Bosnian Muslims fighting with jihadis in Syria, and cited the Bosnian Security Minister, who said the figure for all Bosnians fighting abroad was 130; she also said the article was misleading because it did not mention how many Bosnians of other ethnicities were fighting abroad. She said that the people quoted in the article could not be categorised as “experts” in the region. She also said that the content of the article discriminated against Bosnians.  

6. The newspaper said that the original idea for the story came from a contact at the “Grassroots Out” movement, which was campaigning for Britain to leave the UK; it said the article was compiled as part of the newspaper’s coverage of the referendum debate.  It denied that it was inaccurate to report that the country was “home” to 3 million Bosnian Muslims; it said that when Bosnian Muslims outside of the country who still considered the country to be ‘home’ were taken into consideration, the figure was accurate. It said that the figure of 300 Bosnians fighting in Syria and Iraq had come from a report from Lancaster University, as well as another specialist website. It also highlighted a number of sources which it said supported the claim made in the article that Bosnia had become a breeding ground for terrorists.

Relevant Code Provisions

7. 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.

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

8. The Committee did not accept the explanation offered by the newspaper as to why it was accurate to report that Bosnia was home to three million Muslims; the second line of the article strongly implied that the figure related to people who lived in the country. However, in circumstances where the true number of Bosnian Muslims was close to two million, the figure cited in the article was not significantly misleading in the context of a piece which focused on why Britain’s security would be put at risk if Bosnia joined the EU. There was no breach of Clause 1.  

9. The newspaper had relied on sources from the diplomatic and intelligence service, as well as a report from a British university, in reporting that “around 300” Bosnians had gone to fight with jihadis in Syria and Iraq. In relying on these sources, there was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information. While the Committee noted the statement provided by the complainant from Bosnia’s Security Minister that the figure for the number of Bosnian’s fighting in Syria and Iraq was closer to 100, it did not consider that any discrepancy on this point would be significant, particularly as any figure in this area would be difficult to establish. There was no breach of Clause 1.

10. The Committee recognised that the article’s description of Bosnia as a “breeding ground for terrorists” was the newspaper’s characterisation of the country’s political climate. Such an assessment is a matter of opinion, which is something to which the Code grants considerable latitude; however this does not absolve a newspaper of its obligations under Clause 1. The newspaper quoted a Balkan expert who said that the country was a “safe house for radicals”, as well as the International Crisis Group, who warned about the convergence of Islamism and nationalism in the country; it also reported Bosnian weapons were used in recent terrorist attacks, and that 300 radicals from Bosnia had travelled to fight in Syria and Iraq. The Committee wished to make clear that it was not making an assessment on whether Bosnia was a “breeding ground for terrorists”; rather it had to decide whether the newspaper had provided a sufficient basis to characterise the country in this way. Overall, it believed that the newspaper had provided a sufficient basis for the characterisation considering the assessment that had been provided by a number of experts on the topic. There was no breach of Clause 1.

11. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that youth unemployment in Bosnia was 40%, not 60%. However, it did not consider that any inaccuracy on this point would have been significant given that the complainant conceded the figure was at least 40%. Similarly, the Committee did not consider that the assertion in the article that Britain would have to pay for Bosnia to join the EU was misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on either point.

12. The article did not contain any pejorative or prejudicial references to the race of an identifiable individual; there was no breach of Clause 12.

Conclusions

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

N/A

Date complaint received: 25/05/2016
Date decision issued: 17/10/2016