Ruling

21744-23 Austin v The Daily Telegraph

  • Complaint Summary

    Thomas Austin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Hamas massacres babies and children”, published on 11 October 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      7th March 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 21744-23 Austin v The Daily Telegraph


Summary of Complaint

1. Thomas Austin complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Daily Telegraph breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Hamas massacres babies and children”, published on 11 October 2023.

2. The article, which appeared on the front page and continued on page five, reported on the attack on Southern Israel on 7 October 2023 by Hamas. The article stated: “One of the soldiers involved in the operation, […] deputy commander of Unit 17, said children had been beheaded. ‘They chop the heads of women and children,’ he told news channel i24. The Telegraph could not verify the claim.” The article reported that “Hamas killed babies and children in a massacre discovered by Israeli soldiers yesterday in one of the last villages to be recaptured from the terrorist group”. The article said: “In one house, a woman was found lying face down on her bed with a bullet wound in her head. A crashed paraglider used by the invaders was found near a bus stop and the bodies of a dozen dead terrorists lay on the pavements and lawns. ‘It is not a war. It is not a battlefield,’ said [an induvial], of the IDF, at the scene. ‘You see the babies, the mothers, the fathers in their bedrooms, in their protection rooms, and how the terrorists killed them was not a war, not a battle. It’s a massacre. It’s something we used to imagine from our grandfathers, grandmothers in the pogrom in Europe and other places.’”

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same format under the headline “Hamas slaughtered babies and children in Kfar Aza kibbutz massacre”.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it had included “unfounded claims” which referred to beheaded babies, and massacred babies and children. He said that these claims had been presented as fact and were sensationalist, baseless, and inflammatory, with no proof or credible sources to back them up. He also said that they contradicted the Israeli Army's admission that such claims could not be confirmed, as reported by Anadolu, which he said was a reputable Turkish news outlet. He said that small qualifying statements, such as 'claimed' or 'said' did not suffice to relay the unfounded nature of these statements. He concluded that the statements were inaccurate and would incite hatred. The complainant said the article should be corrected promptly and with due prominence.

5. The complainant also said that the online version appeared behind a pay wall, and therefore the headline was not supported.

6. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article had not stated as fact that babies were beheaded during the massacre at Kfar Aza kibbutz, but that: "One of the soldiers involved in the operation, […] deputy commander of Unit 17, said children had been beheaded. ‘They chop the heads off women and children,’ he told local news channel i24. The Telegraph could not verify the claim." The publication explained it was entitled to report statements made by a Unit Commander present at the scene and that the article made clear that the claim of beheadings was not one it could independently verify.

7. The publication said the claim regarding the massacre at this kibbutz which included the slaughter of families and children was accurate. It said confirmations of the killings had been provided by the Israel Defence Force; first responders; forensic teams and survivors testimonies. It shared several links which had been published subsequent to the article which presented first-hand accounts that supported its position that families including children had been murdered at this location.

8. The publication said the complainant had not explained why it was inaccurate to state children were killed by Hamas. The publication said the print headline, “Hamas Massacres babies and children” was accurate. It explained that on 7 October, a number of children as young as nine months old were confirmed to have died in the Hamas attack and provided a link to support this. It also provided another link which discussed preliminary death tolls and the age profiles of those that could be identified at that stage. The publication said it had not been disputed by any reputable sources that children, including some under the age of one, died in the attack. It further said that the Israeli Government released images from the attack showing dead children and babies. The publication said these were credible and relying on them represented care taken over the accuracy of the article. It said that the complainant had not shared any evidence to illustrate the contrary.

9. The publication said the online version also made clear the claim that children, including young children died in this kibbutz was made by a spokesperson for the IDF – it was not an anonymous source, but an official statement from the Israeli military who it said were best placed to comment, having attended the scene. It said it was officially reported that children had died at this kibbutz, which it considered still accurate at the time of investigation. The publication therefore concluded that the headlines were accurate and supported by the text of the articles.

10. The complainant accepted that children suffered on 7 October, however he questioned whether the evidence confirmed they died at the hands of Hamas. The complainant said the claims within the article, which were accompanied by attributions, could not “stand-alone” in the headline. He said that the online headline and text of the article were separate and apart.

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 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 had witnessed 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.

12. The Committee considered the complainant’s concern that the article had published “unfounded” claims regarding Hamas beheading babies. In this instance, the article had made clear this was attributed to an eyewitness at the scene: “One of the soldiers involved in the operation, […] deputy commander of Unit 17, said children had been beheaded.” The article went on to clarify that the publication could not verify this statement: “The Telegraph could not verify the claim”. The Committee was therefore satisfied that the article had distinguished this clearly as comment, and had not presented it as a claim of fact. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

13. The Committee next considered the headline and article’s claim that Hamas had massacred babies and children. The publication argued there was a factual basis for this claim, as several children, including one as young as nine months old, were confirmed to have died in the Hamas attack. The publication had provided material to support this claim, including images released by the Israeli government. The Committee were satisfied that the headline and article’s claim were not inaccurate.

14. In regard to the complainant’s concern that the evidence did not confirm the children had been killed by Hamas, the Committee noted that where the attack was widely accepted and confirmed to be by Hamas, and where children who were living in the kibbutz had been killed, it was not inaccurate for the headline or article to claim that Hamas had slaughtered and murdered babies and children. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

15. Turning to whether the headline had been supported by the article, the article had stated “Hamas killed babies and children in a massacre discovered by Israeli soldiers yesterday in one of the last villages to be recaptured from the terrorist group” and set out various quotes from eyewitnesses who had attended the scene. The Committee therefore considered the headline was supported by the article. The Committee noted that while material had appeared behind a paywall in the online version, headlines should be read in conjunction with the article as a whole. Where the headline was accurate, the Committee did not consider there was an opportunity to be misled by the material shown prior to the paywall. In the view of the Committee, the claims were accurate and the headline was supported by the article. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

Conclusions

16. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

17. N/A


Date complaint received:  15/10/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO:  19/02/2024