Ruling

11788-22 Gregson and Weiss v The Jewish Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      5th May 2023

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of adjudication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy, 4 Intrusion into grief or shock

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 11788-22 Gregson and Weiss v The Jewish Chronicle

 

Summary of Complaint

1. Peter Gregson, acting on behalf of himself and on behalf of Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), and Clause 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Jewish group helped arrange tour for disgraced anti-Israel activist”, published on 16 September 2022.

2. The article – which was published on page 18 of the newspaper – reported that a “Jewish […] group has apologised for helping to organise a tour for a disgraced activist”. This was referring to the complainant, Peter Gregson, who the article described as an “expelled shop steward” who had “claimed Israel exaggerates the Holocaust ‘for political ends’”. The article also referred to the second complainant, who would also be on the tour, and stated that: “Rabbi Weiss led a delegation to a Holocaust denial conference in Tehran in 2006. He later said the number who died in the Holocaust had been exaggerated, Ha’aretz reported.”

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form; this version of the article was published on 14 September 2022.

4. Prior to the publication of both versions of the article, on 13 September 2022, the publication contacted both complainants, asking for their responses to claims which would be published in the article. Part of the request for comment to Rabbi Weiss read as follows:

“The Jewish Chronicle is to report on a planned UK tour featuring you, Pete Gregson, and [….]

We will write that you have previously attended a Holocaust denial conference in Tehran and said the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust has been “exaggerated”.

[….]

Please let me know by 6pm tomorrow (Wed 14 Sep) UK time if you wish to respond to these claims. You can reach me at […].”

5. A response was sent on behalf of Rabbi Weiss on 13 September 2022 in response to the publication’s queries; the response included a retraction, published by Associated Press in 2007:

“NEW YORK (AP) In a Dec. 15 story about an Iranian-sponsored conference on the Holocaust, The Associated Press erroneously attributed a claim that the number of Jews killed by the Nazis was exaggerated.

Rabbi Yisroel David Weiss, who attended the conference, denied making such a statement and said the claim does not reflect his position. He opposed the state of Israel, and believes Israelis have used the Holocaust to gain sympathy and advantage.

The story should have also cited Iranian news reports as the source of the quote.”

6. After the article’s publication and prior to contacting IPSO with his concerns, on 16 and 27 September 2022, the complainant wrote to the publication via email. The emails said, respectively:

First email

I’ve just read today’s article on the “Muslim & Jew Tour: Beyond Israel” tour I am organising, headed “Jewish group helped arrange tour for disgraced anti-Israel activist”. Am I really disgraced? I’m not sure that is accurate at all. I’ve never met a Muslim that’s doesn’t support me. And I am feted as a “legend” by pro-Palestine campaigners […]

Second email

I have another, more serious complaint to make about [the] article. […] The printed version of your JC (I understand around 7,200 are free copies) was scandalously wrong. It stated Rabbi Weiss led a delegation to a Holocaust denial conference in Tehran in 2006. He later said the number who died in the Holocaust had been exaggerated, Ha’aretz reported. To claim that the Rabbi said figures were exaggerated when his speech clearly states he did not is a matter I demand a retraction of- and shall complain to the Independent Press Standards Office (IPSO) about, if your newspaper refuses. Rabbi Weiss supports me in this action.

7. The complainant then made a complaint to IPSO. He said that the article included several inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 of the Editor’s Code. He first said that it was incorrect for the article to report that Rabbi Weiss “later said the number who died in the Holocaust had been exaggerated”. He said that the Rabbi had not said this, and that the inaccuracy was particularly serious given that Rabbi Weiss’ grandparents had died at Auschwitz. He also said that he was “unhappy” that the article had referred to him as being disgraced, and that this description also breached the term of Clause 1.

8. The complainant further said that it was “technically incorrect” to refer to Rabbi Weiss having “led a delegation to a Holocaust denial conference in Tehran in 2006”, as the name of the conference was “The Holocaust, Global Vision” and was, according to Rabbi Weiss, “a Holocaust review conference on how the Holocaust had been exploited and weaponised by Israel”.

9. The complainant also said that inaccurately reporting that Rabbi Weiss had claimed that the number who died in the Holocaust had been exaggerated breached the terms of both Clause 2 and Clause 4. He said that this was the case as the subject was a particularly emotive one, particularly for Rabbi Weiss, given his background and the grief he had suffered as the descendant of people who had been killed during the Holocaust. Therefore, he said, the article had intruded both on Rabbi Weiss’ privacy and his grief.

10. The publication said it accepted the article had included an error, and that it was incorrect to report that Rabbi Weiss “said the number who died in the Holocaust had been exaggerated”. It said that the error had come from an article published by Ha’aretz; this article stated that Rabbi Weiss had said that “the figures for how many people who died in the Holocaust are exaggerated.” It said that, while the journalist who wrote the article had had sight of the retraction of the claim prior to the article’s publication, he had made an error and not included this information in the article.

11. However, while the publication accepted that the article included an error, it considered that it had quickly addressed it as soon as it had been made aware, as Rabbi Weiss had contacted the reporter via phone on 14 September 2022 and the claim was removed from the online article on the same date. It said that the Rabbi had, at the time, appeared to accept that the matter had been resolved by the article’s amendment, and that the reporter had apologised to him on the phone for the error.

12. Three days after the start of IPSO’s investigation, the publication also added the following clarification to the bottom of the article, and – three days later – offered to publish the same wording in its print ‘On the Record’ column:

A previous version of this story incorrectly repeated claims made by Haaretz that Rabbi Dovid Weiss claimed the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust had been exaggerated by Israel. Rabbi Weiss denies making any such statement.

13. However, the publication did not accept that the article contained any additional inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1. It said that describing the complainant as “disgraced” was a fair description, and clearly distinguished as the publication’s view. It also said that it was not inaccurate to describe the 2006 conference as a “Holocaust denial conference”; there were many extreme elements present at the conference, including groups with a history of Holocaust denial, such as the Ku Klux Klan. It further noted that it had been described as a “Holocaust denial conference” in both contemporaneous news reporting and by then-US president George W Bush.

14. The publication did not consider that the complainant’s Clause 2 and Clause 4 concerns engaged the terms of the relevant Clauses; therefore they could not have been breached in the manner the complainant described.

15. The complainant said that the offer of the correction was inadequate, coming nearly three months after the original article’s publication. He said that only a front-page correction and apology could resolve his concerns.

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 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 4 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. These provisions should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Findings of the Committee

16. The newspaper accepted that it was inaccurate to report that Rabbi Weiss had said that “the figures for how many people who died in the Holocaust are exaggerated.” It also accepted that it had been made aware, prior to the publication of both the online and print articles, that a retraction of this claim had previously been published, and that its initial attribution to Rabbi Weiss was “erroneous”. In addition, the reporter had been made aware, after the publication of the inaccurate online article and prior to the publication of the print article, that the Rabbi disputed the accuracy of the online version of the article, and the inaccuracy had still gone to print after the reporter had been made aware of the Rabbi’s position. In such circumstances, the publication had not taken care over the accuracy of this claim in either version of the article, and there was therefore a breach of Clause 1 (i). This had led to the publication of a significant inaccuracy, where the article inaccurately attributed a statement to Rabbi Weiss concerning the number of people who had died in the Holocaust. Therefore, the newspaper was required, under the terms of Clause 1 (ii) of the Editors’ Code, to correct the inaccuracy promptly and with due prominence and – if appropriate – publish an apology.

17. The publication had taken limited steps to remedy the breach of Clause 1 (i): it had apologised verbally to the Rabbi, removed the disputed claim from the online version of the article, and had published an online clarification after the beginning of IPSO’s investigation. It had also offered to publish a correction in the print version of its newspaper.

18. However, the Committee did not accept that the limited action taken and proposed by the publication was sufficient to address the terms of Clause 1 (ii). It considered that the remedial action failed on two fronts: It was not sufficiently prompt, where the publication had been aware of the Rabbi’s position for over a month before the publication corrected the error online and proposed a print correction; and neither correction included an apology to the Rabbi. To claim that the Rabbi had said that the figures for how many people had died in the Holocaust was exaggerated had the clear potential to damage his reputation. The Committee was also mindful of the sensitivities of such a claim given that he had lost family members in the Holocaust. In these circumstances, an apology was appropriate, as the publication had recognised by making a verbal apology. The Committee considered that, in the circumstances, a personal apology was insufficient and that a published apology would have been an appropriate remedy, which had not been offered. For these reasons, there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

19. The Committee expressed significant concerns about the newspaper’s conduct prior to publication and the absence of a published apology as part of the remedial action which had been taken. The Committee considered that the publication’s conduct was unacceptable, and their concerns were drawn to the attention of IPSO’s Standards department.

20. The Committee turned next to the other alleged breaches of Clause 1 in the article. While it understood that the complainant disputed that he was “disgraced”, it noted that – to some extent – this was a subjective description, as different people would have different definitions of what constituted being “disgraced”. The article set out the factual basis for this subjective description, as it reported that he was an “expelled shop steward” and the reasons for his dismissal. Where Clause 1 (iv) explicitly protects the right of newspapers to share their views and opinions, and the factual basis for the view that the complainant was “disgraced” was not in dispute, there was no breach of Clause 1.

21. In circumstances where the 2006 conference appeared to have been attended by organisations who publicly engage in Holocaust denialism, and it had been widely reported at the time as being a “Holocaust denial conference”, the Committee did not consider that referring to it in such terms represented a significant inaccuracy in breach of Clause 1.

22. Clause 2 is intended to protect individuals from unnecessary intrusion into their private and family life. The claim that Rabbi Weiss had said that “the number who died in the Holocaust had been exaggerated” was not related to his private or family life; rather, it was related to a statement that he was alleged to have made in public about a historic event  – notwithstanding that the claim he had made the statement was inaccurate. For this reason, the Committee found that Clause 2 had not been breached.

23. The article under complaint related to a public tour Rabbi Weiss intended to undertake around the UK; it did not refer to his family history, or to his grief as a descendent of grandparents who had been killed during the Holocaust. Therefore, while the Committee understood that the inaccurate claim about Rabbi Weiss caused him distress, it did not consider the article under complaint related to his personal grief or shock. There was not breach of Clause 4.

Conclusions

24. The complaint was upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial action required

25. Having upheld a breach of Clause 1, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication, the terms and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

26. The Committee considered that, where a breach of Clause 1 (ii) arose both from the lack of promptness in publishing and proposing the remedial action, and the publication’s failure to apologise publicly to the complainant, a published adjudication was necessary to remedy the breach of the Clause. The headline of the adjudication must make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint against the Jewish Chronicle and must refer to its subject matter; the wording of the headline should also be agreed with IPSO in advance.

27. The Committee then considered the placement of the adjudication. Where the inaccuracy appeared both online and in print, and the publication had failed to satisfy the terms of Clause 1 (ii) in either print or online, the Committee considered that the adjudication should appear in both formats. 

28. In print, the adjudication should appear on page 18 of the newspaper or further forward, in circumstances where the article under complaint had appeared on this page. It should be published in the usual size and style for an article of the page on which it is published. Online, the adjudication should also appear in full on the publication’s website with a link to the full adjudication (including the headline) appearing on the top half of the newspaper’s homepage, for 24 hours; it should then be archived in the usual way. The headlines of both adjudications must make clear that IPSO has upheld the complaint against The Jewish Chronicle and must refer to its subject matter; they must be agreed with IPSO in advance. 

29. The terms of the adjudication for publication are as follows:

Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss, complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Jewish group helped arrange tour for disgraced anti-Israel activist”, published on 16 September 2022.

The complaint was upheld, and IPSO required The Jewish Chronicle to publish this adjudication to remedy the breach of the Code.

The article reported that Rabbi Weiss had “said the number who died in the Holocaust had been exaggerated” and attributed this claim to a report from another publication. Rabbi Weiss said that this was incorrect and that he had never said this, and that the inaccuracy was particularly serious given that his grandparents had died at Auschwitz. Prior to publication, Rabbi Weiss had told the publication that he denied making such a statement.

The newspaper accepted that Rabbi Weiss had denied saying that “the figures for how many people who died in the Holocaust are exaggerated.” It also accepted that it had been made aware, prior to publication, that a retraction of this claim had previously been published, and that its initial attribution to Rabbi Weiss was “erroneous”. After the article was published online, a reporter at the publication was told that this claim was inaccurate. It was then removed from the article, and a verbal apology made over the phone. However, after this phone call, the same inaccuracy was published in print.

In such circumstances, the publication had not taken care over the accuracy of this claim, and there was therefore a breach of Clause 1 (i). This had led to the publication of a significant inaccuracy, where the article inaccurately attributed a statement to Rabbi Weiss concerning the number of people who had died in the Holocaust. Therefore, the newspaper was required, under the terms of Clause 1 (ii) of the Editors’ Code, to correct the inaccuracy promptly and with due prominence and – if appropriate – publish an apology.

The publication published an online correction, making clear that Rabbi Weiss disputed making the statement, three days after IPSO began its investigation into the matter. It also offered to publish a correction in its print edition; it made this offer six days after IPSO began its investigation into the matter. However, the Committee did not consider that this limited action satisfied the terms of Clause 1 (ii). It considered that the remedial action failed on two fronts: It was not sufficiently prompt, where the publication had been aware of the Rabbi’s position prior to the publication of the print article, and it had taken over a month for the publication to correct the error online and propose a print correction; and neither correction included an apology to the Rabbi. To claim that the Rabbi had said that the number of people who had died in the Holocaust was exaggerated had the clear potential to damage his reputation; therefore, a published apology would have been an appropriate remedy, where Clause 1 (ii) makes a specific reference to apologies being published where appropriate, and where the apology to the Rabbi had only been made verbally. For these reasons, there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

 

Date complaint received:  01/10/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  06/04/2023