Ruling

28437-20 Wimborne-Idrissi v thejc.com

    • Date complaint received

      21st January 2021

    • Outcome

      No breach - after investigation

    • Code provisions

      1 Accuracy

Decision of the Complaints Committee – 28437-20 Wimborne-Idrissi v thejc.com

Summary of Complaint

1. Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that thejc.com breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “JVL founder calls for Labour members to 'resist' Starmer's attempts to tackle antisemitism”, published on 8 October 2020.

2. The article reported on what one of the Jewish Voice for Labour founding members had said during a meeting. It reported that she had “openly urged Labour members to ‘resist’ attempts by Sir Keir Starmer to tackle antisemitism in the party.” The article gave the full quote as said by the founding member in a meeting later in the article: “We should be working to resist the imposition of the IHRA so-called definition — the non-legally binding definition of antisemitism on councils. We are also going to have to fight the ban on our constituency Labour Party from even being able to discuss it. This is difficult because, as I am sure you all know, in a Kafkaesque twist, General Secretary David Evans has announced that not only may you not discuss the IHRA or the impending Equalities and Human Rights Commission report into the Labour Party —or Starmer’s decision to pay out large sums of our money as Labour Party members to the so-called whistle-blowers in the Panorama programme which vilified Labour over a year ago — it is now impossible to discuss the General Secretary’s letter saying that we may not discuss those specific issues. This has to be resisted.” The article also reported in the subheading that the founder had “admitted” that "pro-Palestinian activists had left Jewish people feeling 'defensive and uncomfortable'", and went on to describe this as a “damning admission”. The full quote was included later in the article, which reported that the complainant had said that “There is also a difficulty — to a certain extent generated by the attacks on pro-Palestinian activists — the tendency for some people to say ‘If I haven’t upset a Zionist by breakfast I’m doing something wrong’. It’s almost as if there’s an obligation to use offensive and abusive language, as if that helped Palestine. When it doesn’t. It does also create an atmosphere in which Jewish people are genuinely going to feel defensive and uncomfortable. That’s not our aim.” The subheading also reported that it was “exclusive”. The article also referred to the founder as having launched "scathing attacks", having "poured scorn", and referred to an activist as a "hard-left activist".

3. The complainant, the founding member of the Jewish Voice for Labour, said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1. The complainant said that she had not called for members to “resist” Sir Keir Starmer’s attempts to tackle antisemitism. She said that instead she had called for resistance to the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and the ban on discussing the definition, the (at the time) pending Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report and the decision to settle the libel case with the whistle blowers in the Panorama documentary on antisemitism. The complainant said she was not asking people to resist attempts to tackle antisemitism, but to resist the methodology which Sir Keir Starmer had said should be used to stop antisemitism, as she did not believe such methodology was fit for purpose. She said it was right that people should be able to critique the IHRC definition, the EHRC report and the Panorama settlement. She provided a link to where the recording of the video was available on YouTube and said that her intention was clear in this video from which the quote was taken.

4. The complainant also said that it was inaccurate to report in the subheading that she had “admitted pro-Palestinian activists had left Jewish people feeling 'defensive and uncomfortable'". She said the full quote from the meeting, that was included later in the article, gave the true meaning of her words, and that in fact she had said that the reaction by some people to attacks on pro-Palestinian activists had left some Jewish people feeling “defensive and uncomfortable”. The complainant said this was compounded by the term “exclusive” also in the subheading, which gave the impression she had spoken directly to the publication to give them this quote. She said the term “exclusive” was further misleading as all that was reported on was online and public. She also noted that she had not been invited for comment on the article.

5. The complainant also said that the terms “damning admission” "scathing attacks", "poured scorn" and "hard-left activist" were pejorative and demonstrated a failure to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact.

6. The complainant said that the frequency in which the Jewish Voice for Labour was written about by the publication amounted to harassment under Clause 3 and discrimination under Clause 12 of the Editors’ Code against the complainant and the Jewish Voice for Labour whose views differ to those of the publication.

7. The publication did not accept a breach of the Code. It noted that since Sir Keir Starmer became leader of the Labour party, he had wanted to make tackling antisemitism a top priority, and for the IHRA definition of antisemitism to be adopted. The publication said that he had repeatedly described these actions as his commitment to rid the party of antisemitism. The publication said that the headline was not only based on what the complainant had said in the meeting, and the quote that was included in full in the article, but also other actions of the founder, and the Jewish Voice for Labour. It referred to an email, which the publication described as an aim to implement Sir Keir Starmer’s efforts to tackle antisemitism, warning local Labour Parties against motions on the IHRA antisemitism definition, the EHRC report and the Panorama Settlement. The Jewish Voice for Labour protested this email in multiple statements, in addition to what the complainant said at the meeting. It noted that the complainant did not challenge the accuracy of the quotes within the article, only the accuracy of the headline.

8. The publication said that it had accurately reported the complainant’s position that pro-Palestinian activists had left “Jewish people… defensive and uncomfortable”. It said that it was accurate to characterise this as a “damning admission” and that her remarks were clarified in full later in the text to ensure that the context of her remarks was understood by readers. It said that the term “exclusive” had been used as the publication believed that it had material no-one else did, as few people knew about the meeting and that it was not reported by any other publications. The publication said that as it was reporting on a public meeting, there was no need to ask the complainant for comment.

9. The publication said that the use of the terms “damning admission”, "scathing attacks", "poured scorn" and "hard-left activist" was not a failure to distinguish between comment, conjecture and fact and that this article, which was campaigning, would have been clearly identified by readers as a comment piece.

10. The publication said that Clauses 3 and 12 were not engaged.

Relevant Code 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 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

11. The complainant had accepted that she had said the quotes attribute to her within the article, but disagreed that the headline of the article was supported by these quotes, and that she had not called “for Labour members to 'resist' Starmer's attempts to tackle antisemitism”. She said the policies put forward were not fit for tackling antisemitism. The article had gone on and included a quote from the complainant at a publicly available meeting, which had set out that Labour had been told “not discuss the IHRA or the impending Equalities and Human Rights Commission report into the Labour Party —or Starmer’s decision to pay out large sums of our money as Labour Party members to the so-called whistle-blowers in the Panorama programme which vilified Labour over a year ago — it is now impossible to discuss the General Secretary’s letter saying that we may not discuss those specific issues.” The complainant had gone on to say: “This has to be resisted.” The publication had characterised these elements as Sir Keir Starmer’s attempts to tackle antisemitism, and whilst the complainant may disagree that his “attempts” were not fit for purpose, it was not misleading for the publication to characterise the adoption of the IHRA definition, and the ban on motions regarding the definition, the EHRC report or the Panorama settlement as Sir Keir Starmer’s “attempts to tackle antisemitism”. Where the publication had included the full context of what the complainant was asking for people to “resist” this would not mislead readers. On this basis, the publication had taken care not to publish misleading information and no significant inaccuracy to correct, and there was no breach of Clause 1.

12. The article had stated that the complainant had “admitted”, or made the “damning admission” that "pro-Palestinian activists had left Jewish people feeling 'defensive and uncomfortable'". The complainant said that what she had actually said was the reaction by some people to attacks on pro-Palestinian activists had left some Jewish people feeling “defensive and uncomfortable”. The publication had again included the complainant’s full quote from the publicly available meeting where she had said ““There is also a difficulty — to a certain extent generated by the attacks on pro-Palestinian activists — the tendency for some people to say ‘If I haven’t upset a Zionist by breakfast I’m doing something wrong’. It’s almost as if there’s an obligation to use offensive and abusive language, as if that helped Palestine. When it doesn’t. It does also create an atmosphere in which Jewish people are genuinely going to feel defensive and uncomfortable.” Where the complainant had said that the words of those who hoped that upsetting “a Zionist” “helped Palestine” made Jewish people “feel defensive and uncomfortable”, it was not misleading for the publication to characterise this as saying that “pro-Palestinian activists had left Jewish people feeling 'defensive and uncomfortable’”. The terms “admitting” or “damning admission” where the complainant accepted she had said the quote, fell within the realm of editorial discretion, and did not render the quote misleading. On this basis, the publication had not reported inaccurate information and there was no breach of Clause 1.

13. The article had stated that it was “exclusive”, despite the information being available online. The Committee did not find that this was a significant inaccuracy, and did not require a correction under Clause 1. The article had used terms such as “damning admission”, "scathing attacks", "poured scorn" and "hard-left activist", which the complainant considered as pejorative, however these terms would not mislead a reader, and therefore did not breach Clause 1. In addition, where there were no significant inaccuracies in the text, it was not a failure to take care not to publish misleading information by not going to the complainant for comment.

14. The complainant had said that the frequency and negativity of articles about the Jewish Voice for Labour consisted a breach of Clause 3 and Clause 12 against the Jewish Voice for Labour and herself. Clause 3 generally relates to the way journalists behave when researching a news story, and is meant to protect people from being repeatedly approached by the press against their wishes. 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. As the complainants concerns did not relate to this, neither Clause was engaged.

Conclusions

15. The complaint was not upheld.

Remedial Action Required

16. N/A

 

Date complaint received: 09/10/2020

Date complaint concluded by IPSO: 23/12/2020