Ruling

06720-18 Johnson v express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      7th February 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee Johnson v 06720-18 express.co.uk 

Summary of complaint

1. Thomas Johnson complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Corbyn accused of wanting to ‘brainwash school kids into hating UK’ with colonial history”, published on 12 October 2018.

2. The article reported on the response to suggestions by Jeremy Corbyn that “Britain’s colonial legacy” be taught in schools. The article reported that “In 2008, Mr Corbyn backed Saddam Hussain [sic] against British troops saying: ‘Socialists should unconditionally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if the people who run the oppressed country are undemocratic and persecute minorities, like Saddam Hussein.’”

3. The complainant said that this quotation had been inaccurately attributed to Mr Corbyn; in fact, it had been made by a different individual.

4. The publication accepted that the article was inaccurate in attributing the quotation to Mr Corbyn. On receipt of the complaint, it promptly offered to amend the article to remove the reference to the quotation, and to append the following footnote to the article:

An earlier version of this article reported that Jeremy Corbyn had backed Saddam Hussein in 2008 saying, “Socialists should unconditionally stand with the oppressed against the oppressor, even if the people who run the oppressed country are undemocratic and persecute minorities, like Saddam Hussein.” In fact this statement was made by the political activist John Rees, a national officer of the Stop the War Coalition, and not by Jeremy Corbyn.

5. The complainant said that this did not resolve the complaint to his satisfaction.

Relevant Code Provisions

6. 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

7.    While the alleged inaccuracy in this article related to Jeremy Corbyn, sources in the public domain indicated that the quotation was incorrectly attributed to him, and this was accepted by the publication. The publication failed to provide any details relating to the care taken over the accuracy of this claim, and this represented a breach of Clause 1(i). The attribution of the quotation to Mr Corbyn gave the impression that he had expressed views which he had not expressed, and the publication had not sought to argue that Mr Corbyn shared such views. Where the article was a critique of Mr Corbyn’s political views, and the misattributed quotation formed part of the basis for these criticism, this was a significant inaccuracy that required correction to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii). On receipt of the complaint, the publication had promptly amended the article and appended a footnote which made clear the inaccuracy the article had contained, and the correct position. Where the article remained online in its amended form, a footnote correction was sufficient to address the inaccuracy; this action was adequately prompt and prominent to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii).

Conclusions

8. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1(i).

Remedial action required

9. The publication had promptly published a correction which made clear the inaccuracy in the article, and made the correct position clear. Where the article remained online and had been amended, a footnote correction was sufficiently prominent. There was no breach of Clause 1(ii), and no further remedial action was required.

Date complaint received: 12/10/2018

Date decision issued: 23/01/2019