Ruling

19768-23 Bliss v The Times

    • Date complaint received

      16th November 2023

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 19768-23 Bliss v The Times


Summary of Complaint

1. Steven Bliss complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Why Starmer is right to expel party veteran”, published on 5 July 2023.

2. The article was a column which expressed the writer’s view on the possible expulsion of an individual from the Labour Party and the need for Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the party, to stand firm against “tactical voting”. It reported that Sir Keir had “overseen the expulsion of numerous individuals from the party due to their assertions that he is controlled by the Jews”.

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format.

4. The complainant said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 to report that individuals had been expelled from the Labour Party “due to their assertions that [Sir Keir] is controlled by the Jews”. He said he was not aware of any Labour Party members that had been expelled for saying that Sir Keir had been controlled by “the Jews”; and this statement was unsubstantiated.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Editors’ Code. It said that the article was clearly labelled as a comment piece, and that the sentence under complaint was a brief polemical reference to the established fact that Labour members have been expelled for claiming – and/or belonging to organisations which claimed – that the party’s response to anti-Semitism had been unduly shaped by “Jewish” influence. The publication considered the complainant’s reading of the article to be too narrow. It said that, rather than the columnist purporting that expelled individuals had literally stated Sir Keir was “controlled by the Jews”, he had been offering his own characterisation of the views of the many Labour members who had been expelled. It said that the article as a whole had clearly distinguished this as the columnist’s opinion.

6. The publication also said that anti-Semitism in the Labour Party was well-documented. To support its position, it referenced the 2020 investigation which found that the Labour Party had breached the Equalities Act in respect of anti-Semitism and the 2022 National Executive Committee’s discipline statistics, which reported that 65.89% of disciplinary cases since May 2020 involved allegations of anti-Semitism – 17.84% of which resulted in expulsion and 9.06% resulted in some form of punitive suspension. The publication said that these well-documented cases meant that the author’s opinion that Sir Keir had “overseen the expulsion of numerous individuals from the party due to their assertions that he is controlled by the Jews”, was supported by matters of fact.

7. The publication also stated that Sir Keir’s position on groups and individuals who held anti-Semitic views was clear. It noted that, in response to the 2020 investigation, he had stated that “if […] there are still those who think there’s no problem with anti-Semitism in the Labour Party […] you are part of the problem too. And you should be nowhere near the Labour Party either”.

8. The publication also noted examples of expulsions from the Labour Party which it considered supported the assertion in the article: a councillor had been suspended after describing Sir Keir as "a puppet dancing to their [Israel's] tune"; another Labour member investigated for saying Sir Keir was “in the pocket of Israel”; a member of the party’s National Executive Committee had been expelled for claiming that anti-Semitism complaints had been whipped up by the “Israeli embassy”; and the belief by a group expelled from the party that Labour’s problem with anti-Semitism had been artificially “manufactured” by the "Israel lobby” and criticised the party’s engagement with a “pro-Israel” organisation on the issue of anti-Semitism under Sir Keir. It said that, whilst many of the cases and people involved had attempted to distinguish their views between anti- Zionism and anti-Semitism, organisations including the House of Commons Home Affairs Commons Select Committee, considered that many used the terms interchangeably; “Zionism” was frequently used as a proxy for the word “Jew”.

9. The complainant did not accept the reasoning provided by the publication. He considered that much of the publication’s response did not have a bearing on the alleged inaccuracy: that “numerous individuals” had been expelled from the Labour Party by Sir Keir because they had stated he was “controlled by the Jews”. The complainant also disputed that the examples provided demonstrated this: they had referred to “Israel”, or the “Israeli embassy” and which, he argued, could not reasonably be equated to “the Jews”.

10. In addition, the complainant questioned the publication’s assertion that a reader would identify the sentence under complaint a polemical reference in the context of the article. He noted that the article made no other references to anti-Semitism. He said that the article could have clarified the exact basis for expulsions, or referred to any of the evidence offered by the publication in its response – but the omission and lack of context was misleading.

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

11. The article was a comment piece, addressing what the columnist perceived to be a justified decision to expel a member of the Labour party. It included a brief statement that Sir Keir had “overseen the expulsion of numerous individuals from the party due to their assertions that he is controlled by the Jews”. While the publication had said that this was the writer’s characterisation of statements made about Sir Keir, it was not distinguished as such in the article. The Committee, therefore, considered this to be a statement of fact within the article, over which the publication was obliged to take care to ensure the claim was not inaccurate, misleading, or distorted.

12. From the material provided by the publication, it was clear that the issue of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party had been the subject of much scrutiny. It was also clear that a number of individuals had been expelled from the party for claiming that the issue of antisemitism within the party had been artificially manufactured and that “Israel” or the “pro-Israel” organisations had some form of influence over Sir Keir. Where the publication had demonstrated that individuals had been expelled from the Labour party in relation to claims that Sir Keir was controlled by Israel and which, by all accounts the party considered to amount to anti-Semitism, the Committee considered that the columnist had a sufficient basis for stating that Sir Keir had expelled “numerous individuals from the party due to their assertions that he is controlled by the Jews”. It was therefore the Committee’s view that the publication had taken sufficient care not to publish inaccurate or misleading information and the Committee did not establish a significant inaccuracy requiring correction. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusion

13. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

14. N/A


Date complaint received:  05/07/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  16/10/2023


Independent Complaints Reviewer

The complainant complained to the Independent Complaints Reviewer about the process followed by IPSO in handling this complaint. The Independent Complaints Reviewer decided that the process was not flawed and did not uphold the request for review.