Ruling

11843-15 Muslim Council of Britain v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      5th May 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee  11843-15 Muslim Council of Britain v The Times

Summary of complaint

1. The Muslim Council of Britain complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Muslims ‘silent on terror’”, published on 26 December 2015. The article was also published online.

2. The article reported that figures from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) showed that out of a total of 3,288 referrals in a six-month period, there were fewer than 300 community ‘tip-offs’ to Prevent, the Government’s anti-extremism scheme. It explained that Prevent places people at risk of radicalisation into support programmes, and that as part of the scheme, community members are being encouraged to report activity indicating extremist or radical tendencies. It included comments from the NPCC that “the figures may not accurately capture the nature of the original source because in many cases members of the community will report in the first instance to the police”. The article reported that there was a campaign by mosques and community bodies for a national boycott of Prevent, after Waltham Forest Council of Mosques announced a boycott of the scheme, and Muslim leaders in Newham had criticised the scheme. It explained that the Prevent scheme was associated with spying and criminalising Islam, and has been criticised as being akin to a “McCarthyite witch-hunt”.

3. The newspaper explained that when the article was first published on the newspaper’s website between 10:30pm and midnight, it had the same headline as the print version of the article. The article was then tailored for the website, which in this case included changing the headline to “Muslims ‘stay silent’ on extremism scheme”, and adding a photograph of a woman wearing a niqab, captioned: “Muslims in Waltham Forest have announced a boycott of the Government’s Prevent programme”. The online article was otherwise the same as the print version of the article.

4. The complainant said that Muslims and Muslim organisations were outspoken on terror, and the headline claim that Muslims were “silent on terror” was therefore inaccurate. In addition, it said that the public may report potential threats of terrorism to the police or the national anti-terror hotline, rather than to Prevent. It was therefore misleading to suggest that Muslims are not reporting potential acts of terrorism on the basis of the proportion of community referrals to Prevent, and the fact that some Muslim organisations were boycotting the scheme. In addition, the complainant said it was not only Muslims that boycotted Prevent; this is a position taken by individuals and organisations of many faiths.  The complainant also said that the large number of referrals to Prevent from public bodies was a result of the statutory duty on public bodies to make referrals; it was therefore misleading to claim that there was a lack of community response to the program on the basis of the lower proportion of community referrals.

5. The complainant said that the proportion of women wearing the niqab is extremely low, and unlikely to be even close to 0.1% of UK Muslims. The photograph was not an accurate representation of Muslims in the UK or in Waltham Forest.

6. The newspaper said that headlines do not exist in isolation, and that the article’s sub headline (“Community boycotts anti-extremism scheme as racist”) and the first two sentences of the article made the meaning of the headline immediately clear. The newspaper said that the effect of quotation marks varies according to context, but they can be used to caution readers that a phrase is not what it might seem, and that they should ‘take care’. In the context of the sub headline and the article’s introduction, “Muslims ‘silent on terror’”, was an accurate summary of the substance of the article, which was that the low number of community tip-offs to the Prevent scheme would raise concern that the police are being denied information that might prevent terrorist attacks.  The newspaper said that the core tenet of the UK’s anti-terrorism strategy is that there is an observed progression from non-violent extremism to violence, and that the former must be tackled to prevent the latter. It said that on this view, an apparent failure to fully engage with the UK’s counter-extremism strategy raises concern that information would be withheld which might prevent a terrorist attack.

7. The newspaper noted the complainant’s concern in relation to the photograph. It said it was making efforts to improve its choice of “generic” images, and had raised the issue with its picture desk.

Relevant Code Provisions

8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)

i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and − where appropriate −  an apology published. In cases involving the Regulator, prominence should be agreed with the Regulator in advance.

iii) The Press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Findings of the Committee

9. “Muslims ‘silent on terror’” was a claim capable of a number of interpretations in the absence of any context. However, it was immediately clear from the prominent sub headline and the text of the article that the reference to Muslims being “silent on terror” was a reference to the alleged boycotting of the Government’s Prevent programme. In relation to the online article, the picture caption and first sentence immediately made clear the basis of the claim in the headline. However, while it did not raise a breach of the Code in this instance, the Committee expressed concern that the newspaper’s practice of uploading print articles to its website without the sub headline risked significant clarifying information being omitted.

10. The article explained how the Prevent program worked. It included the figures released by the NPCC, explaining that some community ‘tip-offs’ might be made directly to the police, and that these ‘tip-offs’ were therefore not included in the figures. In addition, the article described how some members of the Muslim community had criticised the Prevent programme, and called for a boycott. In these circumstances, the article made clear the basis for claiming that “Muslims are boycotting the country’s key anti-radicalisation programme”, which was, in turn, the claim being made in the article’s headline. In this context, the headline claim was not significantly misleading, and there was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information. In addition, the headline did not claim that Muslims or Muslim organisations were not otherwise outspoken about terrorism, and the article did not contain the alleged inaccuracy.  There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

11. The photograph accompanying the online article did not suggest that the niqab is widely worn by UK Muslims, or by Muslims in Waltham Forest. The article was not misleading in the manner alleged, and this aspect of the complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1. Nevertheless, the Committee welcomed the newspaper raising the issue of the choice of “generic” images with its picture desk.

Conclusion           

12. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

N/A

Date complaint received: 29/12/2015
Date decision issued: 14/04/2016