Ruling

10294-21 The Majority v The Herald

    • Date complaint received

      10th March 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 10294-21 The Majority v The Herald

Summary of Complaint

1. The Majority complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Herald breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “The Gaelophobic fringe of unionism is poisonous and ugly. Action has to be taken”, published on 30 July 2021.

2. The article was an opinion piece, written by a regular columnist for the newspaper.  It was referenced on the front page of the newspaper, accompanied by a photograph of the columnist. The article commented on the prejudice faced by Gaels and the Gaelic language in Scotland, particularly online, noting how “Gaelic’s very existence – even as a marginalised language and culture – seems to trigger those few who see the UK as a single, homogenous nation rather than a diverse state”. The columnist said that Police Scotland’s decision to renew its Gaelic plan “provoked the latest outbursts against the language”, noting the Twitter account of one “British nationalist blog last week encouraged its followers to respond to a police consultation on Gaelic. Its advice: unionists should write ‘use English’ whenever asked how to provide services to Gaels.”

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline “David Leask: How can unionism deal with its Gaelophobic fringe?”

4. The complainant was the blog whose Twitter account was referenced and quoted in the article. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 to describe it as a “British nationalist” blog. It was an anti-Nationalist blog; it did not support nationalism of any kind and attracted support from across the political spectrum. It said that the description used incorrectly likened them to “extremist, anti-immigrant” groups. In addition, the complainant said that the decision not to name it specifically as the source of the tweet was done to prevent any right of reply – an opportunity it believed it was entitled to.

5. The newspaper did not accept any breach of the Editors’ Code. First, it said that the article was an opinion piece, which clearly presented the columnist’s personal view on the subject of language and nationalism. It said that the columnist was entitled to characterise the blog as “British nationalist” and had a sufficient basis to do so.  It was a term that was commonly used to describe those who believed that the UK was a single, homogenous indivisible nation rather than a diverse, multi-national state. In support of this position, the newspaper provided examples of the activities of the blog and individuals closely associated with it. These included: its support for George Galloway’s Alliance for Unity Party; campaigns for the closure of pro-Scottish Independence newspaper titles; demands for speakers of Gaelic – a minority language and symbol of the country’s distinct identity – to speak English; and a column published on the blog  which called for a ban on secession, the proscription of any political party calling for independence, referred to Scotland as a region but the UK as a country and which concluded the assertion that “We are one country”. In addition, it said that political values and terms were inherently subjective, and as such it rejected the complainant’s “narrow” definition of British Nationalism which equated it with “far right nativism”, noting that moderate, mainstream political parties could be described as “British Nationalist”. For all of these reasons, the newspaper said it was not inaccurate or misleading to characterise the complainant as a “British nationalist” blog.

6. In addition, the newspaper rejected the complainant’s assertion that the columnist had not specifically named the group to avoid a right of reply. Rather, he had chosen not to name the complainant because it had abused him on social media, and he did not want to give it the “oxygen of publicity in that context”. The newspaper maintained that the omitting the name of the blog did not render the article inaccurate or misleading.

7. Notwithstanding this, in an effort to resolve the matter, the publication said that it would be happy to consider publishing a letter from the complainant setting out its position and to amend the online version of the article to name the organisation. The complainant, however, did not consider this offer sufficient and requested a published apology and retraction of the online article. This was rejected by the publication and the matter was passed to the Complaints Committee.

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

8. The description and characterisation of political philosophies is a subjective assessment, rather than a verifiable fact. The Committee acknowledged that the definitions of particular terms and concepts will vary and inevitably be a matter of debate. Accuracy does not require that publications adopt the same language used by the authors or exponents of that movement to identify themselves or characterise their ideas. In this instance, the contested description of the complainant had appeared in a comment piece and the characterisation of the complainant as a “British Nationalist” blog was, therefore, clearly presented as the columnist’s own assessment of its political stance. The publication had been able to provide a clear basis for the description of the complainant as a “British Nationalist” blog, including the complainant’s stance that secession should be banned and political parties persistently advocating for secession should be abolished. The Committee did not, therefore, consider that there had been a failure to take care over this characterisation, and there was no inaccuracy that required correction under Clause 1(ii).

9. The Committee next considered whether the general reference to the blog, rather than by its name, amounted to an inaccuracy. In circumstances where there was no dispute that the blog referenced in the article was indeed the complainant and where there was no dispute that the article had accurately reported the publicly available comments made by the complainant, the Committee did not consider that the omission of the blog’s name represented a failure to take care over accuracy or gave rise to any inaccuracy, noting that that there is no specific requirement in the Code to identity all sources by name. There was no breach of Clause 1 in regards to this.

Conclusion(s)

10. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

11. N/A


Date complaint received: 29/09/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 21/02/2022