Ruling

06134-21 Vass v Mail Online

    • Date complaint received

      23rd December 2021

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 06134-21 Vass v Mail Online

Summary of Complaint

1. Neil Vass complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Mail Online breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “British towns that are no-go areas for white people: Muslim author's study of mosques reveals children 'attacked for being white', parents making families live under Taliban-like rules and women who can't leave home without permission”, published on 4 June 2021.

2. The article, which appeared online only, reported on a book published by “[a]n author who visited mosques across Britain to investigate integration” which “revealed how parts of Blackburn are ‘no-go areas’ for white men”.  The sub-headline also included a reference to “[w]hite men [who had] revealed ‘no-go areas’ in Blackburn where they would be ‘jumped’”.

3. The article went on to report that: “A group of white men told [the book’s author that] they are scared to go into ‘no-go areas’ in [Blackburn], such as Whalley Range, with one man saying a gang of ‘Asian’ teenagers repeatedly ‘jumped’ his 12-year-old son. They told [the author] the boy was ‘battered in broad daylight…for being white’. Another man in the group said the area of Whalley Range […] was a particular area they would avoid. They told [the author]: ‘If we go to Whalley Range at night-time, we’re guaranteed to get jumped. We won’t walk out of it. We won’t walk to the other end of the street.’”

4. The article also included a graphic, which showed four towns and cities – Blackburn, Didsbury, Bradford, and Dewsbury. The caption beneath the image showing Didsbury said: “Sharia Court within the mosque – which was once a church”. This graphic accompanied the headline on the front page of the publication’s website.

5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as he said that – contrary to the headline’s claim – there were no British towns that were “no-go areas for white people”. He said that Didsbury, which appeared in the graphic in the article and was also referred to later in the article, “is a friendly, posh, suburban area where huge numbers of white people live”. He also said that he had visited, or known people from, several of the areas referenced in the article, and from his experience these towns were not “no-go areas for white people”. He said that he believed that crime statistics would demonstrate that the headline’s claim was inaccurate.

6. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 12, as he considered it to be “clearly aimed at increasing fear and distrust against Muslims and non-white people in general”; as such, he believed the article to be irresponsible and in breach of Clause 12 of the Editors’ Code

7.  The publication said that a number of other readers had also raised concerns regarding the accuracy of the headline, and it had replied to each of them individually. To address these concerns, the publication amended the headline of the article on 28 June, 24 days after the article’s publication and 13 days after IPSO made the publication aware of the complainant’s concerns. The amended headline read as follows:

Among the Mosques: Author's study of Muslim Britain reveals a no-go area for white people, children 'attacked for being white', parents making families live under Taliban-like rules and women who can't leave home without permission

The publication also added the below footnote to the online article on 4 July 2021, one month after the article’s publication and 19 days after the publication was made aware of the complainant’s concerns:

Since publication the headline to this article has been amended to remove the suggestion that more than one town visited by the author had residents who reported ‘no-go areas’ for white people.

The publication noted that the majority of complaints had been resolved by the above action. However, it said that it would be content to also make a similar statement in a standalone piece to be published in its regular Corrections and Clarifications column on the news page, which would be published for 24 hours and would afterwards be archived and remain searchable for the lifetime of the website. It proposed the following wording for the separate correction:

The headline of an article published on 4 June which reported on a book by the political advisor Ed Husain was amended following publication to remove the suggestion that more than one town visited by the author had residents who reported ‘no-go areas’ for white people. We are happy to set the record straight.

8. The publication further said that there was no intention on the part of the publication to imply that the experiences of the men interviewed in Blackburn applied to the other towns and cities referenced in the article, and it said it was regrettable if any such inference was taken. Nevertheless, it noted that upon reading the article, it would be clear to readers that the author’s experiences in each town were carefully and individually described, and no assertion was made within the body of the article that the “no-go areas” reference was made in relation to all the referenced towns and cities. It also noted that neither the author of the book the article summarised, or the publisher of the book, had contacted the publication to flag any issues with the accuracy of the article. It also said that the theme of segregation was a running theme of the book, and provided excerpts from the book which it said demonstrated that this was this case; for instance, an individual was quoted within the book as having said that: “They chase out the white English businesses. After the riots in 2001, all the white businesses left. I don’t say they throw stones at us like the white folk say. I say there is racism and reverse racism.” It said that it had not referred to these other examples of segregation due to the length of the article; therefore, only the specific reference to Blackburn was included in the article.

9. The publication also noted that it considered it to be “extremely unlikely that reasonable readers would have taken the impression from the headline that entire towns in Britain are […] entirely inaccessible to white people” and that any such confusion would be quickly resolved by a cursory reading of the article. The publication was therefore satisfied that, while it was happy to amend it, the original headline was not significantly inaccurate nor misleading.

10. Addressing the complainant’s concerns under Clause 12, the publication said that the article included no prejudicial or pejorative references to either Muslim or non-white individuals. It also noted that any details referring to race or religion within the article were clearly relevant, where the subject of the article was “a book exploring the tensions between communities whose differences are in their respective religions and race”. It therefore said that Clause 12 was not engaged by the complainant’s concerns; it also firmly denied that the purpose of the article was to “increase[e] fear and distrust against Muslims and non-white people in general”.

11.The complainant said that the publication’s amended headline and proposed footnote was not sufficient to resolve his complaint, where he considered that the original article would have been seen by a large number of people. As such, he said that an explanation of the correction should be posted on the front-page of the publication’s website.

12. The complainant also said that he considered the updated headline to be inaccurate, by way of its use of the term “reveals”. It said this was inaccurate as the study cited a single unverified anecdote; he considered that the term “claims” would be more accurate in place of the phrase ”reveals”.

13. The publication said that it did not accept that the amended headline was inaccurate and that any further amendment was necessary. It said it was clear from the wording of the headline that the statements made were all based on interviews conducted by the author.

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 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

14. Clause 1(i) requires that publications take care not to publish headlines which are not supported by the text of the article. It does not require a headline to give the full context of the story in question, but the content of the article must support the headline, and an accurate article cannot be relied on to correct an inaccurate, misleading, or distorted headline.

15. In this instance, the headline claim that there were “British towns that are no-go areas for white people” was not supported by the article. The article included no reference to a town or towns which were claimed to be off-limits to white people, and only one area within a city was described as a “no-go area” for white people. The publication had sought to support its headline by pointing to extracts from the book on which the article was based, which it considered demonstrated that segregation between white and non-white or Muslim people occurred in multiple towns. However, these extracts had not been included in the article and in any case did not amount to claims that the towns were “no-go areas”. As such, the headline was inaccurate and was not supported by the text of the article, and therefore amounted to a breach of Clause 1 (i).

16. The Committee noted that, while the graphic beneath the headline included an image of Didsbury, neither the article or the headline stated that it was a “no-go town”, and the caption to the image of the area stated only that it had a “Sharia Court within the mosque – which was once a church”, which the complainant did not dispute. The article itself did not claim that Didsbury or any other town was a “no-go area” for white people. For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 1 arising from the article’s reference to the towns visited by the author, where the claim that entire towns were “no-go areas” appeared only in the headline, and not in the article itself or in the graphic.

17. The Committee did not consider that the use of the term “reveals” in either the original or updated headline raised a breach of Clause 1. It noted again that headlines are not required to give the full context to an article, and that, read in conjunction with the article, it was clear that the terms “reveals” referred to the information included in the book based upon the author’s experiences of “visit[ing] mosques across Britain to investigate integration”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

18. The inaccuracy leading to the breach of Clause 1 (i) was significant, where it appeared prominently in the headline and on the homepage of the website. It therefore required correction, under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). The Committee considered that a correction would be sufficient to address the terms of Clause 1 (ii), where the breach of Clause 1 arose from a single breach of Clause 1 (i), and the article itself did not raise a breach of Clause 1 (i).

19. The publication had amended the headline of the article 24 days after the article’s publication – and 13 days after IPSO made the publication aware of the complainant’s concerns – and 6 days after this it had also added a footnote to the article, signposting the change. The complainant had also offered to publish a separate wording in the standalone Corrections and Clarifications column.

20. When assessing whether the action taken by the publication was sufficient to address the terms of Clause 1 (ii), the Committee was mindful that the publication was attempting to address the concerns of all complainants, and that the action taken did resolve the concerns of a majority of complainants.  In light of this consideration, the delay between publication of the article and the subsequent offer to publish a clarification, as well as the amendment of the headline and the footnote to the article, did not raise a breach of Clause 1 (ii) on the grounds that the action was not undertaken or proposed with sufficient promptness. In addition, the Committee was satisfied that the proposed locations of the corrective action were sufficiently prominent. Where the inaccurate headline appeared on the front page of the website, it was satisfied that a separate clarification in the Corrections and Clarifications column, linked to on the news homepage, was sufficiently prominent, in conjunction with the footnote and the amended headline. It did not consider that a footnote alone would have been a sufficient remedy to the breach of Clause 1 (i), where the original inaccuracy appeared prominently in a headline which appeared on the publication’s home page; however, in conjunction with a standalone correction this was sufficient to address the breach. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii) arising from the prominence of the actioned and proposed remedial action.

21. Turning to the wording of the proposed correction and the footnote, on balance, the Committee considered that it was sufficient to address the breach of Clause 1 (i); it made clear that the original article headline had “suggest[ed] that more than one town visited by the author had residents who reported ‘no-go areas’ for white people”, and that this suggestion had been removed. In conjunction with the footnote to the article and the amended headline, which made clear that the book had revealed “a no-go area” rather than towns that were no-go areas in their entirety, the Committee considered that the proposed action was sufficient. There was no breach of Clause 1 (ii).

22. IPSO is able to consider complaints made under Clause 12 from either an individual who has been personally and directly affected by the alleged breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice, or from a representative group affected by an alleged breach where there is a substantial public interest. Where the complainant was not referred to in the article – and was therefore not personally and directly affected by the alleged breach – and was not acting on behalf of a representative group, the Committee was unable to consider the Clause 12 aspect of the complaint.

Conclusions

23. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1 (i).

Remedial Action Required

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


Date complaint received: 05/06/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 25/11/2021