Ruling

13109-22 National LGBT+ Police Network v The Sunday Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      9th March 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 13109-22 National LGBT+ Police Network v The Sunday Telegraph

Summary of Complaint


1. The National LGBT+ Police Network complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “National LGBT police like 'Iran's morality enforcers'”, published on 4 December 2022.

2. The article reported that the “national body for LGBT police officers is being investigated after blocking critics of wokery on social media”. It went on to say that, “[i]n response on behalf of all constables involved, solicitors for the joint legal department of Staffordshire Police and West Midlands Police confirmed they are ‘liaising with the relevant officers in the Network to [investigate] why [two organisations] were blocked from the social media website’.”

3. The article also included a quote from the leader of both blocked groups, who was quoted as having said: “Individual officers and forces are showing increasing signs of ‘going rogue’, arbitrarily censoring and intimidating individuals for deviating from ‘politically correct’ speech. This is not Iran. We do not have a ‘morality police’.” The article then closed with a comment from the National LGBT+ Police Network’s co-chairs; this portion of the article said that the “co-chairs denied any investigation had been formalised and said it ‘operated a zero-tolerance policy in cases where their members and social media followers may feel threatened, intimidated or harassed by comments posted online’.”

4. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline “National police LGBT network under investigation for blocking critics of wokery on Twitter”. This version of the article was published on 3 December 2022.

5. Prior to the article’s publication, on 2 December, a journalist working on behalf of the publication contacted the complainant via its website form. The journalist asked for the complainant’s comment on allegations that it had blocked a number of Twitter accounts, and also said that a reply to such concerns had been received “from Staffordshire and West Midlands Police Joint Legal Services, confirming that the Network is being investigated”. The complainant responded to this, saying that “[t]he National Network is not being investigated”, and included an on-the-record comment, some of which was included in the article under complaint.

6. The journalist then replied to the complainant, writing: “Please note the National LGBT+ Police Network's social media activity is indeed being investigated, as a solicitor Staffordshire and West Midlands Police Joint Legal Services has confirmed in writing. As their legal department said in writing: ‘I am presently liaising with the relevant officers in the Network to investigate the reasons why you and Fair Cop were blocked from the social media website you refer to and require a reasonable opportunity to do this.’”

7.  In response to this email, the complainant said: “I will leave the semantics of ‘I am presently liaising with the relevant officers in the Network to investigate the reasons why you and Fair Cop were blocked from the social media website you refer to and require a reasonable opportunity to do this’ to your journalistic integrity I can confirm as per our statement that the Network is not under any formal internal investigation as per Police regulations.”

8. After the publication of the article, the complainant made a complaint to IPSO. It said that the article contained inaccurate, misleading, and distorted information in breach of Clause 1. Turning first to the print headline – “National LGBT police like 'Iran's morality enforcers'” – it said that this was the view of one individual, and that there was no evidence to support this view. The complainant also said that the online headline and both versions of the article were inaccurate, as the network was not under investigation. The complainant expressed further concerns, framed under Clause 1, that the article did not include the full comment given by its co-chairs – made in response to the journalist prior to publication – in the article.

9. The publication did not accept that the article contained any inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1, or that it was misleading or distorted. Dealing with each of the complainant’s concerns in turn, it first said that the headline was a comment made by a third-party, that this comment was included in full in the article, and that part of the headline appeared in single quote marks – therefore distinguishing it as comment, rather than fact, in line with the terms of Clause 1 (iv).

10. Dealing next with the complainant’s concern that the online headline and body of the article inaccurately reported that the complainant was “under investigation”, it noted that a solicitor at Staffordshire and West Midlands Police Joint Legal Service had said in a letter that they were “investigat[ing] the reasons why” two groups had been blocked from viewing the complainant’s social media accounts. It provided a copy of this letter to IPSO and the complainant during the investigation. The publication further noted that, at the time of publication, the outcome of this investigation was still awaited, However, the fact that such an investigation was underway could not be in dispute.

11. Turning to the complainant’s final point about the article’s omission of the full comment from its co-chairs, the publication said it had no obligation to publish the full comments of individuals or interested parties in articles, provided the response was fairly and accurately represented – which it was satisfied was the case in these circumstances.

12. The complainant said that the use of single quotation marks in the print headline did not, to a layperson as opposed to a journalist, show who had made the comment or who the comment was made by. The complainant further noted that the letter, saying the solicitor was “investigat[ing] the reasons why” the groups had been blocked said only that the two groups’ claims were being investigated; at no point did it say that the complainant was under investigation. It further noted that the co-chairs had, prior to the article’s publication, informed the journalist that the complainant was not under any formal investigation.

 

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.

 

Findings of the Committee

13. The Editor’s Code of Practice makes clear that newspapers are allowed to publish the opinions and views of individuals, provided they distinguish between comment and fact when doing so. The Committee considered that the print headline’s reference to the complainant being “like 'Iran's morality enforcers'” was, by way of the use of single quotation marks and the fact that the claim was presented as a comparison, distinguished as comment rather than fact. The Committee also considered that the headline was supported by the text of the article – as required by the terms of Clause 1 (i) – where the basis for the comparison was set out, by including the full comment from the individual who had made the comparison. The Committee did not consider, therefore, that the print headline breached the terms of Clause 1.

14. The Committee understood that the complainant disputed that it was under formal investigation, and noted that the article clearly set out that this was under dispute; reporting that the “co-chairs denied any investigation had been formalised”. However, in circumstances where a solicitor acting on behalf of the joint legal department of Staffordshire Police and West Midlands Police had said in writing that they were “investigat[ing] the reasons why” two groups had been blocked from viewing the complainant’s social media account, the Committee did not consider that it was significantly inaccurate, distorted, or misleading to report that the complainant was “under investigation” – particularly in circumstances where the article set out who had told the groups this, and the wording of the letter in which the groups were informed of this. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

15. The selection of material for publication is a matter of editorial discretion, provided the Code is not otherwise breached. In such circumstances, and where the complainant had not identified the precise reason why omitting part of the co-chair’s comment rendered the article inaccurate, misleading or distorted there was no breach of Clause 1.

 

Conclusions

16. The complaint was not upheld.

 

Remedial action required

17. N/A

 

Date complaint received:  12/12/2022

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  16/02/2023