Ruling

21446-23 Hussain v The Sun

  • Complaint Summary

    Shahin Hussain complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Mummy help me!”, published on 11 October 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      29th February 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 21446-23 Hussain v The Sun


Summary of Complaint

1. Shahin Hussain complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Sun breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Mummy help me!”, published on 11 October 2023.

2. The article, which appeared on the front page of the newspaper and continued on page three, reported on a woman’s experience of her family members being kidnapped by Hamas. A subheading said: “SAVAGES ‘BEHEADED BABIES’ IN MASSACRE”. The article went on to report “[t]errorists from Hamas also reportedly beheaded babies in a barbaric rampage through a nearby Israeli village which left 40 youngsters dead.”

3. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because he considered it had published an unsubstantiated and false claim that Hamas had beheaded babies. He said this was a sensationalist claim which had been debunked by various media and fact checking agencies and there was no evidence to support this claim. The complainant noted that even Israel had not confirmed these claims and the Whitehouse had retracted Mr Biden’s comments that he’d seen confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children. The complainant further said that there were several accounts which suggested the IDF killed many Israelis on 7 October with tank shells and helicopter missiles and therefore, it was disingenuous to definitively blame Hamas for casualties. The complainant provided a number of links to articles which he said supported his position.

4. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 12 because it only focused on Israeli victims and did not mention any of the Palestinian casualties. He concluded that the article was biased towards Israel.

5. The publication did not accept the article was inaccurate or would mislead readers as to the events of 7 October 2023. It said the article was a contemporaneous report of the massacre at the Kfar Aza kibbutz by Hamas terrorists, which began on 7 October and that at least 50 members of Kfar Aza were killed by Hamas, with another 17 kidnapped and taken to Gaza. It explained it took two days for the IDF to regain control of the kibbutz and that journalists were granted access to the site on 10 October 2023, the day before publication, when soldiers were still working to recover bodies. It said it was indisputable that the dead included men, women, babies and children. The publication said the Israeli government released images of the dead via its official Twitter account which it linked to during the investigation.

6. The publication said the information that Hamas had “beheaded babies” came from an eyewitness account given by a soldier to a TV reporter present at the scene and that this account was supported by other eyewitnesses there. It said the claim made was a credible one, based on what was indisputably true about the massacre at Kfar Aza.

7. The publication provided several articles, published after the article under complaint, which it said supported the eyewitness accounts reported in the article. The article described several soldiers’ experiences of finding dead mothers, fathers, children and babies who had been murdered. This included a major who reported finding “beheaded children of varying ages, ranging from babies to slightly older children”. Another article described the head of operations for the southern region of ZAKA’s account of finding babies who had been beheaded. One of the links showed a dead baby who was badly burnt. The publication provided a tweet which showed a soldier recounting what he had seen, which referenced him having witnessed a “decapitated” baby. It also linked to an article where a morgue worker had said they had seen the bodies of a mother and her baby, both of whom had been decapitated. The publication also explained that the Israeli government had presented photographic evidence to journalists at a press conference to illustrate the extent of the attack.

8. The publication said that the article had made clear the reference to beheaded babies was a claim. It said the subheading on the front page, which read SAVAGES ‘BEHEADED BABIES’ IN MASSACRE, had used inverted commas and the text of the article then stated: "Terrorists from Hamas also reportedly beheaded babies" which distinguished the reference as a claim at the time, and not verified fact. As such, it considered there was no lack of care over accuracy.

9. The publication also said, had the beheading of babies been presented as fact, in context it could not be significant within the meaning of Clause 1(i) of the Editors' Code. It said it was not in dispute that on 7 October, Hamas gunmen murdered unarmed and defenceless men, women and children, including babies by shooting, beating, stabbing and in some cases burning victims alive. It said that, within this context, how exactly the children were killed could not be considered significantly inaccurate. Further, it said that primary sources and eye-witnesses had stated that beheadings had taken place.

10. The publication further highlighted that the nature of the duty of care which Clause 1(i) imposes is context specific. It said in this particular context, it was reporting a fast-moving conflict, which would be evident to readers. It said Clause 1 should not inhibit the press from reporting events such as this one, and it was essential that eyewitness testimony be reportable. It said that such evidence is of great value when trying to report the true position on the ground and it was therefore entitled to report it. It argued it was not a requirement of the Code to caveat such testimony by saying that an eyewitness might be wrong and that it would be clear to readers that such coverage was reporting a developing situation. Further, it said it was not in dispute that there was a massacre at Kfar where Hamas terrorists murdered babies.

11. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 12.

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.

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.

Findings of the Committee

12. The Committee appreciated the difficulties of reporting a fast-moving conflict and that publications may wish to rely on eyewitness accounts and the experiences of those who have been affected by the incident. However, publications are still required to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact. The Committee also had regard for the serious nature of the claims contained in the article.

13. The Committee considered the complainant’s concern that the article had published unverified claims regarding Hamas beheading babies. The publication had set out the factual basis for this claim by providing a number of articles which presented eyewitness accounts which referred to “beheaded babies”. Further the publication had been able to share photographs which supported the claim that babies had been murdered in the attack on 7 October, regardless of how they were killed. The Committee also noted the context of the article which presented a woman’s personal account of the incident in which her family members were kidnapped. In this instance, the article had presented the reference to beheaded babies as a claim, rather than a statement of fact. The front page’s subheading used inverted commas around “beheaded babies” to indicate this was a claim, and the text of the article referred to Hamas having “reportedly” beheaded babies rather than stating it as a fact. The Committee were of the view that the article had sufficiently distinguished between comment and fact and there was no breach of Clause 1.

14. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 12 as it was biased towards Israel and did not mention Palestinian casualties. Clause 12 is designed to protect specific individuals mentioned by the press from discrimination based on their race, colour, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or any physical or mental illness or disability. It does not apply to groups or categories of people. Where the complainant had not explained how the article had discriminated against a specific individual, but Palestinians in general, there was no breach of Clause 12. The Committee also noted that the Editors’ Code of Practice does not address issues of bias.

Conclusions

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

16. N/A


Date complaint received: 11/10/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/02/2024