Ruling

10205-22 British Pakistani Christians Ltd v The Sun

    • Date complaint received

      2nd February 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10205-22 British Pakistani Christians Ltd v The Sun

Summary of Complaint

1. British Pakistani Christians Ltd complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “CHARITY CHIEF RESIGNS OVER SEX SLAVE AFFAIR”, published on 18 June 2022.

2. The article reported on the resignation of a “Christian charity boss” – the complainant organisation’s previous chairman – after he reportedly had “an affair with a volunteer he helped rescue from sex slavery”.

3. It went on to report on the aftermath of the resignation, stating that “[l]ast month [May 2022] the [Charity Commission] published a report into the charity. It raised serious concerns over the competence of the trustees to safeguard vulnerable people and to account for donations spent overseas”. The following paragraph reported that “[i]t also reprimanded the charity for publicly attacking the woman as a liar”. The article closed by stating: “The charity […] said: ‘We spent three years under investigation. We feel no need to say any more.’”

4. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline ”Christian charity boss quits after affair with volunteer he rescued from sex slavery”.

5. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1; it said that charity trustees had never “attack[ed]” the woman who had made allegations about the previous chairman. It said that, had the trustees been found to have acted in this manner, they would have been heavily penalised and banned from being trustees.

6. The complainant further said that the article breached Clause 1 by reporting that “The charity […] said: ‘We spent three years under investigation. We feel no need to say any more’” – though it did not specify why it believed this statement to be inaccurate. It expressed further concerns that the article was biased against it and that “pertinent information” was omitted from the article to sensationalise it.

7. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. Turning first to the question of whether the Charity Commission had “reprimanded the charity for publicly attacking the woman as a liar”, it said that the charity had sent the following tweets from its Twitter account (@britishasianchristian) on 2 December 2020 and 23 January 2021 respectively, and provided copies:

Soon the lies of a woman who has caused so much pain for so long will be revealed. Our victory is in Jesus [sic] name …

I feel great today. I am so glad that the monster who tried to ruin my life has failed in her exploits. I renew my life with vigour! God is our friend through all troubles!

8. The publication further said that the woman, who had allegedly had an affair with the previous chairman, had told it that she had had a phone call with two Charity Commission representatives on 8 December 2020. During the phone call, the woman said that she had been told that the Commission had reprimanded the Charity in relation to the 2 December tweet, and would do so again. The publication said that the woman had provided it with a recording of the phone call, and they were satisfied that it corroborated her account. However, to avoid prejudicing an ongoing investigation into the charity, she did not wish for it to be provided to IPSO. The publication provided the following excerpts, which it said was from the phone call and corroborated the woman’s account that the Charity Commission had reprimanded the charity:

“We have engaged with the charity, […] we have contacted the charity in particular over the Tweet that you shared with us, where it talked about, it didn’t identify you in person but was clearly targeted, and we asked them to take that down and we asked them to explain to us why they thought it was appropriate to post that on a charity Twitter account. […A]s soon as we come off this call we will follow that up with a phone call because it is inappropriate […] it is inappropriate for a charity to have that on there… and that is something we can certainly look at and do something about.”

9. The publication said that this position was also supported by two formal Charity Commission documents, as both included statements which criticised the charity’s handling of the woman’s complaint – which the publication said “necessarily encompasses the social media posts” which the woman had flagged with the Commission. It said that the following quotes, from the Charity Commission’s formal warning issued to the charity on 31 December 2021 and its press release of 19 May 2022 respectively, supported this:

[T]he trustees also failed to adequately manage a specific safeguarding incident and did not recognise the risk to the individual or the charity

The Commission investigated the trustees’ response to the incident and found failures in its immediate handling as well as a general lack of adequate safeguarding policies and procedures

10. Taking these factors into account, the publication said that it had taken care over the accuracy of the claim that the Commission had “reprimanded the charity for publicly attacking the woman as a liar”; it was in possession of tweets showing the “attack[…]”, the recording of the woman’s phone call with the Charity Commission, and the Commission’s two official statements on the matter.

11. Turning next to the complainant’s concern that the article had breached Clause 1 by reporting that “[t]he charity […] said: ‘We spent three years under investigation. We feel no need to say any more’”, the publication said that it had approached the Charity for comment prior to the article’s publication, and that the quote was taken from their response. While the publication noted that the charity had sent additional emails to respond to questions posed by the newspaper prior to publication, it said that the quote given in the article still accurately summarised the charity’s position on the matter: the charity had repeatedly reiterated that the matter had been discussed extensively with the Charity Commission and that the matter had been closed after an investigation – saying, for example: “Every matter you raised has been discussed in detail with the Charity Commission”; “This matter has been discussed in detail with the Charity Commission and investigated”; and “We have proven to the Charity Commission we are capable as trustees. They have now ended their investigation…”.

12. The complainant said that the tweets in question were “very personal statements” made by the previous chairman before he passed the management of the account to another individual. It said that it appeared that the Twitter account was linked to the chairman’s personal Facebook account, and that this was how the tweet had been posted – but did not explain further how the two social media accounts were linked.  

13. The complainant also said that the Twitter account was not in the name of the charity, and that the Charity Commission had not reprimanded the charity for “publicly attacking the woman as a liar” in its report, which it said was insinuated by way the article was written – as it reported that the Commission “also reprimanded the charity for publicly attacking the woman as a liar” after having referred to the report in the preceding paragraph. The complainant expanded on the Twitter account which posted the tweet: it said that it had first been set up under the name of the previous chairman, before changing the name to @britishasianchristian at the time the posts were made. It said that the Twitter account was not an “official” account, as Twitter had “not been a fruitful medium for the charity”. It further noted that the Twitter account had only 1,000 followers, most of whom would not have been aware of what the tweet was referring to, and that no one had reacted to the tweet before it was removed.

14. The complainant also said that, in its opinion, it had not been reprimanded by the Commission: It had been asked to explain why it felt the tweet was an appropriate use of social media, and the Commission had suggested that the post be removed – advice which the charity had followed.

15. During IPSO’s investigation, the complainant contacted the Charity Commission for clarification on whether they had been reprimanded for “publicly attacking the woman as a liar”. A staff member at the Commission responded, saying:

“In response to your question ‘Am I right that your reprimand was for ‘inappropriate use social media’ (twitter account) believed to be an official Charity Twitter account, or was it for calling [the woman] a liar’.

As I have previously advised, the clarification that you are requesting should already be held by the charity, in the emails/Letter sent by the Commission where we have provided the trustees with advice and guidance regarding social media content.

[…]

It will be clear in the Commission letter sent to the trustees at the time, whether any reprimand was for inappropriate use of social media or otherwise.”

16. The complainant also provided the following email during IPSO’s investigation, which was sent to the charity on 7 December 2020:

We have specifically asked the question;

- Who tweeted the message and how they thought that this was an appropriate use of the charity's social media? Please provide a response to this.

We strongly suggest that the trustees remove the post, as using the charity's social media platform in such a way is not appropriate and could further damage the charity's reputation.

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.

Findings of the Committee

17. The Committee noted that the phrasing used in the article was somewhat ambiguous. By saying that “[l]ast month [May 2022] the [Charity Commission] published a report into the charity. It raised serious concerns over the competence of the trustees to safeguard vulnerable people and to account for donations spent overseas”, before making a reference to the charity having been “reprimanded […] for publicly attacking the woman as a liar”, the article could be read as saying that the report itself reprimanded the charity for attacking the woman – which it did not.

18. In assessing whether this ambiguity constituted information which was significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted, the Committee noted that it was not in dispute that the Charity Commission had raised concerns with the charity about a tweet which referred to the “lies of a woman”. It was also not in dispute that, when raising these concerns, the Commission had “strongly suggested” the tweet’s removal, and said that the use of “the charity’s social media in such a way is not appropriate”. Following this email, the charity said that it had removed the tweet.

19. Therefore, while there was dispute over whether the charity account was the charity’s official account, it was clear that the Charity Commission considered it to be the “charity’s social media” and that the charity was able to remove the post upon being asked to – demonstrating that it did exercise control over the account.

20. Taking these factors into account, the Committee did not consider that the article was significantly inaccurate, misleading, or distorted in its reporting that the charity “reprimanded […] for publicly attacking the woman as a liar” – notwithstanding the ambiguity of whether or not this reprimand had appeared in Charity Commission report. It was clear that a Twitter account that the Commission considered to be the charity’s had tweeted about the “lies of a woman”, in reference to the woman who had made allegations against the chairman, and the Commission had told the charity that this was not appropriate, and “strongly suggested” that the post be removed. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

21. When asked for its response to the Charity Commission’s findings, the complainant had responded that “We spent three years under investigation. We feel no need to say any more.” Therefore, including this in the article did not render it inaccurate, misleading, or distorted; this was the response the charity had given when questions were put to it.

22. The complainant had expressed concern that the article was biased against it. The Committee noted that concerns that an article is biased do not – in and of themselves – raise a possible breach of the Editors’ Code. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

23. The complainant had also expressed concerns that the article omitted information in order to sensationalise the story. The Committee noted that the selection of material for publication is a matter of editorial discretion, provided the Code is not otherwise breached. In such circumstances, the complainant’s concern on this point did not represent a breach of Clause 1.

Conclusion(s)

24. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

25. N/A


Date complaint received: 09/08/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 12/01/2023