Ruling

06491-18 For Britain Movement v The Northern Echo

    • Date complaint received

      14th February 2019

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 06491-18 For Britain Movement v The Northern Echo

Summary of Complaint

1. The For Britain Movement (FBM) complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Northern Echo breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Responding to the far right”, published on 11 August 2018.

2. The article was a comment piece by a local councillor which discussed how schools and colleges should respond to the increasing incidence of groups he described as “far right”. He said that “The fall-out from Brexit could spawn the growth of a new far right national socialist movement, such as For Britain, led by people like Anne Marie Waters, the unsuccessful UKIP leadership candidate and Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the EDL”.

3. The article was also published online in the same format with the headline “Stephen Lambert: Responding to the far right”.

4. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to describe the FBM as “far right”. It said that “far right” would be understood to refer to illiberal, authoritarian, and anti-democratic politics, which it said did not reflect its values; the characterisation was baseless. It said that the article should have included the FBM’s dispute of this characterisation.

5. The complainant said that the term “national socialism” was a creation of the Nazi party and thus would be understood to refer directly and only to the Nazis. The complainant said that the FBM was in no way supportive or connected with Nazi ideology. It said that no reader would understand the phrase as referring to the discrete concepts of being nationalistic and socialist.

6. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to state that the group was led by people such as Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the EDL; only Ms Waters led the group, and Mr Robinson had no involvement in the FBM.

7. The publication said that political values lie on an inherently subjective spectrum; the author was entitled to put across his opinion that the group were “far right national socialist”, and had a sufficient basis to do so. It said that it was clear from the FBM’s published policies on culture and immigration that it held nationalist views, and pointed to its leader’s socialist origins within the Labour party; together, these facts gave a sufficient basis for the “national socialist” description. It also said that others had described the group as far right; that the group was associated with acknowledged far right groups; that members had been part of other far right groups; and that a documentary titled “Undercover: Inside Britain’s new Far Right” featured a attendee of the group’s events. In addition, it pointed the group’s populist policies; its frequent invocation of ethnic and cultural loyalties; and its anti-immigration and pro-deportation stance - all of which the publication said were established conventions of both national socialism and far right ideology. For all of these reasons, it said that it was not misleading to characterise FBM as being “far right”.

8. In any event, the publication said that it was not true that the article compared the FBM to Nazis, or that the phrase “national socialists” would automatically denote Nazism or its politics. It said that the fact that all Nazis were national socialists did not mean that all national socialists were Nazis, and that national socialism was a broad ideology which had many points of tangency with the group.

9. The publication accepted that its reference to Tommy Robinson was inadvertently ambiguous, and offered to clarify this point. However, it did say that Tommy Robinson shared similar views to Anne Marie Waters and the complainant, and so it was not significantly misleading to link him to the group’s beliefs.

10. The publication said that it would be happy to consider publishing a letter from the complainant setting out its position. In addition it also offered to publish the following clarification:

“An opinion article by Stephen Lambert published online and in The Northern Echo on August 11 2018, headlined ”Responding to the far right” said that the fall-out from Brexit could spawn the growth of a new far right movement, such as For Britain, led by people like Anne Marie Water, the unsuccessful UKIP leadership candidate and Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the EDL. We would like to make clear that Tommy Robinson is not a member of For Britain, which is led by Anne Marie Waters.”

Relevant Code Provisions

11. 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

12. The placement of policies and values on a political spectrum is a subjective assessment; individuals’ and publications’ views on where particular policies and parties fall on such a spectrum will necessarily vary. However, the Code requires that care be taken over the accuracy of such characterisations. In this instance, the characterisation of the FBM as a “far right national socialist” movement had been based on the publication’s assessment of particular policy positions adopted by the group, and on the presence within the party of individuals associated with groups generally understood to be “far right” in character. It was also based on the FBM’s leader’s political views, which the publication characterised as nationalist, and on her past political affiliations with the Left. In setting out its basis for characterising the FBM as “far right”, the publication had shown that the party had attracted attention from individuals associated with groups at that end of the political spectrum. In all these circumstances, the Committee did not consider that there had been a failure to take care over this characterisation, and it did not give rise to a significantly misleading impression that required correction under Clause 1. The Committee did not consider that the article suggested that the group was linked to Nazism in the way the complainant suggested, and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

13. The article did not state as fact that Tommy Robinson was the leader of the FBM; rather, it suggested that new “far right” groups could arise, “such as For Britain, led by people like Anne Marie Waters, the unsuccessful UKIP leadership candidate and Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the EDL”. While the Committee acknowledged that the sentence could carry the meaning attributed to it by the complainant, it did not consider that this grammatical ambiguity represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article. In the context of a wide-ranging opinion piece which considered how education providers could respond to alleged “far right” groups, which was not a detailed description of the FBM and its leadership, the Committee did not consider that the article gave rise to any significantly misleading impression on this point, such as would require correction. There was no breach of Clause 1. Nonetheless, the Committee welcomed the publication’s offer to clarify any ambiguity in the sentence.

Conclusions

14.  The complaint was not upheld

Remedial Action Required

15. N/A

Date complaint received: 02/10/18

Date decision issued: 24/01/19


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