Ruling

Resolution Statement – 17343-23 The Islamic College v The Jewish Chronicle

    • Date complaint received

      14th September 2023

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Resolution Statement – 17343-23 The Islamic College v The Jewish Chronicle


Summary of Complaint

1. The Islamic College complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Jewish Chronicle breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “University drops ties with college accused of being Iran's hidden 'foothold' in Britain”, published on 10 March 2023.

2. The article reported that “Middlesex University is severing its ties with an Islamic college which has links to the brutal Iranian regime” and that, “[f]ollowing a review, the university said it would end its accreditation of The Islamic College’s degrees, The decision came after a JC investigation had exposed a catalogue of issues with the college”.

3. The article went on to report that “several pro-regime websites claim the college is the British affiliate of Al-Mustafa University”. It also said that “[p]reviously, an Islamic College spokesperson […] said the college was ‘not engaged in the propagation of any ideology’ and had ‘no affiliation’ with Al-Mustafa in Iran”.

4. The article also appeared online, under the headline “Middlesex Uni terminates partnerships with Islamic college over Iran links”. This version of the article included additional material which was not included in the print version of the article. This included the following claim: “The JC learned […] that a group of Islamic College students visited Iran in 2016. Photos show they were taken to visit the home of Ayatollah Khomeini.” It further reported that the college’s “current director, Isa Jehangir, was an Al-Mustafa professor […] A pro-regime news agency described Jehangir as ‘the current representative of Al-Mustafa and the respected director of the Islamic College of London”.

5. The online article went on to report that “it is clear that British students at ICL may travel to Al-Mustafa if they wish. In an online session that accompanied an event designed to attract new students, a JC reporter who posed as a prospective student asked: ‘Can we students go to Qom (in) Iran? Get a chance to study at Al-Mustafa University?’ The reply from the college was unequivocal: ‘You can go to Al-Mustafa.’”

6. The online version of the article was edited on the same day that the complainant first contacted IPSO to make it aware of its concerns. The edited article omitted the following claims and references: the reference to a visit to Iran, and photographs showing this visit; the reference to the College’s director Dr Jehangir; and the claim that prospective students were told by the College that they could “go to Al-Mustafa”.

7. The complainant said that the article included several inaccuracies, in breach of Clause 1. It said that it was not an “affiliate” of Al-Mustafa University, and all allegations and references to this effect in the article were inaccurate.

8. Turning next to the online headline, it said that, while the decision had been made to terminate the partnership between the College and the University, this had not happened due to “Iran links”. Rather, the decision to terminate the partnership was financial, and the agreement between the two organisations referenced this: “In the context of rising costs and ever-tighter margins, it is no longer sustainable for the university to maintain this collaboration.” It also said that Middlesex University had no concerns about the College, and that it had be satisfied with the partnership.

9. It also said that there was no proof to support the online article’s allegation that the college had funded or organised a trip to Iran for its students. It also said that Dr Jahangir was not a representative of Al-Mustafa University, nor had he been a professor there.

10. It further said that online article inaccurately reported that a college representative had told a prospective student that they could “go to Al-Mustafa”. It said it had reviewed the recording of the presentation in session, and no such thing was said by the college representative during the session. It said the actual response from the college to the question was: “that is something independent of applying to The Islamic College, so we cannot answer that, so you would have to go there and apply there”, and provided a recording of the session which it said demonstrated that this was the case.

11. Turning first to the question of whether it was inaccurate to report that “several pro-regime websites claim the college is a British affiliate of Al-Mustafa University”, the publication said that – before Al-Mustafa was sanctioned in 2020 by the US – the university openly said it had branches abroad. It provided a 2020 screenshot showing the homepage university’s South African branch – since removed – which listed “affiliates” of Al-Mustafa and said: “Al-Mustafa University has international branches and affiliate schools, such as Islamic College of London.” The publication said that “acknowledged experts” at the Tony Blair Institute had downloaded this screenshot.

12. The publication accepted that the ‘official line’ from Middlesex University was that the partnership between it and the college would be terminated due to financial strain, it considered that there was a “compelling argument” to be made that the partnership this decision had been made due to the alleged links between the college and the Iranian regime. It considered this to be the case where the decision to terminate the partnership had come three months after a previous Jewish Chronicle story which covered these alleged links. It also said that, when the publication had asked the University at the time if there would be a review of the association between the University and the college, the University had assured the publication that such a review would take place. It also said that, as recently as February 2023, the University had told the publication: “Re. the JC review, I don’t think I’ll be able to update you this week but, again, will keep you posted”.

13. Notwithstanding this, the publication amended the online version of the headline during IPSO’s investigation, to instead read: “Middlesex Uni terminates partnership with college accused of Iran links”. The also proposed to add a correction to the article, as gesture of goodwill:

“The headline has been altered following a complaint from the Islamic College that the original version did not fully reflect the circumstances of the split with the university.”

14. The publication said that an Iranian website, known for being pro-regime, had published a photograph in 2016 showing a number of young people. The photograph caption, according to a translator commissioned by the publication, read: “A group visit of London Islamic College students to Imam Khomeini’s house”. Therefore, the publication did not consider it to be inaccurate for the article to report that college students had visited Iran in 2016, or that photographs from the visit showed this.

15. The complainant said that the individual who had made the comments directing prospective students to Al-Mustafa during the recruitment session was not a college representative. It said that the college could not control comments made by those unaffiliated with it during such sessions. It said that it had already made this point to the publication in November 2022, when this claim was put to it; it had said in response:

“We were disappointed to find a number of factually erroneous claims and insinuations in your email […] as well as a misquote of our programme leader’s comments during the taster course. She replied to the prompted question about studying at an alternative institution: ‘that is something independent of applying to The Islamic College, so we cannot answer that, so you would have to go there and apply there’.”

16. It also said that the photographs showing students visiting Iran had been placed there in error, and reiterated its position that the College had not arranged for its students to visit Iran. It also said that it had contacted the website owners to make it aware of this error. It also said that this was the case with regard to the website screenshot which stated that the college was an “affiliate” of Al-Mustafa – in fact, it said that it was not affiliated with any academic institution other than Middlesex University. It further noted that there were other Islamic Colleges in the UK, and it was possible that this was a reference to one of them.

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.

Mediated Outcome

17. The complaint was not resolved through direct correspondence between the parties. IPSO therefore began an investigation into the matter.

18. During IPSO’s investigation, the publication offered to remove the words “accused of Iran links” from its amended online headline, and add the following correction to the top of the article:

"The headline has been altered following a complaint from the Islamic College. The College tell us the original version did not reflect the actual circumstances of their terminating their partnership with Middlesex University, which, they insist, had nothing to do with Iran.”

19. The complainant said that a majority of the concerns had already been resolved, as the online article had been edited to remove much of the alleged inaccuracies. However, it said that it still wanted the newspaper to publish a correction online, and suggested the following correction in response:

“The headline has been altered following a complaint from the Islamic College. The original version did not reflect the actual circumstances of terminating their partnership with Middlesex University.”

20. The publication agreed to publish the wording proposed by the complainant and amended the online version of the headline to remove the reference to “Iran links”.

21. As the complaint was successfully mediated, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

 

Date complaint received:  08/03/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  30/08/2023