Ruling

20214-23 Lunn v The Jewish Chronicle

  • Complaint Summary

    Hugo Lunn 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 “Student who called Jews ‘apex predators in capitalism’ gets research role at top university”, published on 16 June 2023, and an article headlined “Student who called Jews ‘apex predators in capitalism’ faces university probe”, published on 21 June 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      11th January 2024

    • Outcome

      Breach - sanction: publication of correction

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 20214-23 Lunn v The Jewish Chronicle


Summary of Complaint

1. Hugo Lunn 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 “Student who called Jews ‘apex predators in capitalism’ gets research role at top university”, published on 16 June 2023, and an article headlined “Student who called Jews ‘apex predators in capitalism’ faces university probe”, published on 21 June 2023.

2. The first article under complaint appeared on page 6, and reported that the complainant – who was described as having “been president of DUFMA [Durham University Free Market Association]” – had been “exposed for his involvement in a far-right ‘free market’ group in which he called Jews ‘apex predators in capitalism’”, and subsequently admitted to the university to undertake a research role. It went on to report that “shocking messages shared by […] Hugo Lunn included one post which said, ‘Hitler would be more efficient if he privatised his death factories’ and another that referred to ‘the Jewishtocracy’.” It also reported that, “[i]n another remark, Lunn […] appeared to mock a student who had been offended […] saying ‘he got triggered, the cuck’”.

3. The article then reported that the complainant “used many aliases in the group chats, including the ‘Grand Mufti of the Free Market’, ‘Hasdrubal’ and ‘Nebuchadjnezzar – a reference to Nebakanezer II, notorious for being a cruel enemy of the Jewish people and destroying Jerusalem.” It also reported that the complainant “was identified after leaks of the chat emerged – which the [newspaper] has seen – in which other group members addressed him using his real name.” The article closed by stating that “Lunn refused to comment on the record”, and was accompanied by a photograph of the complainant.

4. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format, under the headline “Anger as student who called Jews ‘apex predators in capitalism’ readmitted to Durham University”. This version of the article was published on 15 June 2023, and included an additional sub-headline, which read: “Hugo Lunn, who once referred to the ‘Jewishtocracy’, was allowed back for a PhD course”. It also included screenshots, showing the chat groups referred to in the article.

5. The second article under complaint – which appeared online only – reported that “Durham University is ‘urgently’ examining its decision to re-admit a student who called Jews ‘apex predators in capitalism’”. It went on to report that the complainant “was allowed to begin his PhD […] despite being criticised over his posts in a far-right group chat while it is believed he was [a] student at the university. He was subject to a complaint about the posts which included a statement saying, ‘Hitler would be more efficient if he privatised his death factories’ and a reference to ‘the Jewishtocracy’.”

6. The second article went on to report that the complainant referred to the aliases which appeared in the first article under complaint, and quoted from another message the complainant allegedly sent: “‘he got triggered, the cuck’.” The article was accompanied by screenshots showing the group chats, and closed with the statement: “Lunn refused to comment on the record”.

7. On 13 June, three days prior to the publication of the first article, a journalist acting on behalf of the newspaper contacted the complainant via Facebook at 2:21pm. This message included the following:

“I’m writing an article for the Jewish Chronicle in which we report that Durham University is readmitting you for a History PhD despite knowing you had perpetuated antisemitic conspiracy theories in official university societies. In the story I report that you said the following in […] group chats: - ‘Pinochet used private concentration camps. Hitler would be more efficient if he privatised his death factories […] I remember [named individual] coming to Poland and some based libertarian said […] and he got triggered, the cuck’. –‘As for Jews they are the apex predators in capitalism […]’

“1. Do you confirm these were said by you (under many aliases to avoid being directly linked to the messages?

[…]

“Please provide any comment you wish to make by Wednesday 14th June midday at the latest. We will be publishing this from Thursday onwards.”

8. The journalist then contacted the complainant via email at 10:02am on 14 June; the email set out the same questions as above. The complainant replied to this email seven hours later and prior to the publication of the first article under complaint; his reply included the following:

“First of all let me say that I believe journalists should be entitled to write whatever works of fiction they come up with. […] In a way I am glad I missed your deadline for reply, because the following is intended to be first and foremost a clarification for your eyes only. I do not authorise you to print or share this email or any excerpt from it in any way shape or form without obtaining clear permission first. […] News that images purported to be ‘screens’ of a chat or number of chats that I had been in some way involved in had reached me a few years ago. The interpretation I arrived at is that those images were doctored or entirely manufactured.”

9. The complainant then sent the publication another email on 19 June, after the publication of the first article under complaint but prior to the publication of the second article. This included the following:

“I am writing to you today to request that you declare what your action would be in the event, overwhelmingly likely might I add, that Durham University finds me without blame. […] I would like to work with you and others to establish the real perpetrator or perpetrators of this lamentable event or series of events and ensure they are brought to justice. Nevertheless I hope you understand I simply cannot settle for less than complete exoneration, which would have to include you withdrawing your allegations regarding my person […] in the meantime I would like to ask you cease using my image […] as the illustration for your article.”

10. The journalist responded on the same day, and said: “I am writing an article that Durham University is now investigating the matter. Do you have anything you would like to add for the record?”

11. The complainant then sent two further emails; the first included the following:

“I would like to repeat my previous spiel that I do not authorise you to print or share this email or any excerpt from it in any way shape or form without obtaining clear permission first. This also applied to the previous email that I sent today. Incidentally, I do not think this statement nor failing to reply to your initial request within the 5 hour window that you provided constitute ‘declining to comment’ and so perhaps you could remove that remark from the article you published as a sign of good will”.

12. On 10 July 2023, the complainant sent a complaint to the newspaper. In this email, he alleged that the articles included inaccurate information and “implied [he was] an antisemite”, and inaccurately attributed antisemitic comments to him. He said he had not made any of the comments the article attributed to him, nor had he used any of the pseudonyms listed in the article. He then said that the second article under complaint repeated this allegation, and also inaccurately suggested it had been accepted by the university that he had posted the comments – when in fact, the university was seeking to establish who had made the comments. The complainant said the second article also implied that the university was aware of the allegations when they admitted him to the research role, which he said could not be the case as the allegations had first been made by the articles under complaint.

13. The complainant accepted that, at one point in the screenshots, the person who made an offensive comment reported on in the article was called ‘Hugo’ by another group member. However, he said that this did not mean that he had made the posts: he was not the only individual called Hugo in DUFMA, and – at any rate – he believed that the screenshots had been altered, and the name Hugo inserted. He further noted that, while the article claimed that he had mocked a named student, he did not know the named student, nor did he know anyone by this name who was a member of a Durham University political society during his time there.

14. Turning to the other alleged inaccuracies, he said he had never been president of DUFMA; rather, he was its secretary, and had only been so for a single academic year, two years prior to the screenshots coming to light. He also disputed that he had “refused to comment on the record” to the publication. He said that he had responded to both requests for comment from the publication, and believed his responses should have indicated to the publication that he wished for it to ask his permission before sharing his response – rather than that he was refusing to give a comment to publish.

15. The complainant then contacted IPSO on 27 July, and raised additional points under Clause 1: he said that he had been given less than five hours to respond to serious allegations against him, and that contacting him via Facebook was not an acceptable form of asking for a comment, particularly as he was not Facebook friends with the journalist and her messages were therefore quarantined by Facebook.

16. The complainant also said it did not follow that he had used all of the pseudonyms listed in the article; the screenshots showed some of these pseudonyms interacting with each other and with him. He also said that the pseudonym accounts used different profile pictures, and there was no basis for the publication’s belief that all the accounts belonged to a single individual or that he was that single individual. He further noted that he was not provided with screenshots of the messages when the publication reached out for his comment prior to publication.

17. He also said that, since he had complained directly to the newspaper, the university had found that its decision to admit him for further study did not breach the admissions regulations.

18. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It noted that the complainant had held a senior position in DUFMA, and the society had been closed by Durham University Student Union as its members had been found to have used antisemitic, racist, and misogynistic language. With regard to the specific alleged inaccuracies, it said it was satisfied that it had taken care to ensure its reporting was accurate: a journalist working on behalf of the publication had contacted the complainant via Facebook and email, prior to the publication of both articles, and had given him the opportunity to comment on a proposed story which would report that the complainant had posted antisemitic messages using various aliases. The basis for publishing the two articles, the publication said, was: “compelling documentary evidence”; several screenshots showing the conversations; and also four sources, whom it considered to be “highly credible”, and who had positively identified the complainant as having posted the messages the articles reported on.

19. The publication did not accept that the second article reported or implied that the university had accepted that the complainant had posted the comments. It said it felt it was clear that – in the sentence “Durham University is ‘urgently’ examining its decision to re-admit a student who called Jews ‘apex predators in capitalism’” – the claim that the complainant had “called Jews apex predators” was clearly attributed to the publication rather than the university.

20. The publication further noted that, while the complainant had alleged that the screenshots were doctored, he had not provided any evidence to support this claim. In addition, he had made clear that he did not consent to the publication sharing his response in the newspaper, and had not offered any on-the-record statement for publication. For these reasons, the publication said it was “highly sceptical” of the complainant’s denials and therefore – having given the complainant an opportunity to respond to the allegations – it had reached the decision to publish the articles.

21. To support its position, the publication provided correspondence from the original complaint to the university, submitted in 2020. The letter was from a named individual, and the publication said that this individual was one of the four sources who had told it that the complainant had made the posts – the remaining three sources did not wish to be identified. In the complaint to the university, the source said that the account that made the posts referenced in the article was “actually an alt [alternate account] of last year’s leader of DUFMA, Hugo Lunn”. The named source had also, said the publication, told it directly that the complainant “went [b]y numerous different alias[es] while on the messages. Such as Supreme Ecclesiarch of the Free market, Grand Mufti of the Free Market and Maurycy. He went by a lot of different pseudonyms, none of which were directly traceable to his actual identity. And in public he downplayed a lot of his more troubling views precisely so he wouldn’t get tracked.” The publication said that another university student had since confirmed, via another individual, that the complainant had been president of the DUFMA.

22. The publication said there were further details which linked the complainant to the “alt” accounts. It said that the complainant was born and raised in Poland, and was an academic historian. One of the accounts, which had responded to a message directed at ‘Hugo’ had the name ‘Maurycy’, which the publication said linked it to the complainant; particularly as ‘Maurycy’ is a Polish given name. It provided a screenshot, showing a Facebook profile linked to Maurycy, which had ‘liked’ two pages linked to the complainant’s interests: one for a “relatively obscure Polish historian”, who had been referenced in the bibliography of a paper published by the complainant; and one for Pope Gregory VII, who was the subject of another academic paper published by the complainant. The ‘Maurycy’ message account had an Iraqi flag as its profile picture, as did another two of the accounts the publication had reported was the complainant. Other group members had also referred to this user as a “Polack”. Therefore, the publication considered there was sufficient basis to also link all these accounts with the complainant.

23. While the publication did not accept a breach of the Code, it did remove the photographs of the complainant from the online version of the article.

24. The complainant refuted the points made by the publication. He said that the screenshots had first emerged in November 2019 after being posted anonymously online; he said that, when they were first posted, they were identified with a ‘pro-life’ society at the university. He said that this demonstrated that there had always been doubt over the authorship of the messages. He accepted that he was one of the “leaders” of DUFMA in the 2017/2018 year, in his role as secretary, though he had at one point been introduced as the “Chancellor” in a debate between the University’s political societies. In this role, he said he oversaw group chats associated with the society, which he occasionally contributed to. He said that any offensive messages could have easily escaped his notice, as there were several chats, often established on an ad-hoc basis for various university events.

25. The complainant also said that, since the article’s publication, he had been “cleared” by a university inquiry, and provided the outcome of the inquiry in question. This said that the original complaint to the University, brought in August 2020 and investigated in October 2020, named the complainant – who had recently graduated – as the owner of one of the private groups “and accused him of posting under a number of aliases”. It then said that concerns were raised in December 2022 about the complainant having been readmitted to study a graduate-level course, “on the grounds of his association with these previous posts”.

26. The outcome noted that the “postings [under complaint] involve the widespread use of aliases” which made “it very difficult to definitively associate posts with individuals”, and that the “many comments are extremely offensive, including some which are unambiguously antisemitic and racist, irrespective of context”. The outcome then noted that the complainant was not investigated in relation to the comments in 2020, as he was not a student at the time the complaint was made. It then considered whether it was appropriate to now investigate the complainant; however, it concluded that this was not within the remit of the report – which was only an examination of whether admissions regulations had been breached – and an investigation may not be appropriate for several other reasons. It found that the regulations had not been breached, while noting that:

“The decision not to investigate Mr Lunn in 2020 was the correct application of procedure. His name, however, was clearly associated with the posts, with the allegation that he may have been responsible for some of the most offensive posts having been made. His exclusion from the investigation at the preliminary stage was solely because he had graduated, and there is little doubt that had he remained a registered student at the time, he would have been subject to that investigation.”

27. The complainant also said that he did not know who one of the identified sources was, which made the veracity of his claims, in the complainant’s view, doubtful.

28. During IPSO’s investigation, individuals who had been members of the DUFMA contacted IPSO in support of the complainant. One said that they knew both the complainant and Maurycy, and that they were two different individuals. Another said that he did not recall the complainant taking part in one of the group chats which had been referenced in the article. He also said that he didn’t believe that Maurycy and the complainant were the same individual, as they would sometimes interact and argue, and also because the complainant was “always very polite”. The complainant said that he did not know whether Maurycy was a real individual or an alias used by someone else, though he suspected it was someone using an alias.

29. A third individual who contacted IPSO said they had been the source for the claim that the complainant was the president, though they said this was an “offhand remark” and they now knew that they were mistaken.

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

30. The Committee wished to be clear from the outset that its role was to decide whether the publication had breached the Editors’ Code of Practice, rather than to rule on the allegations against the complainant.

31. The two articles attributed several antisemitic messages to the complainant as fact and without qualification. The basis for this attribution were claims made by four sources, and – although the publication had taken further steps to verify this information, such as reviewing the screenshots which were the source of the allegations and requesting the complainant’s response to the allegations against him – at the time of the publication it had not been established as a matter of fact that the complainant was an author of the posts. While an investigation into the posts had been undertaken by the university in 2020, the complainant had been excluded from the investigation as he was no longer a student at the university.

32. Therefore, at the time of publication, the allegations against the complainant remained unproven. By reporting these allegations as fact, rather than identifying them as unproven claims made by multiple sources, the articles failed to distinguish between comment, conjecture, and fact, and there was a breach of Clause 1 (iv).

33. Given the serious nature of the allegations against the complainant, not making clear that they were allegations, rather than accepted fact, represented significantly misleading information. Therefore, under the terms of Clause 1 (ii), the newspaper was required to correct this misleading information. No correction had been published on this point, and there was a further breach of Clause 1 (ii).

34. The Committee turned to the other inaccuracies alleged by the complainant. While the complainant said that the article had inaccurately described him as the president of the society, the Committee did not accept that this represented a failure to take care on the part of the publication, or that the inaccuracy was significant: the publication had been able to demonstrate that multiple individuals had told it that the complainant was the president; and it was accepted that the complainant had a leadership role at the society, which also involved him administrating the chat groups which were the source of at least some of the messages – therefore, describing him as the group’s “president” was not significantly inaccurate or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

35. While the complainant had responded extensively to the reporter’s request for comment, his responses made clear that he did not wish for his responses to be published: “In a way I am glad I missed your deadline for reply, because the following is intended to be first and foremost a clarification for your eyes only. I do not authorise you to print or share this email or any excerpt from it in any way shape or form without obtaining clear permission first”. In such circumstances, the Committee did not consider that either article had inaccurately reported that the complainant had declined to comment: he was offered the opportunity to comment on the record, and in his responses had made clear that he did not wish for the newspaper to publish his comments. In addition, where the reporter had given the complainant the opportunity to comment on the record, the Committee did not consider that there had been a failure to take care over the accuracy of the articles – not withstanding that the published articles presented the allegations against the complainant in a misleading manner. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

Conclusions

36. The complaint was partly upheld under Clause 1 (iv) and Clause 1 (ii).

Remedial action required

37. Having upheld the complaint, the Committee considered what remedial action should be required. In circumstances where the Committee establishes a breach of the Editors’ Code, it can require the publication of a correction and/or an adjudication; the nature, extent and placement of which is determined by IPSO.

38. In considering the appropriate remedy for the breach of the Code, the Committee was mindful of several factors. It noted that, while the allegations against the complainant were serious and the publication had reported these as fact, in a misleading manner, it had been able to show that there was a factual basis for linking the complainant with the posts: he had been identified by four separate sources as being the author of the posts, and he had links to the groups in which at least some of the posts appeared. In addition, the newspaper had taken clear steps to verify the accuracy of its sources’ information. Albeit that the presentation of the allegations against the complainant were misleading, it had taken the appropriate steps – prior to publication – to verify the allegations against the complainant, including approaching him for comment and examining the posts themselves. Therefore, on balance, the Committee considered the publication of corrections to be the appropriate remedy to the breaches of the Code.

39. The wording of all corrections should set out the original misleading information, and make clear the correct position: namely, all should refer to the fact that the articles, in a misleading manner, reported allegations against the complainant as fact. All corrections should also make clear that at the time of publication, the allegations against the complainant had not been proven and there was no official finding linking the complainant to the posts. The wording should be agreed with IPSO in advance and should make clear that it has been published following an upheld ruling by the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

40. The Committee then considered the placement of these corrections. One of the articles appeared in print as well as online; therefore, a correction should be published in the newspaper’s print edition. As the misleading information appeared on page 6 of the print edition, the correction should appear on the same page or further forward.

41. Both articles also appeared online, with the misleading information appearing in both headlines of the articles – giving the information greater prominence and weight. Given this, the newspaper should publish a standalone online correction, and a link to this correction should be published on the homepage for 24 hours before being archived in the usual way. In addition, if the publication intends to continue to publish the online articles without amendment, corrections should be added to each of these articles beneath the headline. If the articles are amended to remove the misleading information, these corrections should be published as footnotes to the articles.


Complaint received: 27/07/2023

Complaint concluded by IPSO: 14/12/2023