Ruling

09296-15 Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      17th February 2016

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 09296-15 Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) v The Times

Summary of complaint

1. Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “One in five British Muslims has sympathy for Isis”, published in print and online on 24 November 2015.

2. The article reported that, according to an opinion poll conducted by The Sun newspaper, one in five Muslims “has sympathy for fighters who choose to leave Britain to wage war in Syria”. It included comments from a number of prominent Muslim individuals, criticising the so-called Islamic State (IS). It also noted that some had questioned the reliability of the poll, with critics saying that it did not distinguish between “those who have gone out to fight for Islamic State and the multitude of other factions, including the Shia militants and Kurds fighting in Syria”. The article included an image of the poll question, taken from The Sun.

3. The article was also published in the same form online, without the image of the poll question.

4. The complainant said that the headline was inaccurate: the survey question reported had not made explicit reference to IS, and those surveyed could have believed it to refer to individuals fighting in Syria for other groups. The article had later referred to this point. It was inaccurate to report that 1 in 5 British Muslims had sympathy for the ideals of IS.

5. The newspaper did not accept a breach of the Code. It noted that the presence of British Muslims among IS fighters had been widely reported, with the estimated number ranging from 700 to 2000. In contrast, only a handful of cases in which British Muslims had joined other groups had been reported. The newspaper did not consider, therefore, that survey respondents would have been in any doubt as to which fighters the question referred to. Furthermore, the questions preceding that reported had made explicit reference to IS. The context of the question was therefore clear.

6. The newspaper noted that the question of whether there was a meaningful distinction between sympathy for those who fight for IS and sympathy for the ideals of IS was a matter of opinion. To clarify its headline, and following earlier complaints, it published the following clarification on 26 November, in its corrections and clarifications column on its letters page, on page 36:

We reported the findings of a Survation poll of 1000 British Muslims (News 24 Nov). Asked “How do you feel about young Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria?”, 14% of respondents expressed “some sympathy” and 5 per cent “a lot of sympathy”. The survey did not distinguish between those who go to fight for Islamic State and those who join other factions in Syria, and it did not ask about attitudes towards Isis itself. Our headline, “One in five British Muslims has sympathy for Isis,” was misleading in failing to reflect this.

This was also added to the online article, and the online headline was amended to “One in five British Muslims has sympathy for young Muslims who join fighters in Syria”.

7. The complainant did not consider that the correction had been published promptly, or with sufficient prominence.

Relevant Code Provisions

8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence.

Findings of the Committee

9. Respondents had been asked about their levels of sympathy for individuals “who leave Britain to join fighters in Syria”. They had not been asked about sympathy for IS itself, or its ideology. It was therefore misleading for the headline to present the survey findings as showing sympathy for IS. This distinction between sympathy for individuals and for the ideology of IS was significant: sympathy for the ideology would not allow for the sort of reasonable alternative explanation which might be given by someone who had expressed sympathy with the individuals involved. The headline misrepresentation of the survey findings represented a failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1 (i), and a correction was required to avoid a breach of 1(ii).

10. Following complaints, the newspaper had promptly published a clarification, in print and online, and had amended the online headline. The print clarification had appeared in the newspaper’s regular Corrections and Clarifications column, two days after the original article had been published. The Committee recognised the importance of such columns, which provide a consistent position for corrections. The article under complaint had appeared on page 11, and the publication of a clarification in the regular column was sufficiently prominent. The Committee considered that the action taken by the newspaper was sufficient to meet the terms of 1 (ii). There was no further breach of the Code on this point.

11. The text of the article had made clear that the question had referred to “fighters who choose to leave Britain to wage war in Syria”. It had not failed to distinguish between individuals and ideals, and the text of the article did not raise a further breach of the Code.

Conclusions

12. The complaint was upheld.

Remedial Action Required

13. The newspaper had promptly published a sufficiently prominent clarification, which corrected the inaccurate impression given by the headline, and had amended the online article and appended a clarification to it. No further action was required.

Date complaint received: 25/11/2015
Date decision issued: 17/02/2016