Ruling

13416-16 Versi v Express.co.uk

    • Date complaint received

      13th April 2017

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: action as offered by publication

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 13416-16 Versi v Express.co.uk 

Summary of complaint 

1.    Miqdaad Versi complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that express.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Anger as less than A THIRD of Muslim nations sign up to coalition against ISIS”, published on 18 November 2016. 

2.    The article reported that Matthew Rycroft, the UK's Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), had “taken aim” at some Muslim nations and had “slammed” them for not “clamping down on extremism”. The article quoted from Mr Rycroft's speech to the UN, in which he highlighted that just 18 of 57 Muslim-majority states that were part of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had signed up to the Global Coalition against Da’esh. It also quoted Mr Rycroft singling out Egypt and the United Arab Emirates for special praise for the work both countries had done countering the “hate preached by Da’esh”. 

3.    The complainant said that the headline was misleading because the article did not identify any anger directed at Muslim nations. He said that Mr Rycroft’s speech to the UN did not express any anger at Muslim nations, and that it was misleading to summarise the speech as him having “taken aim at some Muslim nations”, or “slamming them for not clamping down on extremism”, when he was in fact praising some Muslim nations, and saying that all can do more. He also said that Clause 1(iii) of the Code had been breached because the publication had not offered him a right to reply. He said that he should have the right to reply in relation to all inaccurate reporting of Muslims or Islam, not least because of his personal work pursuing complaints on such matters, as well as his role as Assistant Secretary General at the Muslim Council of Britain. He did not think it would be justified to give Clause 1(iii) a restrictive interpretation, and said it should be applicable whenever there is a need to remedy a significant inaccuracy, not just when inaccuracies relate to individuals. 

4.    The publication acknowledged that it was misleading to report that Mr Rycroft had expressed anger at Muslim nations that had not signed up to coalition against ISIS. However, it said that a diplomat like Mr Rycroft is not in a position to make direct statements of fact in his role. It said that as his short speech had highlighted that 18 of 57 members of the OIC had joined a coalition against ISIS, it was not significantly misleading to characterise this as a veiled criticism of those members of the OIC who had not joined. Nonetheless, the publication amended the headline to remove the reference to “anger”, amended the first line of the article to remove the assertion that Mr Rycroft had criticised Muslim nations “for not clamping down on extremism”, and published the following wording as both a stand-alone clarification, and a footnote to the article:  

This article was amended on 12 January 2017. The headline to the article said “Anger as less than A THIRD of Muslim nations sign up to coalition against ISIS” and the introduction read “A TOP British official has taken aim at some Muslim nations during a meeting at the United Nations this week, slamming them for not clamping down on extremism.” When Matthew Rycroft the UK's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, gave a speech on 17 November 2016 about the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) he did not directly criticise Muslim nations for not tackling the issue of extremism rather he only singled out Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (from the other 57 nations of the OIC) for helping to 'counter the misrepresentations of Islam and the values of Da'esh'.  Additionally the article did not include any comments to support the headline that ‘anger’ had been expressed at the fact only one third of members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation have joined the coalition against ISIS, we apologise for these inaccuracies. 

5.    The newspaper said that as the article was not about the complainant, or an organisation he represented, it did not consider that he was entitled to a right to reply under the terms of Clause 1(iii) of the Code, particularly as it had amended the articles and published a correction. It said that for a right of reply to be “reasonably called for”, there needed to be a sufficient connection between the subject of the article under complaint, and the complainant. It said that if the right of reply was allowed for general points of facts, the newspaper would be obliged to publish a right of reply from everyone who complained.  

Relevant Code Provisions 

6. 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. 

Findings of the Committee 

7.    As the newspaper accepted, there was no basis in Mr Rycroft’s speech for characterising his comments as expressing “anger” at less than a third of Muslim nations signing up to a coalition against ISIS, and “slamming” these countries for not clamping down on extremism. This represented a failure to take care not to publish misleading information in breach of Clause 1(i), and a correction was required in order to avoid a breach of Clause 1(ii). 

8.    Mr Rycroft’s speech mentioned that 18 of 57 members of the OIC had signed up to a coalition against Da’esh, as well as highlighting Egypt and the United Arab Emirates as two countries which had helped to counter the misrepresentations of Islam and the values of Da’esh. The Committee considered that any criticism of Muslim nations by Mr Rycroft in his speech was indirect. However, in the context of a speech made by a diplomat at the UN, the text of which specifically highlighted the number of OIC countries that had signed up to the global coalition against ISIS, praised two countries in particular for the work they had done, and said that more work needed to be done “to turn concepts into action”, it considered that the publication had provided a sufficient basis for reporting that Mr Rycroft had “taken aim” at some Muslim nations. There was no breach of Clause 1. 

9.    On receipt of the complaint, the publication had amended the article, published a stand-alone correction online and added a footnote to the online article. The correction made clear that the speech had not included any direct criticisms of Muslim nations not addressing issues of extremism, and that the article did not contain any comments which supported the assertion that any anger had been expressed at the fact that only one third of OIC members had joined the coalition against ISIS. The Committee considered that the actions taken by the publication were sufficient to meet the requirements of Clause 1(ii). There was no further breach of the Code on this point. 

10. The Committee noted in this instance the complaint was brought by a third party. The obligation to correct under Clause 1(ii) is the Code’s primary remedy for significant inaccuracies. This serves the public interest in ensuring that the record is promptly and prominently corrected. It further reflects the fact that, while certain inaccuracies will directly affect specific individuals, the public generally benefits from a consistent approach to corrections. The Code also contains a further remedy, under Clause 1 (iii), in that a fair opportunity to reply to significant inaccuracies should be given when reasonably called for. Whether this is required in addition, or as an alternative, to a correction is a question specific to the particular circumstances of the complaint. 

11. In this instance, the Committee did not consider that this was an occasion involving a call for a “reply”. The Committee acknowledged the reason why the complainant has a particular interest in the subject matter of the complaint; however, the inaccuracy in question was not directed at him. This was not therefore a case in which fairness accorded him the right to a published response, and the appropriate remedy was the publication of a correction. There was no breach of Clause 1 (iii). 

Conclusions 

12. The complaint was upheld.  

Remedial Action Required 

N/A

Date complaint received: 21/11/2016

Date decision issued: 20/03/2017