Ruling

Resolution Statement – 10191-22 Mofeed v thejc.com

    • Date complaint received

      17th November 2022

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Resolution Statement – 10191-22 Mofeed v thejc.com

Summary of Complaint

1. Omar Mofeed complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thejc.com breach Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) in an article headlined “Labour conference motion on sanctioning Israel was the work of former Hamas health minister’s son”, published on 13 October 2021.

2. The article, which appeared online only, reported on an “anti-Israel resolution that was passed at [the] Labour Party conference” and which was – according to the article – “drafted by the son of a Hamas health minister”. The article went on to report that the man had “[t]ak[en] credit for the controversial party motion on Al Jazeera” and that his “father was the health minister for the Hamas government in Gaza until his death in 2014”.

3. The article went on to report that “[w]hen asked by the JC, [the man] initially denied his father was a Hamas member, and then said: ‘My father died in 2014 when I was still young. He was a surgeon who did remarkable work, for which he is widely recognised in Palestine, building health services for the people of Gaza. I am deeply proud of the work that he did in caring for the health of others and his legacy is extremely important to me.’”

4. The article also referred to the man as being a “labour activist with a history of anti-Israel posts” who “had been found to have posted messages on Facebook […] supporting Hamas terrorists such as Muhammad Abu Shamala, who was killed in Operation Protective Edge by the IDF in 2014”. The article included images of the Facebook post which the publication claimed said this; the post was written in Arabic.

5. The complainant was the man who the article claimed had drafted the Labour Party motion. Five days prior to the article’s publication, a journalist acting on behalf of the publication sent him a text message, which said: “We’re planning to write a story on comments that you have appear to have made [sic] and would like to give you the opportunity to comment on them before publication. We’d also like to give you the opportunity to comment on the fact that your father was health minister in the Hamas government in Gaza until 2014.”

6. The same journalist then sent an email to the complainant, four days prior to the article’s publication. This email again asked for comments on the complainant’s father’s role in the Hamas government, as well as comments which the complainant was alleged to have made. This email was accompanied by screenshots of the Facebook posts, including the alleged comments.

7. The complainant responded to the email seeking comment the next day. He gave a comment regarding the Facebook posts, and the following comment about his father:

My father, who passed away in 2014, was a senior surgeon, the founder and the first dean of the Faculty of Medicine in the two universities in Gaza. He was also the head of the Gaza Health Committee. He was never part of any political party, including Hamas.

8. The journalist followed up on this email on the same day; part of this follow-up email said: “With regards to your father, I was wondering if I could get comment from you on these articles where he is described as 'Hamas health minister', "Palestinian Health Minister in Gaza' and 'Hamas Activist'”.

9. The following day, the complainant sent a further email to the journalist:

Please find below my new comment (to be added to the comment I sent yesterday)

My father died in 2014 when I was still young. He was a surgeon who did remarkable work, for which he is widely recognised in Palestine, building health services for the people of Gaza. I am deeply proud of the work that he did in caring for the health of others and his legacy is extremely important to me. I have nothing more to add.

10. In March 2022, and five months after the article’s publication, the complainant sent a request to the publication, via email, that the article be removed immediately, citing concerns over its accuracy, but did not receive a response. He then made a further complaint to IPSO in June 2022.

11.  The complainant said that the article contained several inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1. He first said that he had not drafted the “Labour conference motion on sanctioning Israel”, nor had he “[t]ak[en] credit” for its drafting on Al Jazeera. He said that he had played no role in the motion’s drafting or writing.

12. The complainant further said that the article was inaccurate to report that his father had been a member of Hamas; he said that his father had never been a part of any political party, including Hamas. He also disputed that he had “initially denied his father was a Hamas member”; he said that this denial had been consistent across all his responses to the publication; he had not changed this position or backtracked. He said that the manner in which the publication had presented his quote about his father had twisted its meaning in a misleading manner, and also omitted the details he had given the publication about his father’s achievements.

13. The complainant also said that he had not “posted messages on Facebook […] supporting Hamas terrorists such as Muhammad Abu Shamala, who was killed in Operation Protective Edge by the IDF in 2014”. He said that the posts included in the article to support this point referred to his next-door neighbour, who had died in 2011 – and the posts were from this same year, three years before the death of Muhammad Abu Shamala. Therefore, he said, the posts clearly could not have been referring to the man who had died in 2014.

14. The complainant also said that the article breached Clause 2 (Privacy), as it contained inaccurate information about him and his family, which had harmed his personal life. He also expressed concern that the publication had obtained his phone number, as the journalist who prepared the story had reached out to him using this number.

15. The publication said it did not accept that it was significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted to report that the complainant had “[t]ak[en] credit for the controversial party motion on Al Jazeera”, or that he was responsible in part for its drafting; noting that when the complainant had appeared on Al Jazeera he had not denied involvement in the drafting of the motion when this position was put to him by the television reporter. It provided a recording of the interview along with a brief transcript of what it considered to be the relevant part of the interview. This transcript read as follows:

At the beginning, the Al Jazeera interviewer asks: “Omar, I believe you were involved in the drafting of this proposal?”

He replies: “Group [sic] Young Labour was called for this proposal, then it was supported by 12 trade unions, so the Palestine Solidarity Campaign has helped write it and the Arab Labour Group has helped as well.”

16. The publication then said that the claim that the complainant had drafted the motion was entirely consistent with the fact that: the complainant was, at the time of the interview, the general secretary of the Arab Labour Group and a director of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC), both of which he credited in the interview as having helped draft the motion; he was interviewed about the motion by Al Jazeera; and he had previously signed an open letter on behalf of the PSC in 2020, calling for what the publication considered to be “very similar things” to the motion. It further noted that the complainant had not raised any concern about the accuracy of this claim until March 2022 – five months after the article’s publication.

17. Turning to the complainant’s concerns about the article’s description of his father as a “health minister for the Hamas government in Gaza” and a “Hamas member”, it supplied three articles from 2012, 2013, and 2014 which referred to his father as either a “Hamas Health Minister” or “the Palestinian Minister of Health”. It further said that there was an “abundance of unchallenged, credible information in the public domain to suggest” that the complainant’s father had been a Hamas member prior to his death, and that the complainant had not countered this point in his comment to the publication when it was put to him. It did not, therefore, accept that the article was inaccurate on this point.

18. The publication also did not consider that its presentation of the complainant’s comment regarding his father was misleading in breach of Clause 1. It noted that the complainant had made two comments, the first of which denied that his father was involved and the second of which did not. It then said that the second comment had been sent in response to an email from the journalist citing several sources which linked his father to Hamas. The publication didn’t consider, therefore, that it was a breach of Clause 1 to report that “[w]hen asked by the JC, Mr Mofeed initially denied his father was a Hamas member, and then said: ‘My father died in 2014 when I was still young. He was a surgeon who did remarkable work, for which he is widely recognised in Palestine, building health services for the people of Gaza. I am deeply proud of the work that he did in caring for the health of others and his legacy is extremely important to me.’”

19. Regarding the complainant’s position that he had not posted on Facebook supporting a Hamas terrorist who had died in 2014 – and that the post in question in fact referred to a neighbour who had died 3 years earlier – the publication accepted that it had no convincing evidence to support the article’s assertion on this point, and that insufficient care had been taken with regards to its accuracy. It said that this was an error which required correction, and proposed to remove the reference altogether and to add a footnote explaining the error. It proposed the following wording for the footnote:

The original version of this article suggested Mr Mofeed expressed his support for the martyrdom of Muhammad Abu Shamala on Facebook in 2014. We’ve been asked to point out that those comments referred to a next-door neighbour who shared the same name and died in 2011.

20. The publication did not accept that Clause 2 had been breached; the subject matter of the article related to the complainant’s public-facing work – including a television interview he had done – as well as his father’s prominent governmental role. The publication therefore considered that the article’s subject matter did not relate to the complainant’s private or family life.

21. The publication temporarily removed the article from its website once IPSO contacted it with the complainant’s concerns, pending the conclusion of IPSO investigation. However, it proposed the permanent removal of the article from its website, should this resolve the complaint.

22. The complainant said that the journalist had never asked him to comment on his alleged role in the drafting of the motion, and had not said in his text or emails that the article would mention it. He also said that he had not accepted responsibility for the motion’s drafting during the interview with Al Jazeera. While he had not denied it, this was not the same as accepting responsibility – and he had in fact responded that it was the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and the Arab Labour Group who had drafted it. He said that his response and praise of the motion was in no way an affirmation of his personal involvement in the motion’s drafting. He also said that the delay of a few months in telling the publication that he denied drafting the motion was not a confirmation that he had drafted it.

23. While the complainant noted that past news coverage of his father had used his father’s previous governmental roles to associate him with Hamas, his remarks to the journalist were intended to clarify the matter: while his father did hold these positions in the government, he had never affiliated himself to any political party – including Hamas.

24. The complainant said that his second comment about his father was meant to be added to the first – not replace it – and that the first comment made clear that he disputed that his father was a member of Hamas. He said that, as the comments had instead been combined, this had led to his comments being presented in a misleading manner.

25. The complainant also said that the permanent removal of the article would not resolve his complaint, given the large number of people who had already seen it.

26. The publication made a further offer to amend the article, by way of adding a note beneath the headline saying the complainant disputed that he had drafted the motion, should this resolve the complaint.

27. The complainant did not agree to resolve his complaint on this basis. He said that he wanted the article to be removed, but was informed by IPSO that this was not a possible outcome of the complaints process, as IPSO cannot compel the removal of online articles.

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 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Mediated Outcome

28. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

29. During IPSO’s investigation the publication offered to permanently remove the article, and to write a letter directly to the complainant confirming that it had removed the article on his request.

30. The complainant said that this would resolve the matter to his satisfaction.

31. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 20/06/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 03/10/2022