Ruling

06518-21 Extinction Rebellion v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      2nd December 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 06518-21 Extinction Rebellion v The Daily Telegraph

Summary of Complaint

1. Extinction Rebellion complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “For the silent majority, failure to come down hard on XR will be a surrender to mob rule”, published on 19th June 2021.

2. The article reported on the activities and protests of Extinction Rebellion and other campaign groups and the police response to these protests. It reported that at previous protests, police forces “have allowed roads to be illegally shut”, and that “[o]bstructing the highway is an offence, so police have the right to arrest anyone as soon as they start to prevent traffic or pedestrians from using roads or pavements”. The article went on further to discuss “Kill the Bill” protests against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, including a photograph from one protest of a burning police van. The photograph was captioned “police vehicles were set alight during a Kill the Bill protest in Bristol”.

3. The article also appeared online the same day in substantially the same format under the headline “For the silent majority, police failure to come down hard on Extinction Rebellion will be a surrender to mob rule”.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as the disruption of roads for the purpose of protest was not illegal. It relied on a previous court judgment which it said stated that the right to protest does include the right to do so on the highway. The complainant said that this judgment highlighted the inaccuracies in the following sentence of the article: “[o]bstructing the highway is an offence, so police have the right to arrest anyone as soon as they start to prevent traffic or pedestrians from using roads or pavements”.

5. The complainant also said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it included an image of a burning police van, which had no connection to Extinction Rebellion. The complainant considered the use of this image “disingenuous” and an attempt by the publication to tarnish the group’s reputation.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the complainant’s position regarding the legality of the obstruction of roads was incorrect, citing examples where Extinction Rebellion protestors had been found guilty of illegally blocking roads. It said that twelve Extinction Rebellion protestors to date had been charged with the criminal offence of obstructing the highway in connection with a recent protest, demonstrating the legislation still applied. The publication noted the complainant’s reference to the previous court judgment and said that while the judgment indicated that it is possible that a protest may not constitute a breach of the Highways Act, this is only in certain, limited circumstances. It added that the criminal offence of obstructing the highway under Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 remains on the statute book.

7. The publication further said that the photograph of the burning police van included in the print article was taken during the ‘Kill the Bill’ protests in March 2021, with the accompanying text making this clear. The publication said that at no point did the article suggest that it was members of Extinction Rebellion who attacked the police van. It added that while the article’s focus was on the protests organised by Extinction Rebellion, it raised broader points in respect to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and referenced other demonstrations which have taken place.

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.

Findings of the Committee

8. The Committee first considered whether it was inaccurate for the article to state that “[o]bstructing the highway is an offence, so police have the right to arrest anyone as soon as they start to prevent traffic or pedestrians from using roads or pavements” and that previously, police forces “have allowed roads to be illegally shut”.  In doing so, the Committee had regard to Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 which provides that “[i]f a person, without lawful authority or excuse, in any way wilfully obstructs the free passage along a highway he is guilty of an offence…”. The Committee also noted the judgment the complainant referred to and acknowledged that an offence may not be committed under the Act in circumstances where a court finds there to have been lawful authority or excuse for a protest. However, it was the Committee’s view that as the criminal offence of obstructing the highway under the Act remains on the statute book, it was not inaccurate for the article to state that “[o]bstructing the highway is an offence”, whilst omitting an explanation of the circumstances in which an obstruction may not be such an offence. For the same reason, in was not inaccurate to refer to roads having been “illegally shut”, given that whether a protest has resulted in roads being shut illegally under the Act will be fact specific. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

9. The Committee next considered the complainant’s concerns regarding the photograph of the burning police van. The caption above the photograph made clear where the incident had taken place, stating that “police vehicles were set alight during a Kill the Bill protest in Bristol”, and the Committee noted that the article made no suggestion that Extinction Rebellion were involved in the burning of the police van. Furthermore, where the article commented on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, and the “Kill the Bill” protests in response to it, it was not misleading for a picture from the protest to appear alongside the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

10. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

 

11. N/A

 

Date complaint received: 23/06/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 16/11/2021