Ruling

07445-18 Just Yorkshire v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      16th May 2019

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee 07445-18 Just Yorkshire v The Times

Summary of complaint

1. Just Yorkshire complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in the following articles:

  • “Terror police boost MP’s security over criticism of Asian sex gangs”, published in print and online on 25 July 2018;
  • “MP faced fury for sex gangs article”, published in print and online on 25 July 2018;
  • “Charitable trust facing questions over funding”, published in print and online on 25 July 2018;
  •  “True Champion”, published in print and online on 25 July 2018;
  •  “Javid orders research into ethnic origin of sex grooming gangs”, published in print and online on 26 July 2018;
  •  “Criticising Muslims doesn’t make you a racist”, published in print and online on 26 July 2018;
  •  “Terror link to charity”, published in print and online on 28 July 2018.

2. The articles under complaint reported on criticism which a Member of Parliament had received following an opinion piece which she had written in August 2017 regarding the sexual abuse of girls in her Rotherham constituency. In the piece, the MP had claimed that “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”.

3. The fourth, fifth and sixth articles reported that the MP’s comments had resulted in her receiving threats, including death threats; they also reported that there had been an increase in concerns over her security. The articles identified the complainant, a racial justice charity, as one of the MP’s critics. In March 2018, the complainant published a report titled, “A Temperature Check Report”, which sought to “understand and assess the impact” of the MP’s comments amongst the Pakistani community of Rotherham. The charity surveyed 165 people and found that the MP’s article had “dismayed an entire community”; “an overwhelming number of respondents considered the comments to be racist”; and that she was “deliberately attacking a whole community and race”.

4. The first article was published on the newspaper’s front page. It reported that “an MP who received death threats after condemning the sexual abuse of girls by groups of British Pakistani men has been given increased security amid fears that hard-left and Muslim opponents are trying to force her from office”. The article continued onto page 7; it was headlined: “Security stepped up after scathing report led to death threats”. Referring to the complainant’s March 2018 report, the article said: “The Times understands that the report led to death threats against [the MP]. Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism unit increased her security risk level and she was advised to accept extra protection”.

5. The first article also identified by name a number of individuals associated with Just Yorkshire, including its director. One man was described as a “radical academic”, and the article claimed that he was a “leading figure” in the charity. 

6. The second article criticised the hostile backlash which the MP had received following her comment piece. The third article identified one of the complainant’s funders, a Trust, and criticised the financial support it had given to the complainant. Both articles described the complainant’s report as an “attack” on the MP, and said that the complainant had accused the MP of “fanning the flames of racial hatred”.

7. The fourth article was a leader column which called for support for the MP. It identified one of the complainant’s funders, a Trust, and said that it was “implicated in the saga in which the Labour MP of Rotherham has received death threats for condemning the sexual abuse of girls by Pakistani men. Just Yorkshire, which is largely funded by [the Trust], focuses on racial justice in Rotherham. Its leader has accused [the MP] of ‘inciting and inviting hatred against minorities’ for highlighting the ethnic heritage of the men involved in the 2014 Rotherham sex-grooming scandal. As a result [the MP’s] police protection has had to be increased”.

8. The fifth article reported that the Home Secretary had ordered research into why men convicted of grooming gang sex crimes are “disproportionately of Pakistani origin”. The article reflected on the newspaper’s own coverage the previous day; it said that it had revealed that “[the MP] was receiving increased security detail after her comments led to death threats and alleged moves by hard-left and Muslim opponents to force her from her Rotherham constituency”. It reported, “counterterrorism officers increased [the MP’s] security risk level in March after she received death threats. A report by Rotherham-based racial justice charity had accused her of “fanning the flames of racial hatred” and acting like a “neo-fascist murderer”.

9. The sixth article was an opinion piece, in which the columnist criticised the backlash which the Member of Parliament had received for her comments. He said, “Activists who have denounced the Rotherham MP are trying to shut down debate about real problems in their community; yesterday we revealed that accusations of racism against [the MP] and consequent threats to her on social media had been ramped up by a report published by a so-called racial justice charity”. The columnist named Just Yorkshire’s director, and said that he had accused [the MP] of “industrial-scale racism”. 

10. The seventh article referred to the Trust which had been identified in the third and fourth article, and criticised its decision to fund a separate group which was allegedly involved in terror related activities. The article also criticised other funding decisions which the Trust had made, including its decision to fund the complainant. The article reported, “The Times reported this week that the Quaker organisation had given £550,000 to a group that accused a Labour MP of ‘industrial scale racism’ for highlighting the sexual abuse of girls by gangs of British Pakistani men”. It reported that the Charity Commission’s director of investigations and enforcement had said that “it had opened an investigation into Just Yorkshire for its attack on [the MP]”; it quoted the director as saying, “we are examining the administration of the charity and scrutinising some of its activities”.

11. The articles were published in substantially the same form online, under the following headlines:

  • “Terror police boost security for MP [name] over criticism of Asian sex gangs”;
  • “Rotherham MP [name] faced fury for sex gangs article in The Sun”;
  • “Cash awards by Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust are questioned”;
  • “True Champion”;
  • “Savid Javid orders research into ethnic origin of sex grooming gangs”;
  • Criticising Muslims doesn’t make you racist”;
  • “British charity gave €310,000 to group linked with the INLA”.

12. The complainant said that the newspaper had, over a series of seven articles spanning four days, perpetuated to its readers the false and damaging impression that the publication of its March 2018 report had led to death threats against the MP. The complainant said that there was no evidence for this inaccurate claim, which had been made twice in the first article under complaint. It said that the newspaper had denied the charity a proper right of reply or any opportunity to comment on the articles’ serious claims.

13. The complainant said that when it had published “A Temperature Check” report in March 2018, there had been no publicity, save for one article in the Big Issue North and an item on Radio Sheffield. It said that there were no media reports of death threats of any kind against the MP in the period following the publication of the March 2018 report until the first article was published on 25 July 2018. The complainant said that the newspaper’s coverage had, in fact, led to a series of threats, including rape and death threats, being made against the charity and its staff.

14. The complainant said that the fourth, fifth and sixth articles had all referred to death threats without any direct reference to the cause. It said that since Just Yorkshire had been identified in these articles, and given the inaccurate allegation which had been made twice in the first article, readers would inevitably have associated these death threats with its report.

15. The complainant denied that the March 2018 report had resulted in a response from the Metropolitan Police’s counter-terrorism unit. The complainant disputed that the publication of its report had resulted in the police “stepping up” the MP’s security or that it had resulted in her “security risk level” being increased. The complainant said that the police had confirmed that the charity was not the subject of any investigation relating to death threats received by the Member of Parliament.

16. The complainant said that the seventh article was misleading in its presentation of the actions of the Charity Commission.

17. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that, at the time of publication, the Charity Commission had “opened an investigation” into the charity for its “attack” on [the MP], for two reasons. First, it had been engaging with the Charity Commission since January 2018; this pre-dated the “A Temperature Check” report and the coverage in The Times. Second, the statement which had been issued by the director of the Charity Commission’s director of investigations and enforcement, namely that the Commission was “examining the administration of the charity and scrutinising some of its activities”, had related to another report published in August 2017, which was unconnected to the March 2018 report.

18. The complainant further said that it was inaccurate for the seventh article to describe its actions as being an “attack” on the MP.

19. The complainant acknowledged that the Commission had written to it on 26 July 2018, specifically in relation to the newspaper’s coverage. The complainant provided a copy of that email to IPSO. In it, the Commission had requested that the complainant “provide [its] response to the Commission concerning the articles which have been published in the media yesterday and today concerning the Charity”. The Commission had also noted in this email that its engagement with the charity was “ongoing” and this further response “will be considered as part of these ongoing discussions with the Charity’s trustees”. The complainant said that it had responded to the Commission’s inquiry, but had not heard further from the Commission.

20. The complainant expressed concern that it had been identified in the seventh article, which was predominantly concerned about the decisions of a Trust to groups allegedly involved in terror related activities. It said that the fact that the article had identified Just Yorkshire as having been funded by this Trust, suggested that it was part of a general policy by the Trust to give grants to charities involved in alleged terror activities.

21. The complainant said that all of the articles under complaint had reported its “A Temperature Check Report” in a biased and misleading manner, in breach of Clause 1. It was not a “scathing” report, as claimed. The complainant noted that the articles had not mentioned any of the caveats which were included in the report; in particular, the fact that it had acknowledged that it was only focused on one section of a local community, and that the impact of the MP’s comments could only be determined by the police or Rotherham Council. The complainant also said that the articles had quoted selectively from the report. It accepted that the preface had accused the MP of “fanning the flames of racial hatred” and acting like a “neo-fascist murderer”, but said that the articles had failed to provide the context in which these words had been used.

22. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to report that its director had accused the MP of “industrial scale racism”. In fact, he had accused her of “bordering on industrial scale racism”; the complainant said that the reported phrase over dramatized what had been said in a press release published shortly after the MP had written her opinion piece.  The complainant also said that the “radical academic” referred to in the first article was not a “leading figure” in the charity.

23. The complainant said that the seven articles were discriminatory, in breach of Clause 12. It suggested that the newspaper’s focus on the charity’s actions was because most of its members are from a Pakistani heritage, and therefore were believed by The Times to be Muslim. The complainant said that the articles had prompted a series of racially motivated threats. It further said that the article had named its director and identified him as an author of the March 2018; it said that singling out this individual, was in-and-of itself an act of discrimination. The complainant further said that when approached by the journalist over the phone prior to publication, its staff were questioned about their religion.

24. The newspaper accepted that it was inaccurate to report in the first article that the complainant’s March 2018 report had been officially associated with death threats which had been made against the MP. It said that the remaining articles under complaint did not suggest that the March 2018 report had led to the MP receiving death threats. The newspaper said that the error in the first article was a slip, in a series of seven articles which had accurately reported that the MP had received serious, significant and distressing threats, including deaths threats, since the publication of her opinion piece. The newspaper said that in that context, the error which had been made twice in the first article was not a significant inaccuracy; however, it accepted that no death threats received at the time were attributable to the complainant’s report.

25. In light of this, the newspaper published the following correction in its established Corrections and Clarifications column on 24 December 2018:

“Our article about [name] MP's security protection being increased (News, 25 July) suggested that a report by the charity Just Yorkshire had led to death threats against [name]. In fact, as was made clear elsewhere in our coverage, whilst the report led police to increase her security protection, no death threats made at that time were attributable to the report. We are happy to make this clear”.

26. The newspaper also amended the online version of first article and published the following footnote to record the change which was made. The newspaper also offered the complainant an opportunity to submit a letter to the Editor:

“This article was amended on 5 November 2018 to make clear that whilst Just Yorkshire’s report let police to an increase in [name] security protection, no death threats made at that time were attributable to the report”.

27. The newspaper said that it was informed by trusted and highly reliable and credible sources that the MP’s life had been threatened both before and after the publication of the March 2018 report. These sources had also claimed that the publication of the report, and its contents, had increased counter-terrorism police’s already significant concerns about the potential risk to the MP’s security, and had led directly to their advice that she should increase her security protection, which duly happened. The newspaper said it was unable to provide further details regarding how it was sure this information was accurate, because of the need to protect its confidential sources.

28. During the course of IPSO’s investigation, the newspaper provided an email from the MP, in which she confirmed that the information which the newspaper had received from its confidential sources was accurate.

29. The newspaper did not accept that the seventh article distorted the Charity Commission’s actions; it was accurate to report that the Commission had “opened an investigation” into the complainant regarding its March 2018 report. The newspaper said that the journalist had approached the Commission, prior to publication, to query the outcome of a complaint which the Commission had received in April 2018 regarding the March 2018 report. The Charity Commission’s response was as follows:

“As the independent charity regulator, we ensure charities comply with charity law and hold them to account for their decisions on behalf of the public, who expect charities to uphold the highest standards of conduct and ethics. An important part of our role as regulator is to identify and carefully examine serious concerns about charities. We are already in regulatory engagement with Just West Yorkshire about the charity’s administration and research activities. On [Trust], our guidance makes clear that charities need to take steps to carry out appropriate due diligence on organisations applying for grants, must ensure grants are only for activities and outcomes that further the charity’s purposes and decisions made are in charity’s best interests. Charities should be able to explain and justify their funding decisions. We have asked the charity to do this. If we need to take action in either case, we will not hesitate to do so.”

Our concerns about Just West Yorkshire

“We can confirm that we have an ongoing compliance case into Just West Yorkshire, triggered by complaints we received, and that we are scrutinising some of the charity’s activities. We are examining the administration of the charity and trustees’ decision-making around its research work. We recently held a meeting with the trustees. Our enquiries are ongoing and have not yet decided on next steps. Our case predates the story published in the Times earlier this week; we have contacted the charity for its response to the concerns raised.”

30. The newspaper said that it was justified in its use of the word “investigation” on the basis that the Commission was dealing with complaints, making enquiries, engaging with the charity, scrutinising the activities in relation the March 2018 report, and had confirmed that it had an ongoing compliance case with the complainant.

31. The newspaper did not accept that the difference between the claim “bordering on industrial scale-racism” and “industrial scale racism” was material or significant. The newspaper said that plainly, if the scale of racism is “bordering on industrial”, that is so vast that it makes no appreciable difference to describe it as “industrial”. It said that the scale of the racism and the amplitude of the insult was the same in both cases.

32. The newspaper said that it was accurate to describe the academic referred to in the first article, as a leading figure in the charity. It said that it had noted to the charity’s chair, prior to publication, that when the report into the MP’s conduct was published by the charity, the Companies House records still showed the academic as a director. The newspaper said that, at the date of the article’s publication, the man had been listed as a trustee of the charity on its own website; there was therefore no need for the journalist to make further enquiries as to his status within the charity – not least because it did not describe him as a trustee. In addition, the publication said that the man had been a trustee of the charity for 19 months, during which time he had co-authored a report on its behalf into Prevent, for which the charity had to apologise.

33. The newspaper rejected the complainant’s argument that the articles under complaint represented a breach of Clause 12, either in isolation, or when taken as a whole. It said that reporting matters of public interest which raise issues affecting Muslims is not itself racist or discriminatory. It said that none of the articles referred prejudicially or pejoratively to any individual’s race, colour or religion and therefore the terms of Clause 12 were not engaged.

34. The complainant said that the correction published by the newspaper failed to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii). It said that the first article did not “suggest” that its report had led to death threats; it had asserted it as fact. The complainant said that the correction lacked prominence and did not constitute an apology.

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

35. The print headline to the first article on page 7 had made the categorical claim that the March 2018 report had “led” to the MP receiving death threats. This was a significant claim given its seriousness; it established a causal link between the actions of the complainant and the threats which the MP had received against her life. The newspaper had produced no evidence to support the claim made in the headline on page 7. The newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the first article on this point, in breach of Clause 1(i), and a correction was required under the terms of Clause 1(ii). The Committee expressed some concern at the wording of the correction which was published, particularly the use of the word “suggested”; the headline of the first article had stated, as fact, that the March 2018 report had led to death threats. However it did make clear the correct position that no death threats made at that time were attributable to the March 2018 report.

36. The MP had confirmed that her life had been threatened both before and after the publication of the March 2018 report. She had also confirmed that the report’s publication—and its contents – had increased counter-terrorism police’s already significant concerns about the potential risk to her security, and led to their advice that her security protection be increased, which subsequently happened. The Committee considered the claim made in the first article, that the newspaper “understood” that the March 2018 report had led to death threats, in that context. Unlike the headline’s categorical claim, the article had made clear the basis for the newspaper’s belief that the report had led to death threats against MP, namely that police had increased the her security risk level and had advised that she accept extra protection. There was no further breach of Clause 1(i) in respect of the first article.

37. The fourth, fifth and sixth articles did not claim that the complainant’s March 2018 report was the source of the death threats received by the MP. They accurately set out the context in which the report had been published – at a time when the MP had already received serious and significant threats, including death threats, following the publication of her opinion piece in August 2017. This aspect of the complaint did not breach Clause 1.

38. The Committee then turned to consider the remaining alleged inaccuracies subject to complaint.

39. It was clear from its correspondence that the Commission were making inquiries relating to the complainant’s March 2018 report, and were doing so in the context of an ongoing investigation into the complainant’s research activities. Given that the Commission were responding to complaints and requesting further information from the complainant in relation to the contents of its March 2018 report, it was not misleading for the seventh article to report that the Commission had “opened an investigation” into the charity regarding it. This aspect of the complaint did not represent a breach of Clause 1.

40. The complainant did not dispute that the statement of the Commission’s Director of Investigations and Enforcement had been reported accurately in the seventh article and the newspaper’s additional characterisation of the Commission’s response to the March 2018 report was not misleading, for the reasons set out above. The newspaper had taken care over the reporting of the Commission’s activities in respect of the complainant and no misleading impression was created. This aspect of the complaint did not breach Clause 1.

41. The “radical academic” identified in the first article had remained listed as a trustee of the charity on the complainant’s own website prior to the publication of the first article. In any event, the newspaper had shown that the man had occupied an active and senior role in the charity, including assisting in the production of its published reports. The newspaper had taken care over the description of the man as a “leading figure” in Just Yorkshire and no correction was required.

42. The preface of the March 2018 report had accused the MP of fanning “the flames of racial hatred” and had likened her comments to the actions of “neo-fascists” who had murdered a Muslim man in the MP’s constituency two years previously. These were serious claims levelled at an elected politician; the newspaper’s characterization of the report as “scathing”, and an “attack” on the MP, or that the complainant had “led” criticism against her, was not misleading in those circumstances. The writer of the preface to the report had also accused the MP of having made “racially inflammatory remarks” and "sending out a message to the entire non-Muslim population of the country, whites especially, that our daughters are all at risk from males of Pakistani heritage”. It was also accepted that a Director of Just Yorkshire had described the comments of the MP as “bordering on industrial scale racism”. In these circumstances, the Committee did not establish that it was significantly misleading for the newspaper to report that the MP had been accused of “industrial scale racism” by a leader of Just Yorkshire. The Committee did not establish that the omission of the wider context in which the criticisms of the MP had been made, or the further “caveats” which the complainant said were contained in the March 2018 report, rendered the articles misleading. This aspect of the complaint did not breach Clause 1.

43. The seventh article did not claim that the complainant was part of a general policy of the named Trust to give grants to charities involved in alleged terror-related activities. Care was taken to make clear that the criticism directed towards the Trust in respect of its funding arrangements with the complainant was based on the complainant’s response to the MP’s opinion piece. This aspect of the complaint did not breach Clause 1.

44. Clause 1(iii) places an obligation upon a publication to provide a fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies, when reasonably called for. This is distinct from a publication’s obligation to correct under the terms of Clause 1(ii). In response to the complainant’s request, the newspaper had offered an opportunity for the complainant to submit a letter for publication. The Committee considered that such an opportunity was fair, given the significant inaccuracy which it had established above. There was no breach of Clause 1(iii).

45. Clause 12 provides protections for identifiable individuals against irrelevant, prejudicial or pejorative references to certain characteristics specified under the Code. The articles under complaint contained no such reference and so the Committee did not conclude that the concerns raised by the complainant engaged the terms of Clause 12.

Conclusions

46. The complaint was upheld in part under Clause 1(i).

Remedial Action Required

47. The headline on page 7 of the first print article had made the categorical claim that the March 2018 report had led to the MP receiving death threats. At its first opportunity, the newspaper had accepted that the death threats made against the MP since the publication of the March 2018 report had not been directly linked to the report itself. The newspaper corrected the online version of the first article accordingly and offered to do the same in print. The Committee welcomed the newspaper’s prompt action. The wording made clear the correct position that no death threats made at that time were attributable to the March 2018 report. The Committee considered that the publication of this wording in the newspaper’s established Corrections and Clarifications column, as well as online, represented due prominence. The remedial action taken by the newspaper was sufficient to meet the terms of Clause 1(ii). No further action was required.

Date complaint received: 20/11/2018
Date decision issued: 29/03/2019

Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.