Ruling

03736-18 Stein v The Herald

    • Date complaint received

      23rd August 2018

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 03736-18 Stein v The Herald

Summary of complaint

1. Sammy Stein complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Herald breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Analysis: Mr Stein may as well ask whether the SNP should accept Ruth Davidson”, published on 26 February 2018.

2. The article, a comment piece, reported that the complainant, a pro-Israeli activist, had applied to join the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group (CPG) on Palestine, but had been refused entry to “what is an essentially a private body deeply opposed to his world view”. It said that the complainant said that his rejection from the group was “undemocratic and unfair”, but that the Scottish Parliament authorities had backed the CPG’s decision. The article went on to say that “essentially the activist is objecting to the very nature of a CPG…They have always been seen as useful forums for like-minded politicians and other interest groups”. It explained that the parliamentary website stated that CPGs “’provide an opportunity for Members of all parties, outside organisations and members of the public to meet and discuss a shared interest in a particular cause or subject’”. The article appeared online in substantially the same format.

3. The complainant said that the article gave an inaccurate account of his views, in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). He did not object to the “very nature of a CPG”; in fact, he supported them, and was a member of such a group.

4. The publication denied any breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy). It said that the complainant had written a column in the publication on the same day in which he set out his view that his rejection from the group “raises serious concerns about the extent to which CPGs…can operate without public scrutiny or governance and arbitrarily expel and exclude anyone”. He had said that he hoped the “unfair and undemocratic” rules governing CPGs would soon be changed. The publication said that the complainant had, in essence, called the constitutions of CPGs “unfair and undemocratic”. It said that the complainant did not think CPGs should be private groups, but their very nature is that they are private, as they are able to decide on their own membership. The publication said that it had published the complainant’s attack on the private nature of CPGs, and in the comment piece under complaint, had inferred from this that he objected to the very nature of CPGs. The Scottish Parliament had confirmed that the CPG on Palestine was acting within the rules, and that its membership was a matter for the group itself; as the complainant did not agree with this, it was reasonable to write in a comment piece that he objected to the nature of a CPG.

5. The complainant said that there was not publicly-available “constitution” for CPGs, and the closest relevant document did not refer to CPGs as ‘private groups’. He said that, in any case, it was preposterous to suggest that the “very nature” of CPGs was limited to their ‘private’ nature; their ‘very nature’ was to act as a channel for communication between the Parliament and others in Scotland, and he agreed with this role. The complainant said that he agreed with the vast majority of the rules relating to CPGs, and did not object to their whole ‘constitution’ – rather, he objected to their ability to make decisions about their membership without any rationale and in an unaccountable manner.

Relevant Code Provisions

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.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

6. In a column published on the same day as the article under complaint, the complainant had expressed his hope that “our parliamentarians will have the wisdom and courage to change [the] undemocratic and unfair rules” relating to CPGs, which allowed them to “arbitrarily expel and exclude anyone at any time”. The Scottish Parliament had confirmed that the CPG in question had acted within these rules in excluding the complainant. In these circumstances, and in the context of a comment piece, it was not misleading for the publication to state that the complainant objected “to the very nature of CPGs”; the ‘private’ nature of the groups was evident from their ability to decide their own membership, and the complainant made comments that appeared to show that he objected to this principle. The publication was entitled to characterise the ability to exclude members as central to the “very nature” of the groups. The publication was able to rely on the complainant’s own words in support of its characterisation of his views, such that there was no failure to take care over this claim in breach of Clause 1(i), and no misleading impression of the complainant’s publicly-expressed views was given that required correction under Clause 1(ii).

Conclusions

7. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

8. N/A

Date complaint received: 29/04/2018

Date decision issued: 06/08/2018