Ruling

11191-21 Sharif v The Jewish Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      5th January 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11191-21 Sharif v The Jewish Chronicle

Summary of Complaint

1. Khalid Sharif complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Tory council candidate suspended after running ‘Is Zionism racism?’ poll”, published on 5 November 2021.

2. The article reported that the complainant, a “Conservative council candidate[,] ha[d] been suspended after he was exposed as running a Facebook group hosting a vote on whether Zionism was a ‘form of racism’”. The article stated that “[t]he post […] attracted conspiracy theories including one describing ‘Zionists’ as having ‘great powers’” and that “[a]nother person […] wrote: ‘They have made sure no one can say anything against them. You are antisemitic when you raise your voice against them, even when they go round killing babies in Palestine’”. It also said that the complainant’s “role in setting up the Facebook group was exposed by [a named individual], a former member of the Board of Deputies and an e-commerce expert”. It included a quote from a Conservative Party spokesperson who said that the complainant had “been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation”. The article reported that the complainant’s “past Twitter activity shows he was a fervent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn before switching to the Conservatives” and that the complainant had told his local newspaper that “he had quit Labour to join the Tories last year” and the reasons for his decision.  The article also included an image of the complainant with the caption “Corbynista turned Tory: Khalid Sharif”.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form under the same headline.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it suggested that he had been suspended due to the Facebook poll, whereas the reasons for the suspension and investigation were confidential. He said he had not been informed of the reasons for his suspension and so the article could not have accurately claimed that the poll was the cause. Similarly, the complainant said that the inclusion of a quote from a “spokesperson for the Conservative party” inaccurately suggested the suspension was public knowledge. He also did not believe that the Conservative Party would have spoken to the press about the investigation as this would be contrary to its own confidentiality procedures. The complainant said the article was also inaccurate because it had claimed that he had been “exposed” for operating the poll. He said the poll had been shared on a public Facebook page and so there was no concealment or attempt to hide his involvement and there was no wrongdoing, which he said the word “exposed” suggested. The complainant also stated the article was inaccurate because it did not make clear that he had been suspended pending the outcome of an investigation. He argued that the omission of this information gave the inaccurate impression that his suspension was indefinite and that he had been found guilty of some wrongdoing.

5. The complainant also disputed the description of him as a “Corbynista turned Tory”. He said he continued to support both Jeremy Corbyn and the Conservative Party where possible. The complainant said the article was further inaccurate because it had reported that his Facebook post had “attracted conspiracy theories”, as he considered it attributed responsibility for those comments to him and suggested that he shared the views which had been expressed in the comments, which was inaccurate. The complainant said the article had not included details about his interfaith work and the combination of the above points gave the inaccurate impression that he was antisemitic. He also said that the publication had not contacted him before publishing the story.

6. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 2 because it published information about his suspension, which he had been informed was private and confidential. He also said that there had been a breach of Clause 2 as the article included a picture of him without his permission, which he owned the copyright to. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 3; he said that a response to a Subject Access Request showed the publication held information on him that spanned the past ten years and that, by holding this data, the publication had harassed him.

7. The complainant said the article also breached Clause 12 as he believed it was an attack on his Muslim identity as well as an attack on Muslim people more generally. He said the article was an attempt to silence a public Facebook group whose membership was 80 per cent Muslim and whose discussions were well within the law. He further said that it associated the views of specific individuals within the group with the Muslim community as a whole, in breach of Clause 12.

8. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. Regarding the complainant’s concern that the article inaccurately suggested that he had been suspended due to the Facebook poll in breach of Clause 1, the publication said the reporter had contacted the local Conservative Party branch to make it aware of the poll. It said that, “within hours”, the Conservative Party suspended the complainant and provided the following comment: “The Central Office of the Conservative Party has suspended the membership of Mr Khalid Sharif who was selected as a candidate for Clayhall Ward in the May 2022 Local Elections. A central investigation is taking place and we are unable to make any further comments pending the outcome of that investigation”. The publication said that, whilst it could not comment on conversations between the Conservative Party and the complainant, from this interaction it appeared as though there was a clear cause and effect relating to the poll and complainant’s subsequent suspension.

9. In relation to the word “exposed”, the publication said that this was not inaccurate in circumstances where the Conservative Party was, seemingly, not previously aware that the complainant was an administrator of the Facebook group that contained the poll, and suspended the complainant once it had been made aware of the situation. The publication also said that, even though the Facebook group was public, this did not necessarily mean this information had been known widely, and therefore the description was not inaccurate where the matter had been brought to the attention of a wider audience that was not otherwise aware of it.

10. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 1 in relation to the description of the complainant as a “Corbynista turned Tory”. It provided a previous article in a different publication that quoted the complainant as saying the “[Corbyn] era has gone”, which it said showed the complainant had left his time as a Corbyn supporter behind. The publication said this earlier article also included a quote from the complainant where he argued that “’you are going to see more and more Muslims move away from the Labour Party’”. These quotes had been included in the article under complaint. The publication said that as there was no reason to suggest that this interview had been flawed, it was not inaccurate to describe the complainant as a “Corbynista turned Tory”.

11. The publication did not accept that the article was inaccurate in reporting the complainant’s suspension from the Conservative Party. It said that a suspension is, by its nature, temporary and that the quote from the Conservative Party spokesperson confirmed “[the complainant] ha[d] been suspended pending the outcome of investigation” which provided further context. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 1 in relation to the report that the poll had “attracted” comments. It asserted that this word did not mean that the complainant was responsible for the comments but rather that the information he had shared had prompted others to make those comments. As such, it was not inaccurate to use the word “attracted”.

12. The publication also disputed that the article breached Clause 1 by giving the impression that the complainant was an antisemite. It said that it had made clear that the complainant had posted a poll that asked if “Zionism is racism”, and accurately quoted some of the responses this poll had received. The article had not referred to the complainant as an antisemite and the inclusion of the poll and the comments made in response had allowed readers to make up their own minds regarding their meaning. Where there was no inaccuracy, the publication said not contacting the complainant prior to the article being published was not a failure to take care under Clause 1(i).

13. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said that there could be no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding the complainant’s suspension; he was a Conservative Party candidate who was standing for public election meaning he was accountable to those who might vote for him. In addition, the publication said the complainant had stated that the Facebook group and the poll were publicly available on social media, which also contributed to why there was not a reasonable expectation of privacy over this information.

14. The publication said having prior knowledge of the complainant did not engage the terms of Clause 3.

15. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 12. It said that the article had simply reported the complainant’s actions and their consequences, and that the complainant had not provided evidence of activity that could engage the terms of Clause 12.

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.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii)  Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

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

16. The Committee first considered whether the article was inaccurate in reporting the complainant’s suspension from the Conservative Party. It noted the complainant’s position that the reason for the suspension had been confidential at the date of publication, and he had learned of the reason only subsequently. The Committee also noted the publication’s account of events, namely that it had contacted the local Conservative Party branch to make it aware of the poll and that, “within hours”, the Party had suspended the complainant. The article had not reported that the complainant was suspended because he had operated the poll; it reported that he had been suspended after he had been “exposed” – a term which the Committee acknowledged the complainant disputed - as running the Facebook group which had hosted the poll, and this chronology was not in dispute. Taking all this into account, the Committee considered that it was not inaccurate to report that the complainant had been “suspended after running ‘Is Zionism racism?’ poll” and there was no breach of Clause 1. Regarding the complainant’s concern that the article suggested he had been suspended indefinitely, the Committee considered that the quote from the Conservative Party made clear that the complainant was “suspended pending the outcome of an investigation” and, therefore, that a decision had yet to be taken as to whether his suspension would be indefinite. There was no breach on this point.

17. The Committee then considered whether the use of the word “exposed” in the article represented a breach of Clause 1, in light of the fact that the poll had been shared in a public Facebook group and the complainant’s concern that it implied he had been concealing wrongdoing. The Committee considered that in circumstances where the complainant’s role in running the Facebook group was brought to a wider audience and to the attention of the Conservative Party, it was not significantly inaccurate or misleading to describe his involvement as being “exposed”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point. Similarly, the Committee did not consider that it was inaccurate for the article to report that the poll had “attracted conspiracy theories” in circumstances where it was not in dispute that the comments included in the article had been left in response to the poll. Additionally, it was clear from the article that these comments had been made by individuals other than the complainant and neither the comments nor the opinions expressed were attributed to him. There was no breach of Clause 1.

18. The complainant had said that it was inaccurate to describe him as a “Corbynista turned Tory” as he continued to support both Jeremy Corbyn and the Conservative Party where possible. Whilst the Committee acknowledged that the complainant said that he still supported Jeremy Corbyn, where the complainant also accepted that he had left the Labour Party and joined the Conservative Party, it was not significantly inaccurate or misleading for the article to characterise him as a “Corbynista turned Tory”. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

19. The Committee then turned to the point of complaint regarding whether the article inaccurately portrayed the complainant as antisemitic. The article did not refer to the complainant as antisemitic. It reported on the complainant’s involvement in the poll which had been accurately described in the article and the comments which had been made in response to the poll. In the Committee’s view, reporting these matters did not amount to a claim that the complainant was antisemitic. There was, therefore, no breach of Clause 1.

20. The Committee then considered the complaint under Clause 2. Whilst it noted the complainant’s position that the details of his suspension and the investigation were meant to be confidential, he was standing for public election as a member of the Conservative Party and the information under complaint related to his public life rather than his private life. Further, a statement about his suspension had been provided for publication by the Conservative Party. Accordingly, reporting on the complainant’s suspension was not an intrusion into the complainant’s private and family life. In addition, the complainant had said that the article had breached Clause 2 by including a photograph of him in which he said he owned the copyright. The Editors’ Code does not deal with the law of copyright, and the Committee noted that the photograph did not contain any information in respect of which the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy; it merely showed his likeness. For these reasons, there was no breach of Clause 2 on these points.

21. With regard to the complaint under Clause 3, the complainant was concerned that information about him was being held by the publication and that publication of the information contained in the article was itself harassment. Neither of these points engaged the terms of the clause.

22. With regard to the complainant’s concern that publication of the information in the article amounted to discrimination, the article reported on a poll the complainant had posted in a group called “Connecting Muslims in Redbridge Insha Allah”. It also reported the complainant’s comments that “you are going to see more and more Muslims move away from the Labour Party”. The complainant’s religion, therefore, was relevant to the article, and the article did not include prejudicial or pejorative reference to his religion. The complainant’s concerns did not engage the terms of Clause 12.

Conclusion(s)

23. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

24. N/A


Date complaint received: 07/11/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 13/12/2022