Ruling

20606-23 White v The Sunday Telegraph

  • Complaint Summary

    Jeff White complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Israelophobia is the one hatred that polite society embraces”, published on 27 August 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      11th January 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 20606-23 White v The Sunday Telegraph


Summary of Complaint

1. Jeff White complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sunday Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Israelophobia is the one hatred that polite society embraces”, published on 27 August 2023.

2. The article, which appeared on page 20 and beneath the title “Comment” and the writer’s name, set out the writer’s view on “Israelophobia”. Its subheading reported that “Hatred of the Middle East’s only democracy threatens us all, not just Britain’s Jews”. The article went on to state that “Despite all the controversies, it [Israel] is the only liberal democracy in the region” - before referring, twice, to Israel as “the Middle East’s only democracy”.

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

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because it referred to Israel as the "only democracy” in the Middle East. He said that this was inaccurate because Israel “is not a democracy” - and because Lebanon, another nation in the Middle East, is a democracy - and it could not therefore be the case that Israel was the “only democracy” in the region.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It stated that the article did not report that Israel is the “only democracy” in the Middle East – rather, it stated that the article reported that Israel is the “only liberal democracy” in the Middle East. The publication also stated that the disputed statement was the writer’s opinion and was expressed as such.

6. Furthermore, the publication also stated that there was evidence to support its characterisation of Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East, and that it had therefore taken care over the accuracy of the claim. It referred to a Wikipedia page - “Democracy in the Middle East and North Africa” - which cited The Economist Group's Democracy Index; the Index had previously, in 2020, assessed Israel as the only democratic country in the Middle East and North Africa, labelling it a “Flawed Democracy”. It therefore stated that, where Israel had “objectively” been assessed as a democracy, and the only one in the Middle East, the author was entitled to rely upon this information when forming his own opinion.

7. The complainant maintained that the article was inaccurate. While he recognised that there was “some documentation” for the publication’s claim, he said that because, in his view, “Israel denies citizenship and voting rights to Palestinians who have lived under Israeli rule their entire lives”, it was not a democracy.

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

8. The Committee acknowledged that there would be a range of views and interpretations on what precisely constitutes a democracy, and indeed, whether Israel is the only democracy, or the only liberal democracy, as the article referenced, in the Middle East. However, the Committee noted that the publication had provided a source, from a recognised authority, which supported its characterisation of Israel as the Middle East’s “only democracy”. It acknowledged that the complainant disagreed with this assessment. Nevertheless, the Committee was satisfied that there was a factual basis for the article’s characterisation, and the article was not inaccurate, misleading, or distorted on this point. There was no breach of Clause 1.

Conclusions

9. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

10. N/A


Date complaint received: 11/09/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 20/12/2023