Ruling

21812-23 Vulliamy v Daily Mail

  • Complaint Summary

    Daniel Vulliamy complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “'This was a holocaust pure and simple'”, published on 11 October 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      29th May 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 21812-23 Vulliamy v Daily Mail


Summary of Complaint

1. Daniel Vulliamy complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Mail breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “'This was a holocaust pure and simple'”, published on 11 October 2023.

2. The article which appeared on the front page and continued on page four reported on the events of 7 October 2023 in Israel. The subheadline stated “Babies beheaded. 40 children shot dead in a single settlement. Families burnt alive. [Named reporter] meets survivors of the Hamas death squads and hears their stories of unimaginable horror”. The article reported “BABIES beheaded, grandparents slain and families torn apart – the full horror of ‘Israel’s 9/11’ was starting to emerge last night.” It further stated “Hamas gunmen massacred 40 children in one farm settlement alone, their small bodies lying in their rooms riddled with bullets. And as shellshocked survivors told their stories, one bereaved grandson, […], told me: ‘They are the new Nazis. This was a holocaust, pure and simple.’” The article further stated, “Hamas terrorists beheaded babies and gunned down entire families in their homes in the Kfar Aza kibbutz, the Israeli military said.”

3. The article also appeared online in substantially the same form under the headline “Babies beheaded, 40 children shot dead in a single settlement, and families burnt alive by Hamas...[Named reporter] meets survivors of the death squads and hears their stories of unimaginable horror” published on 10 October 2023. The subheadline said “Hamas massacred 40 children in one kibbutz alone, sparking global outrage”. The online article included several images depicting various kibbutzim. One image showed a news correspondent reporting from the scene with the caption: “Outside the destroyed homes, the soldiers told i24News correspondent […] how they saw the bodies of babies next to their cots, their heads chopped off, in a sign of the depraved acts committed by the terrorists since they attacked Israel on Saturday”.

4. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 as it made claims such as 40 babies had been murdered by Hamas, which he considered was “unfounded”. He also considered it was inaccurate to claim babies had been “beheaded”. The complainant said these claims were contradicted by the Israeli Army’s admission that such claims could not be confirmed, which was reported by a reputable Turkish news outlet. He said that qualifying statements such as “claimed” or “said” did not suffice to report such unfounded claims. The complainant said the claims lacked evidence and would incite hatred. He said there was no evidence of 40 beheaded babies and he had not seen a single photograph or independent witness account of decapitated babies.

5. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It said that the article had not presented the claims as fact but had clearly distinguished them as claims. It said the print article made clear via its sub-headline: “Babies beheaded. 40 children shot dead in a single settlement. Families burnt alive. [Named reporter] meets survivors of the Hamas death squads and hears their stories of unimaginable horror”. It said the text of the article reinforced that the claims were, at this stage, claims not established facts, such as: “Babies beheaded, […] – the full horror of ‘Israel’s 9/11’ was starting to emerge last night” and “Hamas terrorists beheaded babies and gunned down entire families in their homes in the Kfar Aza kibbutz, the Israeli military said.”

6. publication said that reporting claims was an essential element of covering fast-moving situations which are often characterised by competing narratives and the full picture only emerging over time. It provided several links to other publications which had reported on the incident and reported similar claims. For example, the Guardian published: “Mothers, fathers, babies, young families killed in their beds, in the protection room, in the dining room, in their garden”. It said the BBC quoted an individual from the Israel Defence Forces: “[named individual] said Hamas gunmen who killed families, including babies, were ‘just a jihad machine to kill everybody, [people] without weapons, without nothing, just normal citizens that want to take their breakfast and that's all.’ Some of the victims, he said, were decapitated.” The publication also said The Times reported “Hamas ‘cut the throats of babies’ in massacre” and The Jewish Chronicle reported “Hamas terrorists ‘murdered 40 babies’ including beheadings, says report”.

7. The publication said that an Israeli Government spokesman had confirmed Hamas had beheaded babies at Kfar Aza. The publication said since the publication of the article more evidence had emerged to support the initial reports.

8. The publication said its chief reporter spent 16 days in Israel with a photographer visiting the kibbutzim that were attacked. During his visit, he asked the director of Israel’s National Centre of Forensic Medicine, the specific question of whether babies had been beheaded to which he replied “Yes, it was true”, “Yes. Yes I have seen that”. In addition, it said the team filmed a senior DNA scientist showing a large bloodstain on a baby’s mattress. The publication said the reporters were told by an IDF Colonel at Be’eri kibbutz that he found the bodies of eight babies who had been burned; one who had been beheaded and that the reporters filmed a large pool of blood by an upturned children’s cot in Nir Oz kibbutz. The publication said the reporters took photographs of large pools of blood by the beds of children in homes in Be’eri kibbutz.

9. The publication said that further evidence regarding the deaths of children at the hands of Hamas also emerged from other sources, for example: the BBC published an interview with Zaka volunteers - Israel's volunteer civilian emergency response organisation - who were helping to recover bodies from the Kfar Aza site. The BBC article said: “a father of five, had seen bodies of children brought in with terrible injuries and burns, he said. Some had been decapitated, although it was not clear how. Some of the dead children had their hands and feet tied with phone cables.” The publication said CBS had reported that the Head of Operations at Zaka, confirmed to them he had "personally seen" adults, children and babies beheaded. The publication cited several other media organisations which had reported similar eye-witness accounts, as well as accounts of Hamas behaving in a similar manner at other Kibbutzim.

10. The publication also said head-cam videos worn by Hamas fighters and security camera footage from the sites of their massacres were collated by Israel and shown in unobscured form to international journalists. It said its reporter had seen the videos, which showed: a small child being shot as she cowered under a table; a newborn baby’s body charred beyond recognition; a Hamas terrorist throwing a grenade at a father and his son; a terrorist beheading a man’s body with a shovel; beheaded IDF soldiers; and a Hamas gunman attempting to decapitate someone who appeared to be still be alive.

11. The publication said at the time the article was published, the Israeli army had only just gained control of many of the kibbutzim – including Kfar Aza – indicated in the article’s first sentence – only “starting to emerge". The publication explained the Chief Reporter, who had arrived in the country just hours earlier, was one of the first international journalists to hear first-hand the “survivors’ claims” – as referenced in the standfirst – regarding the events at the kibbutzim that day. It said the article focused on the Kfar Aza atrocity and made repeated references to these being claims rather than established facts. It said the print headline itself was in quote marks. The publication said it did not accept, read as a whole, readers would have been misled into believing that they were anything more than initial accounts. The publication, said however, that just because they were distinguished as claims, it did not mean they were entirely “baseless”. It said there were multiple sources for the claims which were reported widely across print and broadcast media such as an Israeli TV reporter who was reporting live on the ground from the kibbutz in question.

12. The publication explained that the Chief Reporter spoke to survivors from Kisufim kibbutz rather than the kibbutz at Kfar Aza therefore he was not in possession of notes of first-hand testimony of survivors of there, however he was told by the Kisufim kibbutz survivors that children there had been shot, which was consistent with the reports that were coming out of Kfar Aza. The publication provided shorthand notes of the relevant parts of those conversations.

13. The publication said the article did not include the claim there had been “40 beheaded babies”. It said it reported the claims that babies had been beheaded and that 40 children had died in a single settlement.

14. In regard to the 40 children the article reported had been murdered, the publication cited a number of sources which it said supported this claim in the article, such as an Israeli TV correspondent of i24News at the scene with the IDF who said, “Some soldiers say they found babies with their heads cut off, entire families gunned down in their beds. About 40 babies and young children have been taken out on gurneys — so far.” The publication also noted that on social media the State of Israel’s official X, formerly Twitter account announced “40 babies murdered”. The publication said a first-person report from Kfar Aza for The Times which was published on 10 October said: “All day, military chaplains and search teams tenderly wrapped tiny bodies, carrying them to waiting stretchers that bore them away from the nightmare of Kfar Aza” and “Palestinian militants attacked Kfar Aza from four directions, starting with the ‘youngsters’ quarter’”. It said Israeli economy minister had told Sky: “We've seen just now...we've heard of 40 young boys. Some of them were burned alive. Some were beheaded. Some were shot in the head.” The publication quoted Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who told President Biden: “They took dozens of children, bound them up, burnt them and executed them.” The publication also said a spokesperson for the Israeli Embassy in London said: “What happened in Kfar Aza is a massacre in which women, children, toddlers and [the] elderly were brutally butchered”.

15. The publication said that some events in history are so significant that they must be reported as they break, in a way that brings their enormity home to the ordinary reader, even if it remains impossible to substantiate every detail with certainty until the fog of war has cleared. It said that Clause 1 should not be interpreted in such a narrow way that it inhibits evocative contemporaneous reporting of such events by invalidating first-hand contemporaneous accounts and requiring levels of forensic accuracy which are in practice impossible to achieve.

16. The publication said that in the absence of a confirmed alternative death toll figure, Clause 1(ii) was not engaged. It said that, should an official and confirmed alternative death toll figure be declared, it would be happy to put that on the record.

17. The complainant, who explained he was Jewish, said that Israel had one of the most developed systems of news management and manipulation in the world, and deliberately conflated anti-Zionism with antisemitism. He said there was routine military control of access and censorship and there had been mass killings of Gazan journalists. He said the Israeli army admitted to employing more than 200 people in its international communications office. He said that Glasgow University’s Media Group tracked 52 references by BBC TV to ‘murder’, ‘murderous’, ‘mass murder’, ‘brutal murder’ and ‘merciless murder’ in referring to Israeli deaths in a four-week period, but there were not similar references in the context of more Palestinian deaths.

18. The complainant said that the article seemed to be largely or entirely from Neve Zohar, a small village in the south of Israel on the shores of the Dead Sea and therefore 60 kilometres or more from the Gaza Strip, a long way for effective journalism testing the claims of partisan news managers. The complainant said that the only sources mentioned for the article were a small number of the alleged victims or witnesses, the Israeli Defence Force and presumably government spokespeople. The complainant questioned whether the reporters had attempted to test for alternative accounts or approach Hamas, and whether it should have been reported that some of the 7 October deaths may have been affected by the IDF. Further the complainant did not consider information provided by the Israeli government could be relied upon.

19. In response to the complainant’s argument that accounts were “coordinated” as part of Israel’s “developed system[s] of news management and manipulation in the world”, the publication said he had not provided evidence that this was the case. It further argued that it was a dangerous precedent for IPSO to make a decision based upon an assumption that statements from a democratically elected government cannot be relied upon.

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

20. The Committee appreciated the difficulties of reporting a fast-moving conflict and that publications may wish to rely on eyewitness accounts. However, publications are still required to take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, and distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

21. The Committee considered the claims within the article carefully and noted that the article primarily presented eye-witness accounts of the incident which had been relayed to the chief reporter. This was indicated by the print headline which appeared in inverted commas, which suggested it was a claim: “'This was a holocaust pure and simple'”. This was followed by the subheading: “Babies beheaded. 40 children shot dead in a single settlement. Families burnt alive. [Named reporter] meets survivors of the Hamas death squads and hears their stories of unimaginable horror”. Considered together, the Committee was satisfied the article had adequately distinguished the statements within the subheading as claims communicated to the reporter as opposed to statements of fact. This was also made clear in the online headline which read: “Babies beheaded, 40 children shot dead in a single settlement, and families burnt alive by Hamas...[Named reporter] meets survivors of the death squads and hears their stories of unimaginable horror”.

22. The Committee turned to the complainant’s concerns regarding the 40 babies, which it understood to be referring to the specific claim that in a single kibbutz 40 children had been killed. The Committee noted that both versions of the article had stated: “Hamas gunmen massacred 40 children in one farm settlement alone, their small bodies lying in their rooms riddled with bullets”. The online subheading said “Hamas massacred 40 children in one kibbutz alone, sparking global outrage”. The Committee took into account the context of the article: it was reporting on breaking news which relied on eye-witness accounts and acknowledged that at the time of publication, there was no official declared numbers of casualties. The Committee also took into account the print headline and subheading as well as the online headline - it noted that the print subheading and online headline had made clear that the claim regarding “40 children shot dead in a single settlement” was a survivor’s “stor[y]” heard by the reporter. The articles had also followed the statement “Hamas gunmen massacred 40 children in one farm settlement alone, their small bodies lying in their rooms riddled with bullets” with “And as shellshocked survivors told their stories…” which further indicated that this statement had been claimed by a survivor. The Committee further added that the publication had been able to demonstrate that several sources, including the accounts of survivors and eyewitnesses, and information posted by the Israeli government, had referred to 40 children having been killed. In this instance, the Committee was of the view that the claims regarding the 40 children had been sufficiently distinguished as a claim, in accordance with Clause 1(iv). For this reason, there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

23. Turning to the article’s claim regarding beheaded babies: “Babies beheaded.” and “Hamas terrorists beheaded babies and gunned down entire families in their homes in the Kfar Aza kibbutz, the Israeli military said.” For reasons explained above, the print subheadline and online headline had sufficiently distinguished “Babies beheaded.” as a survivor’s claim. The text of the articles had also made clear this was a claim made by the Israeli military. The Committee further noted that the publication had sought to verify this claim - it had explained the reporter had directly spoken to the director of Israel’s National Centre of Forensic Medicine who had confirmed babies had been beheaded. The publication had also provided several reports and articles which presented eyewitness accounts recounting babies which had been decapitated. Further, the publication said an Israeli Government spokesman had confirmed Hamas had beheaded babies at Kfar Aza. The Committee were therefore satisfied that the claim had been sufficiently distinguished as a survivor’s account and not a claim of fact. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

24. The Committee noted that complainant’s argument that the article, and the publication in general had failed to report other emerging news regarding warning of 7 October or Israeli deaths that may have been perpetrated by the IDF. The Committee noted that it is unable to look at coverage in general, and that newspapers are entitled to choose which information they include in articles, provided it does not breach the Code. In this instance, the newspaper was entitled to focus on the events in Israel and report various eyewitness accounts from survivors and IDF soldiers present at the kibbutzim. There was no breach of Clause 1 on these points.

Conclusions

25. The complaint was not upheld under Clause 1.

Remedial action required

26. N/A


Date complaint received: 18/10/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 09/05/2024

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.