Ruling

12296-21 Hussein v thejc.com

    • Date complaint received

      24th March 2022

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 2 Privacy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 12296-21 Hussein v thejc.com

Summary of Complaint

1. Fevzi Hussein complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, via a representative, that thejc.com breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 2 (Privacy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Union race adviser thanked terrorist and wrote about ‘most powerful’ Israeli lobby”, published on 19 November 2021.

2. The online article reported that the complainant would be investigated by the GMB Union, where he worked as the National Race Network Lead, for his social media activity that was flagged to the organisation by the publication. It reported that the complainant’s Twitter timeline revealed “a series of inflammatory posts about Israel, Palestinians and hard-left figures”. It went on to say that the complainant “supported [a named] controversial activist” in 2019 after they were sacked by their employer over their “antisemitic views”, noting that he “wrote on Twitter of his sadness” at the activist’s departure. The article also reported that the complainant had "praised a member of a Palestinian terror group” on his personal Facebook page; he had shared a clip of a former leading Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) member Ghassan Kanafani, in which this individual discussed the possibility of peace talks with Israel, with the caption “thank you imran brother”. The article reported that PFLP has been designated a terror group by the EU and was involved in the 1972 Lod Airport massacre in which 28 people were killed. In addition, the article said that the complainant had once described the Israeli lobby as the “the most powerful and far-reaching lobby in the world” in a piece for another publication. The article included a statement from a GMB spokesperson who said that the union had a “policy of zero tolerance of racism including anti-Semitism”, the complainant had been “informed that an investigation would take place” and it considered the matter “very serious”.

3. The complainant said that the article intruded in his privacy, in breach of Clause 2, by reporting that he was under investigation by GMB; this was highly confidential and not publicly available information. The complainant was also concerned that his posts on Facebook and Twitter had been published without his consent; his Facebook page had been set to private and therefore his comments on the post relating to Ghassan Kanafani should not have been published. He had particular concerns regarding the way in which the publication had explored his social media account.

4. The complainant also said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it contained the clear implication that he was currently under investigation by GMB for his social media activity and allegations of anti-Semitism. While he accepted that an internal investigation by his employer was under way, the reason for this investigation was “highly confidential”; he had not yet been informed of it. Furthermore, he said that the headline was inaccurate to report that he “thanked [a] terrorist”, with this unsupported by the text of the article; the clip of Ghassan Kanafani, which he shared on his Facebook page, was recorded in 1970 and at a time when the PFLP was considered a “legitimate Palestinian political party” with the group only designated as a terrorist organisation by the EU in 2001. He added that Ghassan Kanafani was remembered as a poet and an author, not a terrorist. In addition, though he accepted that he had described the Israeli lobby as the “most powerful and far-reaching lobby in the world”, he said that this quote had been taken out of context in the article; it was intended as a mark of respect for the effectiveness of the lobby. The complainant also said the article was inaccurate to report that he had “supported” the named activist after they were sacked by their employer over their anti-Semitic views; he had no recollection of the posting the Tweet cited in the article.

5. Finally, the complainant raised concerns that the publication had deliberately targeted him for his personal beliefs, contacting his employers and publishing an inaccurate and misleading article that had resulted in his suspension. 

6. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It did not accept that the publication of the comments which the complainant had made represented an intrusion into his privacy. The article had commented on the complainant’s public Facebook and Twitter accounts. It rejected the complainant’s position that his Facebook page, where he had shared the videoclip of Ghassan Kanafani, was private; it provided a screenshot showing that this post had, in fact, been set to ‘public’ prior to the article’s publication. This position was later accepted by the complainant.

7. The publication said that these posts, together with his previous public comments about the Israeli lobby, had prompted the publication to contact his employer. It denied that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in regard to GMB’s investigation, or that the article was inaccurate on this point. His employer had responded to a request for comment, providing a statement to the publication that made clear the complainant had been “informed that allegations of anti-Semitism have been made against him” and that an “internal investigation will now take place into what the union regards as a very serious matter”. The publication further argued that there was a clear public interest in reporting the complainant’s views, given his position as a senior official of a major union in charge of forming policy on racial discrimination.

8. The publication also denied a breach of Clause 1 in relation to the other points raised. First, it did not consider that the headline was inaccurate to report that the complainant had “thanked [a] terrorist”; the complainant had shared a videoclip of Ghassan Kanafani with the caption “thank you imran brother…This sums up most journalisst [sic] perfectly who think the oppressed should just roll over when faced with Colonial aggression”; Ghassan Kanafani had been the spokesperson for the PFLP during a period in which it committed acts of terror and had claimed responsibility for these attacks on behalf of the organisation. During the period in which Kanafani was associated with the organisation, the PFLP had conducted several acts of political terror by 1970 (including the hijacking of El Al Flight 426 in 1968 and the Jerusalem SuperSol bombing in 1969, which killed 2 people and injured 9 others). In addition, it did not accept that the article misrepresented the complainant’s comments about the Israeli lobby: he had explicitly stated in a piece for a separate publication, which discussed the issue of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party, that the “Israeli lobby [is] the most powerful and far-reaching lobby in the world”. Nor did it accept that the article was inaccurate to report that the complainant had “supported” a prominent activist after they were sacked by their employer for “anti-Semitic views”; the publication provided a copy of the Tweet posted by the complainant to the named activist following their dismissal and public comments made by the employer in regard to this. It also noted that the complainant had separately said “well done” to the activist for “standing up to media machine trying to slander” the former leader of the Labour Party in relation to anti-Semitism.

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.

The Public Interest

There may be exceptions to the clauses marked * where they can be demonstrated to be in the public interest.

(1.) The public interest includes, but is not confined to:

- Detecting or exposing crime, or the threat of crime, or serious impropriety.

- Protecting public health or safety.

- Protecting the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation.

- Disclosing a person or organisation’s failure or likely failure to comply with any obligation to which they are subject.

- Disclosing a miscarriage of justice.

- Raising or contributing to a matter of public debate, including serious cases of impropriety, unethical conduct or incompetence concerning the public.

- Disclosing concealment, or likely concealment, of any of the above.

(2.) There is a public interest in freedom of expression itself.

(3.) The regulator will consider the extent to which material is already in the public domain or will become so.

 

(4.) Editors invoking the public interest will need to demonstrate that they reasonably believed publication  – or journalistic activity taken with a view to publication – would both serve, and be proportionate to, the public interest and explain how they reached that decision at the time.

(5.) An exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16.

Findings of the Committee

9. The article reported on previous statements made by the complainant and questioned whether in the light of these it was appropriate for him to hold a position at the GMB Union that oversaw policy on racial discrimination. This had prompted the publication to contact his employer for comment, providing the union with an opportunity to address these claims. The complainant accepted that he was under investigation by his employer; he disputed that he was under investigation for allegations of anti-Semitism. However, the statement provided by his employer to the publication made clear that the complainant had been informed “that allegations of anti-Semitism have been made against him” and that an internal investigation into the matter would “now take place”. In such circumstances, where the union’s position was made clear in the text of the article, the Committee did not consider that the article significantly misrepresented the situation. There was no breach of Clause 1 in regard to this point.

10. The complainant denied that it was reasonable to interpret his Facebook post as giving “thank[s]” and “praise” to a “terrorist”. Whilst the complainant clearly disagreed with this interpretation of his comments, the newspaper was entitled to characterise his post in this way and provided a sufficient basis to do so. It was not in dispute that the complainant had posted the following message accompanying the videoclip of Ghassan Kanafani: “thank you imran brother”. Nor was it in dispute that this individual had been a spokesperson for the PFLP. Taken in this context and where the newspaper had provided multiple examples of the acts of terror committed by the PFLP prior to and following the date of the videoclip shared by the complainant, the Committee did not consider the headline of the article significantly inaccurate to report that the complainant had “thanked [a] terrorist". There was no breach of Clause 1 in regard to this.

11. While the complainant disputed that he “supported” a named activist after they were sacked by their employer for “anti-Semitic views”, the publication provided the Tweet sent by the complainant to the activist in which he stated that he was “sad to hear” the individual had been dismissed. Though the complainant disagreed with this assessment, the newspaper was entitled to characterise the correspondence as such. Furthermore, the Committee did not consider that the article was significantly misleading to report that the complainant had described the Israeli lobby as the “most powerful and far-reaching lobby in the world” where he accepted that he had described them as such. There was no breach of Clause 1 in respect of these points.

12. The Committee next considered the concerns raised under Clause 2. The Committee noted it was no longer in dispute that the information was obtained from the complainant’s publicly accessible social media pages. The publication had not sourced the information in a manner which had intruded into the complainant’s privacy. Where the comments had been made in the public domain, the Committee did not consider that the complainant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in relation to this information and the inclusion of the Tweet and Facebook post in the article did not represent an intrusion into his private life. There was no breach of Clause 2.

13. The Committee next considered whether the publication of GMB’s comments regarding its investigation represented a breach of Clause 2. The Committee noted that the terms of Clause 2 make specific reference to the “private and family life” and “home”. In this instance, the article identified the complainant in the context of his professional role at the union and the internal investigation launched by his employers into the allegations made against him. In such circumstances, and where his employer had issued a public statement to the newspaper, the complainant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy over this correspondence and reporting its contents did not intrude his privacy. There was no breach of Clause 2 on this point.

14. Finally, the Committee noted the complainant’s concerns over the publication’s motivations for publishing the article and its contact with his employer. However, it was clear that the selection of stories was a matter of editorial discretion as long as the Code was not otherwise breached. Furthermore, reporters are entitled to approach individuals and organisations for comment as long as they do so in accordance with the requirements of the Code; indeed, making such approaches were a routine part of the newsgathering process.

Conclusion(s)

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

16. N/A


Date complaint received: 06/11/2021

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/03/2022