Ruling

22501-23 Hmidan v Telegraph.co.uk

  • Complaint Summary

    Adnan Hmidan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Telegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell marched with pro-Hamas activist”, published on 18 November 2023.

    • Date complaint received

      15th February 2024

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy, 12 Discrimination, 2 Privacy, 3 Harassment

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 22501-23 Hmidan v Telegraph.co.uk


Summary of Complaint

1. Adnan Hmidan complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Telegraph.co.uk breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Privacy), Clause 3 (Harassment), and Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell marched with pro-Hamas activist”, published on 18 November 2023.

2. The article – which appeared online only – reported that the complainant was a “pro-Hamas activist” who appeared “at the front of the National March for Palestine”. It also reported that he was “a journalist who works for the London-based TV channel al-Hiwar”. The article stated that the complainant had “sought to justify a number of attacks by Hamas militants on Jews on his Twitter profile, where he writes mostly in Arabic”. The article claimed: “Following the 2014 Jerusalem synagogue attack, which saw four worshippers and a policeman killed by two Palestinian men, he wrote: ‘The killing (sic) of the Jewish synagogue is a natural reaction to an enemy who did not respect the sanctity of a mosque or a home, and never shied away from killing, suffocating, burning and besieging the Palestinians.’”

3. Further, the article reported: “In the wake of the October 7 attacks in which more than 1,200 Israeli Jews were murdered, he posted: ‘What is happening is the normal situation, and the usurping invaders are the aggressors first and foremost. If there had been no occupation, there would have been no resistance. However, recently, the Zionists’ provocations have increased in an unprecedented manner: from the raids on Al-Aqsa to the stripping of a number of women in Hebron to the raids in the West Bank, and the list goes on.’”

4. The article continued by referring to a post the complainant shared on Facebook: “A post on his public Facebook account which dates from March 2018 includes the caption ‘I love this man’ below an image of Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas”. The article also included two images which showed the complainant at the protest referred to in headline, the captions of which included his name. The article also stated that the complainant had been “contacted for comment”.

5. The complainant said the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1, as it reported that he supported Hamas. He said he did not condemn nor endorse any terrorist organisation. He said he had removed his post stating he “love[d] Ahmed Yassin, the founder of Hamas, and that he had wanted to convey his admiration for someone in the wake of their symbolic role in the Palestinian struggle as a “significant, disabled, and unwell figure”. He added that this individual was a political rather than military figure and, at the time of his post, Hamas had not yet been proscribed as a terrorist organisation. He said he removed the post several years ago because he was tired of his words being distorted.

6. The complainant also said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 because he said it had “twisted” his posts on social media. He said it gave the impression he had supported targeting individuals based on their Jewish identity. He stated his posts referred to the actions of Palestinian resistances towards Israeli occupation only and that it was misleading to conflate occupation, Zionists, or Israelis with Jews. Regarding his tweet about the 2014 Jerusalem attack, he said he had opposed the attacks and his tweet served as an observation rather than a justification — Israeli forces had target homes and mosques, and this would inevitably provoke retaliation, such as attacks on churches. He said he removed this tweet given the potential for misunderstanding and because he disapproved of such actions. In relation to his tweet regarding the October 7 attacks, he stated that, originally, the understanding had been a clash between Palestinian resistance forces and soldiers. Once it became clear that there had been civilian casualties, he removed the post as he condemned such incidents.

7. The complainant said the article breached Clause 1 because he had not been contacted as the article had suggested.

8. The complainant also said the article breached Clause 2 because it included a photograph of him and included his full name without his consent; he was concerned this endangered him and his family. He also said this was a breach of Clause 3 because it would encourage harassment by other individuals based on the content of the article.

9. The complainant said the article breached Clause 12 because it attributed certain actions and unfounded accusations to him based on his Palestinian identity. He said this would perpetuate harmful stereotypes and would strengthen discriminatory attitudes.

10. The publication did not accept a breach of Clause 1. It said that, while the complainant may have removed the post in which he said he “love[d]” Ahmed Yassin, it had been widely reported online and that, when searching the complainant’s name and “Hamas” in a search engine, numerous social media posts emerged that referred to this deleted post. The publication also said that this post represented an “unequivocal” statement that could not be misunderstood. In addition, the publication said the article had included other posts by the complainant that it considered demonstrated he supported Hamas and stated that these had been online at the time the article was written. The publication said that the social media posts relating to the 2014 Jerusalem synagogue attack and the attacks of October 7 sought to blame Israel for the actions of Hamas and so showed sympathy and support for the group. It said these posts sought to justify the attacks on Jews by Hamas and were clear in their meaning so could not be “twisted”. To support its position, the publication also provided three links to articles it said referred to him as a Hamas supporter.

11. The publication said it had contacted the complainant via Facebook the day before the article was published and provided a screenshot of this approach. It also said it had attempted to contact the complainant via his Twitter account but this had been deactivated.

12. The publication also did not accept a breach of Clause 2. It said the complainant had attended a public gathering on Armistice Day in the knowledge that there would be a significant media presence. It added that he had positioned himself at the front of the march next to two high-profile political figures and that he had a public profile due to being a presenter on Alhiwar TV. The publication said this meant he had no reasonable expectation of privacy over his name and image being published. Regarding Clause 3, the publication stated that simply writing and publishing a story about an individual and one polite approach did not constitute a breach where the terms of the Clause refer to “intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit”.

13. The publication said there was also no breach of Clause 12. It said this Clause is designed to avoid irrelevant, 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. The publication said the article did not contain any pejorative or prejudicial references and it did not refer to the complainant’s race.

14. In relation to the approach prior to the article’s publication, the complainant said this had appeared in his requested messages section and he had never read them as his accounts were closed. The complainant also said, regarding the articles the publication had provided to support its position, one of them seemed to refer to what had been written by the publication under complaint – therefore, he did not accept that this could support the veracity of the article under complaint.

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 2 (Privacy)*

i) Everyone is entitled to respect for their private and family life, home, physical and mental health, and correspondence, including digital communications.

ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so. 

iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Clause 3 (Harassment)*

i) Journalists must not engage in intimidation, harassment or persistent pursuit.

ii) They must not persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing individuals once asked to desist; nor remain on property when asked to leave and must not follow them. If requested, they must identify themselves and whom they represent.

iii) Editors must ensure these principles are observed by those working for them and take care not to use non-compliant material from other sources.

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

15. The Committee first considered whether the description of the complainant as pro-Hamas breached the Code. The Committee recognised that the article’s characterisation of the complainant reflected the publication’s assessment of his views. Such assessments are, to a point, subjective and a matter of opinion. However, the Committee acknowledged that an allegation of being “pro-Hamas” is a serious one and the fact that a statement is subjective to a point does not in itself absolve a newspaper of its obligations under Clause 1. Therefore, the newspaper was required to demonstrate that there was a reasonable factual basis to support its position.  

16. The newspaper had provided several examples of the complainant’s social media posts which it believed supported its position. One post said the complainant “love[d] this man”, beneath a picture of the founder of Hamas; there were also multiple posts in which he had sought to explain why Hamas had carried out attacks. The article set out the posts in full, therefore establishing the basis on which the publication described the complainant as pro-Hamas. The Committee further noted that the publication had also attempted to contact the complainant for his comment on these posts. The Committee noted that the complainant had deleted some of these posts, but he did not dispute that he had posted them or that he no longer held the views set out in his posts, albeit he thought that they had been misinterpreted and had been posted when he was unaware of the extent of civilian casualties. Notwithstanding this in the Committee’s view, given the nature of the complainant’s posts, the newspaper had provided sufficient basis to support its characterisation that he was “pro-Hamas”. The Committee concluded that the publication had taken care over its reporting of the complainant as “pro-Hamas”, and – where the article itself included the social media posts which were the basis for the characterisation – the article was not significantly inaccurate, distorted, or misleading. There was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

17. Turning to the complainant’s concern that the article conflated occupiers and Israelis with Jews more generally, and had “twisted” his words, the Committee had regard for the article as a whole. It noted that the article stated the complainant had “sought to justify a number of attacks by Hamas militants on Jews”. The article had included the complainant’s posts which set out his views in his own words, one of which referred to the attack on a Jerusalem Synagogue in 2014 as a “natural reaction” and also showed support for the 7 October attack, where it was commonly accepted that 1200 Israeli Jews were murdered. Where the article had made clear he “sought to justify” attacks by Hamas militants on Jews and where the articles had included the posts which provided the basis for this claim, the Committee was satisfied the publication had taken care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information. There was no inaccuracy and therefore no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

18. The Committee then considered the complainant’s concern that it was inaccurate to say he had been contacted for comment when he had not seen this request. The Committee noted that the complainant appeared active on social media and therefore it was sufficient for the publication to rely on this platform. While the Committee acknowledged that the request appeared out of the main messages tab and that an alternative form of communication might have been preferrable, the publication had contacted the complainant prior to publication and had provided evidence of this. Therefore, the Committee concluded that it was not inaccurate for the article to report the complainant had been contacted and there was no breach of Clause 1 on this point.

19. The Committee then turned to the complaint under Clause 2. While the complainant had raised concerns regarding his safety, this was not a matter for IPSO to consider under the Editors’ Code of Practice. The question was whether he had an expectation of privacy over his name and image in the context of an article about his attendance at a protest. The Committee noted that protests are generally public in nature; this one had taken place in central London on Armistice Day. The complainant would have been plainly visible to passing members of the public and had appeared at the front of the march. In regard to the social media posts, the Committee also had regard for the fact that the views had been shared on open social media platforms, and were therefore in the public domain. With this in mind, the Committee concluded that there was not a reasonable expectation of privacy over his image which showed him at a public march, or his name. Therefore, there was no breach of Clause 2.

20. In relation to these concerns under Clause 3, the Committee noted that the terms of this Clause related to the actions of journalists and editors, and editorial content. Concerns that coverage might encourage harassment by members of the public is a matter for the police and so there was no breach of Clause 3.

21. Regarding Clause 12, the references which the complainant considered breached the Code were that he had attended a march calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and that he often tweeted in Arabic. The Committee noted that these passages had not contained pejorative or prejudicial references to the complainant’s protected characteristics. As such, there was no breach of Clause 12.

Conclusions

22. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial action required

23. N/A


Date complaint received: 23/11/2023

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 31/01/2024