Ruling

05411-19 Lennox v The Jewish Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      16th January 2020

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee 05411-19 Lennox v The Jewish Chronicle

Summary of Complaint

1. Jenny Lennox complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 3 (Harassment) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Top activist: ‘Only hate is Jews vs Jews’”, published on 22 March 2019.

2. The article reported on a comment made by Jenny Lennox at a meeting of the Walthamstow Labour Party and reported “that the ‘only’ antisemitism she had seen in the Labour party was ‘Jews attacking other Jews for having the wrong attitude on Israel’”. The article said that Ms Lennox was “on the executive of the Labour Representative Committee” and was Jewish.

3. The article also appeared online under the headline “Jewish member of John McDonnell–backed Labour Representation Committee dismisses Labour antisemitism”. The online article was substantially longer than the print article, and contained information on a recent Labour Representation Committee (LRC) statement which suggested “allegations of Jew-hate were ‘propaganda’ from the ‘ruling class’” and “false accusations… intended to weaponise the antisemitism against Labour” and described Israel as “an intrinsically racist endeavour”.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it reported that she was currently on the executive of the LRC when she had left the executive in 2012 and the National Committee in 2013. She also said that it was misleading to use recent quotes and points from the LRC when she had not held a position with the LRC for seven years, as this associated her with antisemitism deniers. She also said that she was not Jewish and it was inaccurate to describe her as so.

5. The complainant also said that the article represented an intrusion into her privacy as her comments were made at a meeting that was only open to members of the Labour Party. She was particularly concerned that the meeting appeared to have been recorded, as this is against Labour Party rules.

6. The complainant also said that publication of the article constituted harassment, as by associating her with anti-Semitism deniers, it was libellous, and jeopardised her employment, friendship with Jewish friends and affected her family. She said that as she did not hold a position in the Labour Party, the story was not in the public interest.

7. The publication accepted that it had inaccurately published that the complainant was on the executive of the LRC and Jewish, however it did not accept a breach of Clause 1(i) as it said it had taken care when researching these claims. It said a prominent Labour website had reported that the complainant was still on the executive of the LRC. It provided a quote by the complainant from the meeting which it said demonstrated the care taken over the accuracy of the article’s claim that she was Jewish: “I’m not going to speak in tropes about Jewish people, but it’s certainly said about my family, how many Lennoxes does it take to change a light bulb, it takes one to change it and the rest to all debate about it, but I’m fairly sure that’s true of an awful lot of Jewish people.” The publication said that it was reasonable to infer from this quote that the complainant was Jewish. It said that not contacting the complainant prior to publication was not a failure to take care. Prior to her IPSO complaint, after direct correspondence with the publication the fact that the complainant had left the LRC was made clear in the article, and the reference to her being Jewish was deleted. During the IPSO investigation the publication accepted that both inaccuracies needed correction under Clause 1(ii) and offered the following to be posted in their established corrections column:

"A March 22 article headlined 'Top activist: Only hate is Jews vs Jews' incorrectly reported that Jenny Lennox was Jewish and a member of the Labour Representation Committee’s national executive, a position she had previously held."

It would appear as a footnote to the online version of the article as:

"An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Jenny Lennox was Jewish and a member of the Labour Representation Committee’s national executive, a position she had previously held."

8. The publication said that the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy at the Labour members’ meeting. It said a contact at the meeting revealed the content of the meeting to the publication. It noted that with the current controversy relating to antisemitism in the Labour Party, there was a significant public interest in the publication following the affairs of the Labour Party. In addition, it noted that the complainant, as someone who was backed to be a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, should expect her affairs and views to be scrutinised.

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.

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.

Clause 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii)  Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

*The Public Interest

1. The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

  • Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.
  • Protecting public health or safety.
  • Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.
  • Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.
  • Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.
  • Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.
  • Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.

2. There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

3. The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.

4. Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication - or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.

Findings of the Committee

9. The website, published in 2018, provided by the publication had reported that the complainant was currently on the LRC executive. However, it was also noted that this was a third party website that was not affiliated to either the complainant or the LRC. The quote relating to the Lennox family could be interpreted as her saying that she is Jewish, however this inference by the journalist was the only information which suggested that she was Jewish. On this basis, relying on a third party website, and an inference from a personal anecdote without taking further steps to ensure the accuracy of these claims within the article, represented a failure to take care and there was a breach of Clause 1(i).

10. The Committee then considered whether these constituted a significant inaccuracies. In the context where the complainant had not been part of the LRC for several years and the online article went on to highlight and criticise the LRC’s approach in a way that related their views to the complainant, this was found to be a significant inaccuracy. In addition, as the article was reporting on antisemitism, and where the complainant’s religion would have a bearing on these views, incorrectly reporting that the complainant was Jewish was also found to be a significant inaccuracy. Therefore, both of these aspects were found to require a correction under Clause 1(ii).

11. The publication accepted that the article was inaccurate and amended the online article two days after receiving direct correspondence from the complainant. The publication offered to publish a correction nine days after the complaint was referred by IPSO. The publication's offer identified the inaccuracy, set out the correct position and was offered promptly. However, the Committee required an amendment to clarify when the complainant left the LRC, so the correction would now end “…a position she held until 2012.” Further, the publication's offer to publish the correction in the established corrections page and as a footnote to the online article represented due prominence, as corrections columns demonstrate a commitment to correcting inaccurate or misleading material, while providing a consistent and familiar position in which to correct inaccuracies for readers. This should now be published to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

12. The Labour Party meeting from which the quotes were taken was for Labour members only, had around 40 people in attendance and was not supposed to be recorded. However, the comments made by the complainant – commenting on a current, political matter, were not, in and of itself, information an individual would have an expectation of privacy in regards to. It was additionally noted that the complainant was speaking as a political figure who had been backed to be a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, and publishing her views on a highly controversial and current topic was in the public interest. In this context, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over her comments and the newspaper was entitled to report on them. Therefore, there was no breach of Clause 2.

13. The terms of Clause 3 generally relates to the conduct of journalists during the newsgathering process and is designed to protect individuals from unwanted or repeated approaches by the press. The complainant's concerns regarding libel and threatening her employment, relationships and family did not constitute harassment in breach of Clause 3.

Conclusions

14. The complaint was upheld in part.

Remedial action required

15. The correction which was offered was clearly put the correct position on record, and was offered promptly and with due prominence, and should now be published.

 

Date complaint received: 18/07/2019.

Date decision issued: 04/12/2019.