Ruling

12309-15 Hussain v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      5th May 2016

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy, 5 Reporting suicide, 9 Reporting of crime

Decision of the Complaints Committee 12309-15 Hussain v The Times

Summary of complaint

1. Nissar Hussain complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply), Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock), Clause 9 (Reporting of Crime) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Christian Convert is kneecapped outside home”, published on 20 November 2015. The article was also published online with the headline “Christian convert is kneecapped outside Bradford home”.

2. The article reported that the complainant had been attacked as he left his house in Bradford. It reported that the police were investigating the incident, which had been recorded as a religious hate crime. It reported that the complainant was a nurse, who had converted from Islam to Christianity in 1996, and that he had “accused [the police] of doing little to protect him over the years”. It included his comments that “the Muslim community are largely decent people but because of the taboo of converting to Christianity we are classed by them as scum and second-class citizens”. The article stated that neighbours disputed the complainant’s claims, and reported critical comments about the complainant from a named individual who was described as a neighbour. It reported comments from an unnamed neighbour who claimed that the complainant had “attracted far-right groups on to the street”. The article also reported that a court case “brought by [the complainant] in March, where he alleged he was the victim of a religious hate crime, was thrown out by a judge for reasons of unsubstantiated evidence”.

3. The online version of the article referred to the March court case being “dismissed by the judge”. It referred to the complainant as unemployed, and described the named individual as living on the same street, rather than “a neighbour”. It included additional comments from a Detective Chief Inspector from Bradford police, who said that their inquiries in to the “serious assault” were continuing. It included comments from a named individual described as a “prominent community member in Bradford”, who said that incidents involving the complainant seem to be a result of personal disputes with certain individuals, and that it was unfair to blame the whole community for what had happened. It also included a comment from Channel 4, who said that they had stayed in touch with the complainant after he had appeared in a documentary about the mistreatment of Muslim converts. The online article was otherwise substantively the same as the print version of the article.

4. The complainant said that he left the nursing profession in 2012, but has several properties to his name and is therefore classed as a professional landlord, rather than unemployed. He said that the named individual described as his neighbour actually lived in a different area, but the complainant did not dispute that this individual’s family’s main home is on his street, and that he attended this house daily. He said that he had been in a neighbour dispute with this man, and that his views were biased.  He said that in the March court case, the charge of a religious crime was dropped as the judge had indicated to the prosecution barrister that that he would likely stop the hearing and dismiss the case on the grounds that there was a lack of evidence. He said that the defendant accepted a public order offence, and was bound over to keep the peace for a year. The complainant denied bringing far right groups in to the area or his street, and denied having any links to far right groups. He said he did not know who the individual described as a “prominent community member in Bradford” was, or what involvement he had with the situation. The complainant was concerned that the article was biased against him, and took the side of the perpetrators of the crime, which was insensitive at a time of personal grief or shock. He said that the “one-sided” and “shoddy” reporting constituted discrimination against him on the grounds of his religious belief.

5. In relation to the March court case, the newspaper said that a charge for a religiously aggravated public order offence was not proceeded with as the judge ruled there were technical difficulties with the evidence. The newspaper said that while the named individual described as the complainant’s neighbour had another house, he told the reporter that he was living on the complainant’s street as he had been taking care of his mother. It said that this was corroborated by a consumer data tool. The newspaper said that it did not claim that the complainant had links to far right groups, but reported the view of one local resident that the complainant’s presence had attracted them to the area. It said that while it did not have details of any far right activity in the area, it referred to a tweet from a right wing activist stating that there would be a demonstration in support of the complainant in Bradford. It also provided online articles which it said showed that the complainant had become a “cause célèbre” in right wing circles. The newspaper said that the references to the complainant’s employment status were not significant inaccuracies, but that it would be happy to publish a clarification on this point. 

6. The newspaper denied that the journalist’s conduct or the publication of the article were insensitive at a time of personal grief or shock, or that the article was discriminatory.

Relevant Code Provisions

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.

Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply)

A fair opportunity for reply to inaccuracies must be given when reasonably called for.

Clause 5 (Intrusion into grief or shock)

i) In cases involving personal grief or shock, enquiries and approaches must be made with sympathy and discretion and publication handled sensitively. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings, such as inquests.

Clause 9 (Reporting of crime)

i) Relatives or friends of persons convicted or accused of crime should not generally be identified without their consent, unless they are genuinely relevant to the story.

ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children who witness, or are victims of, crime. This should not restrict the right to report legal proceedings.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's race, colour, religion, gender, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.

ii) Details of an individual's race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.

Findings of the Committee

8. The newspaper had provided material which showed that the complainant’s case was well known in far right circles, and provided a tweet from a far-right activist stating that there would be a public demonstration in support of the complainant in Bradford, where the complainant lived. To report that a neighbour had said that the complainant had attracted far-right groups on to his street was not significantly misleading.

9. It was not in dispute that the charge for a religious hate crime did not proceed after the judge raised concerns about the evidence, and the article was not significantly inaccurate in describing the charge as having been “dropped”. It was not significantly misleading to refer to the complainant as a nurse when that had been his employment until 2012, despite the fact he was no longer a practising nurse. The Committee noted the complainant’s position that he should be described as a professional landlord on account of owning several properties, but in the context of the article, it was not significantly misleading to refer to him as being unemployed.

10. It was not significantly misleading to refer to an individual as the complainant’s neighbour where this individual’s family’s main home, which he had been attending on a regular basis to care for his mother, was on the same street as the complainant’s house. The article did not suggest that the individual described as “a prominent community member in Bradford” had any particular involvement in the complainant’s case, and the fact that the complainant did not know this individual did not provide grounds for finding that this description was significantly inaccurate.  The complaint did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

11. Clause 2 provides individuals the opportunity to respond to published inaccuracies when reasonably called for. The Committee did not establish the existence of significant inaccuracies such as to have engaged the terms of the Code. The terms of Clause 2 were not engaged.

12. The Committee recognised that the complainant disagreed with his neighbours’ account of the events leading up to alleged hate crime, and considered the article to be “one-sided”. However, to report their comments was not insensitive, and did not represent a failure to handle publication sensitively at a time of personal grief or shock. There was no breach of Clause 5.

13. The terms of Clause 9 provide protection to relatives and friends of people convicted or accused of crimes, unless they are “genuinely relevant to the story”. The complainant’s concern that the reporter’s investigation of the alleged hate crime and the court case last March were poor, did not engage the terms of Clause 9.

14. The complainant did not contend that the article contained a prejudicial or pejorative reference to his religion. Nor did he contend that the details of his religion were included in circumstances where it was not genuinely relevant to the story. The complaint did not disclose a possible breach of Clause 12.

Conclusion

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

16. N/A

Date complaint received: 31/12/2015
Date decision issued: 14/04/2016