Ruling

09046-17 O’Brien v Daily Mail

    • Date complaint received

      14th September 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 09046-17 O’Brien v Daily Mail

Summary of complaint

1. Brendan O’Brien complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Corbyn hires a Stalin apologist”, published on 16 May 2017. The article was also published online.

2. The article was a comment piece which reported that Jeremy Corbyn had hired a “Stalin apologist” during the general election campaign and claimed that he had “forged his strong links to Corbyn” through the Stop The War Coalition (STWC). The article claimed that the STWC is “viscerally opposed to Israel” and referenced an article previously published on the STWC website entitled "Time to go war with Israel as the only path to peace in the Middle East".

3. The complainant accepted that some of the further articles relied on by the newspaper expressed an opposition to Israel, which could be said to be visceral, however he drew a distinction between an opposition to the actions or policies of Israel and an opposition to Israel itself. He said that the STWC was only opposed to the actions and policies of the state, not to the country or to the people. The complainant said that the publication of an article which is critical of Israel cannot suggest that one is “anti-Israel”. He also said that the further articles referred to by the newspaper in support of the statement were taken out of context, and noted reports made by other prominent organisations which have condemned Israeli settlements and policies.

4. The newspaper denied that there had been a breach of the Code. It said that the columnist was entitled to express his opinion, where its basis was made clear in the article. It said that the statement was clearly presented as the columnist’s opinion, and that it was apparent that the article was a comment piece. The newspaper also said that most adjectives are necessarily an expression of one’s opinion, a point which is generally understood by readers, and that the adjective "viscerally" summarised the extent – in the columnist’s honest opinion  of the STWC’s seeming and often-published antipathy to Israel.

5. The newspaper said that there was reliable evidence in the public domain to support the statement that the STWC is viscerally opposed to Israel, in terms both of Israeli state policy and the existence of the Israeli state itself. It said that in any event, it is not necessary to draw a distinction between the two. The newspaper cited various articles, bulletins and poems which had been published on the STWC website, some of which it claimed sought to de-legitimise the existence of the Israeli state, and some which were highly critical of Israeli state policy. It noted an invitation on the STWC website to the Third Cairo Conference 2005, and said that one of the Conference’s objectives was to “support the resistance in Palestine and Iraq”. With regards to the piece referred to within the article, the newspaper said that the term “war” is bellicose, regardless of whether the opposition sought a “peaceful” war.

6. The newspaper also said that the STWC is well-known for organising marches to the Israeli embassy and noted that banners seen at such rallies displayed quotes which would support the reported claim. It also noted that some of the STWC’s patrons had publicly been strongly critical of Israeli state policies and actions, and provided links to a Twitter post and an article which it said demonstrated this. Furthermore, the newspaper noted a statement made by the Board of Deputies of British Jews which it said appeared to support that the STWC is viscerally opposed to Israel. It said that in the absence of any articles on the STWC website which suggested the group’s support of Israel, it was reasonable to report the statement.

7. The complainant said that it was inaccurate to state as fact that the STWC is “viscerally opposed to Israel”. He said that this claim was not substantiated in the article, because the newspaper had sought only to rely on an article which had been published on the STWC website. The complainant said that the article referred to was taken out of context, because it was advocating a “peaceful war” against Israel’s legitimacy. He said that as the STWC is a campaigning organisation, it would not be expected to publish articles which were supportive of Israel.

Relevant Code provisions

8. 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

9. The Committee acknowledged that the by-line in the print article, and the fact that the online article appeared under a “news” strap, may have given an initial impression of a news piece. However, it considered that the style and tone of the article made clear that it was a comment piece, which focused on the political and personal background of another individual. Furthermore, it is not disputed that the STWC had previously expressed its broader opposition to Israeli state policies. In these circumstances, and in the context of a comment piece which was not focused on the STWC, the Committee did not consider that the characterisation of the STWC as being “viscerally opposed to Israel” was significantly inaccurate or misleading. The term “visceral” was the columnist’s characterisation of this opposition, an opinion which he was entitled to express. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

10. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

11. N/A.

Date complaint received: 22/05/2017
Date decision issued: 16/08/2017