Ruling

14253-16 Salih v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      13th April 2017

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee 14253-16 Salih v The Times 

Summary of complaint 

1.    Roza Salih complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Corbyn linked to lobbyists behind Istanbul bombers”, published on 17 December 2016. 

2.    The article reported that Jeremy Corbyn and Kate Osamor, the Shadow International Development Secretary, were patrons of the Peace in Kurdistan (PiK) campaign, which was linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).  It said that Unison was also linked to the campaign. The article stated that it had been the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), which it described as “the urban warfare wing of the PKK”, which had bombed the Besiktas football stadium the previous week killing 44 people. It said that this had been the PKK’s “deadliest” terror attack in more than two decades, and that the TAK had also claimed responsibility for two bombings in Ankara earlier in the year. The article noted that PiK is also linked to the Kurdistan National Congress (KNK), which it said was the PKK’s “main European outreach group”. It said that one of its primary objectives was to lobby for the PKK to be delisted in the UK as a terrorist organisation. The article also noted that Turkish officials had confirmed that one of the Besiktas bombers had recently crossed from Turkey to Syria, where some of the frontier territory is held by the People’s Defense Units (YPG), a Syrian Kurdish militia, which was also “tied to the PKK”. It said that three days after the Besiktas attack, Salih Muslim, the YPG’s political chief, had spoken at an event at Edinburgh University. 

3.    The complainant said that the article had given the significantly misleading impression that the PiK and its supporters were linked to terrorist organisations. She said the PiK had campaigned for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Turkey and elsewhere in the region, and its patrons, including Jeremy Corbyn, were only interested in promoting peace. She said the PiK condemned terrorism, including the recent attack at the Besiktas football stadium, and she denied that the campaign group was linked to Unison. 

4.    The complainant said that the PiK campaigned for the delisting of the PKK as a terrorist organisation, and expressed concern that the article had inaccurately reported that the PKK had been responsible for the terrorist attack in Istanbul. She said the TAK had been responsible, and she disputed that this group formed part of the PKK, as reported. 

5.    The complainant also denied that YPG was linked to the PKK, and said that PiK and the KNK were independent bodies. She expressed concern that the newspaper had sought to associate the terror attack with Salih Muslim, the YPG’s political chief, by referring to the origins of one of those responsible for the Besiktas attack. 

6.    The newspaper said that the consensus among experts on the relationship between the PKK and the TAK was fairly clear, and it referred to an article published in the Middle East Eye, which stated that “the origins of the TAK are debated, but it is assumed the group was formed by the PKK itself more than 10 years ago to carry out attacks in cities in the west of Turkey. Soon, however, the group started to follow its own course, choosing a more radical line than the PKK”. The piece also quoted the author of a book on the history of the PKK, who had said in relation to a terrorist attack in Ankara, that “it’s unlikely that the PKK issues a direct order for an attack like the one in Ankara, but I do think they have control over their actions”. In addition, the newspaper noted that the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (Start) had described the TAK as a “special urban terrorism wing” of the PKK. It said this position had been endorsed by the US government, and it referred to a press statement issued in October 2016, in which the US government had described the TAK as “the PKK’s urban terrorist unit”. 

7.    The newspaper did not consider that it was inaccurate for it to report that Unison was linked to PiK. It said that the Deputy Convenor of Unison in Scotland was a patron of the group, and he had organised the visit of Salih Muslim to Scotland. It said that Unison had signed up to the campaign to free Abudullah Ocalan, the PKK’s leader, and noted that the PiK website had also documented its links between the union and the group. 

8.    The newspaper denied that it was inaccurate to report that the PKK was linked to YPG. It noted that the PKK website gave full coverage of YPG activities in Rojava, a region of northern Syria. It also considered that the British government had accepted that there were links between the two groups which was why the government had not backed YPG in Syria. In addition, the newspaper said that its reporter had spent time with YPG forces in Syria and the vast majority of its commanders were PKK fighters who had crossed the border from Turkey. It said the links between the groups had been extensively studied and it provided various articles to support this position, including one which quoted a Kurdish fighter, who had said that “it’s all PKK but different branches…sometimes I’m a PKK, sometimes I’m a PJAK [Kurdistan Free Life Party], sometimes I’m a YPG. It doesn’t really matter. They are all members of the PKK”. 

9.    The newspaper denied that it was inaccurate to report that PiK was linked to the KNK, and noted that the PiK linked to the KNK on its website. 

Relevant Code provisions 

10. 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 

11. It was accepted that PiK had campaigned for the PKK to be delisted as a terrorist organisation, and that the TAK had claimed responsibility for the attack at the Besiktas football stadium. 

12. The extent to which the PKK controlled or influenced the actions of the TAK appeared to be a matter of debate; however, the complainant did not dispute that the TAK had originally been formed by the PKK. It was also accepted that TAK had been referred to as a “special urban terrorism wing” of the PKK by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, and this characterisation had been adopted by the US government. 

13. In these circumstances, the Committee did not consider that it was significantly misleading for the newspaper to have asserted that the PKK had been responsible for the Besiktas terrorist attack, or to have described the TAK as “the urban warfare wing of the PKK”. The article had made clear that it was, in fact, the TAK which had claimed responsibility for the attack. 

14. Given the PiK’s campaigns for the PKK to be delisted as terrorist organisation, and for its leader to be freed, it was also not inaccurate for the newspaper to have stated that it was “linked” to the PKK who were “behind the Istanbul bombers”. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article on these points. 

15. The newspaper had also demonstrated that Unison had joined the campaign to free the PKK’s leader and had “called upon the Turkish state to immediately stop attacks on Kurds”; a mission shared by PiK. It had also shown that PiK had published information relating to Unison’s involvement in its campaigns on its website. As such, it was not significantly misleading for the newspaper to assert that Unison was linked to PiK’s campaigns. There was no breach of the Code on this point. 

16. The PKK campaigned for the “Rojava revolution” on its website, a mission shared by the YPG which aimed to secure “Rojava in a free and democratic Syria”. The Committee did not consider that the brief reference to the YPG’s connection with the PKK was significantly misleading. Furthermore, there was no suggestion in the article that Salih Muslim, the YPG’s political chief, had any connection with the Besiktas terrorist attack. The newspaper had referred to him in order to illustrate the alleged connection between the PKK and Unison.  There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points. 

17. The PKK gave extensive information about the activities of the KNK on its website, including an archive of its press releases. It was not significantly misleading for the newspaper to report that the PKK was “linked” to the KNK. 

18. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article in breach of Clause 1(i), and no significant inaccuracies were identified. There was no breach of the Code. 

Conclusion 

19. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

N/A


Date complaint received: 19/12/2016

Date decision issued: 23/03/2017