Ruling

10016-23 The Islamic Centre of England v The Jewish Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      29th June 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10016-23 The Islamic Centre of England v The Jewish Chronicle


Summary of Complaint

1. The Islamic Centre of England complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Children chant massacre-Jews song at north London school”, published on 25 November 2022.

2. The article – which appeared across pages 6 and 7 of the newspaper, underneath a banner reading “Iran’s toxic propaganda project” – reported that an Iranian “propaganda video” in which “dozens of children sing a song that references an apocalyptic myth about massacring Jews” had been filmed in London.  It stated that “some scenes” of the video were shot at the complainant’s headquarters.

3. It reported that, in the video, “children sing about joining 313 mythical warriors in a conflict against the infidels, when (accordingly to the present Iranian regime) Israel will be obliterated and Jews killed.” It said that the children in the video could be seen “saluting and singing their allegiance to their ‘commander’, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, as well as singing about “fighting in history’s final battle for the mythical leader known as the Mahdi, last seen supposedly almost 1,200 years ago”. It then reported that the children sang: “We wait for under the flag of our leaders. Tell me beloved, will you arrive soon? May Allah hasten your appearance […] We may be young but do not see us as too young. For you I will rise up and you will not see me fall. From the 313, you will see I will answer the call…Take my oath as a warrior and servant”.  

4. The article also included a comment from a prominent thinktank, which described the “cult” of Mahdi as “antisemitic to its core [because] it holds that before the Mahdi can return, Israel must be destroyed and all the world’s Jews put to death”. It called the rise “of military doctrine of Mahdi-ism [the] biggest single threat to the world’s Jewish communities and Israel’s existence”. The article then included a comment from a spokesman for the complainant, who denied that the “local” version of the song had this meaning. It reported that, while the spokesman accepted that Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) leaders said Israel must be obliterated before the Mahdi’s return, he said there was “nothing in the [religious] books about destroying Israel”, and the song recorded in London “is nothing to do with a political agenda. Here we focus on religion”.

5. The article also reported that Iranian versions of the song include a verse where children promise to “tread on the path” followed by a named IRGC terrorist, who was killed by a US drone strike in 2022, but that this “is missing from the version recorded in London.”

6. A substantively similar version of the article also appeared online under the headline “Children chant massacre Jews song at North London school”.

7. The complainant said the article was inaccurate and misleading, in breach of Clause 1,  as it misinterpreted and misrepresented the song. The complainant denied that the version of the song sung by the children in North London and within the video contained reference to Jewish people or Judaism, Israel or “massacring Jews”. The complainant also denied that the song contained words related to “mythical warriors” or “a conflict against the infidel”, which would support the article’s interpretation of the song as a “massacre-Jews song”.  In support of its position, it provided its own translation of the song; this translation did not include the following lines quoted within the article: “Tell me beloved, will you arrive soon? May Allah hasten your appearance” or “Take my oath as a warrior and servant”. The translation stated: “Do not see me as too young; For you I will rise up and remain standing tall; Do not see me as too young; I make a promise that you will not see me fall; Do not see me as too young; From the 313 you’ll see I’ll answer the call”.

8. The complainant also said that the article was discriminatory in breach of Clause 12 as it “twist[ed] the meaning” of an Islamic song.

9. The publication did not accept that it had breached the Editors’ Code. It said that the headline was supported and clarified by the text of the article, as required by the terms of Clause 1 (i). Though the publication accepted that a "local" version of the song may have been sung by the children – rather than the "Iranian" version which explicitly venerated a terrorist who had been "planning to murder Diaspora Jews" – the article was not inaccurate or misleading given the context of the song. The publication referenced the apocalyptic legend of the return of the Mahdi – which was the subject of the song. It said that – according to the current regime of Iran, and a point made clear within the text of the article – a precondition for the Mahdi's return is the destruction of Israel and the slaughter of Jews. In support of its position, the publication shared a paper by the thinktank on the subject, which stated that the song was being used as part of a “major global propaganda campaign” by Iran. It also noted that the two locations used to film the video had links to the Iranian regime, and that the complainant’s own director was the official UK representative of the Supreme Leader of Iran, a point the complainant did not appear to dispute during IPSO’s investigation. Further, the publication noted that the text of the article made clear the complainant’s position that the “local” version, sung by the children, had a different meaning to the Iranian version.

10. With regard to Clause 12, the publication did not accept that the terms of this Clause were engaged; it said that all references to Islam were factual, responsible and entirely justified.

Relevant Clause 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

11. The Committee noted that the headline made a powerful and highly contentious claim. Clause 1 requires that the Committee scrutinises headlines, given their prominence and potential to mislead, to see whether they are sufficiently supported by the contents of the story: a publication may breach Clause 1 where the headline lacks a sufficient basis in the text.

12. From the material provided by the publication, it was clear that the cultural, political, and religious context surrounding this song was complex. In considering whether the version of the song sung by the children had been misrepresented, the Committee examined the full article. In doing so, the Committee noted that the opening of the article stated that the song “references an apocalyptic myth about massacring Jews”, with the children singing about “joining 313 mythical warriors” in a conflict when “according to the present Iranian regime” Israel will be “obliterated and Jews killed”. The article then detailed the context of the song – including the political and theological outlook of the present Iranian regime and its use of the song – and the alleged links between the regime and the locations where the video was filmed. It was not in dispute that both versions of the song referenced “313”, or that IRGC leaders have stated publicly that Israel must be obliterated before the Mahdi’s return. In this context, and where the article included the complainant’s denial that the “local” version of the song had the meaning of its Iranian counterpart, the Committee considered that the publication had a sufficient basis for the headline claim. It was therefore the Committee’s view that the publication had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information. Where basis for the headline was explained and contextualised in the text, the Committee did not establish a significant inaccuracy requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1.

13. Clause 12 relates only to pejorative, prejudicial, or irrelevant reference to an individual’s protected characteristic. The complainant’s concerns related to Islam in general and did not relate to an individual. Therefore, the terms of Clause 12 were not engaged by the concerns raised by the complainant.

Conclusion(s)

14. The complaint was not upheld.

 

Date complaint received:  16/01/2023

Date complaint concluded:  14/06/2023