Resolution Statement 19341-17 Olufemi v The Daily Telegraph

    • Date complaint received

      11th January 2018

    • Outcome

      Resolved - IPSO mediation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Resolution Statement 19341-17 Olufemi v The Daily Telegraph 

Summary of complaint

1. Cambridge University complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation on behalf of Lola Olufemi that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Cambridge to ‘decolonise’ English literature”, published on 25 October 2017. The article was also published online.

2. A photograph of the complainant appeared on the front page with the headline “Student forces Cambridge to drop white authors”, and the caption “Cambridge will replace some white authors with black writers on English courses following demands led by Lola Olufemi, the student union’s women’s officer. Miss Olufemi wrote a letter saying the curriculum ‘risks perpetuating institutional racism’”.

3. The full article appeared on page 3, and went on to report that the University’s English professors would be forced to replace white authors with black writers, under proposals put forward by academics; which followed an open letter written by the complainant, and signed by more than 100 students. The article reported the open letter had said it was not seeking to exclude white men from reading lists. However, the article stated that “adding new BME texts and topics is likely to lead to authors being downgraded or dropped altogether, since there are no plans to lengthen courses to accommodate an expansion of reading materials”. The article reported that the complainant had previously said that “white people who go on holidays to Africa are ‘inherently selfish’”.

4. The complainant said that no decision had been made to alter the way English was taught at the university. So far, there had been only been discussions within a body that had no decision-making powers. The complainant said that the suggestion that authors would be dropped from reading lists was entirely conjectural, and inaccurate. The complainant said that the article drew attention to her race in a discriminatory fashion through the use of her photograph, by suggesting she was the sole source of the campaign, and by quoting comments she had made in an old article criticising the choice made by a specific individual to go on a gap year to Africa, rather than all students who go on a gap year.

5. The newspaper accepted that the University would not be “forced” to exclude or replace white authors as the article stated. Following direct correspondence with the complainant, and before it was aware a complaint had been made to IPSO, the newspaper published a correction in its next edition, in its page 2 ‘Corrections and Clarifications’ slot. The correction explained that the proposals reported on were in fact recommendations, and that neither the complainant’s open letter, nor these recommendations called for the University to replace white authors with black ones, and that there were no plans to do so. It also amended the online article, and added a footnote similar to the print correction. The newspaper said that the complainant was the organiser and instigator of the letter. In these circumstances, it said that it was entirely reasonable and relevant for the article to focus on the complainant. It said that a photograph inevitably shows a person’s race or colour. It said that the article made no prejudicial or pejorative reference to the complainant’s race or colour.

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.

iv) The Press, while free to editorialise and campaign, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

Clause 12 (Discrimination)

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

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

Mediated outcome

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

8. During IPSO’s investigation of the complaint, the newspaper offered to publish a comment article written by Ms Olufemi. It also offered to publish the following apology on page 2 of the newspaper:

Lola Olufemi

A 25 Oct article incorrectly stated that Lola Olufemi had written an open letter on ‘Decolonising’ the English Faculty in which she and co-signatories called for Cambridge University to replace white authors with black writers on course reading lists. In fact, the letter called only for black authors to be included, not for white writers to be replaced. We are sorry for this error.”

It offered to replace the footnote on the online article with the following wording:

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Lola Olufemi had written an open letter on 'Decolonising' the English Faculty in which she and co-signatories called for Cambridge University to replace black writers on course readings lists. It further reported that academics had responded with proposals 'forcing' the University to comply with this. The academics' proposals were in fact recommendations. Neither they nor the open letter called for the University to replace white authors with black ones and there are no plans to do so. We apologise to all concerned.

9. The complainant said that publication of an apology would be a satisfactory resolution to the complaint.

10. As the complainant agreed to accept the newspaper’s offer of resolution on behalf of Ms Olufemi, the Complaints Committee did not make a determination as to whether there had been any breach of the Code.

Date complaint received: 25/10/2017
Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 06/12/2017